Bhuta worship, or spirit worship is a form of worship, special to Tulunadu. Bhuta means of the past, the bygone, meaning thereby the spirit of the ancestors. This is a form of hero-ancestor worship. Of course of spirit worship and possession cults are found in many ancient cultures. Yet the Bhuta worship is distinct in form and detail. Nearest to it is the Theyyam tradition of Kerala.
Bhuta worship has a known history of about eight centuries. But its origin must be much older. It is not only a living tradition, but is getting revised with much vigour and growing interest. It is a complex with beliefs, rituals, rules of worship, apparatus, literature, music and theatrical elements. It is a vast and interesting world.
Parba (Parva), Kola, Nema, Bali, Kendaseve are the varieties of Bhuta worship. Among them Parva is the simple form of worship, with offerings at the ‘Bhuta Stone’. Kola, Nema, Jatre, Bali are all varieties of kola with differences in detail. Kola means ‘wearing a costume’ or ‘playing a role’. This form is a detailed performance where the Bhuta appears in possession through a medium person. The performance has definite stages right from the inviting stage to the finale. That involves the use of verse singing, story telling, promises and solutions to various complaints, prayers and problems, use of music and dances etc.
About four hundred Bhutas are being worshipped. Some of the prominent names among them are – Guliga, Panjurli, Koti-Chennaya (Baidyerlu), Raktheswari, Ullalthi, Kodamanithaya, Malaraya, koddhabbu, Orthe, Chikku, Haiguli, Vishnumoorthi, Annappa, Nayer, Jumadi, Koragathaniya etc.
Bhutas are believed to be living in the Sanas (Stana – sacred place). Alade, Gudi (various types of shrine – temples) and in specific stones kept under trees and in trees also. The masks, weapons and statues are also in way the abodes of the Bhutas.
The Bhutas are believed to be having powers of helping, showing grace, trouble making etc. The nature, the powers, likes and dislikes of Bhutas vary. Bhutas have been playing an important role in the administration and in the folk judicial system.
Kola is the chief form of Bhuta worship. It is a ritualistic theatre. It involves devotion, inspiration, entertainment and is an important form of community life. Usually it is an annual ceremony. It takes place on fixed dates as per the solar year. It may be at the family level, village level or at the level of a group of villages. It proceeds in various stages like cutting of a plantain bunch, (Gone kadiyuvudu), a cock fight ritual (Koligoota), arrival of the Bhandara, (Bhandara ilisuvudu), hoisting the flag (Dhvajarohana or kodi), taking the veelya (formal invitation to start), make up, wearing the bells (Gaggara), grand meals (offering Barane), wearing the big hallow like back-gear, possession and dance, speaking by the spirits, giving protection – word (abhaya) etc. The costume and make up have distinct style and the Bhuta worship presents a very good costume make up model. The make up, costume, dance, forceful background music, the dialogues, possession – all together create awe and trans like environment. The head of the family or the community or a person assigned, has to speak to the Bhuta on various matters concerning the rituals. The dialogue follows a broad pattern. The language used in these conversations and by the Bhutas in their independent wordings (Nudi) is poetic and stylised.
The songs sung in the Kola performances are called ‘Pad-danas’ (prayers or ‘Pad’-songs). They are long narrative epics. They are an interesting literary genre containing the birth and geographical spread of a Bhuta, its exploits, miracles, greatness etc. The paddanas are sung only at certain stages of a Kola performance. They include many historical and cultural details, along with the story of a Bhuta.
The Kola has stylistic differences and differences in duration depending upon the concerned Bhuta, the level of performance and area.
Bhuta worship is an intimate part of the life of the people. It is a forum for social contact, community life, celebration of festival and entertainment – all in one.
(Information – Dr K Chinnappa Gowda)