The Bunts Culture and Beliefs: Cobra Worship

Original Kannada article written by Mr Aerya Laxminarayan Alva

It was generally believed  that  bunts were originally spirit worshippers (bhoota). They started believing in and worshipping puranic gods like Shiva, Krishna, Rama, Janardhana, etc. much later, maybe after the Brahmins settled and started spreading their influence in Tulunad.  But as per my opinion bunts were originally cobra (NAGA) worshippers, much before they started worshipping spirits (BHOOTA). The Cobra, a mixture of beauty and fear must have made them to bow down and worship.  Later, they must have started the practice of worshipping cobras by installing  cobra idols carved in stone, in the nagabanas, a place where trees and vegetation was allowed to grow and  that area was reserved  for the nagabana.  Gradually, when the Brahmins settled in this area and started performing pooja in temples with Vedic mantras, bunts must have also started performing pooja rituals for cobras through Brahmins with Vedic mantras.

In Tulunad, cobra worshipping was there in existence much before the arrival of Brahmins that is why it may have been called as NAAGARAKHANDA.  If Tulunad was known as NAGARKHANDA, (Naga continent) we can imagine how deep-rooted the cobra worship was.

Even today, we can see the rural populace of Tulunad identifying themselves with one or the other of the original places of cobra worship.  They usually ask, “which is your ALADE?” which means where do you offer pooja or milk to NAGA, or in other words NAGABANA. Normally, each family l has its own NAGABANA, , which is usually situated in the original house of that family. Though we are in the 21st century, with all the advances in science & technology, we find people going in search of their nagabana (moolasthana) to perform naagapooja. Even today we can see people performing nagapooja in their new houses, inspite of having moved from their ancestral houses.

Later we moved towards spirit worship. But even today, we can see those spirits (bhootas) praising nagas, existence of nagabanas near the temples of spirits, performing pooja to cobras before the pooja to spirits, which has become the common practice. Today such nagabanas near spirit temples are worshipped as brahmasthana (Naga Brahma). In such places daily poojas are performed by Brahmin priests.

In the next stages, Vedic Brahmins came to Tulunad and spread their worshipping of Vedic gods on a wider scale. As a result the bunts also adopted such religious practises. In many places we accepted the responsibility of the management of such temples. Despite the strong influence of Brahmin culture and beliefs, we did not leave our original cobra and bhoota worship. Even though worship of Vedic gods reached its peak with all its grandeur, belief in the cobra and spirit worship never faded out. Our original type of worship influenced vedic god worship culture.

Due to this influence, later some nagabanas became temples. We can name Subrahmanya and Kudupu temples as examples of this. Not only that nagabanas were created near Vaishnavite temples and nagapooja became the regular ritual together with the main temple festivities. Hence NAGARAKHANDA name became more appropriate to Tulunad.

Bunts had major roles in cobra worship of Tulunad. Important beedu, guthu, baalike, parari and houses of bunt families  perform nagapooja in their respective nagabanas even today.

Not only in Tulunad, cobra worship is found in many other parts of the world. But the depth of belief in naga worship in Tulunad, is not found in other places.  Naga worship was with us much before spirit (bhoota) worship, which is evident from the paddhanas (folkloric songs sung in praise of bhootas) for some of the spirits.

There are many more evidences to prove that Bunts or rather primitive Tuluvas were originally only NAGA worshippers.

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