Invoking Divine Spirits.

I gathered my excitement and was waiting anxiously for the moment to begin while the rest of the world appeared to be immersed in divinity. The eerie silence in the crowd made me nervous. But it was soon overtaken by thunderous actions of ‘Bhutas‘ who were dressed rightly to the occasion. They had a job to do, and it was to ‘Invoke divine spirits’ to please God. This powerful, irresistible, and captivating ritual dance is popularly known as ‘Bhuta Kola‘.

The temple was well decorated with different colored flowers, garlands, and brightly lit LED sets. Temple streets were filled with food stalls and several other attractive stores to let the world know the reason for celebration. It was the auspicious occasion of the annual festival of Shri Vishnu Murthy Temple. A happy mood during this time brings people together from different cultures to celebrate the supernatural power that they believe in. It is an opportunity for the locals to meet their friends and extended families who would be gone to different cities in search of a living. They celebrate life; just like old times.

South Canara/Dakshina Kannada, located on the shores of the Arabian sea is well known for its coastal cuisine, wonderful beaches, heavy rainfall..and of course unbearable heat. What most of them do not know is how rich the Tuluva culture is.

Whether it is the famous dance form “Yakshagaana” or an action-packed buffalo race “Kambala” or a beautiful divine structure or nerve cracking ritual folk dance “Bhuta Kola“, they all are unique experiences to savor.

Having heard and read about Bhuta kola so many times, I found a chance to witness this wonderful enact of gods and demigods by a group of Tuluvas who are performing this ritual for generations.

Pooja Offered to Daivas–“Kodamanitaya”, “Mujjinnaya”, “Kalkuda“, “Kallurti

The legend says it’s a tryst between Devas and Daivas; where “Devas” protect mankind and “Daivas”: protect Devas from demons. The Tuluva community believes in pleasing Daivas little more than the Devas as the former could bring difficulties in life when ignored.

Bhuta Kola” is performed by a group of specialists of a particular caste who would spend good amount of time in prep work, before the actual action unfolds.

Villagers making a unique skirt “Siri” made of coconut and arecanut feather. The skirt will be used by the performer when the enact starts.
One of the performers inspecting his costume before the event begins.

There are a few holy procedures performed by the temple priests at the beginning of Kola. Many ethnic groups in the coastal belt are into this performance. The one that I met had a group of 4 dances enacting different Daivas of the temple.

L: Head of the Kola group getting ready for the dance. R: The person enacting Kodamanitaya invoking divine spirits by chanting ancient Tuluva recitals.

The head of the group who usually dons the spirit of Kodamanitaya is considered more powerful and known to be principled than the rest. Each folk dancer would be dressed with colorful outfits, flowers, bangles, ornaments and, other ritual objects. They will be accompanied by a group of musicians and helpers to help them with the prep work.

Typical Kola outfit with “Siri” tied to the waist of the dancer. The dancer occasionally demonstrates the value of the leafy skirt during the ritual.
The dancer decorated with flowers and garlands who is seen praying the Devas (Gods).

The ritual dance would typically run for the whole night as there are several poojas and procedures to be performed. The village head, temple committee members, community heads, and many other important people would be in the front row to seek blessings from Bhutas.

Bhuta Kola is said to be one of those ancient-secular functions where people believe that the ritual could end all feudal disputes in the village bringing peace and prosperity to every individual. Hence, a big gathering on the day of Kola is a common scene. There are several irresistible moments in the course of the dance which takes the gathering into a different world.

Different forms of Bhutas.
Koti and Chennayya Bhuta

The whole enact was so compelling that it took my breath away. The amount of energy, precision, and divinity required for this activity is enormous and the Kola group does it efficiently till the very end. As great stories have great endings, “Bhuta Kola” ends with Daivas submitting themselves to Devas— the supreme power of the universe.

Offering to God by Bhuta.

Venue: Shri Vishnu Murthy Devasthana, Tenka Karanduru, Dakshina Kannada, Karnataka.

1 Comment

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Thank you Kiran for sharing this magical and colourful story. There is so much to India that its virtually impossible to not to be surprised. I learned something new and hopefully I retain this tradition of ‘Bhuta Kola’ and look for it on my next trip to Karnataka.

    The photos are awesome, indeed the dancers are fully leverage the value of leafy skirt :-).

    I was looking at the video was thinking may be it can be posted separately as its own posts. The video posts have a different UX. All in all a very enriching and unique account.

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