The word ‘dollu’ seems to have originated out of any one of the two mythological stories. According to some legends, Dollasura, a demon, worshipped Lord Shiva and asked to swallow the Lord as a boon. Lord Shiva granted the boon and as soon as Dollasura swallowed him, the Lord started growing bigger and bigger. Unable to bear the pain, the demon pleaded Lord Shiva to come out. He came out killing him and used Dollasura’s skin to make a drum and gave it to the rustics to play it. Another set of legends opine that Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati played games to kill their time. They had a bet that the loser has to leave Kailasa and live in ‘Bhuloka’. It was Lord Shiva who lost and he moved into a cave and lived there as a stone. However, since years, it was Mayamurthi, an ardent loyalist who guarded his cave. Parvati, fed up of managing the Universe alone, sends Vayu to search Lord Shiva but all the efforts were in vain. Finally, Narada located the cave and killed Mayamurthi and asked Lord Shiva to return to Kailasa. Lord Shiva was deeply hurt and was not willing to leave behind the dead body of his trusted and beloved guard. Hence, he decided to make a ‘dollu’ out of the dead body and carries it to Kailasa. Since then, the Dollu is popular among Shaivites. It is made up either of sheep or goat skin and is fit tightly to a frame made of honne or mango tree wood.
A worshipper of Lord Beereshwara named Kuruba Gowdas, sang different songs that took the form of folk songs in praise of his Goddesses during the ancient times. However, after a few years, these songs were accompanied by various dance forms and were performed in the state of Karnataka. This unusual kind of worship of God was known as Kuruba Purana in the literature. The worship of their deity Beereshwara by dance and drums is considered as the main theme of the dance and is sometimes, also called as ‘Halumathasthas’.
A group of 12–16 performers form a semi–circle and beat the drum and dance to its rhythms involving extremely swift and subtle movements. These movements are controlled by a leader who is positioned at the centre with a cymbal. The group weaves varied patterns and alternate slow and fast rhythms. The performers tie huge drums to their waists with two thick round sticks to play against them. The beats are counted in ‘guni’. It is generally one stroke on the right side of the drum with the stick held in the right hand and one stroke on the left side of the drum with bare hands. As the beating of the dollu increases, these counts increase gradually.
The Dollu Kunitha ensemble is a combination of skilled and talented dancers, artists and musicians. In order to reinforce the rich vibrations of dollu, the background has tala, tappadi, trumpets, gong and flute that are raised to a high–pitched tenor. One important musical instrument is the drum. It is beaten by a small wooden stick called tappadi. A miniature model of Dollu is often carried along with the Dollu songs. These songs are categorized as ‘kaipattu’ which means the songs that just beat and no stick is involved. With the powerful musical accompaniment of the Dollu and the cymbals and the flute providing an appropriate musical setting to the narration, most of its mythological, historical and social themes are narrated by the chief narrator.
The performers wear a simple costume. Male dancers keep the upper part of their body bare while a black sheet–rug is tied on the lower body over the dhoti or sarong. Female performers, on the other hand, dress up traditionally in sarees. Their hair is tied in a circular fashion with leaves attached to it. Both of their arms are tied with white cloth. One can see a reflection of their ancient culture which is still alive in their form of clothing and dance.