March 4, 2008
Among the culture-entertainments of Tulunadu can be counted Kambla (wet-field buffalo racing, Bayalata (field dramas), cockfights and Bhootakola (devil dancing). Kambla has been commercialized with large scale betting, paid spectator seats, day and night racing with floodlights, vidiography to decide winners, public address systems and a vast mela setting with restaurants and bars making brisk business.Bayalata was once an open air show solely dependent on the vocal chords of the narrators. Now they perform in enclosed spaces like halls or under shamians with microphones hanging from the ceilings.
Cockfights are banned and yet they are held with old lanterns and petromaxes yielding place to neon and spot lights. Bhootakolas, more numerous and widespread, do not yet use mikes? Will we be seeing a change in this field, with the possessed performers ( Pujaris, Nalkes, Pommedas) hanging lapel mikes from their necks – as their upper torso remain naked. With bright neon lights already in use, the addition of theatre-style seating for spectators and voice (noise) amplification, it is easy to turn Bhootakolas into a tourist attraction.
That the bhootas and their worship in Tulunadu has great antiquity and elaborate rituals is noted in the history of Tulunadu as, for instance, in the first District Manual of South Canara (Gezetteer) edited by John Sturrock (after whom a road is named in Falnir) and Harold A. Stuart, first published in 1894.
The annual ritual, bhootakola, is not only faithfully observed in rural Tulunadu but even in guthus located in cities like Mangalore. Kodialguthu, located west of M. G. Road, half KM from TMA Pai Convention Centre, observed a three-day nema, which started on February 1, in honour of nine bhootas at the saana located off Warehouse Road. Started with the enthronement of bandhara on Friday, the kolas were in honour of Rajan Guliga, Kordabbu, Guliga Panjurli, Subbiyamma, Sankale Guliga and other bhootas ended with the exit of bandhara on Sunday evening. The bhoota impersonator, Nalke, visited Kodialguthu on Sunday morning for the milk drinking ritual. Incidentally, both Kodialguthu and the Warehouse Road saana are said to be over 250-year old. Both had thatched roof before switching over to clay tiles.
To appreciate bhootakola and its origin and setting, it is appropriate to fall back on John Sturrock’s District Manual. Worshipping or propitiating of tutelary deities or bhootas, usually the spirits of deceased persons is common in Tulunadu, especially among Bunts. Every village has a bhoothsthana in which the officiating priest, or pujari, propitiates the malevolent spirits of deceased celebrities, who, in their life-time, had acquired more than usual local reputation for good or evil, or had met with a sudden or violent death. In addition to these, there are demons of the jungle, demons of the waste, demons who gourd the village boundaries and demons whose only apparent vocation is that of playing tricks, such as throwing stones at houses. Bhootas inspire terror by causing sickness and misfortune and have to be propitiated by offerings, which often involve shedding of blood, that of a fowl being the most common.
Bhoota worship is of four kinds – kola, bandi, nema and agelu-tambila. Bhoota worship involves devil dance by pujari or pommada who represents the bhoota. The kola takes place mainly at night. Commencing about 9 PM, at first the Pujari, with a bhoota sword and bell in his hands, whirls round and round, imitating the supposed gestures of the bhoota. But, he does not reach full possession which is reserved for the Pommada ar a Nalke, who comes forward after the Pujari,s exits. He is bare, except for a waist band , his face is painted with ochre and he wears a sort of arch made of cocoanut green fronds and a metal mask .After pacing up and down slowly for some time, he gradually works himself up to a pitch of hysterical frenzy while the tom-toms are beaten furiously and the spectators join in raising a long, monotonous howling cry, with a peculiar vibration.
Then he stops and every one is addressed according to his rank. Matters regarding which there is any dispute are then submitted for the decisions of the bhoota and his award is generally accepted. The bhoota is fed with rice and fruits and in some cases meat and arrack is also offered.
Interestingly, in 1894, the bhoota impersonator was paid Rs. 8 for his frantic labours. Today, the total cost of conducting a Codialguthu-type kola totals around Rs. one lakh. While in the olden days the organizers got into the hands-on details themselves, today the work is contracted out or outsourced. The Nalke group, totaling about 30 in a multi-bhoota event accounts for about 40% of the expenses. Then there are stage-setting, electrification, housekeeping services and materials costs. In the case of Codialguthu, 16 families share the cost. On the other hand, surrounding people and visitors make votive offerings in cash and kind, including roosters. Cash contributions are said to cover 20/25% of the cost
Incidentally, the bhoota is also worshipped in the home setting. In larger houses like guthus, a separate room called bhootada kottya is set aside whereas elsewhere a niche is made for him in the wall. When special dishes, such as fish or fowl, which was a rare treat in the villages, a portion is first kept for the bhoota. Children wait to polish such offering and are the first remind the elders about offering to bhoota. In the joint family setting, good dishes were strictly rationed. So, the favourite kid of the household got an extra piece of chicken or fish via the Bhoota offering. How do I know? I used to get a portion of the offering in a Bunt house while on my way to school!
Finally, and importantly, will the Bhootas take offence at commercializing their annual outings?
Authour John B. Monteiro, author and journalist, is Editor of www.welcometoreason.com website.
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