Civilizations sustain through traditions, and traditions sustain through situational adaptation. India has witnessed infinite traditions that took birth in one form and evolved into entirely different forms, though surprisingly keeping their essence intact through the journey. Causes for such evolution have been modernization, migration of communities, climate change, economic reasons, etc. One such tradition that has survived the test of time through evolution is the ‘Gondhol’ ritual, that originated within the Marathi speaking communities of Maharashtra and is today practiced by the successors of the same in Coastal Karnataka, which mostly constitute the Konkani speaking communities.
Gondhol was previously a devotional form of art where a group of people would dance around in circles narrating stories in musical form, as a part of Goddess worship. Even today in Tulunadu and few other parts of Karnataka, Gondhol is a form of Goddess worship performed more or less in the same manner, but with clear influences drawn from existing art and folk forms of Tulunadu such as Bhootaradhane and Yakshagana. The attire used by the performers of the ritual is in adherence to the norms of the original practice, representing a few aspects from their stories such as narrators and characters. However, the similarity of these costumes and rituals to Yakshagana and Bhootaradhane are practically evident. The key role player in Gondhol performs the task of impersonating the Goddess that is being worshipped and also delivers dialogues as the Goddess herself, like in Bhootaradhane. These familiarities to existing cultures of Coastal Karnataka made it easier for this tradition from Maharashtra to adapt itself to this region.
Gondhol is an attractive form of folklore owing to its shiny and dramatic costumes and makeup worn by the performers of the ritual. More so, the process includes dancing around a lamp placed in the centre of the circle, with the performers holding large fire torches that they dramatically utilize. Even onlookers are allowed to join the process as long as they can yield the torch, follow the rhythm and keep up with the pace.
Gondhol is a ritual that is either performed within ‘Naik’ households, who are apparently the legitimate heirs of this tradition, or conducted as an annual community ceremony in most villages. Regardless of where or who conducts it, Gondhol is a massive crowd puller owing to its spiritual, traditional as well as aesthetic appeal. Of the many customs in Tulunadu, Gondhol is a folklore that never fails to steal the limelight.
(Article was made for and published in Spectrum, Deccan Herald)