Gouramma

Gouramma, female bhuta deity. Carved jackwood, originally polychromed, 115 cm x 43 cm. 170 cm x 30 cm. Mekkekattu, Udipi, South Karnataka. c. late 18th century. 7/3963.

Among the many female bhuta deities from the shrine of Mekkekattu, Gouramma stands out as an extremely beautiful image in terms of sculptural quality. Probably the spirit of a once socially prominent woman, the deity is rendered with an amiable countenance, elaborate coiffure, grand ornaments and costume. She is, in most likelihood, an attendant to Lord Nandikeshvara, the bull deity and principal object of worship at the Nandikeshvara daivasthana or shrine in Mekkekattu. The larger than life size-wood sculptures representing the various bhutas in their corporeal existence are an integral part of the bhuta cult. They are generally made from wood obtained from the jack or wild-jackfruit trees. The colours employed are natural pigments obtained from minerals and plants. A coating of lac is applied for the finishing touches. Significantly, only the eyes are left untouched for the final ritual of prana-pratishtha or “breathing-in of life”, when the deity is said to descend into the sculpture and occupy it. The idol is covered with a sari, or a piece of cloth, and only after a ritual offering is performed is the painter able to go under the cloth, fill in the eyes, and receive his compensation.

During the invocation of the bhuta spirit, the possession rituals involve a bhuta impersonator or patri who acts as a vehicle of the particular bhuta deity he is personifying. It is interesting to note that the spirit of the bhuta “enters into” the physical body of the human representation at this stage and not into its sculptural form.

1. Cortesy: Field noes of late H.D. Chauhan

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