Traditonal folk art of Tulunad – Aati Kalenja struggling to survive the pandemic

Team Udayavani, Aug 10, 2020, 12:28 PM IST

Mangaluru: The month of Aati when downpours inundate the coastal region, it is kalenja who roams around in the villages to ward off evil spirits.

Aati month is synonymous with heavy rainfall and as a result, all agriculture activities come to a standstill.

Aati Kalenja is a ritualistic folk dance performed by the members of the local Nalike community during this month and it is considered ‘highly effective’ in warding off evil spirits, diseases, and misfortunes.

It is believed that during the month of Aati, nature’s spirit kalenja descends on Earth to bless the land and its people. The performance begins on poove — the day before the full moon and continues till the end of the month.

Headgear and painted faces are the main attractions of kalenja’s eco-friendly costume which is made of leaves and flowers. The person who masquerades as kalenja makes the headgear using stems of Ixora coccinea (kepula in Kannada). The headgear, also called the mudi, is then decorated with flowers. The ‘skirt’ which flows down his waist is another piece of art. It is made of tender fronds of coconut and is interlaced with banana sheath strands. Later, he paints his face and hands in various colours and designs and gets ready for house visits. The image of Aati Kalenja, holding an umbrella of dry palm leaves, makes for spectacular viewing.

He then visits houses and carries out a ritual of sprinkling water mixed with charcoal, turmeric powder and tamarind to do away with any misfortune that might have befallen on the family and the cattle. He dances to the beats of the drum called tembere.

Accompanist beats the drum and recites the song, Aateek Baththe Aati Kalenja, narrating the story of the spirit As a reward for expunging the evil that surrounds, household members, give him rice.

Aati Kalenja is also considered as a traditional healer who at times dispenses medicinal herbs to overcome illness.

However, this year due to the COVID-19 outbreak the Kalenja’s are not allowed to perform their art and this form is slipping into oblivion.

Speaking to Udayavani Jayaram, a person who masqueraded as kalenja for many years said, “Due to COVID-19 this year my family has decided not to perform this year keeping in mind our safety and people’s safety. Even if we decide to go to houses and perform, I don’t think anyone will encourage us.”

“Every village has a Guttina Mane and it is mandatory to perform there, but I don’t know what to do this year. However, we will have to talk to the elders of the Guttina Mane and ask them if we can perform, if they grant permission we will perform in the last week of Aati,” he informed.

“At the end of the Aati month we offer food to the spirits at our house from the offering given to us by the villagers, that ritual will be followed this year also,” he added.

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