Tulunadu is an area along the coast of the Arabian Sea with a long and well established history of trans-oceanic trade. The tradition of bhuta (spirit) worship has been followed here for many centuries.

“Playing music at bhuta rituals is my livelihood,” says Syed Nasir. He is part of a musical troupe in Tulunadu manned by members of the Muslim community. “We don’t face any trouble performing at these rituals.”

Bhuta worship sees the coming together of many communities, says Nitesh Anchan, research associate at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Karnataka. “You have these instances of people from different places settling in [Tulunadu] and being a part of distinctly Tulu rituals,” says Anchan.

Nasir’s family has been playing nadaswaram and other instruments at the bhuta rituals for four generations. He inherited this art from his father and is the last member from his family to continue their musical heritage. “The younger generation is not showing any interest towards this music,” he says. “Circumstances are also not the same anymore, the current situation is getting worse,” says the musician who is in his fifties.

Bhutas are the deities of the people of Tulunadu,” says Anchan. The bhutas are not only worshipped but are an integral part of the lives of people here, he adds. There are no women performers in bhuta worship, there are however women characters in kola – a ritual associated with bhuta worship. The roles of women's characters are played by men.

This film follows Nasir and his ensemble's performances at various bhuta rituals in Tulunadu.

Watch the film: Bhutas of Tulunadu: spirit of syncretic traditions

Cover photo: Govind Radesh Nair

This story is supported by a fellowship from Mrinalini Mukherjee Foundation (MMF).

Faisal Ahmed

Faisal Ahmed is a documentary filmmaker, currently based in his hometown of Malpe, Coastal Karnataka. He previously worked with the Manipal Academy of Higher Education, where he directed documentaries on the living cultures of Tulunadu. He is a MMF-PARI fellow (2022-23).

Other stories by Faisal Ahmed
Text Editor : Siddhita Sonavane

Siddhita Sonavane is Content Editor at the People's Archive of Rural India. She completed her master's degree from SNDT Women's University, Mumbai, in 2022 and is a visiting faculty at their Department of English.

Other stories by Siddhita Sonavane