The evolution of worship in Tulu Nadu

Of late, I have been reading up a little bit on the history of Tulu Nadu. I have become aware of some really amazing things as a result of my reading. The most significant part of Tulu Nadu’s culture is of course the various forms of worship that is prevalent there. What I find even more interesting is the seamless intermix of Vedic traditions and customs with the pre-Vedic practices.

Some of the deities that have been worshipped in Tulu Nadu for ages, and continue to be worshiped, include Brahma, Naga (snake), Devi (various female forms), Bhutas and the Vedic gods including Shiva, Vishnu and Subramanya.

  • For Brahma (who is a local deity and not the creator Brahma), the form of worship is called Dakke Bali.
  • For Naga, there are various forms of worship such as Nagamandala, Ashlesha Bali, Sarpa Karya etc
  • For the Bhutas, there are Bhuta Kolas
  • For Devi worship, Durga Namaskara Puje, in which Devi is worshiped in the form of light, is very prevalent.
  • For the Vedic deities, Yagnas, Homas (fire sacrifices) are most common, along with ritualistic temple worship.

It is also well known that the Vedic community migrated to Tulu Nadu from North India many centuries ago and therefore the Brahmin population in Tulu Nadu are not really natives (in terms of origin). Perhaps this is the reason that there is extreme contrast in worship from one form to the other.

The main factor in deciding whether the Vedic community involved themselves in a particular form of worship or not seems to be the origin of the deity itself. So for example, Bhuta worship has remained almost completely non Vedic as thereĀ  are no references to Panjurli, Doomavathy, Kalrutti or any of the other “Bhutas” in the Vedas. There are about 16 different parts to a Bhuta Kola. None of them find any link with any Vedic custom. It is very much a tribal practice (tribal is not really the right word – but I cannot find an alternative right now).

On the other hand, our Puranas and Vedas do mention about Nagas. So one can clearly see the Vedic influence in a Nagamandala. Even though Nagamandala is a dance oriented ritual, it is performed by Brahmins and has a significant Vedic touch. Similarly Durga worship has taken a Vedic route throughout Tulu Nadu.

My understanding is that the influence of the Vedic community on Tulu Nadu was much stronger than the influence of the local culture on them. This is why one can find such a strong importance being given to fire rituals and sacrifices even today (the same is the trend in Kerala). Only a few hundred kilometers away in Mysore Karnataka, the form of worship is totally different with focus on prayers, alankara, vrata and so on. One source I came across mentions that perhaps the Vedic community migrated to Tulu Nadu at the request of some of the local rulers. If this is true, then it is quite likely that the people who came in were seen in awe and revered by the locals and these migrants could have been seen as people who could help realize GOD. That could explain the strong influence of the migrants’ culture on the local customs and the weak reverse influence.

What confirms the above observations is the fact that such influences are happening even today. So, for example, we are seeing some Vedic customs being slowly introduced into Bhuta Kolas. Brahmakalashas are being performed for the temples of Bhutas and a link is being established between female Bhuta forms, such as Pilichamundi and Rakteshwari, and “Devi”. I am not sure if this is the right development but evolution is surely happening.

Culture of Tulunadu

Tulu Nadu is a very unique place in India. In terms of size, its a very small region – probably 100kms by 50kms. But in terms of its contribution to Indian art and culture, its a giant. Tulu Nadu has contributed immensely in various fields such as literature, dance, cuisine and so on. Even the great Vijayanagara rulers have a Tulu Nadu background (the Taulava dynasty, in particular).

When it comes to the art forms prevalent in Tulu Nadu, there is probably no other region in India that offers such a variety within such a small geographical section. Here is a short intro on some of these art forms.

  • Yakshagana – probably the most well known contribution of Tulu Nadu. Similar to the Kathakali of Kerala. Stage performance where the focus is on expressions, make-up and religious themes. Very popular even today.
  • Bhuta Kola – a mixture of art and belief. Form of worship to the Bhutas or demigods of the land. Very intense and colorful. Equally ritualistic. Not enough is being done to preserve this culture though.
  • Kambala – a rural sport. In a nut-shell, this is a buffalo racing competition in a muddy field. Extremely intensive and requires great energy on the part of the participants. Not really common nowadays.
  • Aati Kalenja – a very unique art form where “Kalenja” goes around villages during the monsoons singing native stories. The belief is that honoring Kalenja with rice and other eateries ensures that evil spirits are warded off during the rains. Dying art form.
  • Nagamandala – Like the Kola, this brings together art and belief. A very ritualistic dance worship of snakes. Snakes are revered throughout Tulu Nadu and it is but natural that we took to the dance form of worshipping them.
  • Dakke Bali – Very similar to Nagamandala but is offered to the “Brahma” – a local demigod. More prevalent near the Padubidri region of Udupi.
  • Hulivesha – similar in concept to Aati Kalenja. Common during Dussehra when people in teams of five to ten go around the town in the costume of tigers accompanied by music. Just like snakes, tigers are revered in Tulu Nadu and Hulivesha is a natural outcome of such reverence. Dying art form.
  • Koti and Chennayya – A dance form which stands as proof of how folk lore can influence the culture of a community. Koti and Chennayya were two heroic brothers who are worshiped as protectors of the land.

It is of course difficult to capture the entire essence of the above art forms in one posting. More research, support and encouragement is definitely needed for these so that future generations can get to watch, participate and enjoy them.