The Kunde Tale

The Kunde Tale

Imagine a day off to indulge in binge drinking, abusing and masquerading.It is that time of the year again, the “Festival of abusing god“ also popularly known as the “Kunde Namme” is a merry day for the nomadic hill tribes belonging to the Jenu Kurubas, Betta Kurubas and Yeravas sects.

Mythology has it that Lord Ayyappa (the hunter god) abandoned the tribes on a hunting expedition by following Goddess Bhadrakali. Attracted by her beauty, Lord Ayyappa leaves his followers stranded in the forest. So to get even with god, the tribes in and around Devarapura village in Kodagu, grab the opportunity on the fourth Thursday in the month of May to rant away abuses for betraying them. By abuses I mean poking fun at gods, masters and onlookers but no offense is taken by anyone as it is an act to fulfill a vow taken by the tribes to their god.

They go around estates, houses and barge into shops to collect money. If you happen to be travelling around Kodagu at this time and happen to stumble upon them, then you are left without a choice. They will fish around your vehicle dancing, teasing and leading a chant with “Kunde onde divasa (Kunde one day)” followed by abuses or praises. Praises, if you make a contribution of few rupee, and abuses if you don’t.  

In spite of the heavy drinking on this day, they are at their energetic best. As the alcohol kicks in, their dance moves get raunchier and go about shouting “Kunde Kunde”. The highlight of the festival is watching the tribes get exceptionally talented with their appearances, costumes and instruments. Foil containers, metal cans, storage bins, plastic pots and mineral bottles become drums for the day. Decorative wreaths made out of slippers, shoes, vegetables, fruits and wild flowers can be spotted on their paint smeared bodies. Miniskirts, halter tops, and brassieres stuffed with appropriate fruits to make them look humungous are a common sight. They embellish their heads with cock feathers, neon wigs, skeleton masks and other peculiar types of crafty items.

Staggering and swaying towards the afternoon, they manage to congregate at the Shiva temple in Devarapura village which is choked with hundreds of spectators. Along come two men, prancing in a horse costume by positioning themselves inside a hollow horse-shaped cane frame. There is much excitement among those present as the tribes steal the show once again with their grooves and swirls, after which they go around an ancestral tree and apologize for their abusive act. The Kunde music will leave you satisfied with the scenes of a fun and gaiety atmosphere and one to look forward to every year.The Kuruba converge around their ancestral tree a troupe of young, sinewy bodies painted all over silver, sporting wigs of palm fronds and cassette tape, a couple of jackfruit helmets for variety, harassing shopkeepers and passers-by.

The last couple of hours, all available tramping, dancing-in-trance space near the Devarapura temple grounds has been filled with over a thousand DIY-costumed men, all seething around the ancestral tree. It’s a tight-packed coalition of several loose affiliates, united under heraldries as diverse as an ant’s nest speared on the end of a forked stick, a Kingfisher Strong bottle with a daisy in it, and a three-foot blonde doll, held aloft with dress up, panties down, reaching out to grab-ass of this plastic caucasian child.

 The worshippers dress like women because “there is a woman god inside [the temple], Badrakali, so they think she likes woman things.” That, or getting langered and prancing about in women’s clothing is simply always a great time. The collated narrative from various attendees, some who’d come from as far as Mangalore, expands on the basics of what  we’d known coming in: that the male god Aiyappa was out on a hunt with the tribesmen, then he saw Badrakali in the forest, thought she had a nice ripe kunde, and abandoned the hunters to pursue his own lust. So every year, the Kuruba come here to cuss him out. And yet the most common utterance from Kunde participants doesn’t refer to any history or mythology – nor are we regaled with tales of exploitation, servitude or indentured labour – but a simple axiom: “It’s only Kunde for one day.”

On the last day of the festival, god Ayyappa is believed to go round the town on horseback. The festival is therefore called Kudure Habba (horse festival) also. After the performance of a special pooja, the devotees gather under a champak tree and start abusing Kunde Amma.

Though their lives are marked by penury, they brush aside all their worries for one day to celebrate the festival with great joy.


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