Mekkikattu fieldwork : Notes to International Workshop Students. Date: Friday February 29, 2008

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Article to International Workshop Students for reference only.

Article:By:Prof.S.A.Krishnaiah Chief Researcher

Regional Resources Centre

For Folk Performing Arts M.G.M.College Campus UDUPI: 576 102 Karnataka E-mail:

    'Mekkikattu'- place with  many wooden Bhuta Icons, is situated near  Shiriyara village 6 km from Barkur town, of Udupi District (Karnataka State, India).  According to a legend jambukeshvara  a sage was  engaged in a  strong penance at this place, installed 'nandi'(Having human body and Ox head; a spirit or pantheon  deity or bhuta) the  vehicle of Lord Ishvara as the guardian spirit in order to  protect himself from disturbances of evil power. To safeguard the  place of sanctity he established a number of Bhutas in this  shrine. 

    In a spacious hall near the sanctum there are a number of  wooden icons representing vanquished soldiers, horses, elephants  of Keladi  kingdom. Once Keladi  ruler marched in order to loot  the wealth of Barkur.(Circa 16th century A.D.) Barkur  was the wealthy capital of a  chieftain of Tulu kingdom. When Keladi army encamped near  Mekkikattu before the final assault, the Barkur chief  apprehending defeat invoked Nandikeshvara to protect the country  by his supernatural powers, Immediately dumbness and immobility  overpowered  the Keladi soldiers. The army leaders consulted  astrologers and were  promptly told to compensate whatever loss  was caused to their soldiers. Finally every one became normal, In    commemoration of the event their king presented the wooden images  to the shrine. These wooden images are called 'uru' and the wooden icons hall is called  urusaale.  This shrine has  more than 150 wooden icons, and more than 200 aniconic (idol less) supernatural spirits associated in the  area, some of them believed  on the seat of wooden bench  which is placed in   "T" -shape. Few spirits are  under a tree.  On every 'sanmkramana'  (an auspicious day for hindus) day  or eventually on  5th and 20th (day) of every month there will be  a trance rites or possession take place as a grand festival.

In the month of February or March the yearly festival take place on the day of 'sankramana' i.e, 14th onwards. . At  the out side three major iron poles fixed, on this pole another  horizontal pole fixed at  its axis. At the one end  a cradle will be   tied, to the other end remains a  fixed  long rope.  The devotees who  have taken the oath of offering the service of ‘sedi’ or sitting in  a ritual cradle. During the festival 'sedi' performance considered an  important ritual. The main spirit or Bhuta of this temple is  called nandikeshvara' or 'aakasha nandi'. This place is also  famous for  mother deity , and an  interesting wooden icons, sanctity  places also could be seen at 'Mekkikattu'. 

According to researcher S.A.Krishnaiah, a fieldwork research survey traces the historicity of this 'Mekkikattu' shrine, according to oral history source points that the Mekkikattu Nandikeshvara temple was re-built in 1847-48 of mud wall and thatched roof. During the same period the wooden idols of Mekkikattu shrine were replaced with new ones. The old idols kept on the premises of the shrine for a long time. A few of them are now in Craft Museum of New Delhi. In 1967 they were taken to New Delhi at the instance of the late Smt Kamaladevi Chattaopadhyaya with the support of local leaders.

It is interesting to note that the wooden figures of Mekkikattu shrine show the influence of all the major religions of the region; the Shaiva faith, Natha faith, the Jaina faith and the Vaishnava faith. The idols of Nandi, Nandikeshvara, Okkodu Nandi, Aakaash Nandi, Panchamukha Nandi are symbols of the Shaiva cult. The Jogi, or Joogi Purusha, Laakula Danda are related to the Natha cult. Yakshi, Yakshi amma, shakti amma corresponds to the Jain faith. Vaishnava faith is represented by 'Vaishnava Nandi' 'garuda' (Eagle bird). There are also images relating to the village deities of the local tribes; 'chikku' 'marlu-chikku' (Abbaga-Dharaga twin sister motif) 'Haslara Timma' (hunters deity) etc.

One of the most striking images in the Mekkikattu shrine is of the Unicorn. The human body carries the head of a bull endowed with a single horn. The motif of unicorn bull has been found in the relics of Harappa- Mahenjodaro. The Babylonian civilization is also associated with the unicorn, which however is a horse with a single horn. In the logo of Dharmasthala there is a one-horned horse. It is believed that places with the symbols of unicorn are specially consecrated and auspicious. Unicorn motif appears in Bible Testaments. List of the wooden icons and size ( approximate height)

Wooden Icons Height

1 Keecharaahuta 20 feet 2 Ummalti (Demoness) 5 feet 3 Elephant and raider 6 feet (maavuta) 4 Elephant raider 3 feet 5 Brahma with children 4/5 feet 6 Nandi (unicorn) 4 feet 7 Seated deity on Nandi 3 feet 8 Trimukha (three 7 feet faces) varaaha (Wild Boar) 9 Adkattaya -eagle 7 feet as totem 10 Gana-sitting on 6 feet Nandi 11 Drum beater on 6 feet Nandi 12 Tiger Deity 5 feet 13 Tiger Cub 1 feet 14 Punjurli-wild bore 2 feet cub 15 Dhwara Paalaka-I 5 feet (Guardian Deity) 16 Dhwara Paalaka-II 5 feet (Guardian Deity) 17 Veerabhadra 7 feet 18 Jangama maani 2½ feet 19 Panchmukha Nandi 4 feet 20 Diety on Panchamuki 2½ feet Nandi (Mother Goddess) 21 Abbaga 4½ feet 22 Daaraga 4½ feet 23 Joogi 3 feet 24 Monkey 2 feet 25 Kooti 6 feet 26 Chennayya 6 feet 27 Maindala with 5 feet Child 28 Baalayya 1½ feet 29 Demon -male 4 feet (on top of the shrine) 30 Baagila Bobbarya 6 feet 31 Garuda Deiva 5 feet 32 Hasalar Timma 3 feet 33 Dog-1 1½ feet 34 Dog-2 1½ feet 35 Himmuka Nandi 3 feet 36 Peacock-1 1½ feet 37 Peacock-2 1½ feet 38 Cradle 1½ feet 39 Thrimukha nandi 3 feet 40 Chikku (female deity) 2½ feet 41 British Sipoy (Soldier) 2½ feet

Note: Still few more wooden icons found but its not listed in this article.. (ed.)

BHUTA PERFORMANCE In Coastal Karnataka (Dakshina Kannada and Udupi District, India) the term 'bhuuta' means a divine spirit which deserves periodic propitiation. The cult is practiced from generation to genera¬tion. The 'bhuuta' rituals enormously varies from village to village according to the social structure of the society. The boundaries of present day District of South Kanara Karnataka State roughly conform to the area of traditional 'Tulunad', the land of the Tulu speakers. The region is a forty by twenty miles rectangle bounded on the west by the Arabian Sea and on the East by the precipitous slopes of the western Ghats. The Northern and Southern borders are rivers which are transferable by foot during the dry season. (Peter J, Claus 1972- un-published).

      There is a veritable pantheon of the 'bhuutas' whose number is about 400 'bhuutas' are believed to be capable of shaping the welfare of votaries. the 'bhuuta' cult has its own priest class and impersonators who act as communication of the divine spirit through possession act of oracle  or prophecy. 'bhuuta' worship has different types of folk music, to the tune of musician an impersonator dance and his foot step moves with heavy anklet called 'gaggara' and in his hand 'chaury' (Yak tile fan). An impersonator wears either metal mask or areca-leaf mask on his head, the make-up is attractive and dress are made of simple out of tender coconut leaves. During the performance  musical instruments 'mouri' (wind pipe) 'taase' (Percussion )  and 'shruti' (wind pipe) are being used. To the tune of musical instruments the performer render dance  some time  wear the mask and  give the performance.
      The ritual dance is very artistic and attracts all the spectators. 'Bhuuta' or divine spirits have their own myths or epics sung during the performance. Some of the 'bhuuta' songs or epics are sung in the paddy plantation field by the women folk. They are called 'paaDdana' in Tulu language. During the 'bhuuta' performance women folk render the songs with a small percussion instrument called 'tembere' or 'karanDe'.