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Kannada culture comes alive at NKK’s 50th Golden Jubilee celebration

BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE

Atlanta, GA, February 22, 2024: Back in 1973, the Indian American diaspora was barely in the thousands in the southern belt, and Kannada-speaking families were even fewer and far between. Approximately ten families from Karnataka and a few students got together during the spring of 1973 on the occasion of Ugadi and launched Nrupathunga Kannada Koota (NKK). The goal was simple – to celebrate festivals, the language, culture and heritage of Karnataka.

Its humble beginnings notwithstanding, at 50, NKK has traversed a path of progression, broadening the horizons to giving back to the local community and region through a spectrum of community-focused services, with a strong focus on the Kannada community.

WATCH JYOTHSNA HEGDE’S REPORT ON YOUTUBE

Culture came alive as Kannadigas of Atlanta celebrated the golden jubilee (50 years) of their beloved Kannada association, NKK with much pomp and fanfare. The year-long celebrations of the momentous milestone culminated in a 2-day grand convention with over 1,200 attendees partaking in the festivities. Day one of the celebrations was held at Forsyth High School on October 28 and the grand finale at Gas South Theater on October 29, 2023.

“Thanks to the support, and encouragement of donors and sponsors along with meticulous planning and hard work of the NKK office bearers and volunteers, as planned, the commemoration of the 50 golden years of one of the oldest Indian linguistic organizations in the USA was grand, traditional, authentic and full of passion,” Santosh Krishnamurthy, Chairman, NKK, and Srinivas Prasad, President, NKK, expressed in a joint statement.

The festivities kicked off with Teru, an intrinsically decorated chariot carrying a large picture of Goddess Bhuvaneshwari Devi. The procession gained traditional charm with local Kannadigas representing various regions of Karnataka performed Thamate Vaadya, Chande vaadya, Veeragaase, Huli Kunitha (Tiger dance) and Coorg Valaga Kunitha.

In a show of solidarity and respect to its departed founding member, NKK invited his friends who paid a fitting tribute to their leader, tracing the history of the organization and rendition of his favorite songs. “It was heartwarming, and I’m grateful and sad that my husband did not live to see this,” Mrs. Indira Ramaswamy, said.

With popular invited television, theatre and dance artists from India and local Atlanta presenting an array of performances, the NKK convention was a spectacle of Kannadiga pride resonating beyond seven seas.

Seasoned theatre artists/actors/producers Sihi Kahi Chandru and Srinath Vasista proved that comedy can be clean and completely entertaining! Their standup act had the crowd in splits  – so much so that I could not even hear the dialogue over the loud laughter of a very amused viewer in my adjacent seat!

Artistic couple actor/director Vikram Suri and actor/producer Namitha Rao chose to nurture local talent, arriving a couple of weeks ahead of the event. The couple trained local enthusiasts for a popular Kannada dance-drama skit Punyakoti, that was skillfully enacted by the couple and local artists, a comedy play Lockout alla Knockout and  ‘Ranga geethe’ featuring theatrical music that was all very well received. A movie produced by Rao, Chowka Bhara, featuring Rao in the lead, and directed by Suri, premiered in Atlanta post the anniversary.

Another talented couple, renowned dancers Nirupama and Rajendra and the team of Abhinava Dance Company from Bengaluru set the audience on a riveting cultural journey with their Suvarna Sambhrama, blended with synergy of music and rhythm. The intense artistry in choreography laced with graceful, precise coordination among performers, who, bedecked in resplendent gold, spun tales of passion and mythology, enrapturing the senses with their emotive storytelling. Completely submerged in their craft, the couple and their troupe showcased an exquisite tapestry of solo and group presentations of original compositions with amazing grace and fluidity enhanced by rhythmic intricate footwork and evocative expressions thoroughly enveloping the viewer. They came, they saw, they captured.

Yakshagana, a coastal Karnataka art form, characterized by elaborate and colorful costumes, makeup, masks, racy music, forceful dance, and extempore speech, presented by invited artists Naveen Hegde and Adithya Seetharam, along with local artists spellbound the audience, The act narrated the tale of Kartavirya Arjuna, the son of Kritavirya and Rakhavati of Yadu dynasty, who is blessed with a thousand hands faces off the mighty Ravana. Ravana is angered when Kartavirya Arjuna engaged in Jalakreede (water sports) with his wives stops the flow of river Narmada. This unintentionally washes off the Linga made of sand by Ravana for his pooja and the mighty kings face off. The saga of heroism, beauty, humor and devotion brilliantly executed by the team infused vigor and energy into the crowd.

Beat Gurus, a unique band from Bengaluru, India that features percussion beats from across the globe along with Flute, orchestrated a symphony of memories that left the audience craving for an encore. The energy, passion, musical prowess, and stage presence created a magical aura that set the audience into an unforgettable musical journey.

Invited magician Ashik Prakash worked his magic on the kids and adults alike.

Talented local artists were not far behind, pitching in a motley of cultural performances.

In tow with tradition, the food served on both days matched the authentic spread back home with the menu featuring local classics served on Plantain leaf dishes such as Idli, Uddina Vade, Kesari Bath, Carrot Halwa, Kosambari, Bisibele Bath, Majjige Huli, Jolada Rotti, Yennegayi, Pheni, Dharawad Peda And Kaayi Holige.

A grand prize of a diamond-ruby ring worth $5,000, sponsored by Malani Jewelers was awarded to the holder of the winning ticket as part of the grand celebrations.

“NKK’s Golden Jubilee was celebrated on October 28th and 29th in Atlanta was a grand success. Over 20 artists came from India and performed. Performances from local artists and international artists were done exceptionally well. Procession on 10/28 was definitely icing on the cake. Food was delicious. It was nice to see some of the local political leaders coming and addressing our event. Congratulations to all leaders, BOD and executive team and team of volunteers. A job well done. We were very happy to participate and enjoy the whole program,” Drs. Anu and Subra Bhat, Trustees, NKK, said. Dr. Bhat also served as past chairman of NKK board.

“It’s a proud moment for me to pull through the Golden Jubilee Celebrations under my leadership as the Chair of the organization,” Krishnamurthy said. Having joined in 2016 as a member, he has served NKK in various capacities before serving as Chairman. The immersive experience highlighting the vivid tapestry of the rich linguistic heritage and culture of Karnataka, featuring young and the old from, the local and international talent justified the title of the celebrations, Suvarna Sambhrama, roughly translating to Golden Celebrations.

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