The Tigers of Udupi3 min read
Of all the performing arts of Udupi, the Hulivesha or The Tiger Dance is perhaps the most entertaining. During Krishna Janmashtami, every street in the temple town resonates with the beats of the veshadharis or masqueraders. Completely painted in yellow and brown stripes from head to toe, all mimicking tigers, the performers in the hulivesha go door-to-door. It is a folk tradition which has slowly evolved into being an important part of festival celebrations in the district.
People from all walks of life take part in hulivesha. It transcends age, caste, class and religion. In my journey with one particular hulivesha troupe –‘Bobbarya and Friends’ from Udupi, I met an autorickshaw driver, a fisherman, a clerk. Fazeen Ahmed from Malpe, who has been performing the art for 5 years now, says “I am a Muslim but my religion is not important. I started doing this because one of my close friends is a Hindu and for many years I have taken an active part in the hulivesha.” It also transcends geographical barriers. Harish Kadbettu, an Udupi-born businessman, who now lives in Mumbai, has been coming down to take part in the hulivesha performances for 15 years now. “Janmashtami in Udupi is unique. Every year, I make it a point to come and experience Janmashtami here”. Boys as young as 12 years old and men as old as 45 years old were part of the troupe. Dhanraj Rao (12) studying in Board School Udupi said “It is a different experience from school life. We perform in many places in Udupi and it’s nice to hear people appreciate our performances.”
This year, the 27-member troupe started their journey on Tuesday 16th September when the members of the troupe got together for the painting of the tigers. The artists were painted in the vibrant colours of the tiger – black, yellow, orange and in rare cases, even white and brown. It is a long process which takes about 10-12 hours according to Santhosh Sherigar, who has been painting for hulivesha troupes in Udupi for over 15 years now. “I try and paint a unique pattern on every tiger. Each layer of paint is applied to reflect the grandeur of the tiger.” he adds. It is also a tedious job for the performers as they have to stand patiently for hours so that the paint does not get distorted.
After the painting session, the troupe offered their prayers to god before going on to perform in different places in and around Udupi. For two days, the troupe survived only on coconut water for energy, as they danced in the streets, in front of houses and local shops. The artists performed many heroic stunts that left the crowd cheering in rapturous applause. Sathish, a tempo driver who witnessed the performance was appreciative when he said “The performers are daredevils. The stunts they perform involve risks but they practice and do it with precision.” The troupe ended their two-day adventure with the final performance at Rathabeedi near the Udupi Krishna Math on the night of Wednesday 17th September, again to an appreciative crowd.
This is the story of one out of over 40 such troupes who get together every year during Krishna Janmashtami to entertain and spread goodwill among the people of Udupi. Surendra Kadbettu, the leader of the troupe, reflecting on his experiences leading the troupe says “I am lucky to be leading a dedicated group of people who show up every year and put in the effort to make the performances special. I am confident that the tradition of hulivesha will live on for generations to come in Udupi “
Sub-edited by Manasi Srivathsan