The Divine Deities from Kantara

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The recent success of the Kannada film Kantara has put the worship of daivas or local tutelary deities and the festival of Bhoota Kola in the spotlight. The movie is set in the village of Kaadubettu, where the villagers worship their protector deities, Panjurli and Guliga. While the movie uses a fictitious story, the local deities and festivals depicted in it are taken from real traditions.

Kantara Movie Poster | Economic Times
Kantara Movie Poster | Economic Times

What is a Daiva?

Daivas are worshipped in the region of Tulu Nadu in southern Karnataka and parts of Kerala. They are local folk deities who are also referred as bhuta or spirits, whose worship probably goes back to the pre-Vedic times. There has been no definitive research on exactly when their worship began.

In Hinduism, deities are categorised according to their patronage. Some are kuladevta, who belong to a clan; some are gramdevta, who belong to a village community; while others are ishta-devta, cherished by individuals. Daivas are called kshetrapalas, or guardian deities of a particular land.

Daivas are traditionally worshipped in the open and belong to a folk tradition that is distinct from although still a part of mainstream Hinduism. These folk deities are worshipped during the festival of Bhoota Kola, in which a dance performer impersonating the spirit is believed to be possessed by the deity.

Some of the popular bhutas or daivas are Panjurli, Bobbarya, Pilipoota, Kalkuda, Kalburti, Pilichamundi, Guliga and Koti Chennaya. The daivas were originally worshipped as an unstructured stone kept under a tree in an open space. But over centuries, idols began to be used for daiva worship.

Dancer's headpiece in the form of Panjurli | Wikimedia Commons
Dancer's headpiece in the form of Panjurli | Wikimedia Commons

Mythology of Panjurli and Guliga

The story of the movie Kantara revolves around the worship of two Daivas - Panjurli and Gulia. The story of Panjurli daiva comes from an oral tradition. According to this story, a wild boar had died in the pleasure garden of Shiva and Parvati, and its young one was taken by Parvati as her child. But this young boar grew up to be very destructive and Shiva decided to kill it. But since goddess Parvati loved the boar, she convinced Shiva not to kill her pet. Hence, Lord Shiva banished the wild boar to earth and it was assigned to protect people and receive tributes from them. Hence, this boar became a bhuta or a spirit known as Panjurli. This myth reflects the assimilation of a local cult into Shaivism.

Performer as Guliga Daiva | M K Shetty
Performer as Guliga Daiva | M K Shetty

The story of Guliga is similar and involves Shiva, Parvati and banishment. Guliga was born from a stone. This stone was found by Parvati in a pile of ash, and when Shiva threw it in the water, it gave birth to Guliga. Guliga was sent to Vishnu to serve him, but due to his destructive nature, Vishnu cursed him to earth.

Guliga had an uncontrollable hunger and he consumed everything in his way. Finally, his hunger was quenched when Lord Vishnu offered his little finger to be eaten. Guliga became a daiva, a kshetrapala, and was assigned to protect land and its inhabitants.

According to lore, Panjurli and Guliga fought over the same land and even engaged in a battle over it, but eventually entered into a truce after goddess Durga intervened. Later, Guliga became a close companion and even a worshipper of Panjurli. Hence, the two daivas are worshipped together. Here, we see a union of two local cults.

Bhoota Kola of Jarandaya daiva | Wikimedia Commons
Bhoota Kola of Jarandaya daiva | Wikimedia Commons
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The Bhoota Kola Festival

The daiva or bhuta is worshipped during the annual Bhoota Kola festival, celebrated sometime between December to May as per the Tulu calender. In this festival, a performer wears a costume and make-up impersonating the spirit, and dances in a trance. The performer is believed to be possessed by the spirit. As the spirit, the performer acts like an oracle, offers solutions to people’s problems and resolves their disputes.

Locals belonging to various castes and communities are part of the festival and perform specific roles during the ceremony. The festival takes place in the holy land where the deity is believed to reside. The Bhoota Kola festival is said to have influenced the popular art form of Yakshagana.

The popularity of the movie Kantara, has regenerated an interest in the worship of Daivas and other related folk traditions. It is hoped that this will also spur far greater interest in the local deities and their traditions across India.

Cover image: Rural India Online

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