Veerashaiva religion founded by the Saint poet Basavanna and his great contemporaries in the twelfth century has developed a number rituals and practices over a period of time. Many of them have risen to the level of folk arts and practiced by large communities all over Karnataka. These rituals are often rooted in mythology and are related to the history of this religion also. Some of them are militant and they reflect the tensions that prevailed among different communities in medieval Karnataka. Veerabhadra kunita also has evolved over a period of time and it has developed regional variants as well. VeerabhadraKunita,(vIraBadrakuNita)(ವೀರಭದ್ರಕುಣಿತ)Veeragase,(vIragAse) (ವೀರಗಾಸೆ) Puravantike(puravantike) (ಪುರವಂತಿಕೆ) and Kasekunita (kAse kuNita) (ಕಾಸೆ ಕುಣಿತ) are the variants that could be studied as parts of a continuum.
All these practices have their origin in the story of Veerabhadra who was created by Shiva in order to kill Dakshabrahma who in turn was responsible for the death of ‘sati’, his daughter and Shiva’s wife. Veerabhadra sets out to destroy the ‘Yajna’ and kill Daksha if he does not repent his behaviour and asks for pardon. This story as well as the valour and rage of Veerabhadra are enacted in a militant manner by artists who are trained in these performances. Actually these artistic skills are handed over from generation to generation. Interestingly, this dance is held in Goaalso.
Veerabhadra Kunita is perhaps the earliest form of this religious art. This is known as ‘lingaveera’ or ‘lingabeera kunita’ in South Karnataka. This is performed by a single artist. His costume is awe inspiring, He wears a red shirt, red dhoti, (kacce) a waist band, an icon of Rudra on the chest, jingling anklets, equally tumultuous knee bands, (gaggara) and he wears a ‘Chowri’ (Wig) that tapers down the hind part of his head. He brandishes a jingling sword (tOpada) in his right hand. A knife called ‘muLLAmbu’ adorns his left hand. Even his eye brows are painted red. His fore head is smeared with Vibhuti and Kunkum. He dances in a frenzied manner. The dance is supported by ‘karaDe’ and ‘camALa’ in the back ground. The dance is interrupted by a narration which encompasses the story of Veerabhadra and praising of Shiva. Most of the Vaidic and pots vaidic gods are derided and rediculed and the acts of Veerabhadra are enacted in a militant manner. The narration in rhythmic and rhyming prose is called ‘oDapu hELuvudu’. These narrations are also called ‘khaDga’. Occasionally they perform miraculous acts like holding burning camphor on their palms and tongue. This dance is performed on festive occasions such as Shivaratri, gAuri habba, and yugaadi and also on other occasions when Shiva is worshipped. They are also invited by Veerashaiva families to their residences and the performance are presented.
Veeragase (vIragAse) (ವೀರಗಾಸೆ) is most likely an evolved form of ‘Veerabhadra Kunita’. The latter has only one artist performing the dance where as the former involves more than one person. However the thematic associations and the emotional ambiance resemble one another to a great extent. The word ‘Veeragase’ is literally the name the garment worn by a soldier when he is at war. This ritualistic art is performed exclusively by people belonging to Veerashaiva community. Even there certain families have hereditary obligations to perform this art.
Usually veeragase is performed by eight or more artists. It has to be an even number. The colours of their dhoti and shirt are subject to regional variations. It could be saffron coloured, white, and red or even parrot green. (Only the shirt) The head gears are usually red. They wear red coloured waist bands and wrist bands also. They wear a metallic chestband with the relief of Veerbhadra etched on it. Anklets, nAgAbharaNa, rudrAkshi, a symbolic replica of Dakshsbrahma’s head tied to the waist etc constitute parts of an elaborate make up. They hold a wooden sword in the right hand and a Kerchief in the left. Their movements are invariably militant and awe inspiring.
Veeragase is performed on occasions that are of importance to the community as also familial celebrations. The artists are taken in a procession to the temple from their homestead. The assigned pairs of dancers perform the dance-steps and They are provided some background support by instrumentalists on ‘karaDe’, ‘samALa’, ‘tALa’, ‘mukhavINe’ and ‘shruti box’. The dancers, players on the instruments and the person who narrates the story (oDAbu, KaDga) take turns in the performance. Gradually these narrations have included the exploits of the saints of the twelfth century in addition to the story of Veerabhadra.
‘Puravantike’ or the performances given by the ‘puravanta’ is yet another extension of ‘Veerabhadra Kunita’ and ‘Veeragase. There are certain families in North Karnataka with the surname ‘puravanta’. Some scholars have opined that ‘puravantike’ demonstrates the influence of the ‘Tantric cults’ on Veerashaivism. They perform their art on the occasion of ‘gugguLa’. ‘GugguLa’ is the practice of taking burning cinders, kept in newly made pot broken ritualistically, to the temple. This act is performed by the bridegrooms. “Puravantike’ artists give their performance during this procession. This consists of narratives, music and dance. These artists pierce various parts of their body with sharp instruments. This practice is called ‘gugguLa ebbisuvudu’ or ‘shastra hAkisuvudu’ in Kannada. They are designated by different names depending on the part of the body that is being pierced. ‘KanTa shastra’, ‘nABi shastra’ and ‘jihvAshastra’ are some varieties of this activity. Occasionally two artists bind themselves to another by piercing their tongues with a single instrument.
All in all ‘Veerabhadra KuNita’, ‘vIragAse’ and ‘puravantike’ provide a panoramic view of some exclusive quasi religious practices.