Kamsale dance, (kamsAe kuNita) (ಕಂಸಾಳೆ ಕುಣಿತ) kamsale songs (ಕಂಸಾಳೆ ಪದಗಳು) and kamsale (ಕಂಸಾಳೆ) are treated as a single unit for the purposes of this brief note.

            Kamsale is the name given to a pair of cymbals made of bronze (very occasionally brass) used as an instrumental back drop both for the recitation of folk epics and the performance of ‘bIsu kamsAle’ dance. The performers are known as ‘kamsale’. They are also called ‘dEvara guDDa’. (Disciple of God)  This word is derived from the Sanskrit ‘kAmsya tALa’ (Bronze cymbals). The performers are devotees of Male Madeshvara, whose temple is situated in Male Madeshvara Hills. It is usually played and performed by devotees belonging to the ‘kuruba gavDa’ community for whom it is an activity passed on from generations.

            The individual cymbals in the pair are made differently and they have different functions to perform. One of them is about an inch deep, three inches in diameter and ¼ th of an inch thick.(baTTalu) The second bowl is slightly bigger and thinner.(mElu tALa)  The second bowl has an external spherical protrusion at the center. A rope (gonDe dAra) woven with a number of multicolored threads passes through the center of this spherical protrusion. Bronze trinkets (gaggara) are tied to this thread to enhance the effect of the music. The first bowl is held in the left palm and the artist holds the second cymbal along withy the rope in his right hand. A melodious clanging sound is produced when the cymbal in the right hand strikes the other in the left hand. These two bowls are deemed to be symbolic of the earth and the sky and they are venerated by the artists and the devotees. The performers do not even eat in plates of Bronze. The alms given to these perfomers are usually received in the cymbals.

            These instruments have flourished for centuries and well known classics of Kannada such as ‘girijA kalyaNa’  by Harihara, ‘Siddarama Charitrya’ by Raghavanka, ‘basava purANa’ by Bheema Kavi, ‘Chennabasavapurana’ by Virupakshapandita and ‘Shabdamanidarpana’ by Keshiraja have made a mention of this instrument. Hence the practice of Kamsale dates back to the eleventh century. They are also known as ‘birudu’, ‘baTlu’, ‘kaitALa’ et al.

            These cymbals are used to provide back ground score for the recitation of many episodes in ‘Male Madeshvara Kavya’. Along with this epic and songs such as ‘cenniga rAma’, ‘bAla nAgamma’, ‘rAjA vikrama’ and ‘basava purANa’ are recited to the tune of this instrument. The singers are professional and the skills are acquired from their ancestors. It requires at least three singers to perform this recitation. The main singer plays on the kamslae and the other two use ‘dammaDi and ‘EkatARi’. The music suits singing as well as renderings in prose.

            ‘bIsu kamsale’ (ಬೀಸು ಕಂಸಾಲೆ) is a unique dance performed by these singers. It is a dance in which religious fervour combines with martial dexterity. “The instruments, in the course of the vigorous rhythmic beatings are moved around the body of the dancer in innumerable patterns manifesting both skill and art. The main element is the rhythmic clang, which blends with the melodious music of the Mahadeshwara epic. The instruments, in the course of the vigorous rhythmic beat, are moved around the body of the dancer in innumerable patterns manifesting both skill and art. In a group movement the dancer provides the vision of a series of offensive and defensive manoeuvers, which is a testimony to the Kuruba people being of Martial stock.” The dynamic display of colours in the ‘gonDe dAra’ adds to the charm of this performance. The dance requires atleast three performers. The number goes right up to twelve including the singers. There are different kinds of movements in this dance and they are known as taT baTTalu, bIs baTTalu, tAr baTTalu and tEr baTtalu. These performances are held at annual fairs, festivals and special occasions. The singers and dancers wear different traditional dresses. The dress of the dancers is dominated by red and gold Kamsale is practiced usually in the districts of Mysore, Mandya and Chamarajanagara and Bangalore(Rural) districts. Kamsale mAhadevayya (1920-1996) was a great exponent of the Kamsale tradition.  


Further reading and links:

1.      Diwali '06 Kannada Folk Dance Kamsale Diwali'06


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