“ Weave, spider weave that web …
Doddasampige, my Lord
Safeguard and protect me, O Lord
Weave, spider weave that web …
O the Mountain Imperial Pigeon of Boodipadaga,
The same one that cannot be trapped!
Behold the Sloth Bear of my forest … ”
- Translated from the Soliga song Gorukana
Peopled forests: Origins
The forests of BR Hills have had people for time immemorial. Burial sites excavated from several areas nearby date back to 3000 years ago to the Megalithic period. These sites characteristically consist of Dolmens – a circular arrangement of large stones with a central pit, walled off by granite slabs. Although, it is not known if these belong to the ancestors of the present Soliga tribe, having lived here for generations, the Soliga people have an intricate understanding of the flora and fauna. The Soliga lore traces their origins to the forest itself. Their name Soliga is in itself an indication that they have come from the forests (Sola-forest; iga-belonging to). One of their principal deities, the Doddasampige is a large Michelia champaka tree in a valley at the heart of the forest. On the banks of the stream Bhargavi, the large imposing tree perhaps several hundreds of years old is worshipped by a community-appointed high priest, the Thammadi. Their folklore, songs and dances adopt several elements from their life in the forests – the four-note call of Kethanakki, the Soliga name for the Indian Cuckoo (Cuculus micropterus) is named after one of their Gods, Ketha.
The bird’s four-note call announces the arrival of their God, Ketha (Ke tha ban da – the four note call!). A temple to Ketha gives its name to the hunting lodge of the erstwhile Maharaja of Mysore, now with the Forest Department. Every year, Soligas from all around gather for Rotti habba, where they make fresh bread with Ragi to be shared among themselves, as they sing Goru, goruko, gorukana…. a song that calls on its singers to weave lines from their day’s jungle experiences into it as they sing and dance in a familiar rhythm. The song recalls a spider (Goruka in Soliga language) weaving its web, just as they weave their experience into their story. Further down the song, it is common to hear of the cheekiness of the Mountain Imperial Pigeon or the ambition of the Four-horned Antelope to create dung heaps as large as the hills itself! Having lived for generations, many observations of the life and behaviour of animals are woven into songs and lore of the Soliga people.
Today, the Soliga people number about 21000 In the words of Jade Gowda, the former Thammadi of Doddasampige, the Soligas are indeed brothers of the others (the naadu jana – the plains people).