ETHNOGRAPHIC NOTES IN SOUTHERN INDIA BY EDGAR THURSTON MADRAS 1906
M. J. Walhouse. Journ. Anthrop. Inst., V, 1876.
Devil Worship of the Tuluvas, Ind. Ant., XXIII, 1894.
The Nalke are a caste who furnish the devil-dancers, who play an important part in the worship of the
In Canarese they are called Panaras.
According Mr Stuart (Manual of the South Canara district) every village in Canara has its Bhutasthanam
or DEMON TEMPLE , in which the officiating priest or pujari is usually a man of the Billava caste, and
shrines innumerable are scattered throughout the length and breadth of the land for the propitiation
of the malevolent spirits of deceased celebrities, who, in their lifetime, had acquired a more
than usual local reputation whether for good or evil, or had met with a sudden or violent death.
In addition to these there are demons of the jungle and demons of the waste, demons who guard the village
boundaries, and demons whose only apparent vocation is that of playing tricks, such as throwing stones on
houses, and causing mischief generally.
The demons who guard the village boundaries seem to be the only ones who are credited with even indirectly
exercising a useful function.
The others merely inspire terror by causing sickness and misfortune, and have to be propitiated by offerings,
which often involve the shedding of blood, that of a fowl being most common.
There are also family Bhutas, and in every non-Brahman house a room, or sometimes only a corner, is set apart
for the Bhuta, and called the BHUTAKOTYA.
The Bhutasthanam is generally a small, plain structure, 4 or 5 yards deep by 2 or 3 yards wide, with
a door at one end covered by a portico supported on two pillars.
The roof is of thatch, and the building is without windows.
In front of it there are usually three or four T-shaped pillars.
Flowers are placed, and cocoanuts broken on them at ceremonies.
The temples of the more popular Bhutas are often substantial buildings of considerable size.
Inside the Bhutasthanam there are usually a number of images, roughly made in brass, in human shape, or resembling
animals, such as pigs, tigers, fowls, etc.
These are brought out and worshipped as symbols of the Bhutas on various ceremonial occasions.
A peculiar small goglet or vase, made of bellmetal, into which from time to time water is poured, is kept before the
Bhutas, and, on special occasions, kepula (Ixora coccinea) flowers, and lights are placed before them.
In the larger sthanas a sword is always kept near the Bhuta, to be held by the officiating priest when he stands
possessed and trembling with excitement before the people assembled for worship.
A bell or gong is also found in all Bhutasthanams. In the case of Bhutas connected with temples, there is a place set
apart for them, called a gudi. The Bhutasthanam of the Baiderlu is called a garudi. The names of the Bhutas are legion.
One of the most dreaded is named Kalkuti.
Two others commonly,worshipped by the Bants and the Billavas are Koti Baidya and Chennaya Baidya, who always have Billava
These two Bhutas are the departed spirits of two Billava heroes. The spirit of Kujumba Kanje, a Bant of renown, belongs to
this class of Bhutas.
Amongst the most well known of the others, may be mentioned Kodamanitaya and Mundaltaya, and the jungle demons Hakkerlu
The Holeyas worship a Bhuta of their own, who is not recognised by any other class of the people. He goes by the name
of Kumberlu, and the place where he is said to reside is called Kumberlu-kotya. Very often a stone of any shape, or a
small plank is placed on the ground, or fixed in a wall, and the name of a Bhuta given to it. Other representations of
Bhutas are in the shape of an ox (Mahisandaya), a horse (Jarandaya), a pig (Panjurli), or a giant (Baiderlu).
The Bhuta worship of South Canara is of four kinds, kola, bandi, nema, and agelu-tambila. Kola, or devil dancing,
is offered to the Bhutas in the sthana of the village in which they are supposed to reside.
The Sudras of the village, and of those adjacent to it, assemble near the sthana, and witness the kola ceremony
in public, sharing the cost of it by subscriptions raised among all the Sudra families in the village in which the
ceremony is held.
Bandi is the same as kola, with the addition of dragging about a clumsy kind of car, on which the Pompada priest
representing the Bhuta is seated. Nema is a private ceremony in honour of the Bhutas, held in the house of anyone who
is so inclined.
It is performed once in ten, fifteen, or twenty years by well-to-do Billavas or Bants.
During the nema, the Bhutas, or the things representing them, are brought from the sthana to the house of
the man giving the feast, and remain there till it is over.
Agelu-tambila is a kind of worship offered only to the Baiderlu, and that annually by the Billavas only.
It will be seen that kola, bandi, and nema are applicable to all the Bhutas, including the Baiderlu, but that the
agelu-tambila is applicable only to the Baiderlu.
The following account of Canara devil-dancers and exorcists is given in Mr. Lavie’s Manuscript History of
Canara. ” It is their duty to carry a beautiful sword with a handsomely curved handle, and polished blade of
the finest steel. These they shake and flourish about in all directions, jumping, dancing, and trembling in
a most frightful manner. Their hair is loose and flowing, and, by their inflamed eyes and general appearance,
I should suppose that they are prepared for the occasion by intoxicating liquids or drugs .
Their power as exorcists is exercised on any person supposed to be possessed with the devil.
I have passed by a house in which an exorcist has been exercising his powers.
He began with groans, sighs, and mutterings, and broke forth into low mournings.
Afterwards he raised his voice, and uttered with rapidity and in a peculiar tone of voice certain mantrams or charms,
all the while trembling violently, and moving his body backwards and forwards.”
The performance (of devil dances) always takes place at night, commencing about nine o’clock. At first the
pujari, with the Bhuta sword and bell in his hands, whirls round and round, imitating the supposed gestures of the demon.
But he does not aspire to full possession ; that is reserved for a Pombada or a Nalke, a man of the lowest class, who
comes forward when the Billava pujari has exhibited himself for about half an hour.
He is naked save for a waist-band, his face is painted with ochre, and he wears a sort of arch made of cocoanut leaves,
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. At length he stops, and every one is addressed according to his rank ; if the Pombada offends a rich
Bant by omitting any of his numerous titles, he is made to suffer for it. Matters regarding which there is any dispute are
then submitted for the decision of the Bhuta, and his award is generally accepted. Either at this stage or earlier, the
demon is fed, rice and food being offered to the Pombada, while, if the Bhuta is of low degree, flesh and arrack
(liquor) are also presented. These festivals last for several nights.
Of the three devil-dancing castes found in South Canara (Nalke, Parava, and Pompada), the Nalkes are apparently the lowest.
The Nalkes have a headman called Gurikara, who settles disputes and other matters affecting the community, and acts as
the priest at marriages, death ceremonies, and other ceremonials.Girls are married after puberty, and a woman may
marry any number of times. The marriage ceremony is concluded in a single day. The contracting couple are
seated on planks, and the Gurikara throws coloured rice over their heads, and ties a turmeric-dyed string with
beads strung on it round their necks. Those assembled then throw rice over them, their hands are joined by
the Gurikara or their fathers, and the dhare water is poured thereon.
The dead are either buried or cremated. After burial or cremation, a mound (dhupe) is, as among other castes in Canara,
made over the spot.
Round it, four posts are stuck in the ground, and decorated so as to resemble a small car.
The final death ceremonies (uttarakriya) are generally performed on the fifth or seventh day. On this day, cooked food is
offered to the deceased by placing it near the dhupe, or on the spot where he breathed his last.
This is followed by a feast. If the ceremony is not performed on one of the recognised days, the permission of some
Bants or Billavas must be obtained before it can be carried out.
All castes in South Canara have great faith in Bhutas, and, when any calamity or misfortune overtakes a family,
the Bhutas must be propitiated.
The worship of Bhutas is a mixture of ancestor and devil propitiation.
In the Bhuta cult, the most important personage is Brahmeru, to whom the other Bhutas are subordinate.
Owing to the influence of Brahman Tantris, Brahmeru is regarded as another name for Brahma, and the various Bhutas are
regarded as ganas or attendants on Siva. Brahmanical influence is clearly to be traced in the various Bhuta songs, and
all Bhutas are in some manner connected with Siva and Parvati.
Whenever people want to propitiate the Bhutas, a Nalke or Parava is engaged. In some places, the Nalke disguises himself
as any Bhuta, but, where Paravas are also to be found, the Nalke may not dress up as the Baiderkulu, Kodamanitaya, or
Rakteswari. The propitiation of the Bhuta takes the form of a ceremony called Kola, Nema, or Agelu Tambila.
Of these KOLA is a periodical ceremony, in which various castes take part, and is always performed near a Bhutasthana.
NEMA is usually undertaken by a single family, and is performed at the house.
AGELU TAMBILA is celebrated by Billavas at their homes.
The Kola ceremony is usually performed for the propitiation of Bhutas other than the Baiderkulu.
The Muktesar or chief man, with the assistance of a Brahman, fixes an auspicious day for its celebration.
The jewels, and votive offerings made to the Bhutas, are kept in the custody of the Muktesar.
On the Kola day, the people go in procession from the sthana to the Muktesar’s house, and return to the sthana
with the jewels and other articles. These are arranged on cots, and a Billava pujari places seven plantain leaves
in a row on a cot, and heaps rice thereon. On each heap, a cocoanut is placed for the propitiation of the most
important Bhuta. To the minor Bhutas, these things are offered on three or five leaves placed on cots, or
on the floor of the sthana, according to the importance of the Bhuta. A seven-branched torch must be kept
burning near the cot of the principal Bhuta. The pujari goes to the courtyard of the sthana, and piles up a
conical mass of cooked rice on a stool.
Over this, pieces of plantain fruits are scattered. Round the mass, several sheaths of plantain leaves are arranged,
and on them tender cocoanut leaves, cut in various ways, are stuck. The pujari, who wears a metal belt and other
jewelry, does puja to the Bhutas, and retires. The Nalkes or Paravas then advance dressed up as Bhutas, and request
permission to put on their canopy (ani)and brass anklet (guggire). They then dance, and sing songs connected with the
Bhutas which are being propitiated. When they are exhausted and retire, the pujari steps forwards, and addresses the
assembly in the following terms :—” Oh ! great men who are assembled, with your permission I salute you all. Oh !
Brahmans who are assembled, I salute you. Oh ! priest, I salute you.” In this manner, he is expected to run through
the names of all important personages who are present. When he has finished, the devil-dancers do the same, and the
ceremony is at an end.
Of the Bhutas, the best known are Brahmeru, Kodamanitaya,Kukkintaya, Jumadi, Sarlu Jumadi, Pancha Jumadi, Rakteswari,
Panjurli, Kuppe Panjurli, Rakta Panjurli, Urundarayya, Hosadevata (or Hosa Bhuta), Devanajiri, Kalkutta, Ukkatiri,
Gulige, Bobbariya, Nicha, Duggalaya, Mahisandaya, Varte, Chamundi, Baiderukulu, Okkuballala, and Oditaya.
According to some, Jumadi is the small-pox goddess Mari. There are only two female Bhutas—Ukkatiri and Kallurti.
The Bhutas are supposed to belong to different castes. For example, Okkuballala and Devanajiri are Jains, Kodamanitaya
and Kukkinataya are Bants, Kalkutta is a smith, Bobbariya
is a Mappilla, and Nicha a Koraga. In some temples dedicated to Siva, the Tantris offer food, etc., to the various
Bhutas on special occasions such as Dipavali and Sankaranthi.
At Udipi, the Sanyasis of the various mutts (religious institutions) seem to believe in some of the Bhutas, as they give
money for the performance of Kola to Panjurli, Sarla Jumadi, and Chamundi.
At Hiriadkap in South Canara, the dancers wore spathes of the areca palm, forming spats to prevent the skin from
being injured by the metal bells round their ankles as they danced.
The songs sung by the devil dancers are very numerous, and vary in different localities.
Of the stories relating to Bhutas, a very full account has been given by Mr. A. C. Burnell (Devil Worship of the Tuluvas).
A collection of stories belonging to the demon-worshippers of the Tulu country, and recited at their annual festivals,
was published at the Mangalore Basel Mission Press in 1886.
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Mediaeval Indian painting eastern school: 13th century
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Tribal Rugs: nomadic and village weavings from the near
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Tribal Handicraft.– Delhi: Bharatiya Adimjati Sevak Sangh.
Kings, heroes and lovers: pictirial rugs form the tribes
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Great carpets of the world.– London: Thames and Hudson.
377 p.: col. ill.; map
Traditional performances of South Kamrup.– New Delhi:
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Dance in India: the origin and history, foundations, the
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Folk and tribal designs of India.– Bombay: Taraporevala.
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Aspects of the heritage of Assam: a souvenir.– Gauhati:
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Chang language grammar and vocabulary of the language of
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Tribal art and craft.– Delhi: Agam Kala Prakashan. 190
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Bridal caves a search for the adivasi khovar tradition: a
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Tribes and castes of the central provinces of India.–
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Jewelry and personal adornment in India.– Bombay: Vikas.
Stagnation, retrograde change or positive progress?:
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Tribal Religion And Economic Life.– New Delhi: Cosmo
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Indigenous vision: peoples of India attitudes to the
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The painted world of the Warlis: art and rituals of the
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Proceedings of the Indian Art History Congress, 4th
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Giri, Anup Kumar
Flowing Heritage: an artist’s journey into life of the
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The Awakened Wind : the oral poetry of the Indian Tribes.
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Dowries from Kutch: a women’s folk art tradition in India
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A monograph on Silk fabrics : produced in the North-Western
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Tribal arts and crafts of Madhya Pradesh.– Ahmedabad:
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Tribal art of Middle India
Art and culture of marginalised Nomadic tribes in Andhra
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