Suggi Dancers of Halakki tribes

( this was presented in Open Show Bangalore #8. For more info please visit http://openshow.org/)

The tribe

Halakki tribe is pure agriculturist tribes inhabitants of  coastal areas of Uttarakannada district of Karnataka ( India) with a very rich folklore history. They call themselves as descendants of Lord Shiva.  One of their most celebrated event is called Suggi dance performed during the Holi festival .

Suggi team dancing in a village head's house

How it started

Suggi dance is performed by  men. Researchers have proved that agriculture is started by women while men used to be  hunting for the food. Once agriculture became more promising then agriculture is slowly transferred to men . As the harvesting season is over then men needed rest more than that a sort of entertainment  such as music and dance .This is how suggi started as the mark of celebrations after the harvesting is over.

How do they do it

Halakki  live in group of houses called  Koppas   and  there will be one team of suggi from each Koppa. This is not a rule so the village heads will decide whether they perform Suggi that year or not. Suggi dance with full costume called “Hire Suggi” , with no costumes called ” Kire suggi” or “Bolu suggi”.

It starts on  Dashami that is five days before Holi full moon day by  a selected group of men  do a pooja ( worship) in their tribe heads house and wear their suggi costumes , get a heavy makeup.  Suggi costumes are very  colorful  highly decorated ,decorated turbans ,  peacock feathers and they dance to the  tunes of their own music team. The music team among them uses Tala ( cymbals ) and  Jaagate ( percussion) and sing their own songs  in unique style. They  move from Koppa to Koppa that is villages to village by walk and dance in almost ever temple nearby, village heads  and most of the houses in the locality. ( There many rules and practices of the dance which I yet to document ) This dance is enjoyed from a small kid to the old people . The  team gets  ” Kanike” gift in terms of money , food, coconuts etc after the dance. So they move one to next house and so villages. They decide where to stay during the end of the day where they are given a heavy lunch and a good  rest for the day. They are not allowed inside the houses . The next day again they get a heavy makeup , wear costumes , do a pooja and dance in that village head’s house and move forward. On an average they travel 40-50 kms by walk and dance in more than 100 houses! The energy and dedication behind this is truly amazing ! Last day that is full moon day  they return back to their Koppa  ( village) and there is a detailed ritual to be done the whole day. They don’t sleep that day , dance whole night and in the morning they remove their costumes and bath called “Kari snana” ( balck bath) to return back to their home.

Symbolism of the Suggi  dance

Just like every traditional dance in India Suggi  dance also carries a rich symbolism which is largely associated with nature. The y use a unique turban which is decorated with colorful ornaments, small wooden birds( now they use thermocol)  , peacock feathers which resembles a tree. And the colors used are red , green yellow and white which symbolizes nature’s colors.

A good observation can show that the steps or moves other dancing style shows elements of nature such as waves of sea , curves of growing vines, flowing rivers to name few . The dance starts with slow movements of the step and then it accelerates and ends with high speed dance movements and steps which shows the different  faces of nature. The style of woman is also simulated through the dance steps  but interestingly there is no place for woman in the team.  The accompanying music  or songs  are more like devotional songs  which directly relate to Hindu Mythology.

A young man from the tribe getting a heavy makeup

They help each other for the makeup

There are no special people for the makeup. But everyone is expert in makeup

They respect their elders. They dance in front of them first

All the things that is used for the dance is first kept in front of their god

The dance begins

Goes all night

They move village to village

When entering village head's house for dancing their feet is washed ( a practice in hinduism done out of respect)

It is fun for everyone, for kids ...

and for girls and ladies

They rest during end of the day

again the makeup in the morning

yes, very colorful

Most of the young generation is also equally interested

Many spend most of their saved money on this occasion

The last day , that is the holi day there are many rituals to be done. This one is a part of a war happening between good and bad

the final dance in front of their village head

A full slide show of some  portraits of incredible people.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The truth

Slowly this dance is dying  due the effect of modernism just like every rich  culture in India. The younger generation in the tribe are attracted towards  city lifestyle and forgetting their ancestor’s practices and culture. Though lot of research has been done by university people  Suggi dance but  remains lesser known and those works are sitting in University libraries . This is an  ongoing  project of mine  aims recording this in visual media and collect more and more information and document it and create a awareness to continue this culture.

There are lot of cultural group who invite these guys for the show but I do not encourage such events. There is a big difference in watching 5 minutes of dance on stage and enjoying 5 days of dance in the village. So please do visit this event and sponsor so that they can continue this wonderful culture.

Author’s note :

This is an ongoing project and might take several years to study and  record  the ins and outs of suggi dance and its observance in terms of visuals and words.  It requires  lot of effort, money  and time . If anybody is interested in funding and using for editorial purposes  please contact me at dmhmaneer@gmail.com

yea that's me with the jokers in the dancers

A word of thanks

There are so many to name but I would like to mention the important ones for whom I am so thankful.

The whole tribe people who allowed me to get closer to them and given permission to make photos

Dr G L Hegde who has given me so much information about this dance.

My good friend Sudheer Hegde who helped with traveling, lighting etc.

My good friend Gopi who helped me to get the info in a right time.

Equipments used

Canon EOS 1000d, Sigma 17-70mm lens,EF 50mm lens ( for the portraits) , tripod,flash, CPL filter

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15 responses to “Suggi Dancers of Halakki tribes

  1. Interesting…!! I remember this when I was 6 year old….

    Now again got to see these wonderful stuff… Thanks for the visual treat with lot of info. Wonderful work.

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