Nandikolu Kunita (nandikOlu kuNita, nandidhvaja kuNita) (ನಂದಿಕೋಲು ಕುಣಿತ ಆಥವಾ ನಂದಿಧ್ವಜ ಕುಣಿತ) is a religious dance performance, practiced in various regions of Karnataka, usually by the followers of Veerashaiva religion. However the devotees of nAyakanahaTTi tippEsvAmi in Chitradurga district also perform this dance. They belong to the nAyaka community. Nandikolu Kunita is one of the rituals that take place during the Navaratri (Dussehara) celebrations in the palace of Mysore. For the devotees belonging to the Veershaiva community Nandikolu dance is a part of the victory march by Veerabhadra after the slaying of Dakshabrahma. On the contrary, nAyakas and the retinue of the palace consider it as a symbol of the victories by their cultural hero and the king respectively. In all these instances there is an element of militancy associated with the dance.
Nandikolu Kunita is the dancing march performed while holding the nandi kolu aloft.
Nandikolu is a sturdy bamboo pole of variable length ranging from fifteen feet to thirty five feet depending on the region. It is called by various other names such as biraDe kamba, vyAsagOlu, nandIkamba and nandi paTa. It is a small pendal like pedestal made of wood. It is fixed to the pole at a height of about 4 feet from the bottom. A small statue of Nandi (Bull) made of brass is kept on this pedestal. Immediately above the Nandi icon, several hollow concentric rings are placed one above the other. The inner space in these rings is filled with a number of very small stones or tamarind seeds. These rings are called haraDe, gaggara or gaggra. The number of 'haraDe's range from ten to twenty depending on the length of the pole. Each 'haraDe' is accompanied by a metallic ring (band) both above it and below it. These rings are called pyAriya or koLaga. There are circular tin discs called jAlari or jalra between gaggaras. Then again small mobile tin pieces are fixed to the jalaras. The size of the gaggaras and jAlaras is reduced as they move up. The upper part of the pole is wrapped with red and white cloth for about four feet. There is saffron or red coloured flag right at the top. The images of a shivalinga and a couple of nandis are stitched on to this flag in white. At the very top of the pole there is small umbrella like contraption called kaLasha.
A small hole is bored in to the pole at a height of about two feet and a rope passes through it and then on to the shoulders of the dancer. In addition to this the dancer lifts up the pole and moves forward. The total weight of the nandikolu is about 20 Kg. and it requires a lot of strength and dexterity to hold it aloft and perform a dance. Nandikolu produces a pandemonium of jingling sounds. The dance is performed to the accompaniment of instruments such as karaDe, DoLLu, sonAmi, tALa and cammALa. The dance is performed in different rhythms, now fast paced and now very slow. Occasionally the pole is held static on the forehead, chin, shoulder and chest of the dancer. Many complicated steps and movements are seen during the dance. They are called ondhejje, eraDhejje, douDhejje, taTTihejje etc. The attire of the dancers is quite simple. They are clad in white dhotis and shirts. They wear coloured turbans and white waistbands. Of course, their foreheads are smeared with viBUti.
Nandikolu Kunitha is essentially a combination of devotion, militancy, skill and entertainment depending on ones perspective.
Further Readings and Links:
1. travel.webshots (A photograph of Nandikolu)