Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Book Review

A Word about the Book by: SND Poojary, Miramar-Goa

The book: Folk Rituals by Dr. U. P. Upadhyaya and Dr. (Mrs.) Susheela Upadhyaya      
Pages, 120; price Rs. 150

     The book, Folk Rituals (of the Tuluva region of Coastal Karnataka), by Dr. U. P. Upadhyaya and Dr. (Mrs.) Susheela Upadhyaya was published by the Regional Resources Centre for Folk Performing Arts, M.G.M. College, Udupi. It is by the author-couple, who are the well known researchers and lexicographers.

    It is an important book on Tulu folklore. The book should have been a pride possession in the hands of every student of Tulu folklore and culture. However the book, it seems, is known only to a few of the folklore fraternity. Hence, the present piece is prepared to highlight the importance of the book and for a wider dissemination of the content of the book.

   The Bhuta worship or the spirit worship is central to the Tuluva way of life. The Tuluvas worship a number of folk deities (Bhutas). The folk deities worshipped at home are treated almost like the members of the family.

    These folk deities, or ‘spirit-gods’ (p 4) receive periodic offerings, and there are night-long festivals, koola (kōla) or neema (nēma), in their honour. Sometimes devotees make pledged offerings and organize pledged kōla festivals. In the case of village folk deities, there are annual kōla / nēma festivals.

    Perhaps the first documented Bhuta festival was provided by A.C. Burnell. 1 A. C. Burnell witnessed a ‘Bhuta festival from the 23rd to the 26th March, 1872 at Mangalore in the house of “Dhūmappa, bard of the Billava caste.”’ (A. C. Burnell in Temple’s, The Devil Worship of the Tuluvas 1894, p 2) In the same book, there is another description of the same festival witnessed by A.C.B. (A. C. Burnell and J.H. (Rev. Joh Hesse) on March 23rd, 1872, at Mangalore. (A. C. Burnell in Temple’s The Devil Worship of the Tuluvas, 1894. pp 7-11) Both the descriptions are of the same Bhuta festival. The work of Burnell and the missionaries of Basel Mission, especially by Rev. A. Manner, is the beginning of the study on the folk deities of the Tuluvas.

   The Upadhyaya couple witnessed many Bhuta festivals and collected a number of Tulu paaddans (narrative songs) in the course of collecting folklore information about the Tuluva culture and the Tuluva folk rituals for the Tulu Lexicon Project. On the basis of their field studies on the Tuluva worship pattern, they thought of writing a book on the folk deities of the Tuluvas. This is how the above book came to be written.

    The book has five parts and an Appendix. The part 1 of the book, Folk Rituals, introduces us to the Tuluva world of the supernatural. It delineates the area of study with a clear pronouncement about the nature of the folk deities worshipped by the Tuluvas,

     ‘…The Bhuta cult is sometimes translated into English as “devil worship” owing to a misconception of its nature. The spirits worshipped in this cult are not to be identified with “devil”, nor is the ritual associated with them to be equated with witchcraft, black magic or propitiation of ghosts…’
     ‘To its votaries, Bhutaaraadhana is nothing but daivaaraadhana. The misunderstanding about Bhuutas arises from the fact in other parts of India and the world outside, they are considered ferocious and malignant spirits who harm human beings unless offerings are made to them. On the other hand the spirit deities of the Tulu people …are divine beings; and though they occupy a lower rank in the hierarchy of Gods, they are benevolent spirits showering mercy on their votaries…’ (p 3)

    Then there are extensive details regarding: classification of the folk deities, hierarchy of the folk deities, the paraphernalia about the spirit worship, how the folk spirits are inter-linked with the social life of the Tuluvas, spirit possession, and the participation of the various communities in the possession rituals, including the information about the impersonators of the folk spirits.  The part also discusses another form of folk worship of the Tuluvas -- the worship of serpent spirit, Nāgārādhane. And finally the there is a comparison of spirit worship of the Tuluvas with the similar worship found in the Kannada speaking areas of the coastal Karnataka. Thus the part 1 of the book provides you the background needed to appreciate what is to come in the subsequent parts of the book.


The part 2 of the book discusses, Folk Rituals.

     The folk deities need periodic propitiation. Propitiation may be by offering food items and things. Food items: the sweet dish, pancakajjaya, made from beaten rice (bajil), broiled rice (poddolu), jaggery, grated coconut, granules of fried pulses etc. and fruits, coconuts, tender coconuts, baked pancakes, milk, rice etc. -- are offered. Some folk deities require non-vegetarian food: there is blood offering, ‘booga (bōga) tambila’, in which chicken, goats, sheep are sacrificed, and fish dishes are offered. Sometimes offering may be in the form of things: ‘fistful of coins’ (pundi panavu), silver or golden icons of cradle and the baby, icons of the cattle, human limbs etc.  2 

    The most elaborate and dazzling propitiation is the kōla / nēma festival. The part 2, of the book gives you the entire range of religious activities and rituals involved in the kōla festival. There is a definition of the term kōla,

     ‘…The periodically organized festival is known by the general term
      Koola, which means, “embellishment, decoration, pantomime, festivity,
      beauty, gorgeous attire” etc. The spirit impersonator puts on colourful
      headgear, mask, dress and make-up and makes a spectacular dance
      when possessed by the spirit…’ (p 23)
    The kōla festival is the most important aspect of spirit worship of the Tuluvas. It can be a pledged offering (parakeda kōla), or an annual festival (kālādi kōla). There are elaborate procedures and rituals. The central part of the kōla festival is spirit-possession by the priests (darshana pātris) and by the professional Bhuta dancers and the bardic singers -- Paravas, Pambadas, or Nalkes (Nalkes are also called Pānaras in the Kannada speaking area of Kundapur and Kōpalas in the southern parts of the Karnataka). The impersonators deliver oracular pronouncements and give divine assurances and suggest solutions. The whole exercise is an awe-inspiring spectacle. When you read the part 2 of the book under reference, you get almost a running commentary of an actual kōla festival -- so authentic and so real: 

      ‘…The spirits are worshiped periodically once or twice a year with   
       great pomp and festivity by the entire community of the area…’ (p 23)

       ‘…The preliminaries of these rituals start a few days in advance of       
         the formal performance. Contributions are collected from each       
         house in cash or kind…’ (p 24)

     ‘…A ceremonial cleaning of the place where the koola is performed is
        done… (p 24)

     ‘…The first important ritual on the day of the koola is to bring the idol and other sacred objects of worship to the venue of the actual performance. This is called Bhandaara…’ (p 25)

    ‘…The next important ritual is the ceremonial giving of oil to the impersonator…After the purifiatory bath the impersonator recites the Paaddana of the spirit. (p 27)

                 ‘…(The impersonator) makes mystical design on the floor with white  
                 powder as he sings or recites his song…’ (p 28)

After drawing the magical designs, the impersonator sits for the facial make-up. The authors comment on the art of facial painting thus,

        ‘…The facial make-up varies according to the spirit concerned…This
         face painting demands sophisticated workmanship and it is an
         admirable piece of art…’ (p 28)

The presentation of the sacred anklets (gaggara) is the key part of the kōla festival.

       ‘…The holy anklets of the impersonator are placed on banana leaf or
       on palm fronds. Dignitaries of the village strew areca floret buds on
       him as an auspicious rite…They (impersonators) touch the anklets with
       their two hands, and before tying them on, wave them several times,
       turning towards all the eight corners. They do it artistically… (p 29)

       ‘…The second phase of the Koola starts about half an hour later. The
        impersonator comes to the stage with the ani on, the halo-like outfit 
       rising behind his head…’ (p 31)

        ‘…The next important ritual is the offering of the sacred pot called 
        Badikara…(p 32)

        ‘…The offering of food to the spirit impersonator is the next ritual.
        Piles of cooked rice, rice-cakes --- are offered…For ferocious spirits
        who demand meat, a virgin hen or a white cock is offered…’ (p 35)

    I have quoted from the text at some length to show the meticulous way in which the entire kōla festival is described chronologically, with all the attendant details. This diligence to details is one of the hallmarks of the book.


    The part 3 of the book deals with ‘Folk Music’.

   Music is an inseparable element in the kōla festival: Musical instruments -- wind and percussion instruments -- are played and the folk songs, pāddanas are sung.

    There is a discussion about the word ‘pāddana’. Some scholars (notably Govind Pai [1947], Dr. B. A. Saletore [1936], Dr. Gururaj Bhat [1975], 3 suggest that paaddana is a kind of prayer. In this context, the authors of the book under review argue that pāddana is not a prayer,

      ‘…The Tulu folk narratives characterized by melody and rhythm and
    sung during the annual festivals of the Bhuuta shrines as well as  
     other social occasions and in the context of physical labour are
     designated by the general term paaddana which is derived from the
     Dravidian root, paadu, ‘to sing’…Hence the word paaddana may
     mean ‘that which is sung or narrated…’ (p 42)

           ‘Some scholars have tried to derive the word paaddana from
            praarthana, ‘prayer’, since these songs are chanted during the  
            rituals. But there seems to b no justification for this derivation from 
            a Sanskrit root. There are also a good number of narrative poems
            with secular themes and not associate with rituals and hence the
            derivation from the Sanskrit root meaning ‘to pray’ is
            unacceptable…’ (pp 42 - 3)

    Then the authors provide a detailed account of the nature and the types of pāddanas; and they also discuss the other forms of Tulu folk songs -- Manjottigōna Kabite, Urāl, and the musical quality of these songs (p 46). The analysis of the pāddanas they offer is of a great thematic value.

    The part 4 of the book, Folk Epics, further discusses the nature of the Tulu pāddanas.  The Tulu paddanas are of varying length and scope. Some of the limited versions are ballads; and they are less detailed and they are restricted in scope. However, there are pāddanas, when sung, may take several hours to complete the narration, e.g. Koti Chennaya Pāddana (Bantere Sandi), or Siri Pāddana. They deal with the theme of the song more extensively. Such pāddanas are classed as Tulu epics. 

According to the authors, there are about eight criteria that define an epic:

       ‘…1. They (epics) are the narratives longer than ballads and deal with
        the happenings of two or more generations…2. They do not highlight
       action alone as is the case with ballad, but emphasize other aspects of
       great narrative poems…3. They employ a variety of descriptions of all
       kinds of human activities from birth to death…4. They are presented in
       different styles suitable to the emotions reflected…5. They aim at
       upholding the values cherished by the society…6. They glorify the
       characters of certain human and divine beings…7. They very often deal
       with magic, miracle and superhuman behaviour of the heroes and
       heroines…and 8. They also present the descriptions of the universal
       deluge and the evolution of  the mankind…’ (p 52)

The authors suggests that,

        ‘The Tulu paaddana can also be considered as the expression of the
          downtrodden men and oppressed woman. The heroes like Koti
          Chennaya and Korga Taniya revolt against the caste system which
          caused them great agony. The woman is depicted as tender, beautiful
          and affectionate but at the same time she also resists any injustice
          caused to her. Siri is an example of how a woman could revolt
          against the society that was cruel to her…’ (p 52)
     Then the authors classify the different forms of the narrative poems of the Tuluva cultural region into: work songs; ritual songs; traditional songs -- morning prayer, prayer to God and basil plant (Tulasi), lullaby, Bhajans; songs sung during marriage, initiation ceremony etc.; songs of Nāgamandala; songs of Yaksagaana and classical music. (pp 47 - 8)
    Apart from outlining the nature of the oral traditions of the Tuluvas, as an example of a Tulu epic, the part 4 of the book has a two-part, Jumādi Pāddana.

    The part I of the Jumādi Pāddana contains around 286 lines of the narrative poem that tells you the birth of the black complexioned folk deity, Jumādi, his peculiar and insatiable thirst. Since God Narayana is not able to satisfy the thirst of the spirit, he sends it to the earth.

    As stated by the authors, the part I of the paaddana was narrated by the Bhuuta artist, Tukra Paanara of Mambettu village, Hiriyadka, and the relevant tape is preserved in the tape archives of the Tulu Lexicon Project at Udupi.

     The part II of the Jumādi Pāddana has 131 lines on Maayinda Maani, or on the Māyandāl legend. (Māyandāl literally means the one who has entered the Realm of Illusion.) This part of the pāddana was rendered by Smt. Ammu Poojarthi of Sagri

   The Māyandāl legend is linked with the Jumādi legend. It was Peter Claus who studied the Māyandāl legend for the first time.

    The Jumādi Pāddana included in the book is in the Romanized Tulu, with transliteration and the meaning of the stanzas in English. The key terms and phrases are explained under notes.

   Rendering any Tulu folklore into English is a difficult proposition. English language belongs one culture, whereas, Tulu is the vehicle of altogether a different culture. Therefore, conveying the meaning of the typical Tulu idioms and expressions in English is a daunting task indeed. Since the authors are the well known linguists and polyglots,   possibly they did not encounter much of a problem in finding appropriate English words to translate the Tulu text. They have achieved the goal very well. Accompanying notes are very helpful to understand the meaning of the Tulu expressions. 

    There are two types of spirit-possession in a kōla festival: one is by the priests, darshana pātris, and they primarily belong to the Billava community, or any other community, and they also perform all the rituals connected with the kōla festival.  And the other type of spirit possession is by certain communities who are the professional Bhuta performers. The part 5 of the book deals with such hereditary Bhuta performers / artists,

     ‘…nalkes, paanaraas, paravsas, pambadas, koopaalas and certain other
       tribes like meeras and mansas. Who are these performers? Are they
       original inhabitants of this area? Or, did they migrate to this land       
       (Tulunad) from other regions?’ (p 89)                     

    The authors try to trace the origin of these communities with reference to the Tamil Sangam literature and the Malayalum literature and also to the folklore of these regions. According to the authors, probably these communities first migrated to Palghat in Kerala and then came to South Kanara via Cannanore and Kasargod,

      ‘The period from 3rd century B.C. to 5th century A.D. can be considered
        as the first stage in the known history of these Dravidian folk
        performing artists. The court performers of Sangam age occupied a
        respectable position and received royal patronage for their art. Then
        they might have migrated towards Cannanore and Kasargod in the
        North Kerala and Travancore in the South Kerala through the Palghat
        pass. This hypothesis can be confirmed through the Tamil and
        Malayalam literature and oral tradition…’ (pp 91- 2)

        ‘…It is quite likely that they migrated to South Kanara through
        Cannanore and Kasargod for livelihood and mixed with the original
        dwellers of the Tuluva soil like Billavas and Meras and become Bhuta
        impersonators…’ (p 93)  

     The authors provide some evidence in support their thesis -- these communities do not follow the matriarchal system like the original inhabitants of the Tuluva soil, Billavas and Meras; though they  impersonate the folk deities, they do not perform the ritualistic activities of the folk deity, which are done by the Billavas or other communities; the possession of Bhuta is passed on to the Bhuta dancer through the darshana pātri, who belongs to the Billava or, other non-Brahmin communities; when the original dwellers of  the Tuluva soil like the Billavas, go in search of girl for a marriage alliance, they pose the following questions to the girl’s party:

    maaruna mumbundaa: Do you have the cattle to be sold,
    korpina ponnundaa: and the girl to be given in marriage?

One the other hand naklepaanaaras when they go for a marriage alliance, they ask:

       poopi uurugu taadi undaa: Is there a road to the village that we wish to      

      daantuna tudek paapu undaa: and is there a bridge to the river that we  
      wish to cross?

    This shows naklepaanaaras were wandering tribes, once upon a time.  

    The Tuluvas worship around 400 folk deities; but only a few of them are well known. Each folk deity has a story to tell and it is told through a pāddana. Rev. A. Manner 4 of the Basel mission collected the Tulu pāddanas of 20 folk deities (including multiple versions of Panjurli, Jumādi) and published them in the Kannada script. (The publication was meant for Missionaries and Mission-workers alone and not for wider publication.) Even A. C. Burnell’s manuscript contained pāddanas in the Roman script (English), with transliteration and translation into English. 

    In the book under reference, under Appendix, there are brief stories / legends of 26 folk deities -- Bermeru, Panjurli, Jumadi, Pilchandi, Nndigona-Maisandaaya, Ullalthi, Lakkeiri, Mariyamma, Mayindal, Maleraya, Kodamantaya, Todakukkinar, Ullaya, Dharma Daivas of Dharmasthala, Vishnumurthy, Jatadhari, Veerabhadra, Abbage-Darage, Koti Chennaya, Kalkuda - Kallurti, Bobbarya, Koddabbu, Guliga-Chaundi, Koraga Taniya and Koraga Korati.

    You are thus given a brief introduction to some of the better known folk spirits of Tulunad -- their origin, spread and miraculous powers.
And at the end of the book, there are eight-page coloured photographs of the various facets of the Bhuta and serpent spirit worship.


    In the context of the kōla festival, a Bhuta impersonator impersonating a folk deity at a kōla festival is not an actor, enacting a role according to a handed-down script; he is the folk deity in the human form. And the arena of the kōla festival -- the pandal -- is not a theatre; it is a place of sanctity. The pandal where the kōla festival takes place acquires religious sanctity after performing certain initial rituals.

    While impersonating a folk deity, the Bhuta dancer exhibits a wide range of activities, comic, serious, excited, aggressive; he may scream, shout, torture himself, fall down etc. The activities are related to the nature of the folk deity he impersonates: In the case of ferocious folk deities, certain degree of aggressive and violent gestures is expected. However an impersonator is required to behave within the tradition-determined parameters. If he transgresses the limits, after the impersonation, he may be called to explain his behaviour; and if is found guilty, he may be asked pay a fine, or he may not be allowed to impersonate at the next kōla festival.

     I have underlined certain terms that appear in the text: Bhuta kōla is described as a ‘bizarre folk tradition’ (p vi); the dance of the Bhuta impersonator is said to be, ‘at once spectacular, vigorous and bizarre’. (p 31) The possessed impersonator dances, ‘in frenzy’ (p 11), and the music played in a Bhuta kōla is ‘frenzied music’.  In the course of the spirit possession, the impersonator prepares for the, ‘hysterical frenzy’ (p 14); he works himself up to a ‘hysterical frenzy’ (p 32) and the same term is used again on page 34.  On 14, there is a statement: ‘The wild and vigorous dance and the resultant intoxication help him (impersonator) to get the psychological feeling of illusion of communion with that spirit.’ (Italics, mine.)

     I am not sure whether these underlined terms are fully in consonance with the essence of the kōla festival per se. However the writer is the best judge to decide about the suitability of the terms that he employs.  

    On the whole, it is a well written book -- a scholarly treatise. It covers the entire gamut of the kōla festival of the Tuluvas in a lucid and erudite manner. Therefore the book is a ‘must read’ book for anyone who is interested in knowing the cultural roots of the Tuluvas. I have greatly benefited from the book.


1Burnell, A. C. 1894. The Devil Worship of the Tuluvas. Indian Antiquary. Arthur Coke Burnell (1840 - 1882) was an English civil servant, who was the judge of the District Court, Mangalore, between 1872 and 1874. He was a Sanskrit scholar and writer. He published scholarly works through the Basel Mission Press. He and some of the missionaries from the Basel Mission collected many Tulu pāddanas, transliterated and translated them into English. When Burnell died prematurely in 1882, he left behind the manuscripts of these Tulu folk songs. Fortunately they were discovered by his friend, Major R. C. Temple. R. C. Temple published these manuscripts in the journal, Indian Antiquary, between 1894 - 47 under the title, The Devil Worship of the Tuluvas.

2 Amin, Babu, and Kotian, Mohan. 1990. Tulunada Garodigala Samskritika Adhyayana, Shree Brahma Baidarkala Samskritika Adhyayana Pratishtana. pp 137- 8

3 Amritha Someshwar. 1997. Tulu Pāddana Samputa (A collection of Tulu Pāddanas). Kannada University, Hampi, p 3

4 A. Manner. 1880. Pāddanolu. Basel Mission Press, Mangalore.
Manner was a missionary of the Basel Mission, Mangalore.

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