A bronze Bhuta ritual mask

18th century, Kanataka, India

Height: 54 cm, 21.3 inches

This bhuta ritual mask depicting Pilichamundi was used for the ritual ceremonies of bhuta kola, the Sanskrit word bhuta, meaning “passed away” or “spirit”. The yearly ritual was characterized by the interaction between the audience and the oracle who received the invoked spirit. To prove to the audience that he is no longer human but a corporal envelope hosting the bhuta, the diviner performs a lively dance despite wearing heavy metal adornments.

Pilichamundi represents a tiger, totemic symbolism deriving from the large population of tigers in the jungles of Karnataka . The symbolic meaning of Pilichamundi is a spirit which looks after cattle and crops.

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