Height: 7.24 in (18.4 cm)
Width: 4.76 in (12.1 cm)
Depth: 11.22 in (28.5 cm)
Bhuta worship is an ancient pre-Hindu folk tradition practiced in the Tulu Nadu region in southern coastal Karnataka. Bhutaor spirit in Sanskritinvolves a religious cult ceremony of worship called as bhuta kola, where an oracle or a priest channels the invoked spirit and interacts with its audience, by answering questions or solving quarrels.
Bhuta worship occurs on both, an intimate, family level where the worshippers carve out a niche in a tree or the inner walls of a house for the bhuta to inhabit, or on a grand scale inviting the entire community or village to participate. The latter is usually held once a year and lasts several nights. Ritual objects such as metal masks and ornaments are placed in the sthaana (shrines) after the ceremony, and sacrificial offerings are made. The oracle, who plays the role of the diviner, is adorned in a heavy, colourful costume, make-up and metal ornaments. While bhuta ceremonies vary from region to region and on the spirit invoked, the common factors involve a highly charged atmosphere where the Paadannasancient narrative legends on bhuta worshipare recited by a female member of the community.
Singing of folk-epics or ballads (paadannas) depicting the story of the spirit concerned, the spectacular dance by the priest-impersonator possessed by the spirit, wearing gorgeous costumes, masks and high crowns of halo-like structure and making awe-inspiring cries and performing miracles and heroic feats and delivering the message of the divine spirit, curing diseases, and settling village disputes all these make a festival of grand pageantry leaving a lasting impression on the spectator even if he is a non-believer. (P Upadhyaya and S Upadhyaya eds., Bhuta Worship, Udipi: The Regional Resources Centre for Folk Performing Arts, M G M College, 1984, p. 2)
Bhuta worship lends itself to diverse art forms, including sculptures and masks sculpted in bronze or carved in wood. Broadly, bhutas are classified in three categories, with the sculpture or mask representing the invoked spirit. Bhutas can be spirits of totemic origin, such as the Panjurli (pig or boar), Pilichamundi (tiger) and Nandikona (bull) bhutas. According to Nima Poovaya-Smith, The animals represented are either predators like the tiger or an asset to the land like the bull, so that the choice of a totemic animal incorporates elements of both appeasement and celebration. (George Michell ed., Kanara: A Land Apart: The Artistic Heritage of Coastal Karnataka, Mumbai: Marg Publications, Vol. 64 No. 1, September 2012, p. 99)
Bhutas are also deities of the Hindu pantheon. These include Shiva's attendants or ganas. Shiva himself is referred to as Bhutanatha, Lord of bhutas. Lastly, bhutas can be apotheosized human beings or heroes who became saints after their death along with the ones who died in tragic conditions and came back as tormenting spirits. (Frdric Rond, Notes on Bhuta Rittual Masks, asianart.com, online) The twin daivas of Koti and Chennaya, popular folk deities in the Tulunadu region, belong to the latter category.