Bhuta images are relatively rare. This fine example dates to the 18th century and has been cast as a single piece using the lost wax process.
This female bhuta image is possibly Kalkuda, the twin sister of Kallurti, two main characters in one of the main bhuta or ghost stories of South India.
The figure holds a twisting sword or sceptre in the right hand and a traditional bell in the left. The details are wonderful: the figure wears a typical headdress, has almost a mask-like face, heavy and ornate earrings, a heavy necklace, bracelets and arm bands. There is a fine, long plait down the back of the figure.
The lower garment has a shelf-like belt and a lower section that comes to a point at the front.
Belief in bhutas dates from pre-Vedic times and today is largely restricted to Karnataka and Kerala states in India’s south.
Generally bhutas are malevolent spirits, particularly the spirits of evil men who have died from execution, accident or suicide. If people suspect that bhutas are about, they protect themselves by lying on the ground, because the bhutas never rest on earth. Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gita, declares that humans who worship bhutas become bhutas themselves. This hasn’t stopped the practice in Karnataka and northern Kerala where bhuta worship is commonplace in rural areas.
Offerings are made regularly to bhutas to insure protection against bad harvests, and human and animal diseases, including fatal childhood illnesses. They are thought to roam about villages and country-sides (a bit like ghosts or goblins) and to harass those who neglect to propitiate them.
Most villages have small shrines with wooden bhuta idols inside or numbers of idols heaped together under a tree or makeshift shelter.
Bhuta rituals are impressive ceremonies and elaborate dance performances take place at auspicious times in Karnataka and in Kerala.
The image here has a smooth, dark patina.
See Beltz (2009, p. 84) for a related example that is now in the Museum Rietberg, Zurich.
Beltz, J., et al, Wenn Masken Tanzen: Rituelles Theater und Bronzekunst aus Sudwestindien, Museum Rietberg, 2009.
Rond, F., Bhuta: Masques & Objets Rituels des Espirits/Masks & Ritual Objects of the Spirits, Karnataka, Inde di Sud, Galerie le Toit du Monde/Indian Heritage, 2011.