Oggu Katha (Oggu – a small handheld drum, also known as ‘damarukam’, usually seen held by Siva, Katha, a story). These are the stories narrated by ballad singers who initiate their narration with the staccato of the Oggu. The tradition is known to have evolved with the nomadic Kurmas (Yadavas) who sang their stories composed in lyrical prose in praise of Mallikarjuna – Mallanna, or Siva, with great devotion. It is said that Bhramaramba’s seven brothers had an argument with their brother-in-law Mallanna at the time of his wedding with Bhramaramba. Mallanna defeated them and cursed them to turn into dogs, and later into Oggus, at the behest of Bhramaramba, to narrate stories in praise of him.
Oggus are also known as the traditional priests of the Yadavas who perform the rituals of marriage of Mallanna with Bhramaramba.
Several Saiva stories are in the repertoire of the Oggus, though others not connected with Saivism are also sung. The major stories are those of Mallanna (Lord Siva), Yellamma (or Renuka Devi, their clan deity), Bhramaramba (Mallanna’s consort) and Beerappa.
Oggus are wandering minstrels. Besides, they are also priests to the Yadavas. They are initiated into both by a senior priest in a ceremony either in the Srisailam temple or any other Saiva temple. This initiation (often called 'Mallanna Deeksha') is necessary to become an Oggu singer and sing in praise of Mallanna.
Oggu Kathas are sung during important festivals and marriages. On special occasions like marriages or Mallanna- and Yellamma- festivals, a daylong ritual is performed by the Oggus inviting the gods to the place of the ceremony and in their ‘presence’, narrate the stories.
There are usually four participants in Oggu Katha narration: a singer-narrator, an assistant singer-narrator who complements with dramatic dialogue, and two instrumentalists - one playing the Ramdolu (a huge drum, also known as Ranabheri), and another playing large cymbals. An optional fifth member plays on a kanjira and an additional sixth one sings along with the narrator and also plays a napheera - a wind instrument. The interesting part of the narration is that if the story being narrated is that of Yellamma or any other female deity, the chief narrator dresses up like a woman. The costume is striking. The main singer wears a white-and-red dhoti and ties a 'dhatti' around his waist. He also wears ankle bells and a garland made of seven shells, known as gavvala darshanam. The seven shells symbolise the seven brothers and are given a prominent place while narrating the story.
This dramatisation gives the Oggu Katha tradition a niche of its own in the folk arts of not only Telangana in Andhra Pradesh, but at a national level.
Historically, a typical ballad presentation lasted twenty-one nights. Today it lasts no more than a night. Singing and dancing form a part of the performance. Prose is recited musically and is often improvised. Mime, acrobatics, speech-both in prose and verse - and improvised dramatic elements make the Oggu story a very absorbing experience.
Besides Yellamma and Mallanna stories, the Oggus also sing the stories of Nalla Pochamma, Mandhata, Sarangadhara, Siva Kumara, Balagiri Raju, Sirithonda Maharaju, Harischandra and Neelapati Raju. All of them are either Saiva stories directly connected with caste deities or devotees of Siva who had gained martyrdom.
The sight of a performing Oggu narrator, complete with five silver rings and silver chains (jogirly), a wrist band (ponchi), thick silver rings (kadiyam) around the neck, right wrist and upper arm, a three - layered garland made of sapphires (pagadaluu) and round silver nooses (tavalam) and a garland with Mallana's portrait on it (ambarala golusu), is a sight one would never forget during lifetime.