The nightingale of the Halakki Vokkaliga tribes, Sukri Bommagowda, has won the Padma Shri award for folk singing this year.
Considered a repository of songs, ‘Sukri ajji’, as she is popularly known, has a song for every occasion, be it marriage, birth, festivals or rituals.
Sukri ajji’s melodious voice has rendered her the recipient of several awards. In 1988, she received an award from the Karnataka government for “preserving the culture of the Aboriginal Tribes”. She won the Janapada Shri Award in 1999 and the Naduja Award in 2006. She also won the Sandesha Arts Award, the Alva Nudisiri Award in 2009.
Surki ajji also features in a chapter in the second language kannada textbooks of class 8 SSLC students in Karnataka.
The 78-year-old folk artiste honed her skills by singing along with her mother as a child. Sukri ajji later added on songs of her own and can now sing over 1,000 songs.
“I have achieved everything through practice. I did not know of books or pens and music recordings until recently. I do not like recorded music. Music has to be sung aloud. The rich heritage of folk art can be preserved only if the Halakkis teach their children these songs,” Sukri had told TV 9.
She teaches the tribeswomen and their children the various songs she has retained in her memory.
Married at the age of 16 to a 45-year-old Bommagowda, Sukri ajji had two children and within a few years of marriage, she lost her husband and children. Determined to make it on her own, she worked as an agricultural labourer to earn her livelihood.
She later went on to become a member of the Badigeri gram panchayat in Uttara Kannada district. Unable to read or write herself, Sukri ajji is now a staunch supporter of educating girl children.
She is also a campaigner for banning alcohol in the village, after her adopted son died in 2014 due to excessive consumption of alcohol. She was in Delhi at the time. Upon her return, she campaigned for the ban on alcohol but was not successful.