Dombas (domba, dombarATa) (ದೊಂಬ, ದೊಂಬರಾಟ) constitute one of the migrant, nomadic communities of Karnataka. They are also called ‘kollaTiga’s. (ಕೊಲ್ಲಟಿಗರು) Their performances are called ‘kollaTigana ATa’. They seem to have migrated from Andhrapradesh, particularly the hilly districts of Kadappah, Nellore, Chittore and Vishakhapattanam districts. They are well versed in Telugu their mother tongue and Kannada the regional language. This community has a pan Indian spread and is distributed widely across the country known by different names. There are many legends about the genesis and the evolution of this tribe. They trace their origin to ‘Ratnammaaji’ an aunt of Kumararama the famous historical personality. References to ‘domba’s are found in ancient texts such as the ‘Vikramarjunavijaya’ of Pampa (10th Century) and the vachanas of Basavanna. (12th Century) ‘An inscription of Honnihal in Bijapur district tells about the gift of a village to dombas. Sculptures of female acrobats are available. In one, a lady is shown exhibiting her strength by standing on one leg and balancing two kids and a bow’ (Kamat’s Potpouri)

            Dombas worship a number of local deities such as Yellamma, dyAmavva, mAramma, durgamma, hanumanta etc. Yellamma is worshipped on the full moon day of the month Chaitra. (The first month of the Indian Calendar) They practice polygamy and their weddings rituals are very simple. Most of the weddings take place in Tumakur which happens to be their base. There is a major settlement of Dombas on the outskirts of Belgaum city.

            ‘Dombara KuNita’ is a unique dance practiced by the domba women belonging to a particular clan in Shivamogga district. The women are decked in white sarees and men who dance with them are required to wear masks.

            Dombas are renowned for their acrobatic skills and magical performances. It is to be noted that these performances are neither religious nor ritualistic. It is pure entertainment performed in order to earn their livelihood. This made it mandatory fro them to move from village to village carrying all their possessions on donkeys and oxen. Naturally they were obliged to live in temporary makeshift huts.

            Usually these acrobatic performances are held in village squares or inter section of roads. The news is spread in the village by the beating of drums. The spectators are seated around a circular arena. Domba men, women and children bedecked in colourful garments participate in a continuum of acrobatic acts. The women wear multicoloured skirts and blouses. They wear ornaments such as bead necklaces, nose rings and ear rings. They use eye-black (surmaa) and flowers. They dance to the tunes of drums and a simple stringed instrument made with coconut shells. An elderly man dressed in pajamas, coat and a headgear regales the spectators with humorous and hilarious talk. There is yet another clown called ‘beLLikuLLa’, dressed like a buffoon indulging in various pranks.        

            But the main performers stand apart from these pranksters. Even infants are made to participate in hair raising acts. An infant is placed in a prone position on a 15 ft. pole. Then the pole is raised vertically. Then the pole is removed suddenly and the infant is caught with bare hands. Swords, daggers, knives, iron balls, magic wands, iron rings of different sizes, bANa cakra, anklets, human bones and skulls are both exhibited and used during various stages of the performance. They also possess many articles made of leather, ropes, and bamboo sticks and whips.

            At the beginning of the performance a benaka (gaNEsha) made of cow dung is worshipped and then a pole is erected on the ground. The main items of the performances are as follows: 1. climbing a pole 2 sudden descent from the pole. 3. Performing somersaults holding the pole. 4. Drawing an oxen cart with one’s own hair. 5. Carrying a huge rock on the chest while lying down in a prone position 6. Tight rope walking  7. Lifting a water filled vessel with teeth 8. Walking with wooden legs. 9. Youngsters indulging in performances such as passing through a hoop.


            After the performance alms are collected from the onlookers. Later the women folk go from house to house collecting grains and other food materials. Occasionally they manufacture and sell wooden and horn combs as also paper dolls. They go around with a puppet like doll and make it dance to the tune of their songs.

Dombas are also called upon to perform a repertoire of additional services such as making oracular predictions, performing exorcistic rites and curing certain diseases.    

Gradually ‘dombaraaTa’ performances are waning because of the civilizing experiences of the modern life.


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