Houdu Basava Houdu? ‘Bhagyada Lakshmi Baramma’! Basavas to Entertain Near your House Gates
Mangaluru: It’s Shravana season, and until Deepavali you will see Oxen aka Basava’s decorated with colourful cloth and bells are walked from house to house by men playing the Shehnai. Women and children come out of their houses to look at the oxen- and to give alms. A Rupee or two or more. Sometimes a fistful of rice. Maybe a chapatti. Plantains for the oxen. Whatever is given is given with both hands symbolizing wholehearted giving. In some part of Karnataka, Kole Basavas are a part of local tradition and folklore, with trained and heavily decorated bulls asked questions about the future and offerings of money and food provided to the bulls in return for a nod of its head in response.
On certain days you wake up in the morning to the music of Shehnai and the tinkling of the oxen’s bells- and this is the time you will see bunch of these ox’s along with their owners moving around the city. It was Friday morning around 8.30 am in the morning, our gate bell rang continuously and I thought either the laundry woman, or the fish Saiba was at the gate. Heading towards the gate, I was welcomed by a head nodding Ox, alone with no one beside. I was surprised as to how could an Ox ring the bell? But quickly there comes a man running towards the gate, who had gone behind the bushes to urinate, leaving back the Ox near our gate. He played a tune on his Shehnai, including the “Bhagyada Lakshmi Baramma” tune. I gave the man Rs 10 and a small bottle of water- and the Ox kept staring at me since I didn’t give anything to it.
Out of curiosity, I asked the man a few details of him and their way of life- and Sreenath aged 38 narrated the story- “I am originally from Kadapa District in Andhra Pradesh, but later moved to Mandya and live there in shed camps, where we pay a rent of Rs. 500 per month. But during this time of the year we come to Mangaluru, and seven of us have set up camps at Kodikal, in Mangaluru. This is a family tradition that my father and grandfather have passed on to us. Once a year we go back to our village to look into our meagre patch of lands. There’s not much water so we don’t grow too many crops.
“Now it’s the Shravana season, so we are here in Mangaluru till all the festivals get over, all the way till Deepavali- and we make a decent earning here in Mangaluru than other places, since Mangaloreans are very generous people, and they treat us good. We learnt to play music from our guru in Tirupati. Now we also play songs in Tamil, Telugu, Malyalam and Kannada. Seetha here is wearing ornaments and decorations from my father’s time. Sometimes we take bigger dhols also along with us to play. In Mandya, we are generally invited to play at temples, for family functions, and in weddings. If about five of us from the family are called to play at a wedding only then we make about Rs. 5,000-Rs 6000 “
“But every Friday we set out with Seetha playing in front of people’s homes. We have to keep up this family sampradaya (tradition) so we continue to do this. Otherwise, it does not bring us much money. At each home they give us anything ranging from Rs. 5 to Rs. 20. Others simply chase us away. We do many odd jobs at other times — sometimes we sharpen knives, some people call us to do masonry work and repairs in their homes. Our parents didn’t send us to school, so we can’t get jobs. But we want to make sure our children go to school. Both my children now study in school “.
“In and around Mandya, Kole Basavas are a part of folklore tradition. Trained and heavily decorated bulls/Oxen are taken from home to home, where people would ask it questions about the future and offer the bull money and food in return for a nod of its head. Often there would be a pair of bulls named Rama and Seeta and the musician would put up a show of the marriage of Rama-Seeta. Now the bulls mostly just go along with the musicians who play on the volaga and drum, often on Fridays and on festivals, from door to door, seeking money” added Sreenath.
“Kole Basava”, the spectacularly decorated bull, accompanied by his musician minder is the star attraction. Sometimes, he just stands mutely, waiting to be rewarded for his presence with anything from a lump of jaggery or couple of bananas or any other kind of food. In the meantime, the musician minder prefers the money! Sometimes, he will foretell the future, nodding or shaking his head when the minder asks him a question on your behalf. (A few surreptitious tugs of his bridle makes his answers what you want to hear. “Will Amma’s daughter be married by Deepavali or Christmas?” “Yes, yes, yes”!!” he answers in three emphatic nods!) And sometimes the musician minder will play a beautiful tune on his folk-nadaswaram. And one tune among the favourite? “Bhagyada Lakshmi Baramma”!