Bhoota Figures from Mangalore

Bhoota Figures are taken or based on from the olden traditions or it is on the religious beliefs that led the people of the villages. It is a traditional art that is transferred only from the forefathers to the next generation, seen in the Basrur region of Udupi in Karnataka. The worship of these types of idols are usually seen in the Tulu nadu regions of Karnataka. Bhoota’s are referred as ethereal spirits or demi gods that protect the people of the village from evil. It is a prehistoric ritual form of worship that exists within the Tulu speaking community of people.

The Bhoota cults are confined to the Dakshina Kannada region and certain areas of Uttara Kannada districts. The Bhootas are considered as nature spirits much like the yakshas which are believed to demand propitiation from local people in return for protection of cattle and warding off disease. Worship is often not conducted with an icon but through staged rituals. The cult belongs to an ancient form of worship. The sculptures are found in temples dedicated to Hindu gods. However, they do not play any role in the ceremonies of the cult. The type of wood used is the halsa or the untreated jack wood, carved and painted. The bhoota sculptures were installed into the floors of the shrine. The carving of bhoota figures is a hereditary profession. Famous amongst the bhoota figures are the ones that are found at a bhoota shrine in Mekkekattu near Udupi.

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A bhoota kōla is typically an annual ritual performance where local spirits or deities are being impersonated by ritual specialists from certain scheduled castes such as the Nalike, Pambada, or Parawa communities. The bhoota cult is prevalent among the non-Brahmin, Tuḷu speaking castes in Mangalore. The word kōla is conventionally reserved for the worship of a single spirit whereas a nēma involves the impersonation of several spirits in hierarchical order. In kōlas and nēmas family and village disputes are referred to the spirit for mediation and adjudication. In feudal times, the justice aspect of the ritual included matters of political justice, as well as aspects of distributive justice.

To make the bhoota kōla masks seasoned wood log is used and sawed to obtain blocks of required size, on which a rough sketching is done with a pencil. Unwanted wood is removed layer by layer in large quantities and the same process of removing the wood is continued in small quantities using scraping tools. Detailing of body parts like eyes, nose and ears are done with carving tools to obtain a well-crafted idol. Hands are made separately and joined using a keel with a wood-adhesive to wedge the hands to the body.

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The outer surface of the body is treated with enamel paint as a basic coat. Further a coat of wood varnish is applied to get smooth finish. Other parts like eyes and nose is painted with various sizes of brushes to increase the look of the idol. Earlier chemical powders were used for painting the statues, however for the past thirty years enamel paints are preferred for coloring the statue. It takes about two and half to three months to complete small idols, whereas 3 to 4 months is required for bigger sized idols of around 6 to 7 feet as per the intricacy of the design. Ornaments are decided and carved based on the style of the idol.

The Bhuta Kola largely adheres to the religious sentiments of the rural community of Mangalore. In a way, the Bhuta Kola serves as a forum that celebrates the community life. This festival began in the last phase of Indus valley civilization. By then, there must have been a lot of cultural exchange between other civilizations. Though, Dravidian culture, a flourished culture in India before the Aryans invaded, is talked about quite less.

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Today feudal relations no longer obtain and thus former ruling families no longer hold any political or judicial office. But still the village demands that they sponsor their annual kōla or nēma to honour the village deity. The people believe that the neglect of the spirits will make their life miserable. Even though they may have changed, būta kōla and daiva nēma still serve for secular as well as religious purposes. In fact the two cannot be separated in a world where the tangible is suffused with the intangible.

Būtas and daivas are not worshipped on a daily basis like mainstream Hindu gods. Their worship is restricted to annual ritual festivals, though daily pūjās may be conducted for the ritual objects, ornaments, and other paraphernalia of the būta. Unlike with the better-known Hindu gods of the purāṇic variety, būta worship is congregational.

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