Padma Shri ‘Vanasuma’
Fondly known as Sukri Ajji, Padma Shri ‘Vanasuma’ Sukri Bommagowda is a repository of more than 1000 tribal folk songs.
In an age where safeguarding local traditions, especially tribal,
is becoming difficult due to urbanisation and commercialisation, Sukri Bommagowda comes as an oasis in a desert who has dedicated her life to champion the cause of tribal folk songs.
Bommagowda belongs to the Halakki Vokkaliga tribe in Karnataka. The Halakki women sing about everything one cannot imagine,from fantasy to daily life chores, from marriage to protest. Sukri Ajji, as she is fondly known, began singing early along with her mother and reportedly has a collection of more than 1000 tribal folk songs. These songs have been passed on for generations while she has added many of her own over past several decades. Apart from being conferred with the Padma Shri in 2017, Ajji has been honoured with other prestigious awards like Janapada Shri Award, Nadoja Award and the Alva Nudisri Award. She has also been felicitated with the ‘Vanasuma’ award by Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram for her contribution to tribal and folk songs.
78-year-old Bommagowda has also been raising her voice against alcoholism. She had lost her husband who was addicted to alcohol and since then it has been her favourite subject to educate others about, especially tribal people. She has devised and sung many songs on the ill effects of alcoholism.
Her immense knowledge in tribal culture and traditions makes her a living library. She performs in tribal and nearby villages but rarely for money and mostly to keep her folk tradition alive by inspiring others to use the medium. After she lost her husband, she worked as an agricultural labourer to earn her livelihood. Her popularity in her locality enabled her to become a member of the Badigeri Gram Panchayat in Uttara Kannada district. But she did not stop there. Being unable to read or write, Sukri ajji understood the importance of education and schooling. She is a staunch supporter of educating tribal children, especially the girl child.
In an era where feminism has come to mean discarding traditions and foul mouth the other gender, women like Sukri Bommagowda have shown us the way to co-exist with our traditions while taking up contemporary issues. n