- Carved wood figure of a female bhuta
Carved from the wood of the jackfruit tree, this figure depicts a bhuta– supernatural beings from coastal Karnataka that include nature spirits, mother goddesses, deified heroes and ancestors with their consorts and attributes. Found in both household and covered shrines outdoors, they are khetrapalas or guardians of territory, protecting their votaries from sickness and natural calamities, blessing marriages and childbirth, granting prosperity and ensuring good harvests.
Over a hundred female bhutasare worshipped as ferocious mother-goddesses - Chavandi, Kallurti, Ammanoru, Pilchandi and Ummalti - depicted as grim, fanged beings with multiple arms that bear weapons, skulls, and bowls of vibhuti or ash.
Her colours having long since faded, reveal the stark primal simplicity of the figure. The carving of the abundant jewellery –earrings and head ornaments, chokers and necklaces, armlets and bracelets, belts and girdles – remains sharp and precise, as do the lines of the elegantly pleated skirt.
Bhuta worship is a tradition that survives to this day. Idols bedecked with flowers and mango leaves are propitiated withofferings of water, coconuts, fruit, flowers, incense and even meat and liquor. Accompanied by drums and cymbals, the pathri or spirit medium, dances to invoke the bhuta. Slipping into a trance, the medium in communion with the bhuta, resolves disputes over land and debt, mortgages and matters of familial honour, and is also believed to heal the ill and divine the future.
Frequently purified with water and with spices during these ceremonies, bhuta idols are painted with natural pigments in bright primary colours to seal the wooden surface. The figures are typically embedded in the platforms of the bhutasthanas or ‘abodes of the bhutas’.