Manteswami Mahakavya is one of the very important and unique oral folk epic in Kannada. This epic is kept alive by Neelagaras , the deities of saint Manteswami by singing these folk songs for centuries in the region of Mysore, Mandya, Chamarajanagar , rural Bengaluru and on a small scale in some other parts of Karantaka.
Manteswami is a revolutionist veerashaiva saint who lived in 15th century ( debated) and fought to bring down the caste based distinctions in the society.
12th century in Karnataka saw Sharana movment which brought a huge changes in the society . But when this movement resulted in exclusivity of certain communities in the after generations again there was a need for a change which was brought by Manteswami as historians believe . He worked for uplifting of lowest communities in the Indian caste hierarchy. But these are highly debated topics due to lack of historical evidence. Sharana movement brought Sharana sahitya in to lime light and Manteswami stories and principles are carried in Manteswami Mahakavya ( epic) by his disciples who are called Neelagara .
The epic is a mix if poetry and narration in Kannada language but it is a dialect which gives a idea on the geography where the the epic is evolved. And this epic is a treasure house which is a mixture of mythological stories, principles, history, stories, fairy tales, proverbs, puzzles and many more . Dr Hi Chi Boralingaiah did a phenomenal job in collecting this epic which was published which had more than 27000 lines .
The singing style
They sing in group where main singer uses a snake shaped string instrument and the accompanying singers use finger cymbals and leather drums called dammadi and gaggara. There is a distinctive style in this folk style where the main singer stops and starts narrating stories in between . This epic is sung solo as well with the string instruments only. Some singers are so seasoned that they can make the listeners laugh or cry while they singing emotionally.
All these singers gather in Siddppaji , Kappadi and B G Pura fairs. One can see them singing on temples, streets, groups or in front of their camps.
Siddappaji fair is over for this year. Kappadi fair starts from 24th and will be held for a month. B G Pura fair comes around March 29th during Ugadi festival. Do visit these fairs and listen to this refreshing folk music of Karnataka.
the Siddappaji Bhakthi Geetha
A devotional song sung by the team of singers from Yalandur in Chamarajanagar. The song on right is recorded in the place during the fair. They come in team, setup their speaker and mic to attract crowd , sing songs for many days to earn a bit of money donated by the visiting crowd. They also announce the name of the devotee who donated and continue singing. This is not the traditional Manteswami Mahakavya but the songs are delightful and make you listen for hours.