Sea, ghats, farms and music and dance

SHAMBU-FEST1The flavours of a music and dance festival hosted in a village set inside a valley are unique. Gunavante is small, lies some 18 kms from the town of Honnavar in Uttara Karnataka. The mighty Sharavathi river, fed in these drought times by the surging sea is to its north and the Western Ghats are to its east.

This then is the setting for an annual arts fest curated by Yakshagana artist and guru Shivananda Hedge. This is the Keremane Shambhu Hegde Rashtriya Natyothsava. This is home to Idagunji Mahaganapati Yakshagana Mandali.

Hedge has held this for eight years. The 2017 edition just got over.

Hedge hosts artistes, India's best from all parts of India. And he does it to celebrate the life and career of his father Shambhu Hedge, a great in Yakshagana whose body was cremated in the land which is now home to the Yakshagana academy and open-air theatre.


Violinists-brothers Ganesh and Kumaresh, Mohiniattam dancer Gopika Varma, Hindustani percussion stalwart Suresh Talwakar and feted Malini Awasthi, a folk and traditional songs vocalist of Uttar Pradesh were among those who performed on this large stage, to people who sat in the semi-circular gallery.

"I was amazed to see people watching us perform as late as 11 p.m.," Gopika Varma said later.

The night the dancers from Manipur unfolded the story of hunted animals, ending with lessons for us on respecting animal and Nature, the lights, music and dance created magic on stage and wowed the 700 plus people in the theatre.

That morning, the guru and his artistes from the Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur Dance Academy in Imphal, had presented a lec-dem of their art, step by step, over two hours, an intense education by itself, ending with explanations on the features of the percussion instrument and its music.


SHAMBU-FEST6-The discussion carried on into the dining hall, where we dined on a simple lunch of local fresh vegetables, rice and sambhar.

The kitchen works most hours of the day - breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner is served to artistes and guests. Fellowship grows over the days you are here.

There are two concerts every evening and having been fed on a variety of the arts these past years, many people attend almost all the concerts.

The morning of the festival's launch this January, as we walked around the open-air theatre, workmen toiled to use locally-grown bamboo to hoist boards of the fest sponsors, fix the tube lights on the street to the venue.

SHAMBU-FEST7Shambu Hedge's samadhi lies next to the stage, has a tulasi plant growing on it and holds up one of the many life-size images of Yakshagana artistes that adorn the stage arena.

Shivananda and his family and well-wishers work full-time on this festival, and bring a warmth to it. Every evening, a big number of funders, local political reps, officers of the state and famed poets, artistes and writers are called on stage to speak and to be felicitated.

On the opening evening, Padma Shri awardee, the famed folk singer and community activist Sukri Bommagowda inaugurated the Natyotsva on 26th January.

That evening, Hedge and team recognised the '70 years of service to the ritualistic Melattur Bhagavata Mela' of Melattur Natarajan, giving him the 'Keremane Shivarama Hegde Rashtriya Puraskar'.

On another evening, a retired professor from south Kanara who has documented the works of many great Yakshagana artistes was also celebrated.

These guests provide lots of animated conversations on the sidelines. And expands the richness of the fest.

This festival is held every late January. One which you may want to attend if you wish to soak in the richness of the geography, history and culture of this part of India.