Karnataka is a cradle of civilization, a storehouse of vast cultural wealth. Home of diverse people with rich cultural heritage having common bonds, Karnataka is a living example of unity in diversity. Modern culture in Karnataka, is broadly believed to be based on the Vedic culture.
A majority of people follow Hinduism encompassing Vaishnavism, Shaivisam, Jainism Buddhism etc. Amongst the Hindus Billavas and Bunts are the majority agrarian communities. Followed by Brahmans, Jains, Mogers, Mapilla, the Pombadars and Holeyas their additional common cultutal feature is Tulu, their mother tongue. As such, they are broadly known as Tuluvas. Muslims and the Christians being religious minorities complete the composite picture. Kannada is the common language, having a range of variations from the smooth, textbook like Mangalore Kannada to distinctly local flavoured Havyakannada and Kundakannada. The migrant labours from the North Kannada brought another variation of earthy Kannada. Konkani and Byary are the other prominent languages which is the mother tongue of GSBs, Saraswaths, Rajapuris, Kunabis, Catholics and the Muslims respectively. The Brahmans are traditionally engaged with vocations related to relligion and learning as priests, teachers etc. Various ceremonies are held during the birth, marriage and death. Matrilineal lineage is the tradition amongst the Bunts and Billavas.
An elite Tuluva man wears a white piece of cloth around his waist with a silver belt and woman adorns herself in numerous gold ornaments around her neck and wrists and silver anklets for the feet. A common man wears any piece of cloth around the waist, a short towel on the shoulders and a piece of cloth to cover the head during the summer and Muttale during the monsoons and goes about barefoot. A hat called Muttale is made out of dried arecanut leaves, which acquires the shape of a boat and is used as a covering for the head during the monsoons. Women all over Karnataka wear saris. However, the saris are worn in different styles. In South Karnataka, sari is worn with pleats in the middle and Pallav over the left shoulder.
Agriculture and Fishing form the major occupation of the people of coastal area, while agriculture is the important occupation of Malanad people. Another industry in which Tuluvas are proficient is the masonry. Rice, areca, pulses Bengal gram, green and black gram, Sago, renke, ragi and coconuts form the commercial crop. Songs are heard from fields during sowing the seeds, transplanting and during the harvest.
Chariots are a common tradition that link temples in India. Udupi is no exception. But what is unique of these cosmic wheels are the construction and the subsequent deconstruction of the wooden wonders. Chariots in Udupi date back 400 years ago to the time of Madhwacharya. Udupi Temple is home to three chariots or rathas–the Brahma ratha, named because of its huge size, weighing eight tons and standing tall at 50 ft. The Hadha ratha or the medium sized; and the Sanna ratha, which is the smallest by comparison. These two chariots weigh five tons with a height of 35 ft and three tons with a height of 25 ft respectively. The chariots have their days of glory during festivals, between December and March, especially during Makarasankranthi and after the festival season, they are deconstructed and kept safely until the next one comes along and they rise like a phoenix.
The process of construction is a fascinating one. There is a huge wooden platform with holes into which 2ft long poles are fixed. For the Brahma ratha, there are altogether 48 poles, for the Hadha ratha there are 30 and 12 for the Sanna ratha. These poles are then arranged in the form of steps with the help of rope called the huri hagga. For every three steps, there is a support and a rope is wound 20 to 30 times, to give them strength and support. A material called biduru, does this very well. And, dharbe, a kind of grass symbolic of sacredness, is placed one foot apart, both on the inside and outside.
White and red cloths decorated with paintings of gods and goddesses, are interwoven to give the structure a bright and vibrant look. The chariot has four doors or openings and wooden statues of gods are placed on top of the chariot under a red umbrella. Wooden lions guard the four openings while wooden human ../circuitimages or the Dwarapalakas (one who guards the entry) adorn the chariot. The chariots run on huge wheels made out of the bark of the Ganni mara and therefore are difficult to move. The introduction of steering mechanisms in wheels has greatly facilitated the movement of the chariot. But the strength of 25 to100 people is required to move it. Apart from these three chariots, there is also a silver and a golden chariot.
The deconstruction of the chariots at the end of the festival is as important as the process of construction. The heavy downpours could inflict serious damage. After deconstruction the pieces are kept separately. Smoke acts as an ideal preserver. It is also stacked in the form of a chariot near the temple. The manpower needed to erect these vehicles of divinity vary from 50 to 100. The temple authorities spend a total of about Rs 5,00,000 for the three chariots. But considering the attention and admiration the chariots attract every year, it is money well spent.
Three months prior to Ganesh chaturthi, which falls in the month of October, some artistic hands in Udupi get busy creating Ganesha out of a lump of clay.
Orders for Ganesha idols are accepted till about a month before the festival, even though the harsh monsoon make it difficult to dry the idols fast which leads to a further delay in painting the idol.
There are various postures that the idols are made in—like Ganesha sitting on an elephant or on a five-hooded snake. But unlike Mumbai, where Ganesha idols take on modern poses, people of Udupi prefer their Ganesha sober, therefore, most of the postures continue to remain traditional. The sizes vary from a minimum of 1 ft to about 3 1/2 ft. The bigger statues are made hollow and stuffed with dry grass to keep them light. The final decorations include good paint and brass powder for a grand look. Customers place the orders as per their standards. The idols are then sold for Rs 300 or 400 onwards, depending on their size.
The completed idols are ready a day before the festival but the eye area is painted white until the customer comes to fetch them. Only then are the eyes drawn. The idols are usually taken home amidst great revelry and fire crackers display. The customers finally decorate the idol with real jewellery and crowns.
In Udupi, Manjunath was the first person to start sculpting Ganesha idols more than 50 years ago. Now his son Shivanand continues the family tradition. He learnt the art by watching his father. A former clay sculptor, G S Kodikal is known for a record of sorts for having made more than 195 idols in a season.
Clay sculpting often keeps the entire family involved—if not in the main sculpting then in the cleaning and painting. These families supply the entire neighbouring region with Ganesha idols. Whether they do it for extra income or as a hobby, the clay sculptors of Udupi are appreciated–were it not for them, the chaturthi would be a tepid affair.