The garnal saiber or firecracker artisans of Tulunadu are much sought after for various cultural celebrations here in coastal Karnataka. Their participation at bhuta kola , festivals, weddings, birthday celebrations, housewarming and even funerals is a much anticipated event.
Garnal is a firecracker and saiber is a local reference to a Muslim person.
Ameer Husain, a garnal saiber from Mulki town, says his father taught him the craft, and the profession has been passed down for generations in their family.
“Throwing and handling firecrackers is a dangerous job, especially with bigger fireworks,” adds Nitesh Anchan, research associate at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Karnataka.
Mustaq Athrady, a young Muslim from Athradi village of Udupi district, makes and throws garnal at the bhuta rituals, and is especially skilled at making one of the most powerful garnal, the kadoni . “ Kadoni is a bursting powder made of different chemicals made with an elaborate process,” he says. The explosion of kadoni is said to rattle the ground where it is burst.
The bursting of firecrackers during bhuta kola is a spectacle to behold. Bhuta (spirit) worship has been followed in Tulunadu for many centuries. Kola (performance) is a ritual associated with the bhuta tradition. Along with the music of nadaswaram, tase , and other traditional instruments, the loud sounds of garnal are intrinsic to the rituals. Watch: Bhutas of Tulunadu: spirit of syncretic tradition
During kola , lit firecrackers are thrown towards the sky by garnal saiber s – creating a magical and explosive show.
Bhuta worship sees the coming together of many communities, explains Professor Praveen Shetty. “Bhuta practices in Tulunadu today have a set of rules and tasks usually assigned to Hindu communities. But interestingly, over a period of time, bhuta worship also allowed Muslim communities within these practices by employing them either in throwing the firecrackers or playing music for kola .”
“With the introduction of firecrackers, bhuta kola rituals have attained grandeur and spectacle,” says Professor Shetty who is an expert on Tulu culture at Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Udupi.
Watch the film as it shows Ameer and Mustaq lighting up the night skies with their dazzling displays, carrying forward a centuries-old tradition of syncretism and shared heritage.
This story is supported by a fellowship from Mrinalini Mukherjee Foundation (MMF).