Saturday, May 25, 2024

Dasari Kondappa Sole custodian of Burra Veena

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This year’s Padma Shri awardee Dasari Kondappa is today perhaps the only adept performer on Burra Veena — an instrument once popular in Telangana, created using bamboo, gourd shell and metal strings. The 63-year-old artiste, hailing from Damaragidda village in Narayanpet, is described as one of the last Burra Veena players who has dedicated his life to the preservation of the dying art form.
Inspired by his father and following in the footsteps of his forbears, he learned Burra Veena at a tender age, at a time when the fading Bhakti movement had inspired performing arts such as those played using Burra Veena.
Dasari Kondappa, whose debut film song ‘Ayyo Shivuda’ in the film Balagam, won countless hearts, credits a documentary produced by Prof C Manoja and her team from Palamuru University for his civilian honour as well as the spotlight on his being the sole custodian of Burra Veena.
Despite battling odds such as financial constraints and caste feelings over the years, his passion for Burra Veena has never waned. Speaking to The Pioneer about his wonderful journey with Burra Veena, Dasari Kondappa shares rare insights with Rashmi Bhumi Reddy about what keeps pristine art forms alive.

Born in a poor family of artistes…
I was born in a poor family of artistes at Damaragidda village in Damaragidda Mandal of Narayanpet district. My family has been engaged solely in Burra Veena for our livelihood. I was born on January 1, 1960. My father’s name is Venkappa and my mother’s name is Venkatamma.
We used to give small performances at various places. The organizers of such performances used to give us small sums that helped the family survive over the years. At times, we had to beg to meet our ends. Yet, right from my childhood, I have been deeply engaged with Burra Veena.

A single child
I don’t have any siblings. I am the only child for my parents. Even as a child I used to help my parents in earning money by supporting them in Burra Veena performances. I also used to give small performances, mainly singing devotional songs drawn from Puranas, Bathukamma stories etc.

Followed family traditions …
My family had adopted this art form for our livelihood and I followed in their footsteps. I used to participate in small shows, singing devotional songs to local audiences. They were loved by everyone and I steadily gained appreciation. Nowadays, things are different. There are no artistes who are engaged in this art form. No one is showing interest in this. These days it has become very hard to showcase my skills as there is no audience or informed people who can appreciate such performances. So, it has become difficult for me to earn bread for my family. This is also the reason for my dwindling performances.

Self-taught artiste
I did not pursue any formal education. I have been engaged in Burra Veena since my childhood, having learnt it from my parents. I cultivated my interest in Burra Veena with help from my father. Alongside learning the art form, I helped my parents by supplementing family income through rendering of devotional songs in our village shows. I have sung devotional songs drawn from Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavad-Gita, Satya Harichandra, Bathukamma and the like. Nowadays, I also sing bhajans, tatvams of Gods and Goddesses.

YouTube video, documentary changed my life
I used to perform at small shows whenever the organizers gave me an opportunity. Besides, I used to perform Burra Veena at my home. One day, when I was performing Burra Veena at home, one of our neighbours, who had been listening to my songs, was mesmerized. Impressed with my songs, he shot a video on me then and there and sent it to Nithin, who has a YouTube channel. Nithin belongs to Hyderabad.
Upon witnessing that video, Nithin visited my family, shot another video about me with the focus on my performances and later uploaded it on YouTube. Following accolades for that video on YouTube, I got some more opportunities to showcase my talent at various places. It was the first opportunity that broadened my horizons.
Later, Prof C Manoja and her team from Palamuru University, Mahabubnagar, who had seen the video, came to our village to interview me. She identified my instrument as the rare Burra Veena and made a documentary about me and the rare art form. It is because of the documentary made by the professors of Palamuru university that I received Padma Shri award. The professors helped us in enhancing awareness of the art form among people beyond Telangana.
Subsequently, I got opportunities to showcase my art form in various places like Hyderabad, Guntur and other places. I have also performed in several universities like Palamuru University, Osmania University, and gained recognition for my performances.

Specialty of Burra Veena
Burra Veena is a stringed instrument indigenous to Telangana and is closely related to Bhoomi Veena and the tribal art – Villadi Vadyalu. It is in fact an amalgamation of many stringed instruments. I play Burra Veena with small tingling bells and can produce 24 sounds, other than the ragas. I treat Burra Veena like a percussion instrument. Usually there are two styles of playing Burra Veena: single hand and double hand. I usually prefer latter. I play with two hands where the right hand takes care of the bass and percussion, while the left hand takes care of the melody.

Making Burra Venna a year-long process
It takes me a year to make one Burra Veena. For this, one has to find an ideal gourd, let it dry, and then empty its contents to make the body. We remove the seeds and take a straight stick and fix it to the body, tie the strings at the top and bottom. We use three strings and make this Burra Veena ourselves. If the veena is broken, then one has to make another one.

Financial constraints
We don’t have sufficient financial resources to perform regularly or enough money to travel for small programs so as to manage our livelihood. Apart from this, people are not showing interest towards these kinds of art forms, thereby making things even more difficult for us.

Ayyo Shivuda Yemaaye Yenakati Daaniki Saripoye…
The film crew of Balagam movie – Venu Yeldandi (Tillu Venu), Mangli, Dil Raju and others had witnessed the documentary made by the Palamuru University professor and team and approached me with an opportunity of singing my own song Ayyo Shivuda. The crew then took me to their studios, where it took us three to four days for recording the song. This opportunity in a film gave me wide recognition across the state.

Awards and recognition
The Union Government has recognized my talent in Burra Veena and honoured me with Padma Shri. I am very happy about it.  I hope God is helping me and my family. Apart from Padma Shri award, I was also rewarded with the Raj Bhavan Medal, Moola Dhwani and other certificates etc. due to my performances rendered at cultural events, Osmania University, Palamuru University and many more. Telangana State Governor Dr Tamilisai Soundararajan and other prominent politicians also appreciated me for my performances.

Burra Veena should be kept alive …
Although I finally gained recognition for my art, my main wish is that this art form should not end with me. That is the reason I am teaching this art to my 12-year-old grandson Bhanu Prakash. I want someone to carry this art forward as it should not end, especially in regards to my family.  However, due to caste issues, people are not coming forward to learn this art form.

Invitation for Ram Mandir inaugural
Recently, we got an invitation from Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust, Ayodhya for showcasing Burra Veena at the inaugural function of Ram Mandir. But we did not respond to the invitation. Soon, we will go to Ayodhya and showcase our performances there.

My spouse’s name is Venkatamma. She got married to me at a tender age. Her family was also engaged in playing musical instruments. Her parents and my parents arranged this match. I have four children, but three of them died. I am left with one son, Ramu. My daughter-in-law is Santamma. They have three kids:  two sons and a daughter.

Rapid fire
Favourite food – jowar roti
Favourite colour – red
Favourite deity – Lord Venkateshwara

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