The Tuluva community, an ethno linguistic group of people who were originally from the Mangalore and adjoining region in Karnataka and also from a region in Kerala believe that the ‘bhutas’ (the spirit world) deserve to be worshipped with the same devotion and fervour as we do for our ‘devas’ (gods). For themthe spirit deities are divine beings, showering mercy on those who invest their faith in them. They officiate as tutelary spirits of certain families, villages or regions. They treat human beings as their foster children, protect cattle and crops and look after their health and welfare. In return they expect prayers and customary offerings.

One such spirit that is worshipped by this community is Pilichandi. It is a totem spirit. Pilichandithe people believe is the goddess who protects her people against the menace of the tiger, she is Tiger Chamundi. The Sanskritized form of her name is VyaghraChamundi.

The goddess has an interesting story. Shiva and Parvati, during one of their visits to earth,blessed a pair of birds and gave them the status of a married couple. The female bird was soon pregnant and she desired the pollen of a flower that was so rare that it bloomed in a spot that lay beyond the seven seas. The male bird, eager to please his wife,flew across the oceans and found the flower. It was late evening by the time he reached and as he put his beak inside the flower, the petals closed in, thus imprisoning the bird.

The female bird grew anxious when her partner failed to return and she prayed to Shiva, promising to offer him one of her progenies if the male bird returned safely. As desired the petals opened and the male bird flew back home. They honoured their promise made to Shiva and offered him one of their eggs. The egg however fell down and cracked; from the tiny opening emerged a tiny tiger. Parvatireared the tiger and gave it the charge of grazing the cows. However every evening when she counted her cattle in the shed, she discovered that the herd was always short by a cow. Soon a tawny coloured cow also known as kabettipetta (kabetti means tawny in colour) whose milk was reserved for Shiva also went missing. Shiva decided to spy on the cowherd, in this case the tiger and stealthily observed the entire play of events as they unfolded the next day.

First, the tiger ate the fruits of the amla tree and drank the water from the brook. Now it is a fact that when one drinks a glass of water after eating the amla fruit the water does taste sweet. The tiger assumed that if the water of the brook was so sweet, the blood of the cows that drank from the brook would be sweet too. And so he hadbeen killing a cow everyday.

Shiva ordered the tiger to go down to earth as a spirit to guard the animals and crops and to protect his devotees and punish the sinners.

During the Bhuta kola ritual performances in villages in Karnataka, there is a man dressed as Pilichandi. The impersonator makes up his face to look ferocious. Deep yellow is used as the base colour, with a red naama (tilak) on the forehead and white or black lines on both cheeks with dots to present a picture of a tiger. The man is said to be possessed by the spirit and in some places, rides a wooden dummy of a tiger that has been made specifically for the occasion and moves though the village in a procession of devotees.
(Also read other Tales of Spirits here)

LOCATION: Karnataka