Our concept of the world as a global village is not new. It was a global village even in the historical past, in spite of then being handicapped by vast distances, poor transport and lack of distance communication facilities.
According to available scientific exploratory data on human evolution, the early human beings originally evolved in a relatively remote place in Africa. And with passage of time coupled with population proliferation, tribal people migrated to different lands probably in search of better opportunities, climates, security, food, shelter, comforts and prosperity.
Our ancestors strongly believed that world is one family as expressed in the adage Vasudaiva kutumbakam. Those forefathers who coined such meaningful notions in the bygone days were certainly aware of the common cultural threads among the diverse people living in other countries of the world irrespective of their language, culture, creed and other nuances.
Ancient cults of Spirit worship
Ancient people, our ancestors, beset with myriad obstacles, found solace and security in worshipping elements of the nature. Apart from worshipping the essential elements of the nature, they honored and worshipped their dead community leaders and heroes who were thought to exist in the form of souls or spirits even after their death. Since ages, the spirits or souls (the esoteric remains) of the ferocious animals to begin with and later their celebrities and heroic persons were considered to exist even after their deaths and exert influence over the common people. Such ancient beliefs and cults later led to the culture of worshipping Spirits (Bhūta) and later evolved into worship of Gods that ultimately manifested in multiple and or single forms according to ideologies floated from time to time.
The prevailing concept of worshipping multiple forms of divinities is the result of coalition of several micro cultures developed in different regional centers in the antiquity with independent beliefs and cults that eventually fused together under tolerant dynasties along the course of evolution.
It needs to be appreciated that different forms of the Bhūta (Spirit) cults once pervaded all over Indian subcontinent as well as other areas to begin with and with passage of time the Bhūta cults have been replaced by subsequent 'divine' forms of worship. Several forms of the ancient Bhūta cults have still been preserved in parts of Karnataka. The Bermer (in Dakshina Kannada, Udupi), Bommaiah (in Uttara Kannada) or Baramappa (in northern Karnataka) is one such ancient Bhūta cult.
|A Symbolic bhuta stone. (with red flowers) Earliest form of representation of Spirits and deities.|
Bhūta: the Spirit
The usage of the word Bhūta is quite interesting. Though the word has remained since ages in Tuluva culture, the term is an ancient pan-Indian word not exclusive to Tulunadu. Basically the word ‘’Bhūta’’ essentially means the (a) past. It also means (b) the essential life force or the spirit of the dead. Thus the term stands for a Spirit of a dead celebrity or entity that lived in the past. Our ancestors believed that the spirits of the dead entities and persons of significance can influence and guide their lives.
Some authors have employed the term ‘’devil’’ to represent the notion of bhūta. The term ‘’devil’’, which carries negative shades of meaning seems inappropriate for the conveying the concept of “bhūta”, prevailing among the people, essentially as a protector form of deities.
Normal people encounter obstacles of varied types during their life and look for reliable and potent and infallible source of inspiration, guidance and supernatural support to tide over the problem at hand. The cults of Bhūta, Spirits and Gods have played the role of the supernatural guides in the life and achievements of our ancestors.
Our universe is an extremely complex wonderful creation that has been designed to function incessantly and efficiently by unseen set of forces. Similarly human body is an extremely complicated inimitable system that functions extremely well and automatically for years. There are millions of such incredibly complex examples with highly complicated invisible blueprints around us, and to regard these wonders as automatically or self generated without any supernatural managerial force would simply be insane. While the science is still groping for answers to such eternal questions and paradoxes the common people since ages have designed the concepts of spirits and deities as guiding factors in their life according to the level of perception they could comprehend in their ambient environments.
Abram, an ancient leader
One of the ancient hero/celebrity worship cult that originated in ancient Mesopotamia (land between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris corresponding to present parts of Iraq, Syria and Kuwait) happens to be related to a renowned legendary leader named Abram who considered to have lived about 4000 years ago in Sumer, southern Mesopotamia. Abram has been considered as a legendary patriarch and prophet for Jews, Christians and Muslims. According to descriptions in Genesis, his wife Sara begot him a son known as Isaac. Abram (later known as Abraham) and his son Isaac have been considered as prophets in Christianity. Abram is known as Ibrahim in Quran and his son Ishmael has been considered as a prophet in Islam. Some researchers have doubted the precise historicity of the person and found that personal names like Abiram were common in Babylon /Sumerian civilization.
One interesting string is that there was a tussle between two rival communities in Mid East. The ancient rival communities that separated due to animosity applied names similar but with or without ‘A’ prefix! Thus similar contemporaneous esoteric poetic knowledge in the Avesta -Veda was shared between the two groups. Rival tribes were called Ahura/Asura vs.-Sura. And similarly there were Abram-Bram, Abiram-Biram etc.
The cult of legendary celebrity Abram/Biram spread to Indian subcontinent probably around 1700-1500 BC. The anecdotes of Biram or Bram led to the growth and evolution of a cult glorifying a spirit God. The spirit deity was known variously in different regions as Baram, Beram, Berma, Bomma or Brama.
With transcontinental migration of human tribes in the course of history, the cult spread to the various parts of southern India, including coastal Tulunadu, as Barama, Birma, Biruma, Berma or Berme (Singular) or Bermeru (honorific plural). During the early centuries of the Common Era, Prakrit/Pali languages were the administrative languages in Karnataka. The name Barama became Bomma in Prakrit/Pali languages which was adapted in early Kannada regions.
During the period of composition of Siri pāḍ-dana in ancient Tulunadu ( estimated to be in the time span of ca. 300 BC to 300 CE), it appears that the cult of Bermer worship was well entrenched as evidenced by major reference to the Bermer deity in the pāḍ-dana folklore.
Nowadays our younger generation might not be aware of the fact that their ancestors worshipped a God/divine Spirit known popularly as Bermer (Berme or Bermeru or Birmer ) in the past history probably well before the widespread popularization and organized worship of Indian Gods like Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti, Ganesha and Kumara.
The Barma or Berma (Bermer) cult once upon a time prevailed all over India. Even the name of the country Burma (Brahma-desha in Sanskrit literature, now Myanmar) is said to have been derived from the Barma deity. However, the vestiges of the Barma/Berma cult have been well preserved in the West Coast of Karnataka.
There are distinct evidences of once dominant Bermer worship cult prevailing in the Alade, Gunda, Chitteri and Garodi institutions of the Karavali in the West Coast. In Uttara Kannada district Bommaiah is still a major village God being devotedly worshipped by natives especially in parts of Ankola.
The pāḍ-dana oral literature in Tulu language and the available inscriptions on Bermer apparently do not provide any significant clues regarding the actual origin, history or evolution of the cult beyond myths. As such many authors appear to be still in the dark regarding the origin of the cult of Bermer and Brahma.
In West Coast of Karnataka, Alade, Chitteri, Garodi and other related traditional, heritage structures have preserved the identity of the Bermer which was widely worshipped as principal deity once upon a time.
In my childhood there was an intensely weathered structure with plants grown over it about 50 meters behind our ancestral house in Munḍkūru village, in Udupi district. My grandmother used to describe it as Bermere gunḍa. It took me several years to understand the meaning or significance of the term Bermere gunḍa. By then, the dilapidated structure that existed years ago has vanished due to construction of new houses.
Ancient worshipping patterns
Earliest tribes in India apparently worshipped Sun, trees on one hand and snakes and other harmful creatures on the other. Tree worships further led to preservation of groups of trees held sacred in the form of Kāvu (Kāpu), Bana, Sarana or Devarakādu. One of the early tribes, Marava were named after trees (‘’mara’’).
The oldest known forms of worship consisted of symbolic piece of stone kept at the bottom of a tree. Koraga and other early tribes used to worship a piece of stone kept under the tree called “kata”. Such simplistic symbolic stones representing spirits and deities can be seen even today in rural areas. The relevant word has been preserved in Tamil as katavalu (=God). With evolution in sculptural art forms, the symbolic stones representing spirits and deity forms were replaced by sculpted idols. After invention of pottery, globular earthen vessels, known as muri or kalasa, were kept apart and worshipped as symbolic of spirits, deities and supernatural powers.
As the tribal families proliferated and set upon migration, the original places of settlements were designated as Mūltān (or mooltaan or moolasthana; literally means , the original place).Within the mūltāns they had set out a specific place for worship known Alaḍe. The ancient term Alaḍe does exist in various nook and corners of Indian subcontinent, although with passage of time, the original term has been modified locally depending upon the phonetic nuances of the native languages.
The Bermer has remained the principal deity in ancient shrines known as Alaḍe. An Alaḍe (worship place beside water; Ala=water + De=place) is ancient form of shrine or worshipping area usually located near a water body, river or lake. In the Alaḍe shrines, the Bermer is the principal deity associated usually with Lekkesiri (Rakteswari), Mahisandaya, Nandigona and Nāga. The ancient word Alaḍe is literally equivalent of the word Alaya, the place of worship. In many of the ancient Alaḍe shrines there are simply no idols/sculptures or the Bermer is represented by a small piece of stone.
The Alaḍe shrines which have remained representatives of our ancient roots mostly located inside or associated with early tribal settlements known as Multān (Moolastāna) (Posts 9,19,30,286). It appears that Alade shrines existed in Tulunadu as early as 2000 BC , if not earlier. Before the arrival of the Bermer cult Serpent (Nāga), Bullock (Nandigona), Buffaloe (Mahisandaya) and other animistic spirit deities were being worshipped by the tribals.(Post 313).
Memorial shrines-precursors of Temples
Stoopa < doope
In post- Buddha period, ca 3rd century BC onwards, mortal remains of Buddha and other Buddhist monks were preserved inside a circular enclosure with dome shaped roof, known as Stoopa (stūpa). The Sanskrit word Stoopa appear to have been derived from ancient Indian (Pāli/Prakrit/Tulu) word Toope.
The ancient Indian word Toope or doope (means a heap) exists in Tulu even today. In Tulu rural agricultural houses, an outdoor heap of granary enclosed within dried hay talks is known as tuppe. Incidentally the traditional tuppe hay-stalk granary structures resemble the shape of stoopa. Thus it can be inferred that the architectural design of stoopa has been inspired from the shape of tuppe granaries.
Similarly, it can be noted that a memorial (usually pyramidal in shape, usually made up of bamboo frame covered with cloths) erected near the cremation site of the dead is known as doope. Note that pyramidal structures were vogue in ancient Egypt and other countries to house preserved dead bodies of celebrities known as mummies.
A Chaitya-griha is a shrine structure enclosing a stoopa (usually containing mortal remains of Buddha or later Buddhist monks) and a prayer /congregation hall for devotees. The Chaitya-griha in various parts of India were constructed or cut in massive basaltic rocks as seen in parts of Maharashtra) as early as 2nd century BC to preserve the mortal remains of Buddha and to permit piligrims and devotees to circumbulate around the stoopa for worshipping and paying respect to the mortal remains..
Preserving the dead or relics of the dead celebrities was in vogue since antiquity as evidenced by Egyptian mummies.
Similar Chaitya-griha, usually smaller in size, were known as Chitteri or Chitrakoota in the Coastal Karnataka. Besides some of these Chitteris were designated for the worship of Bermer in Coastal Karnataka/Tulunadu. Several places in Tulunadu such as Chitrapu and Chitrapura also remind us the vestiges of Chitteris in Tulunadu.
Independent shrines of the Bermer deity are usually known as Gunda. Traditionally, a gunḍa is a more or less circular structure or enclosure designed to house a representation or image of the Bermer deity. Many of these structures have been dilapidated and weathered off due to neglect over the years and vagaries of climate. Some of these Gunda have been incorporated in the temple complexes. One such modernized Bermer shrine can be found within the premises of renowned Durga Parameshwari Temple at Kateel, in Mangaluru Taluk.
Bermer in Garodi
The Garoḍi institutions (Kannada: Garaḍi; Tamil: Karati; Malayalam Kalari) were the traditional training centers for soldiers of that time in martial arts. Even today in most of the traditional Garoḍi schools the principal deity is the Bermer. Thus, we can infer that the Garoḍi schools existed since ancient times when the Bermer was the ruling deity. (Post 291, 329)
The idols of the Bermer deity presently found in the Garoḍis of Tulunadu are generally represented in the form of a masculine warrior like figure with mustache and beard. He is armed with a lancer in one hand and is straddling astride on a horse. Some of the Bermer idols have depicted with a multi-seeded fruit (like Jack fruit?) in one hand. This kind of images could have been an innovation introduced probably after 5th century CE after horse and sculptural art forms were introduced in India. (Post 6)
Worship of Bermer was dominant even during the (16th Century) period of Queen Abbakka at Ullal (as testified by Italian tourist Pietro della Valle). Famous twin heroes Koti Chennaya who lived around later part of 16th Century (ca.1555-1585) also worshipped the Bermer God (date source: Vamana Nandavara, 2001). Dilapidated remnants of independent Bermer shrines known as Bermere gunḍa existed in Tulunadu even up to 1960-70.
Now-a-days few vestiges of such ancient shrines can be seen often amalgamated in the campus of temples as kshetrapāla or as lesser deities. This is essentially symbolic of cultural theosophical evolution of divine cults in our land (Post.103.). For example we can see one such Bermer shrine (renovated) in the precincts of Durga Parameshwari temple at Kateel. In Jain Bastis, the Bermer has been relegated to the status of Yaksha or Kshetrapāla. The term Kshetrapāla literally means the security guard of the temple.
Nāga Bermer: fusion of cults
The cult of Nāga (cobra/serpent) worship is quite ancient probably introduced before 3000 BC in Indian subcontinent. In areas where Nāga worship was dominant, the introduction of Bermer cult probably by immigrants must have lead to periodic clashes that ultimately resulted in mutual reconciliation. Reconciliation between the Nāga worshippers and the Bermer worshippers led to fusion of the two cults into Nāga- Bermer worship.
Conflict of cults as described in the previous section between the devotees of Bermer and Shiva/ Lingeshwara eventually ended in reconciliation of beliefs and fusion of the two cults leading to the deity known as Brahma-Lingeshwara.
Brahma, the creator deity
In the post Vedic period ca.600-300 BC, the cult of four headed Brahma, the creator God evolved in northern India. The temple at Pushkar in Rājastān devoted to the worship of Lord Brahma, appears to be one of the first Brahma temples in India. Later the concept spread to other parts of India and also to Southeast Asian countries.
The Bermer and the Brahma cults though originated from the single source bloomed along parallel lines.(Post 4,26,28)
During the period 300 - 100 BC, the three divine cults namely Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara (Shiva) were popular with independent followers. Reconciliation among the devotees led to fusion of the three concepts into the cult of Trimurthi.(Post 33)
While Jainism was dominant in Tulunadu and Karavali, Jain rulers while building Jain basadis transformed the Bermer into a Kshetrapāla whose image was placed at the entrance of the Basadis and designated as Yaksha-Brahma.
Tulu Sangam: Siri PaDdana
The Bermer was the ruling deity in Tulunadu at the time of composing the orature (oral+literature= pāḍ-dana) of Siri Pāḍ-dana. This blogger considers Siri PaDdana as an ancient oral literature of Tulunadu possibly contemporaneous of ‘Chankam’ (Sangam) literatures of Tamilnadu.(Post ..). The Siri Pāḍ-dana as a part of Tulu Sangam literature can be considered to have composed originally during the beginning centuries of the Common Era. In Siri PaDdana we find exclusive references to the God Bermer and discussions of repairing dilapidated shrine of Bermer near Basrur.(Post 94, 95,97,309)
The town of Basrur located on the bank of river Hālaḍi in Kundapur Taluk was originally a marine trading port during early centuries of the Common Era. As a result of receeding (transgression) of the Arabian Sea. (The regression of the Sea has been attributed to the mythical powers of Lord Parashurāma in the legends). The position of the Basrur port has been shifted inland as result of regression of the Sea (Post 296 ).
|Bommaiah devaru, Ankola (Two book covers: N R Nayak & Vittal Gaonkar)|
Bommaiah in Uttara Kannada.
The cult of Bermeru has not been exclusive to Tulunadu. In Uttara Kannada district especially in Ankola we find Bommaiah devaru a Kannada equivalent of Tulu Bermeru. The word Bomma appears to be a Pāli/Prākrit word derived from the original of Barama and adapted into Kannada during early centuries of the Common Era.
At least at two places in Ankola we find the Bommaiah spirit deity being worshipped.
Adjoining the Ankola town, atop a hillock near Kogre hamlet located in the middle of a group of four villages (of Basgodu, Soorve, Shetgeri and Singanamakki) we find a small shrine dedicated to the reigning deity known as Bommaiah devaru. The Bommaiah idol has been sculpted in granite stone. It is being worshipped by regular pooja and the locals celebrate the annual Bandi habba ritual with gaiety. The idol of Bommaiah deity here has been sculpted in a large granite stone and the form is essentially similar to Bermeru.
The image of Bommaiah deity with golden shown here is taken from the cover of a recent book written by Vittal V. Gaonkar (2015).
|Bommaiah deity flanked by two heroes, Kogre, Soorve Village ,Ankola.|
Bommaiah /Baramappa in northern Karnataka
The cult of Bommaiah deity appears to have been rampant all over Karnataka as evident by the prevalence of numerous villages named after the deity such as Bommanahalli, Bommasandra, etc. The Bomma in early Karnataka was not the four headed Brahma but the Spirit Barma or Barama or the Bermer.
In villages of northern Karnataka worship of Baramappa as a rural Spirit deity (gram devata) continue to exist since long time. The cult of Bommaiah worship appears to have receded in the other parts of India under the overbearing influence of other divine cults.
Evolution of divine cults
The reconstruction of evolution of the Bermer cult may serve as a logical illustration for the unbiased persons to understand genuinely the nature and origin of some of the divine cults. The adaption of the Bermer/Bommaiah divine cult widely in southern India during the Vedic to post Vedic period distinctly evinces the intensity of influence the immigrant cults held over far-off regions in the ancient setting of the global village.
Some of the recent literature in Kannada/English enlisted here below for further reference. The list is not exhaustive. Besides, readers kindly note that any of the analytical interpretation of the Bermer/Bommaiah cult explained in this post may differ from their opinions or inferences expressed by these authors.
However,it is hoped that this post would be useful background for analyzing and understanding the time space relations in the contemporary field data presented in references below.
Amrutha Someshwara (1999) Tulu Paḍdana Samputa. Kannada University, Hampi. [Kannada P.8+502. [Kannada]
Gururaja Bhatt, P. Dr. (1975) Studies in Tuluva History and Culture. Dr Padur Gururaja Bhatt Memorial Trust, Udupi. Second impression, 2010, p.452+ xxxvii.
Indira Hegde, Dr (2004) Bantaru: Ondu Samajo-Samskruthika Adhyayana. Kannada Pustaka Pradhikara. Bengaluru ,p. xviii+480. [Kannada]
Indira Hegde, Dr (2012) Tuluvara Moolataana:Adi Alade.Parampare mattu parivartane. Navakarnataka Publication, p.408. [Kannada]
Nayak, N.R , Dr (2014) Nadavara Janapada Tavanidhi. Xii+484.Karnataka Janapada University. [Kannada]
Rajshree, Dr. (2008) Tulu Janapada Kavya: Ihapara Lokadrushti. Shree Dhramasthala Manjunatheshwara Tulu peeta. Mangaluru University. Mangalagangotri. p.416. (Kannada)
Shetty, S.D., Dr. (2002) Tulunadina Jainadharma: Ondu Sankritika Adhyayana. Rashtrakavi Govinda Pai Samshodhana Kendra.MGM College, Udupi . p.xxiv+424. [Kannada]
Surendra Rao, B (2010) Bunts in History & culture. Rashtrakavi Govinda Pai Samshodhana Kendra.MGM College, Udupi & World Bunts Foundation Trust, Mangaluru. p.viii+360.
Vamana Nandavara, Dr.(2001) Koti Chennaya. Janapadiya Adhyayana. (Phd thesis) Mangaluru. p.420. [Kannada]
Vittal V Gaonkar (2015). Chandada Chaukada hali and Bommaiah devaru. Sumanth Prakashan Brahmavara. P.58. [Kannada]