Pratheek Gudigar
Pratheek Gudigar

Art of the Spirit

The small community of artists from the Gudigar caste carve the spirit idols from jackfruit wood.

A couple of years ago, 23-old IT engineer Pratheek Gudigar decided to leave the city and go back home to catch spirits. Celebrate them, to be precise. There’s Chikku, a daiva or good astral being. Then there’s the Tambula Yakshi, or Yakshi holding a mirror, and Maha Sati, the daiva who self-immolated herself.

Pratheek, who relocated from Bengaluru to Kundapura village in Karnataka, says these nature spirits protect their villages; a local belief that manifests in the form of the generational profession of making Bhoota Kola idols in the region. Among the most conspicuous examples would be the menacing face painted in dark red that stares out of the Brahmalingeshwara Temple in Maranakatte, 16 km from Kundapura.

The small community of artists from the Gudigar caste carve the spirit idols from jackfruit wood. Currently, only two or three families in the Uppunda, Basaru and Kundapura villages practise the art form. Pratheek’s father was one of them, until he passed away during Covid, prompting his son to quit his job and continue the family legacy. “I used to watch my father and grandfather make idols. It is important for me to keep their tradition going,” he explains, adding that he is thankful to the 2022 Kannada film Kantara that portrayed Bhoota Kola as a shamanistic dance performance, bringing it to the public eye.

A Bhoota Kola idol
A Bhoota Kola idol

The busy season for Bhoota Kola figurines is typically from January to May when the demand for the idols go up due to the annual temple festivals at that time. These wooden idols—commonly seen in Kundapura, Byndnoor and Udupi—are anywhere from 1 to 15 ft tall. To carve intricate profiles and paint a roughly two-foot figurine requires a minimum 10 days of work; if the design is complex it takes more.

“Our community is small and we are trying to revive our art and generate interest in the youngsters to take it up. The idol of Veerabhadra in the Mandarthi Durgaparameshwari Temple located about 30 km from Kundapura was made by my grandfather. It is among the finer examples of our craft,” says Pratheek.

The young craftsman believes that his work will speak for itself. “I cannot work in Bengaluru since the craft demands full time commitment. I have decided to take it up full time. I owe it to myself to keep the family tradition going,” he says, while carving a daiva. The spirits would be happy that one of their own is back to serve through creation.

The New Indian Express