Lavani (lAvaNi) (ಲಾವಣಿಗಳು) constitute one of the most popular modes of expression chosen by the folk imagination. These are not elaborate and very complex as the folk epics and there is little scope for innovative changes in the selected text. On the other hand, lavanis are not short lyrical songs either because they do have a story at their nucleus. The subject matter of these narrative discourses set to music is usually culled from mythology and history. More often than not, historical personalities who end up their lives in a tragic manner after a courageous rebellion against forces stronger than them are selected as the protagonists of these ballads. Names like Tipu Sultan, Kittururani Chennamma (kittUru rANi cennamma) and Sangolli Rayanna (sangoLLi rAyaNNa) come to the mind immediately.
Lavani is a narrative sung with the accompaniment of musical instruments. These instruments vary depending on the region. In north Karnataka lavanis are also known as ‘gI gI pada’ because the sounds ‘gI gI’ at the end of every stanza. An element of tragedy is always associated with most of the lavanis and it need not necessarily be the death of the protagonist. For instance, in ‘halagaliya bEDara lAvaNi’ the tragedy is the emasculation of the whole community of hunters by taking away their arms. This particular lavani is totally subversive as it presents the unjust cruelty of the British rulers, even when they were in power. Tipusultan becomes an icon hero and Mir Sadak who betrays his master to the British invaders is portrayed as a traitor. The ballad eulogizing Sangolli Rayanna delineates the process by which a common man becomes a hero during his lifetime and is deified when he meets a martyr’s end. ‘kerege hAra’ is very popular ballad in Kannada. This is the story of BAgIrathi who is sacrificed in order to please the powers that be, so that they fill the tank built by the village chief with water. The agony and the helplessness of the young woman and her husband is portrayed in a heartrending manner. The story of 'koNavEgauDa' depicted in another lavani exhibits a rare sense of humour. ‘cikki ungurake nAri maruLAdaLO’ is yet another popular lavani dealing with the travails of a woman who deserts her family in the pursuit of a mirage. Many lavanis are associated with mythological characters like gange and gauri. Most of these ballads are infused with an attitude towards life thta is essentially a product of rural culture. Many a time contemporary problems are chosen and then, lavani becomes a tool used for social commentary.
Lavanis are totally indigenous with a panache for music and they make use of ‘amshagana chandassu’ . (Prosody) The language used in these ballads is region specific. Many a time particular sociolects are adopted. They have been adapted by the singers of modern times with or without modifications.