|A decorated Bhoota (Spirit) with attendants, [Courtesy: :www.Mangalore.com]|
‘Varasari’, an antique word in Tulu, was engaging my mind for quite some time.
If one had spent ones childhood in Tulunadu, one would have heard some of the following phrases or idiomatic usages in Tulu language:
1) Admonition from elders: “Mulpa varasari malpochhi, pidayi po_du gobbule” (Meaning: Don’t run here and there nor make noise here. Go and play outside). ‘Varasari ‘here means noisy movements to and fro and in all directions, creating obstruction to elders in doing their work.
2) Unkemptness and disorder: “Illada varasaridu odegula povera aapuji” (Meaning: Things of the house are lying here and there, making the place untidy. Putting them in order takes so much of time that I am not finding time to go out).
3) Disunity in a house: Sentence at point (2) may also mean disunity in a house on account of chaos. Mark this statement: “Illada varasariye muggyuji.” (There is no end to disturbing activities in the house).
Narrating a nostaliagic childhood episode may not be out of place. I take you way back to about 65 years to Hosabettu, then a sleepy coastal village without much modernity creeping in its stride. The Primary School was nestled between a verdant ‘Bailare’ (a stretch of low-lying, water-logged agricultural land) in the East and greenery all around with cashew, mango, coconut and casuarinas trees. A spacious ‘Goda’ (=gymnasium) – open on all sides - was standing on the North. Teacher (in charge 2 to 3 classes in those days) used take out pupils to this Goda for memorising the Tables, teaching numbers and letters, to be written on sandy surface. When teacher was late or absent from class, children used to play a game, having relevance to Bhoota (Divine Spirit) worship. Hosabettu has a Jarandaya Shrine where a 3-day Nemotsava is taking place in nights, concerning Jarandaya, Jumadi and Banta/Bunta Spirits. Fag end of the annual ceremony, a game is played with ‘Marlu Bhoota’ (In some Temples or Bhoota shrines ball games are played in adjoining agricultural field).
Taking a cue from this game, children used to play a game of ‘Marlu Bhoota’. The boy, who was always made to play the part of ‘Marlu Bhoota’, was Laxman (son of ‘Mulyada Poojari'1 Jannu). A fake impersonator holds a stick or some other twigs, while Other boys act as teasers and tormentors. Leader of the group entreats the Bhoota by saying “Marlu Bhoota pattodu pannaga pattodu, budodu pannaga budodu” (The mad spirit should possess the impersonator when told to do so and leave his body when told to leave). On beating of drums (i.e. brass plates carried to school for midday meal) and shrill music of wind instruments (made of coconut leaves) the impersonator starts to shiver as if he is possessed by the spirit and beats whosoever comes near him for teasing in words and in action, i.e. making fun of the spirit by throwing whatever things comes to hand. This game turns violent when either impersonator or any teaser is badly hurt. When it turns to personal fighting, the spirit is pacified and told to stop manifesting. Movements, shouting, swearing and littering the area with dried coconut or palm leaves, twigs and shreds of roof-tiles bring home the meaning of ‘Varasari’. (Note: In the real ritual, burning torches are used).
‘Varasari’ is a variant of ‘Ola Savari’ – a terminology connected with ritualistic worship of Divine Spirits of Tulunadu. Tulu Lexicon gives various versions of ‘Olasavari’, such as ‘Olasari, Varasari, Olasaru, O_lasiri (Oolasiri) or Vaalasiri’. It means “A ritual of Bhoota worship in which the Bhoota impersonator goes out of the arena in procession.”
|A decorated Bhoota in trance.(courtesy: www)|
‘Bhootaradhane ’ – an Overview
Bhootaradhane (Divine Spirit Worship) is a time-honoured ritualistic tradition of Brihad Tulunadu spread from Gokarn to Kasaragod (but now limited to Dakshina Kannada and Udupi Districts of Karnataka). Northern parts of Kerala, which includes Kasaragod District, evince Bhootaradhane, in the form of Theyyam.
There is a subtle difference between ritual and religion. Religion is a system of specific beliefs, based on doctrines or theologies, and revelations, involving the worship of supernatural forces or beings. Rites or rituals are a set of symbolic actions, formulated by a religion and/or Religious Gurus (teachers) or by the traditions of an individual family, community or a society, comprising a village or cluster of villages (‘seeme ‘or ‘maagane’s). Religious rites are religion-centric and traditional rituals have landed down from pre-societies, centring around hero-worship; say of Kings and their chieftains after death (Compare this with Paraohs – Priest Kings - of Egypt). These traditional rituals are not falling into any specific religious category.
With Brahmanism taking root in Tulunadu and synchronising with Dravidian cultures, the Bhoota shrines are located inside main Temples of Vedic Gods or vice versa. Being super-natural beings and remaining attendant to main deities, they protect their devotees. Hence there is conceptual statement in Tulu: “Deveregu dooteru, nambina manushyaregu daateru” (=Attendants to God and Benevolent to believing masses). Fear for these Divine Spirits – Upholders of Dharma - is more than that for main deities.
Communities of a region take part in Bhoota rituals, irrespective of religious leanings. All aspects of the life, teachings and after-death-life of great and noble historical figures are represented in these rituals. Their frailties notwithstanding, these legendary figures attained divinity after death. There are several historical figures, such as Chamundi/ Ma(h)ankaldi, Posappe, Panjurli, Maisandaya, Ullaya, Ullalthi, Jarantaya, Jumadi (Dhoomavati), Babbarya (Bobbarya), Vishnumurti, Varte, Kallurti, Kalkuda, Guliga, Koddabbu (Koteda Babbu), Koti & Chennaya (twins), Siri, Abbaga, Daraga, Pilichamnundi, Nandigona and so on. Saga of these heroes are perpetuated in lengthy oral poems, popularly called as PaDdanas, some of which are now documented. These PaDdanas are enacted during annual or specific festivals, called by different names, eg. Kola, (Dharmada) Nema, Tambila, Agelu, Bandi, Jatra, Maime, Mechchi, Kajambu, Jaalata, Kenda Seve, Ottekola, Panarata, etc.
There are some variations in ritualistic actions and text of songs due to regional difference and dearth of traditional singers with full knowledge of these orally handed down epic songs.
There are classified glossary evolved through past and present societies regarding flag-hoisting, special gestures, words for invoking and entreating deities, assurance given by oracles, specific make up and ornamental dress, dances to special music according to the sequence of ritual performance, pompous procession of initiated persons, called Poojaris, and dance performers, along with retinue of high-ranked persons (‘Gurikaras’, i.e. community leaders, and other dignitaries) to the beating of drums and blowing of trumpets and wind pipes.
Purpose of worship
1. Obliging religious and traditional beliefs of individuals, groups or societies, as a mark of respect and submission - an awe-inspired reverence.
2. Satisfying emotional needs during personal discomfitures, fears, and epidemics.
3. Spiritual needs.
4. Social solidarity: It is an occasion to extend and confirm social bonds by sharing common beliefs. It creates and strengthens a sense of group identity.
5. Social justice: Strengthening moral education. Right and wrong deed by an individual, group or a village is decided at the instance of divine spirit with tacit approval/acceptance of main deity of a particular temple.
Ola savari, Olasari to Varasari
Annual rituals ,as aforesaid, last for a day or two or three days, except ‘Deyi Nalike’, as in vogue in region to region. The first day is inauguration by taking ‘Bhandara’ from dedicated store-house and raising the dedicated flag (Kodi eruni). ‘Angana Seve’ (cleaning, decorating the pandol and invoking the deities (Daivas) through initiated persons, called Poojaris. The second or third day is called the ‘Ola Savari’ It is the inter-action of Poojaris and Trance-drama performers (impersonators). Tradition holds that these dance performers are from Nalike, Pambada, Parava, etc. They are artists, fashioned out of customs, to sing and dance according to epic lore and are sustained by Temples, Chieftains, village groups and communities.
‘Deyi Nalike’ is a composite Bhoota ritual in a royal household, or a big family for offering annual oblations for many Bhootas, one after another. This festival lasts for several days with rituals relevant to each and every Bhoota, dance and entertainments.
There are different stages of invocation of Divine Spirits in these traditional dances. Following will give an idea about this ritual to an outsider.
Osaya Sandi (=Invocatory singing): A particular PadDana (Folk Epic) is sung by the Bhoota impersonator or mostly by his family in front of the idol or mask of the concerned Bhoota in order to invoke a Bhoota. ‘Tembare’ (a small drum) is beaten by Paratti (wife of Parava). There is saying: “Tembare pandavodu paratti, kola kattodu parave (Paratti has to beat the small drum, Parava has to dance). It means, essentially each one has to do his job assigned to him.
Siri singara: Auspicious costume, made of tender leaves of coconut. Leaves (in one piece) are split into thin strings and this piece is wrapped up from waist downwards. There are specific steps for this ‘siri kattuni’ dance with music. Bhoota impersonator goes into trance with this sacred dress. This is called ‘Siri singarada echchi’ (Dance-movements with ‘siri singara’ until being possessed by the particular Spirit).
Gaggarada Echchi: ‘Gaggara’ is a big boat-shaped anklet with jingling bells set inside. ‘Beetal leaf with nut’ is given to impersonator as a mark of permission to wear the ‘gaggara’. This permission is called as ‘gaggarada boolya’. Bhoota impersonators (mostly two – one for main deity and the other for his attendant) make several rounds to and fro, swerving, frolicking and leaping, running and making gestures to assembled dignitaries in front row or seated in assigned structure opposite to the pandol, where masks (muga) of deities are adorned, seeking permission for tying the jingling anklet. They dance according to changing music tunes till getting possessed or going into trance.
Ani kattuni: Ani is a kind of ornamental, halo-like structure made of areca spathes, cloth, tender coconut leaves or metal materials and worn on the back by the Bhoota dancer. Dance with ‘ani’ (crown) is a last leg of awe-inspiring Bhoota dance. There is inter-action with initiated Poojaris, conversation between the possessed impersonator and Gurikaras (in case of family festival, chief householder), show of approval, annoyance by shouting, disapproval by banging the ‘jeetige’(= a torch, made of cloth wrapped round the end of a stick in metal cup and soaked in oil, usually held before the deity or priest) to his chest every now and then, pacification of deity by entreating words (madu panpini) by Gurikaras and dignitaries, representing many castes). There is a pompous and tumultuous procession around the main shrine. There is a ‘badikara bali or badikara paravuni’ dance ritual, involving initiated person (Paatri) holding the ‘badikara’ (= a pot containing auspicious objects) and Bhoota impersonator.
Madipu: Prayer by devotees and enquiry, settlement and assurances by Bhoota impersonator in trance by giving ‘gandha prasada’. After ‘madipu’, Bhandara is taken back to the ear-marked store room.
‘Sari’ means to move. In short, inside and outside to and fro movements of invocated Divine Spirits, with frisking, leaping, swerving, gesturing, etc. to the deafening music of wind instruments and drums are called Olasari and Varsari during Kola or Nema Festival. Pell-mell created is awesome.
Divinity in man is not an accident. It is there during life and after death. The concept of Supreme Soul and ramification of this Soul in all creations of the Universe is a universal truth. This truth has no religion. With simplicity of living, depending on the Nature, man lived as a child of the Nature. With technological developments, man lost his touch with the Nature, thereby separating himself with Divinity. Revelation of one’s true nature comes in one’s life with concentration of thought process, that is ‘Self Enquiry’ – ‘Who am I?’ He becomes a man of God then and there and for ever, with qualities of God himself. This is how tradition of adoring the Divine Spirits has come to stay. Connecting oneself with this Divine Supernatural beings is an expression of humanity, i.e. acceptance of divinity pervading in all human beings. This traditional worship becomes a culture of a society, as is evident in Tulunadu.
1.‘Moolyada Pujari means an initiated man in charge of the images or masks (pāpe) of Spirit-Gods, armoury, ornaments and other things. He is entrusted with performing Pooja and maintaining the cleanliness of the Shrine (Daiva Sana) where periodical Kola ceremonies are held.
2. Readers may refer to older Posts No.32 (Origin of animal and spirit worship), 62 (Characterization of spirits of Tulunadu ), 94 (Antiquity of Siri) and 233 (Panjurli).
3. Thanks to Tulu Lexicon for documenting the words, phrases and idioms concerning this ritualistic art-form – Bhootaradhane.
20.08.2010 - H. Vishwanath