The recent Kannada book on Tulu culture by Dr. Indira Hegde, entitled Tuluvara mooltāna Adi Alade Paramrapare mattu Parivartane (Tuluvas Original Abode ‘Adi Alade’: Tradition and Transformation) [Navakaranataka,Bangalore,2012,p.408] is a welcome addition to the basic resources for understanding Tulu culture and traditions in better perspective. It focuses on the nature and status of ancient settlements known as Mooltana (or moolastāna) and Alade and the pattern of ancient religious beliefs that have been persisted in Tulunadu. She has compiled voluminous data based on extensive field works and interviews with people documenting currently available information on the subject.
Dr Indira Hegde considers that Nagabanas and Alades are the original abodes (mooltanas) of Tuluvas. Thus she opines that the Mooltana and Adi Alade are conceptually equivalents. Each community group has its independent Mooltana in Tulunadu. For example, Bakuda community of Kasargodu who call themselves Bhumiputras have 18 bari or bedagus with 18 mooltanas. Most of the communities living in the Tulunadu, including Stanika Brahmins, Achāris, and Gaud Saraswaths have their own independent mooltanas, however these have been kept out of the scope of book for convenience. Traditional centres of worship ,the Alades as found during her extensive field studies, generally consist of a cluster of five shrines dedicated to Spirit Deities, namely Bermer, Rekkesiri, Maisandaya, Nandigona and Naga. The Alades containing above mentioned Spirits are known as Brahma Alade or Brahmastana.
|An idol of a five headed bison (Nandigona/ Mahishandaya). ( Dr Indira Hegde,2012)|
The ancient Alades are mostly located near forests. Traditionally, the places of Naga (serpent) worship are located in areas with dense growth of trees known as Nagabana. However, under the guise of renovation and aesthetic modification, most of the forest trees around ancient Nagabana are being destroyed, and being replaced by modern concrete structures, with tacit approval from Astamangala oracles, laments Dr. Indira Hegde.
Dr. Indira Hegde reports interesting data on Chitteris of Kundapur Taluk. A Chitteri refers to tomb structures comparable to Buddhist structures known as Chaitya. The Chitteri or Chittarige are also known alternately as Mudinja, stoopa or doope in Tulunadu. The obituary structures associated with Tuluva death ceremonies, traditionally known as Nir-nirel (water-shade) and pajji madal gunda (green frond dome) are similar to these chitteris. The Chitteris were also used as centres for birth ceremonies and thus acquired the name as Huttina Chitteris (Huttina [Kannada]= related to birth). The Place names like Chitrabail, Chitrakoota, (Chitrapu, Chitrapura ) etc apparently refer to village associated with such ancient tomb structures.( The equivalent term for Chitteri in Mangalore area is Gori.For example Gori gudda.)
The cult of Nāga (serpent) worship has wielded powerful influence on Tulu culture. The Nāgabanas in Tulunadu were the parts of forests traditionally reserved and dedicated abodes of the holy serpents. Dr. Indira cites Devarakādu as equivalents of Nāgabana in Kodagu and other parts of Karnataka. In Tulunadu, various celebratory forms of Nāga worship ceremonies are known as Dakke Bali, Nāgamandala, Pānarāta and Kādyanāta.etc.
Tulu folklores (paDdanas) visualized that mating between the Narayana God and Deyyaru Mangude (Mongoose -female) produced numerous eggs which hatched to generate serpent families. Dr Indira has compiled 13 variations of the said folk lore widely prevalent in different regions of Tulunadu.
The term Mari in Tulu also represents the Nāga or the Serpent. Thus Marikāpu means Nāgabana and Marikal means the Naga stone. The term Kādya also means serpent and the Kādyanāta represents a form of Nagamandala.
The Bermer (or Birmer or Bermeru) is a native cult according to Dr. Indira Hegde. She explains that the derivation of the term Bermer as a relative of the word perme, which means important or great one. The shrines dedicated to the Bermer are traditionally located in structures known as ‘gunda’, which is a modified pyramidal tomb structure like Mudinja or Chitteri or stoopa or dhoope. Dr. Indira Hegde reports several variants of Bermer deity prevalent in different parts of Tulunadu such as Lingaroopi (phallic form) Bermer, Ubhayalingi (bisexual) Bermer, Half-man and half serpent Bermer, Yaksha Brahma, KIrāta (Hunter) Bermer, Tingolu (Moon) Bermer, Uri (wild) Bermer, Chaturmukha (four headed)Brahma, Naga Bermer, Brihma-Lingeshwara (Bermer with phallic god) etc. Interestingly, the Bakuda tribes of Kasargodu(Kerala) consider and worship Naga-Bermer in the form of two serpent brothers namely, Elyanner (Younger Brother) and Nelyanner(Elder brother).
|An old photograph of Bermere Gunda that has been renovated now (Indira Hegde,2012).|
The Bermer in Vandse Chitteri is a stone idol of horse mounted Bermer. Horse mounted Bermer idols also can be found in many Garodis of Tulunadu where traditionally the principal Spirit or Deity is the Bermer. It is also observed that inside many Bermer gundas there are no idols, suggesting also prevalence of amorphous or formless deity worship in ancient Tulunadu.
Dr. Indira, on the basis of presently dominant and popular Nāga-Bermer cult, concurs with the opinion of certain Spirit dancers and infers that Bermer is another alternate form of Nāga.
The earthen pot or the Kadya has special significance in traditional Spirit worship in Tulunadu. The Muri, Kalasha or Kumbha (ie earthen pot) filled with water usually also known as Murli or kadya or kandel has been used symbolically in Spirit shrines to represent sacred entities like Siri, Bermer or other Spirits.
Kambla: Fertility rites
Dr Indira Hegde provides interesting information on the tantric styled ancient practice in some places of Kambla (or Kambula, the Buffalo race) celebrations in Tulunadu, [cited earlier by Purushottama Bilimale] . Traditionally the Kambala was a fertility rite performed in dedication to Bermer and the attendant Deities. On the previous night of Kambala, native Koraga tribes perform a ceremony known as Pani kullunu. The Pani kullunu means sitting under the dew. On the appointed night, Koraga men women and children flock around the campfire in the open field. Koraga men under the leadership of their headman, called Mukhari, begin to dance to the beat of drums around the campfire. The tempo of the dance increases as they consume toddy and kandelda adde ( a dish made from rice batter, fermented with toddy and baked within an earthen pot ).
Dr Indira points out that the Kandel or the earthen pot is a symbol of womb. As the tempo of the dance steps up, sexual motifs unfold among the dancers pulling at each others’ cloths, such that most of them are nearly naked. The dancers, mostly men, masturbate and wash their semen in the field, with water drawn from the Kambla field. The ceremony describes a primitive fertility rite, where the tribes traditionally visualized that insemination of the agricultural field improves the chances of bumper crops and prosperity. It is believed the crop grown in the Kambla field is divine crop that ushers prosperity to the organizers.
|Pookare poles (female decorated and male plain) in Kamble fields. (Courtesy: Indira Hegde,2012).|
The symbolic poles planted in the Kambla field are known as Pookare pole. Usually there will be a pair of poles, one plain pole designated as male and the other decorated pole as female. The female pookare pole is decorated with flowers and flags as if a girl, whereas male pole is left as a simple pole of areca tree.
|Pookare poles in Tulu traditional Obituary ceremonies.(Courtesy: Indira Hegde,2012)|
It is interesting to note that similar Pookare poles (decorated and/or plain) are also used in traditional death ceremonies in Tulu families.
Dr Indira Hegde’s work on Mooltana and Alades is replete with extensive documentation of data gathered at field and folk level. Though, She has not deeper into analytical aspects from the angle of evolution of cults and concepts, the compiled data shall be of immense help to researchers pursuing further detailed studies on evolution, growth and spread of various religious cults in Tulunadu.