Version classiqueVersion mobile

La possession en Asie du Sud

Jackie Assayag
Gilles Tarabout


Spirit possession in the central Himalayas

Jāgar-rituals: an expression of customs and rights

La possession en Himalaya central. Le jāgar : une expression des coutumes et des droits

Monika Krengel


Cet article étudie différents espaces et aspects de la possession mentale, tels qu’ils ont été observés durant des recherches effectuées au Kumaon (Himalaya), au cours de rituels appelés jāgar. L’un de mes propos est de démontrer que la possession est une institution complexe qui aborde une grande variété de questions à la fois. Selon l’argument développé ici, les jāgar, bien qu’ils semblent liés à des problèmes réels – une maladie, par exemple – ne sont pas pratiqués pour la seule guérison, mais procurent une plate-forme ou s’expriment des discours sur les préoccupations passées, présentes et futures de la société locale. Un jāgar ressemble à un voyage dont un symptôme n’est que le point de départ. La communication oraculaire avec le divin (mauvais esprits et divinités) entraîne des comportements sans rapport aucun avec les symptômes et les façons d’etre de la personne souffrante. Je me propose d’étudier ici l’incidence de la justice divine, personnifiée par les voix des divinités locales, sur la société et les individus ainsi que son rapport aux notions de responsabilité et de culpabilité.

Les ambivalences eu égard à ce qui est juste et injuste ainsi que le problème de la voie vers la vérité font du jāgar un medium par le truchement duquel les messages divins sont incorporés dans des discours séculiers et dans un argumentaire. Il sera montré que le pouvoir de la personne est nettement fonction de son appartenance sexuelle, mais que l’identité, le pouvoir et la responsabilité sont finalement liés au territoire et à la propriété foncière.

Note de l’auteur

The main fieldwork was conducted between 1983 and 1985. Further field research took place in 1988, 1994, 1995, and between 1997 and 1998. I thank the German Research Foundation (DFG) for financing the latest and parts of my earlier research.

Texte intégral

  • 1 The area is situated in the Indian Himalayan hills, South ofTibet and West of Nepal. Kumaon was a k (...)

1“Without eating, hunger does not go away. Without talking, unhappiness does not go away; speak now, speak!” (statement by a medium to the victim of an evil spirit). Possession rituals, as observed in the former Himalayan kingdom of Kumaon,1 are a powerful tool of communication and they force the verbalisation of problems. The institution in question is called jāgar, which denotes ‘waking’ as well as ‘staying awake throughout the night’. In jāgars, obstacles and blockages that endanger the regeneration of society are dealt with. Childlessness and the illness of women or children are very common reasons to call for a jāgar, but so, too, are mental disturbances of family members, illness of menfolk, and misfortunes. Such are symptoms that could be caused by a deity or an evil spirit. Healing or the solving of actual problems is not an end in itself, but encompassed in a search for causes normally not connected with the person suffering, and in reflections on shared responsibilities and guilt.

  • 2 Further descriptions of jāgars are found in: Gaborieau 1975; Krengel 1989; Moller 1993.

2In this paper I put forward the argument that jāgar is a complex institution that integrates many aspects and simultaneously serves different ends. Among the few studies regarding jāgar the following interpretations predominate: Pfleiderer and Lutze (1979), for example, emphasise aspects of ritual healing and therapeutic effects. Fanger (1990) puts in the foreground the ritual setting and the actors involved; while Leavitt (1985) focuses on the rich folklore innate in jāgars and the interaction with deities and the mythological past.2

3While taking the above features into account, I will emphasise other aspects of jāgar: its importance as the ‘court of the gods’ (dev darbār) as distinguished from the secular court (raj darbār), and its expression of divine justice and customary rights. Attention will be paid to the scope for, and limitations to, expressions of personal powers and sufferings. I will link concepts of justice and personal identity to the meaning of territory, especially landed property, and notions of responsibility.

4Jāgar provides a model for solving conflicts and a means of orientation. The contents and solutions dealt with in jāgar, include, on the one hand, current questions and problems, and on the other, they lead back to the mythological past. The majority of the deities involved in jāgars are of royal origin and represent ancient regimes of justice, right, territorial protection and conflict solving.

5As it does not seem appropriate to single out one particular aspect and in order to provide an understanding of the kind of spirit possession concerned, it is necessary to relate the different realms and forms of jāgar to one another and to give a description of the ritual as a whole.

6The material on spirit possession in Kumaon was collected as part of my fieldwork among Ṭhākur (-Rājpūt) communities in the district of Almora*. Jāgars are held throughout Kumaon and by all castes. The Ṭhākur-Rājpūts are the numerically dominant caste (over fifty per cent of the population) in Kumaon, followed by Brahmans and Śilpkārs (lit. craftsmen).


« A Jāgar is essentially a spirit possession séance in which a designated deity or deities (devatās) is induced by ritual drumming and the singing of devatā legends to possess a prearranged oracle/medium of the spirit. »
(Fanger 1990: 173)

  • 3 On spirit possession in Western Nepal, see Gaborieau 1976 and Winkler 1976; for Garhwal, see Berrem (...)
  • 4 For a more extended discussion on variations in possession practices in the Himalayas, see Leavitt  (...)

7Jāgars are a Kumaoni tradition, although there are some similarities to the kind of possession rituals encountered in the neighbouring areas of West Nepal and Garhwal.3 Gaborieau points out for Western Nepal, oracular possessions are strongly concerned with the administration of justice. “This type of justiciary god evidently does not exist in Central Nepal. [...] On the other hand, this type of god extends beyond Western Nepal into the Indian districts of Kumaon and Garhwal.” (Gaborieau 1976: 235)4

8There is not ‘one’ jāgar, but several kinds of jāgars. Distinctions are made between outdoor or dhuṇi-jāgars, and indoor or house-jāgars, as well as between jāgars held out of happiness and in order to give thanks to the local deities (khuśī ka jāgar), and those that are necessitated by illness, misfortune, and problems sent by an evil spirit (bhūt) or by the local deities themselves (dukh ka jāgar). It is the combination of house- and dukh ka jāgar that will be considered here in detail. The two general reasons for jāgars–either happiness/thanksgiving, or trouble–are linked by a common feature: their essentially prophylactic character. Jāgars are a medium for dealing with uncertainties and the unknown, and the prevention of latent problems by remaining on good terms and in touch with the local deities is as important as the solving of problems. Khuśī ka jāgars are, for example, sometimes held for a new couple a few days after the marriage ceremonies, or 22 days after the birth of a child. Besides the aspect of thanksgiving, families endeavour to make sure that the life trajectory of the new member of society is protected by the local deities and is free of bad signs and obstacles. This prophylactic character is also exhibited in jāgars held for young married women, to find out if an evil spirit–or misdeeds by the woman’s forefathers–has followed her from her natal home (mait). In most cases, the search is prompted by the discovery of a mait-bhūt, an evil spirit from the woman’s natal home. Jāgars held to enquire about the situation of family members who have left Kumaon for outside employment, and about whom uncertainties are felt, are equally prophylactic. It is not always possible to distinguish between manifest problems, like physical or mental disturbances, and the fear of problems. In this sense, a jāgar is a means of dealing with the unknown and to reconcile one’s own place in society.

  • 5 I only attended two dhuṇi-jāgars and observations by other scholars on Kumaon with regard to dhuṇi- (...)

9The clearer division with regard to the kind of jāgar is that between indoor or house-jāgars, and outdoor or dhuṇi-jāgars. For house-jāgars, a particular family serves as host; they take place in the house and are mainly related to family or kinship affairs and problems. Dhuṇi-jāgars, on the contrary, take place outside and relate to one or several communities as a whole. Although house-jāgars are the primary focus of this paper and dhuṇi-jāgars are now rare,5 the understanding of the reach of jāgars would be incomplete if we were to exclude dhuṇi-jāgars.

  • 6 I personally have not observed such extended jāgars like a baishi, but I was told that this is one (...)

10The dhuṇi (sacred fireplace) is a village temple, in most cases without a temple structure attached to it. It consists of a kind of courtyard, surrounded by small, almost imperceptible shrines. This temple is the religious, political and communicative centre of every village and it brings together most local deities. The village dhuṇi has at least three distinctive functions: it used to be, and in some areas still is, the meeting place for the pañcāyat, the village council, which is led by the village headman, the padhān. It is the place where large jāgars are celebrated, and it serves as a place for meeting and dancing during village festivities. For jāgars at the dhuṇi, the most talented mediums of the area are invited to dance together and a famous bard is selected (the bard for the dhuṇi is called das-dhol, he comes from one of the lowest caste strata, das, and plays a big drum, ḍhol. The sacred centre consists of a large bonfire which is surrounded by the dancing mediums. Performances such as crossing the burning coals barefoot or touching the body with red hot iron rods without injury are reported from some dhuṇi-jāgars, which can last one, three, seven, twenty-two days (baishi) or even six months (chaiasi).6 Dhuṇi-jāgars are associated with the royal court and also the village headman, who represents the political centre of the village at the dhuṇi, and was formerly expected to protect and ensure justice for the welfare of the whole community (cf. Krengel, in press).

The dhuṇi in each village is the temple of Guru Gorakhnāth and of a group of gods who are his disciples and form the court of the royal ascetic King Haru or Harcan (i.e., Har Cand), the satya darbār or ‘court of truth’. Satya darbār ki jai! “long live the royal court of truth!” is a regular cry during jāgars in the dhuṇi. [Leavitt 1985: 277]

11In most places, the ‘royal court of truth’ is associated with the Chand Kings. The Chand dynasty who successively replaced the Katyuri kings came into power around the thirteenth century (cf. Joshi 1990: 202). “In areas that stayed longer under Katyuri domination it is spirits of the Katyuri kings who dance, and Harcan and his court are excluded” (Leavitt 1985: 282).

12Dhuṇi-jāgars are now predominantly khuśī ka jāgars, aimed at fostering good relations with the deities and currying their future favour for protecting the community. One can well imagine that during an age of spatial isolation, famine, epidemics and shifting loyalties, dhuṇi-jāgars used to be a medium for problem solving. This no longer seems to be the case, but I am not sure if in some cases or regions dhuṇi-jāgars are still utilised to solve community problems. Unlike dhuṇi-jāgars, house-jāgars are very frequent and they obviously have adapted themselves to the change of circumstances.



  • 7 Fanger (1990: 180) delivers a table according to which out of 45 daṅgariyās for inside jāgars, 40 w (...)

13Mediums for the dhuṇi are almost exclusively male, only the goddess Devī dances in a female medium at the dhuni, while for house-jāgars about 80 per cent of the daṅgariyās are female.7 In both cases–dhuni- and house-jāgars–the mediums of the deities are obliged to undergo initiation rites and to follow strict rules of ritual purity. Mediums of both sexes are rated in accordance to their divine power (śakti), skills (performance and success at exposing problems) and character (pure way of life). While for khuśi ka jāgars or minor problems women of the family or neighbourhood may serve as daṅgariyās, for serious problems a famous daṅgariyā, who often comes from outside the village, is selected; in the area of my research these were mainly women.

  • 8 According to Fanger’s table Rājpūt daṅgariyās outnumber Śilpkār daṅgariyās forty to fifteen (Fanger(...)

14A characteristic feature of jāgar is that the medium cannot induce the deity to possess him- or herself. The jagariyā, who is the leader of the jāgar, directs the arrival and the questioning of the gods by drumming and singing the legends of the deities. The jagariyā is considered as ‘servant of the dharma’ (dharami dās) and as guru of the dancing deity (cf. Leavitt 1985: 327). Jagariyās are always male and usually from the lowest caste, the Śilpkārs, while most daṅgariyās are members of the numerically dominant caste of Rājpūts.8 Whereas there are plenty of daṅgariyās, jagariyās are scarce. Their skills include the knowledge of extensive legends and myths involving local and other deities.

15At the time of my first fieldwork, jagariyās used to receive money for their services, and daṅgariyās could not accept money but were given coconuts and sweets. Recently I have heard of cases in which daṅgariyās are offered money and jagariyās reject any return for their services, especially if they perform in houses of the higher castes.


  • 9 The local deity Nar Singh, for example, frequently dances at house-jāgars held by Śilpkārs but is n (...)

16The deities that appear in jāgars vary from region to region and according to caste.9 The largest number of deities assemble at the dhuni, where even Hanumān, although not a local deity, dances and speaks through a medium. Gods like Haru or Saim dance exclusively in the dhuṇi and appear only in men; others, like the famous local god Golū, dance in both contexts and appear in both sexes.

  • 10 While some of my informants gave the same explanation that Leavitt provides, others pointed out tha (...)

17In the house-jāgars observed, the appearance of Golū, also known as Goril, Gollu, Gwel, Gau, was predominant, followed by Gaṅgānāth, who is excluded from dhuṇi-jāgars. Gaṅgānāth was the son of a king of Doti (West Nepal) who left his home and became a renounces His journey brought him to Kumaon where he fell in love with a Brahman woman. According to one version of the legend both were killed by the family of the woman, after she became pregnant. In Leavitt’s opinion Gaṅgānāth’s origin explains why he does not dance at the dhuṇi: “the dhuṇi is the royal court of Kumaon, and Gaṅgānāth is a foreigner, a Dotiyāl” (Leavitt 1985: 284).10

  • 11 This is a very shortened extract of the legend I recorded; for slightly different versions of this (...)

18Golū, in contrast, was the son of a king from Kali Kumaon (Eastern Kumaon). His legend presents him as the new born son of the eighth wife of the king. The other seven wives were barren. Out of jealousy they tried several methods of killing the baby. Finally, they threw him into a river in an iron cage, but he was saved by a fisherman and his wife. Eventually his birthright was recognised, the wicked queens were punished and he has fought for justice ever since. In the area north of Almora, the Golū of royal origin merges with yet another Golū of different origin. Sometimes the royal Golū is also called Chaughāṇ-Golū (the one of the four directions) and the other Golū is named Ḍānā-Golū (the one of the steep hill). Nevertheless, in daily discourse both deities are just referred to as Golū. Both appear with equal frequency in house-jāgars. In the corresponding legend, Ḍānā-Golū is kal bukriya or kal biṣḥt, a herdsman. He had hundreds of buffaloes, goats and cows and became famous for playing the flute and for his success in fighting off attacks by evil spirits and demons. The major grazing place for his herds was at Binsar, a forest-clad mountain, near the Brahman village of Phatiyal. The Brahmans were frightened that their wives and daughters, who were bewitched by the sound of his flute, would fall in love with him and so they plotted to kill him. After many unsuccessful attempts, kal bukriya was killed by means of a ruse. As a result the Brahman lineage, including their affinal kinsmen, quickly died out and kal bukriya emerged as a spirit who later became worshipped as a deity and known as Ḍānā-Golū.11

19The royal Golū is considered to be the leader of the other gods. Although he receives more recognition and is called ‘god of justice’ (cf. Agrawal 1992), in my experience Ḍānā-Golū is also revered for bringing about justice, as is Gaṅgānāth. After kal bukriya became worshipped as a deity, his legendary activities continued and can be traced up to the recent past. One of his characteristics is that he appears in the shape of a brother who safeguards his sister and women in general.


20The reason for arranging a house-jāgar of the type dukh ka jāgar is the belief that a member of the family has been seized (pakaṛna), for example, by the spirit of an ancestor, by a local god, who wishes to express dissatisfaction, or by a maśãṇ (evil spirit of the cremation ground). If someone is caught by a spirit (bhūt) this is believed to be the result of offences. The most prominent causes are:

  • curses by an ancestor, motivated by his/her unjust treatment through the family or relatives. In this case the unjustly treated ancestor appears as a bhūt;

  • crimes committed by ancestors, such as theft or murder. In this case, the victim of the crime might appear as a bhūt, for example in the form of a maśãṇ from the cremation ground;

  • offences against obeying the local gods or not keeping promises towards devatās and bhūts, such as not providing the required offering after a jāgar. Here, as with offences against rights to landed property, the local deity itself often appears as the trouble-causing agent.

  • 12 Cf. Nuckolls (1992: 78) for spirit possession among the Jalaris: “The ill or suffering person is [. (...)

21The troubled or sick person and the victim of the bhūt are not always identical. In most cases, not the person responsible for the offence, but someone else will be seized. A devatā or a bhūt may seize a daughter-in-law or another family member to point to the guilt. If children have problems, it is usually caused by the bhūt of the mother, although she may be very healthy. Most victims of a bhūt are female, and even if the offence that provoked the appearance of a bhūt or devatā is caused by a man it often seizes an innocent woman of the family.12

22The victim’s symptoms, which range from various illnesses (hepatitis, stomach problems, headache, mental disturbances), through childlessness, to tensions with family members, are not analysed or disputed in the course of a jāgar. Moreover, the question whether the trouble or sickness is caused by a bhūt or is attributable to some other reasons has in most cases been solved beforehand. In order to find out if the trouble is caused by a bhūt or not (if it is a bhūt one can save the money for a doctor, because medical treatment would not help), a special expert, called gantuva, who can induce her/his own possession and read the reasons for the trouble from rice, has been consulted before a jāgar takes place. Gantuvas are at the same time daṅgariyās, but not all daṅgariyās have the power to become gantuvas. The fact that the gantuva can induce her/his own possession without a jagariyā who intermediates, distinguishes her/him from ordinary mediums. The position is comparable with that of a shaman who is able to become possessed ‘at his will’ (cf. Reinhard 1976: 16).

  • 13 A description of the work of the gantuva is also found at Atkinson 1996 [1884]: 824.
  • 14 Apart from the possibility of consulting a gantuva, personal problems like injustice experienced at (...)

23Before consulting a gantuva, a member of the household takes a handful of rice, binds it in a small piece of cloth together with a coin and moves this bundle (pūs) in a circle three times round the head of the patient. The gantuva, who does not come to the house but is always visited, empties the rice onto a brass plate and ‘counts’ it (gantuva is derived from counting: ginna). With an intermittent and quiet song the gantuva carefully turns the rice in all directions. At a certain point, the rhythm of his song increases and his entire body starts to shake. His head goes back and forth, and his knees beat in a fast rhythm on the floor. After a few minutes his dance becomes slower and the devatā begins to speak through him. First, the gantuva describes all the symptoms in great detail. Next he will indicate if the trouble is caused by a bhūt or not. If a bhūt is found responsible for the trouble she/he will recommend a jāgar.13 Jāgars are quite expensive to arrange and normally more than one jāgar is needed in order to find out the cause of the trouble. For this and other reasons, a gantuva has to be consulted beforehand. There are many cases brought in front of a gantuva that do not lead to a jāgar. These are, for example, the solution of personal or minor problems, which can be solved immediately, like the search for stolen items, etc.14 It is a precondition for jāgars, that not a person but a whole group commits itself to face and solve a problem. Although one family organises the jāgar it would be misleading to reduce the procedure to family problems. Misdeeds of the past, which are a main feature of jāgars, can involve whole lineages or lineage segments and affinal kin. If possible all adult male members and household heads of the family and sublineage should be present at the jāgar, and if the outcome of a mait-bhūt is expected, members of the woman’s natal family may also take part in the jāgar.


  • 15 The word saukār means ‘property-owner’; it is also used for a money-lender (cf. Leavitt 1985: 327).
  • 16 According to Fanger (1990) the warming up stage is called naumat, while the following invocations a (...)

24The head of the household, referred to as saukār15 at jāgars, acts as host for the jāgar ceremony. Invitations, including the offer of meals, are only given to visitors from outside and the officiating experts. Jāgars are public affairs and anybody who is interested in the case can attend them. They begin after the evening meal has been taken and can last throughout the night. The ritual takes place in the large, rectangular front room of the house. The jagariyā first enters the room and takes his seat in a central position at the outside wall. Opposite the jagariyā, along the inside wall of the room, a folded blanket decorated with flowers (dulence) has been arranged as a seat for the daṅgariyā. The jagariyā is accompanied by two assistants (ḥāyāṛ). They echo the last words of the lines sung by the jagariyā and one of them beats with twigs on an upturned tali (brass plate). The performance starts with the jagariyā, warming up at his huṛkā, a small hour-glass shaped drum. Once the room is packed with men, women and children, the jagariyā switches over to the evening prayer. It consists of a description of the fall of evening over the landscape, moving from place to place. This opening part is followed by legends of the classical gods (mahābhārat) or at least by their names being invoked and their presence introduced. The jagariyā then moves on to the legend of the god that is supposed to appear, most frequently either one of the two Golūs or Gaṅgānāth.16

25Meanwhile the daṅgariyā silently entered the room and sits down motionless with closed eyes. The saukār carries in a large brass plate filled with glowing coals, on which incense is burnt. After the plate has been circled three times over the daṅgariyā’ s head, it is placed in the middle of the room and serves as the dhuṇi of the house. In an act of purification the saukār sprinkles cow’s urine around the room and on the people present. This is repeated throughout the jāgar ceremony. If there is a sick or suffering person who is believed to be the victim of a bhūt, she/he stays in the background until the jāgar proceeds to the interrogation section, and usually stays in another room.

  • 17 The arrival of the deity in the body of the medium but also the question of true statements in comb (...)

26When the rhythm and the high nasal voice of the jagariyā become faster and more insistent, the medium begins to vibrate and slowly starts to shake and to dance to the high speed of the racing drum beats and the clashing of the thali. Then the music slows down, and while the jagariyā continues narrating the story of the deity, the medium sinks to the floor panting and reeling. Fast play and slow rhythm/speech alternate, and in short intervals of one or two minutes the medium, who is also called the horse of the gods, is driven into the ecstatic dance. After a while the medium starts to shout “haṭh, haṭh, haṭh... ādeś, ādeś!” (obey) and to speak in a high-pitched, urgent voice. The jagariyā may provoke her/him: “Are you really a devatā, what have you got to tell us, speak the truth!” The daṅgariyā announces her/his identity as a deity, for example in the following phrases, addressed to the jagariyā, who is called guru: “Guru! Blessings upon you! Parameśvar (Almighty) is here! Where is my headman of the house... Has there been any improvement in my garden of flowers...?”17 Finally, the daṅgariyā distributes ash ṭikas (a sacred mark applied to the forehead) to the jagariyā, ḥāyāṛ, saukār and people from the audience.

  • 18 In the case of a khuśī ka jāgar the communication is limited to jāgariya and daṅgariyā; although th (...)

27The following part is dominated by interrogations and varies from jāgar to jāgar. Depending on the case and kind of jāgar,18 either the victim now enters the ceremonial room and takes part as the medium of the bhūt or trouble-causing deity, or the daṅgariyā (addressed as parameśvar, yogi or devatā) is forced to clarify the case and to answer questions. Jagariyā and audience almost command the daṅgariyā to find out the truth or to search further if they are not satisfied with the answers.

  • 19 This and the following jāgar extract were recorded and translated into English by my partner I. D. (...)

Tell us, yogi! Tell us! What matter is spoiled?...
I am unable to hear the matter.
Then what do you hear?
Guru! I don’t want to hear anything at any time!
Almighty! I don’t want to hear your cries either!
Guru! I am not bloodthirsty. I am not attached to anyone. I will do every
thing correctly for (untying) the knot and for the inside (of the house).
Almighty! Talking like that is correct! Hey! From which place was the spirit applied?
Give an answer!
From the nearby spring. It stays with me day and night...
Which spring is it from? And what happened to it? What mistake was made? Tell
us, yogi, tell us! Now don’t sleep, remain alert!...19

28The daṅgariyā has to be both pleased and subjected to pressure. There is tension in the air and people from the audience take an active part. They interpret the answers and direct the jagariyā to ask further questions. However, in most cases, especially if an outside or mait-bhut is dealt with, it is necessary that the victim of the bhūt also dances and speaks. In this conversation, the victim of the bhūt addresses the daṅgariyā as guru and is itself addressed as mālik (master), parameśvar or devatā.

29The drumming starts again at a fast tempo and if the victim does not fall into a trance of her/his own accord, the daṅgariyā sometimes uses physical power–grabbing, for example, the victim by the hair and throwing her/him about–accompanied by rough orders: “Dance, dance now!” The victim starts to shiver and sometimes even falls into a more ecstatic dance than the one performed by the daṅgariyā. After a while the victim collapses exhausted and the daṅgariyā orders:

Speak. If you don’t speak now, we’ll continue!... What sort of devatd are you? Why does a devatā like you take it’s incarnation in the body of a woman? And something more! If you should be a devatā of another day, then slowly, slowly! Everything will happen! Almighty Master, tell! Tell your name! Whatever you are! From the house or from outside, whatever it is... Speak the truth! Open your mouth and make a statement!

30This procedure can take a long time, as the bhūt often speaks hesitatingly and falteringly through the victim. Here, again, the public takes part and the information received is debated. The signal comes from the jagariyā and the public: “It’s enough, it’s good, we now know what we absolutely wanted to know.” It is important to know what kind of spirit caused the trouble, namely whether it was one from the house or from outside (an outside bhūt is, according to my observations, always a mait-bhūt). Questions like: “Tell us your name; where do you come from; what made you angry; are you a man or a woman?” occur in most jāgars.

31Although the deity and the evil spirit have common features, there is an opposition between them. The deity is established and worshipped, its power and origin are defined, while the evil spirit is an unknown power, destructive in its ambitions. Therefore it has to be located. Without a location, parents (identity) and glimpses of its life story, it is impossible to grasp it and handle it. The identity of the bhūt is the key to the misdeed and it is most important to know the offence that is at the heart of the trouble. As in one jāgar, in the course of which the jagariyā said to the daṅgariyā: “Grasp one thing and a hundred tiny, tiny things are coming. One very small thing has been completely caught! Which matter was it, Almighty?” If the right path is found, the rest is found through the acceleration of combined memory–household, audience, jagariyā and daṅgariyā circle around the case.

32Almost as a rule, the crimes in question are not of contemporary origin, but happened in the past and are caused by bhūts of the ‘other day’. The more details about the case that can be gathered through the interrogation, the better this is in order to catch the evil by its roots. Without naming the cause, there are no prospects of healing or stopping the trouble.

33The interrogation ends with questions regarding the demands of the bhūt. Depending on the kind of bhūt and offence, the spirit will be offered a blood sacrifice (goat and chicken) or the building of a temple; and in any case the bhūt must be appeased by straightening out offences (for example, the return of stolen items or unjustly held land or houses). The daṅgariyā demands an oath from the bhūt to give peace and asks if there is anything more it requires.

34The daṅgariyā will indicate a time when the sick person will have recovered or the trouble will end, but if the cause of the problem has not been solved–for example, because the victim/bhūt did not speak or the family and the audience were not yet satisfied with the outcome—another jāgar will be necessary.

35Once the interrogation has been terminated the jagariyā slows his drumming and the devatā announces his/her departure, e.g.: “Guru! Now I am turning to dust and I am going. I am very late.” The victim receives an ash ṭika (bibhūt), and individuals from the public come forward and request ash ṭikas from the daṅgariyā. Often members from the audience now direct minor problems and questions to the daṅgariyā.

  • 20 Our friend, Jaman Ram, is an extraordinary example in this respect. He is a medium for six differen (...)

36The procedure described represents the most general patterns of a jāgar concerned with problems (dukhi bati), but there is a large range of variations. Sometimes two daṅgariyās dance one after another and sometimes one daṅgariyā is the medium for two or even more gods.20 It can also happen that daṅgariyās from the audience fall into trance.

  • 21 Among the Thākurs of Kumaon, village exogamy is strictly followed. Until recently all marriage proc (...)

37The exorcism of an outside or mait-bhut requires at least two jāgars with special preparations for the second jāgar which is followed by a maśãṇ-pūjā. In this context the spirit receives personal gifts like a flute, a thali (brass plate), a lota (brass drinking vessel), bidis, and clothing that is chosen according to the sex of the spirit. The gifts are arranged around a small manikin of the spirit made from dough. Together with the sacrificial goat and a chicken they have to be taken to the place where the spirit seized its victim. The sacrifice has to be carried out at night, right after the jāgar-ritual. The male participants of the jāgar take off for a long walk and have to reach the village of the woman before dawn.21 They carry with them the sacrificial goat and chicken and the above-mentioned gifts for the bhūt. The sacrifice takes place at the spot where the bhūt seized the victim, mostly next to the cremation ground of the respective village. The male relatives of the woman are called to the same spot. They have to bring with them the cooking utensils and firewood necessary for the sacrificial meal which is hastily cooked over an open fire. This meal is thought of as food for the spirit and the major part has to be consumed by the natal kinsmen of the woman. It is important that nothing remains and even the bones of the sacrificial animals have to be buried. The other gifts for the spirit are placed in the water/river. The men quickly return home.

  • 22 Women, especially young women, usually visit their mait very frequently, often in connection with f (...)

38The mait-bhut and its treatment has similarities with the chaḷ-pūjā, described by Sax (1991: 122; fthcg.) for Garhwal. While in Kumaon the mait-bhūt involves the speaking of the victim, in Garhwal this is not the case. In both areas the chaḷor maśãṇ-pūjā takes place where the bhūt caught the woman, but while in Garhwal, the woman has to be present on the spot and the sacrifice is distributed to her conjugal village, in Kumaon she, and other women, are excluded from the sacrificial ground and care is taken that no remains of the sacrifice are left. The most striking difference is that after a chaḷ-pūjā in Garhwal a woman has to stay for some time in her natal village (her mait), while in Kumaon with the outcome of a mait-bhūt she is not allowed to visit her mait for six months and is bound to the territory of her conjugal home.22


39A jāgar allows an insight into the ‘cultural self’ and its perception of imbalances, which are at the core of jāgars. Pressing problems are one side of the event, but apart from that jāgars should provide entertainment, pleasure and release. To unload and externalise burdens in a public audience and to share happiness in the end of a successful ‘trial’ is a relief. The emphasis is on speech and activity for the removal of imbalances.

  • 23 On the possibility that sins and danger follow the bride in marriage, see Parry 1989 and Raheja 198 (...)

40Imbalances are either conceived of as guilt and debts, especially with regard to misdeeds that cause bhūts of the ‘house’, or as threat and danger, with respect to the intrusion of bhūts from ‘outside’. The obligation for young women not to leave their conjugal home for several months after they have been caught by a mait-bhūt, amounts to a closure of borders. On the one hand, this can be interpreted as a rite of transition or a rite of separation in the sense of Van Gennep (1986); on the other, it draws a boundary for common responsibility and guilt. While outside bhūts are externalised–the spirit is taken back to the place it came from, the remains of the sacrifice are carefully buried and sacrificial meat is not taken back for distribution–inside bhūts require recognition and worship after the jāgar. Moller (1993: 232) points out that in contrast to inside bhūts, “attacks by outside ghosts do not follow individual breaches of the moral order.” At the outset I pointed to the prophylactic character of jāgars concerning mait-bhūts and it is in fact not always the case that a misdeed can be clearly named in the course of such a jāgar. It comes out, for example, that a woman was seized by a maśãṇ because as a girl she crossed a spot in her mait where someone was killed or committed suicide, and no concrete offender is named for the crime. Other case examples show concrete offenders and misdeeds that follow the woman from her natal family to her conjugal home, especially if the crime, for instance murder, has been prompted by a curse that includes all offspring of the offender.23 Offences regarding land are an exception in this respect. Only in the rare cases where the woman inherits or takes over ancestral land can she become the victim of a deity or spirit who points to unsolved land disputes in her natal home. With outside bhūts the goal is not to alleviate and eliminate culpability, but to face and name dangers: a woman may not conceive or her children are endangered when the offence behind a mait-bhūt is not discovered. If parents receive the message that their daughter has been seized by a mait-bhūt, then they are worried, because something could come out that points to faults in their family.

  • 24 The custom of placing a curse or oath in front of the deities in order to seek retribution is also (...)

41I think it is remarkable that women, who are in the ambiguous situation of being in both places, their conjugal and their natal home, insiders and outsiders at the same time, serve as primary victims and, at least numerically, predominate as mediums. The majority of women who have been victims of a bhūt will later be selected by a local deity to become their medium. Through being seized by a bhūt, victims take part in the ‘court of the god’ (dev darbār) and cannot just be viewed as sufferers. The fact that the message they are supposed to provide is not related to personal problems or symptoms, but in most cases to past occurrences and to crimes by other persons, puts the victim in a position of centrality, distance and power, something normally missing in everyday life, especially if young women, as is often the case, are the victims. At the same time one has to admit that her personal problems (childlessness, illness, tensions) have no stage in the frame of a jāgar. Injustices (anyāya) that she experiences as a person give her the right to put her sufferings in the form of a curse (hank or ghāt) in front of the gods and someone else among the next generations will point to them through the voice of a bhūt or deity.24

42If a person decides to react to injustice experienced with a hank or ghāt, it is believed that this awakes the conscience of the divinity and leads to the manifestation of the god’s anger. There are some persons and situations that are prone to curses, for example, if a man takes a second wife, the first wife might put a curse on her and her offspring, or if a widow is badly treated–although if she is without sons she should be respected and loved like their own mother by the male descendants of her husband’s family. Not accompanying a person who is going to die leads in most cases to a curse. A curse is a legitimate right by means of which a person can express tension and social disapproval. At the same time, to use the means of a curse just to damage someone without reason will provoke injury to oneself.

  • 25 If a person decides to go to a temple in order to make a ghāt, mustard flowers are essential. There (...)

43Curses do not need to be verbalised or publicly recognised and are sometimes just expressed through symbolic action. I was told that in cases regarding land disputes one enters the property unjustly held by others, takes a hand-full of earth and throws it in the air. Curses can also be expressed through taking mustard flowers (and rice) to the local temples, as in a jāgar regarding an old lady, who had no sons and felt badly treated by the sons of her husband’s brothers, the daṅgariyā said: “Guru, hurt has been caused. It has gone in all the temples. Mustard flowers have been taken. There was no rice.”25 The saukār answered: “Almighty. It could be that they have been taken. It was not known to us. In front of us, if it is like that, then we would ask, ‘Why are you taking them?’ ’’ After further narrations the jagariyā said: “She did well, the old woman!”, and the daṅgariyā answered: “That is correct!” The above statement seems to involve an accusatory complaint: “If we would have known, we could have done something.” At the same time, the course of action and its silent form are nevertheless considered correct. It is accepted as reasonable and the rightfulness of the intention is not questioned.

  • 26 I was told that about 90 per cent of hanks or ghāts are made by women, and that also if the family (...)

44The consideration of intentions and motives is only present with regard to the victims of injustice. No questions are asked as to why someone was treated badly or dealt with unjustly. The motives behind misdeeds are not a theme of jāgars. Curses are in the realm of the power of a person and it may be no coincidence that curses appear to be a female domain, because otherwise the suffering underlying them might not be recognised.26

45There is a whole range of cases followed up in jāgars where personal justification and correct intention do not count. These cases entail the protection of traditional property rights. As, for example, in the case of Nar Singh who had cared for his paternal uncle in old age as his uncle had remained single. After his uncle died, he assumed his inheritance. Traditionally, the estate of a childless man is distributed equally among his brothers. Despite the personal justification, Nar Singh’s right to inheritance was rejected and people said: “Nar Singh’s family will soon get into problems, that’s certain. Then there will be a jāgar and the land will be fairly shared. It is always like that, you can depend on it and one does not have to go to the court.” I did not follow up the development of Nar Singh’s case closely. To my knowledge the family has not run into problems yet, and people responded that dev darbār takes time but is nonetheless reliable.

46While at the court the party that feels discriminated opens the case, here it seems that one has to wait until the offender himself becomes active (calling for a jāgar-‘trial’ after facing problems). Following up this inversion I was told that this is not quite the case. Both parties can be sent problems and apply for clarification in form of a jāgar. In variance to the court the case can only be solved if the offender believes in the juridical authority of the local gods and commits himself to follow the supernatural orders given in the jāgar. Apart from the compensation in kind, the parties jointly have to bring a sacrifice after the jāgar, and if one party rejects this joint action it is believed that trouble and problems start again. Although punishment and sanctions are part of the procedure they are not the goal. The aim is to name the truth (satye), to find a compromise and to re-establish good relations. This points to the ideal of relations that cannot be terminated, and I would say because they are bound to each other through a common share in ancestral land.

47Straightening out imbalances and injustices with regard to property, especially landed property, used to be a prominent content of jāgars. I have recently observed and was told that jāgars regarding land issues are in decline while mait-bhūts in form of maśãṇ and khuśī ka jāgars are increasing. It is nevertheless the case that injustices regarding land are considered as absolutely liable to be punished by the local deities. In jāgars related to property cases the deities, most often Golū, will speak themselves, and it is not necessary that a person appears as a bhūt.

  • 27 See also Sax 1991: 74: “... persons who have no ‘place’ or those who, like women in this virilocal (...)

48As already mentioned above, the eternal concept of justice with regard to property is in accordance with customary rights and leaves no space for personal reasoning. Why are customary property rights so important that they call for divine intervention? The division of ancestral inheritance with its stress on equal shares for all male siblings is paradigmatic for fraternal equality and solidarity which are central values for Kumaoni society (cf. Krengel 1992). Equally important is the reciprocal relationship between men and ancestral property, especially land. Ancestral land is a sacred inheritance that should not be sold. A man’s social identity is bound to the share he has in ancestral land. To lose this share is tantamount to becoming a nobody or a non-person, excluded from the cycle of reproduction. It is said, that such a person cannot provide a proper place for a woman. While in Western societies the person is regarded as an entity to whom material things are external (cf. Strathem 1988: 104), here landed property appears to be part of the very substance of man.27 It is equated with the right to a place in society, a precondition for social membership and serves to generate social relationships and affinal ties. The protection and regeneration of land is bound to biological reproduction. Childlessness and child death are not only considered as one of the most powerful punishments by bhūts. A man without offspring (biological or adopted) becomes a non-person, like the one without land.

49Ancestral land can be considered as ‘inalienable possession’ (Weiner 1985; 1992). It implies partaking of the substance of ancestors and helps “to define who one is in an historical sense. [...] To lose this claim to the past is to lose part of who one is in the present” (Weiner 1985: 210).

50Those who are bound together by ancestors and land also have to share responsibility and guilt. To my knowledge offences or crimes that do not harm or concern the members of a community bounded to one another by ancestral territory or biological reproduction (affinal links), are not included in jāgars. Stealing wood from a government forest would not make a bhūt, taking it from one’s own people could lead to one. Also the curse of an outsider would not cause a bhūt that appears in a jāgar. Depending on over how many generations a misdeed dates back, a wide range of persons are potential victims. It happens, for example, that one and the same offence sometimes troubles several women belonging to different households.

51The wish to avoid bringing blame down on the ancestral territory may be an underlying feature for the emphasis on divine justice with regard to landed property, and for jāgar in general. The protection of territory and keeping it free from guilt and the intrusion of evil is relevant for both, house- and dhuṇi-jāgars. In both contexts, actively dancing and speaking supernaturals are linked to a mythological past. The deceased kings who were the original owners and protectors of the land form the core of the mythological past. Their sufferings and struggles as well as their authority are present today and are kept virtually alive through the rich folklore presented in the first part of the jāgar. These legends are an indispensable part of every jāgar and they contain a message in their own right. They strengthen the territorial identification of the listeners, although these deified kings are not bound to one place. Their legends describe adjacent areas and holy places and widen the territorial imagination (cf. Leavitt 1985).

52Women also move due to village exogamy, and they widen geographical connections. The fact that they come from outside and are related to the outside contributes to their ambivalent role of being, on the one hand, the embodiment of danger and, on the other hand, the means of naming dangers and dissatisfactions. In their role as victims and mediums, they foster the protection and regeneration of the territory, although they themselves are excluded from the right to own land.

  • 28 Regarding the association of Golū with a District Magistrate see also Leavitt (1985: 300), who adds (...)

53Ambivalences are also implicit in the two spheres of justice, namely the secular and the divine order. On the one hand, the divine order is compared with its secular counterpart. Golū is, for example, associated with a district magistrate28 and, as demonstrated above, with the protection of customary rights and rules. On the other hand, the power of divine justice stems from its ability to ignore or even to contradict human institutions of justice and concepts of order. In a very forceful way, injustices are brought into the open that otherwise might not have been recognised. Some of the supernatural beings themselves could be accused of not following the right order, like the god Gaṅgānāth who broke several rules: abandoning his royal destination, ignoring caste barriers by entering into a love affair with a Brahman woman, and breaking the celibacy principles of a renouncer. The fact that he finally received recognition as a deity counterbalances worldly fixations of right and wrong behaviour.

54Divine or sacred truth is considered as most powerful, superior to the truth secular courts fight for, and to the power vested in politicians and worldly authorities. A main attribute ascribed to the power of local deities involves their serving as a kind of guarantee that offences of the past do not get lost and that all uncertainties and imbalances come into the open. This is seen as a precondition for the regeneration and survival of the ‘moral community’.

* *

55It was my intention to demonstrate the complexity of the institution called jāgar. Every jāgar serves various ends at once. It is not possible to single out one aspect, e.g. curing, healing, psychological effects, without taking others, such as integration, dealing with uncertainties, and the definition of justice and responsibility into account. All relevant memories, rules, deviations and expectations are encapsulated in the institution of jāgar, which potentially affords a bird’s eye view of being that transcends present social and political action.

56A general feature of jāgars is their articulation of ambivalences. The suffering person (victim of an evil spirit) experiences at the same time the potential powers of a ‘judge’ pointing to offences that concern the family or community as a whole. On the one hand, jāgars serve to re-establish and confirm social order; on the other hand, they provide a critique of human desires and actions. Powers of the person are, apart from acting as mediums, expressed through the power of curses. Anger and dissatisfaction, as attributes of personal feelings and reactions, are only given space in this context. Curses are a female domain. With regard to property rights–a male domain–intentions and motives do not count; traditional rights are applied purely and simply without taking persons into account.

  • 29 Cf. Babb (1983) on the question of karma and its representation in popular Hinduism; Krengel (1994) (...)

57While personal sufferings are recognised in the scope of a curse, the search for personal motives in offences or crimes is no theme of jāgars. Jāgars are not concerned with the sanction of a person, as are worldly courts. Neither the victim nor the family has to fear public degradation for misdeeds that come to light in the course of a jāgar, and also if the offender is still alive he has not to fear punishment as a result of jāgar. All that is requested is the acceptance of the truth and the commitment to compensation. Somehow the interest in moral responsibility bound to a person seems to be absent from jāgars and the ‘court of gods’. In a very forceful way guilt and responsibility are transposed onto the community of related people, and symptoms, like illness or mental disturbance, are not considered the punishment of a person. This is unlike the concept of retaliation to be found in the classical theory of karma, where the person appears as the nucleus of moral responsibility.29 The fact that an offence by a person is only relevant if it endangers the community related by ancestral territory and biological reproduction strengthens and defines social relations and duties.

58Debts and guilt come to life in combination with death. Neither death nor time can eliminate debts or guilt which are not forgotten or revealed until balance through a jāgar is obtained. This seems to be small compensation for the person or people suffering from injustice at the time. One feature of jāgars is that they transcend time and incorporate sufferings of the past into the present. There is a consciousness that offences in the present endanger one’s offspring and future generations.*



Atkinson, E. T. (1996 [1884]), The Himalayan Districts of the North- Western Provinces of India. Vol. II, Part 2 (Forming Vol. XI of the Gazetteer of the North-Western Provinces, Allahabad). Dehra Dun, Natraj Publishers.

Agrawal, C. M. (1992), Golū Devatā. The God of Justice of Kumaun Himalayas. Almora, Shree Almora Book Depot.

Babb, L. A. (1983), “Karma in popular hinduism”, in C. F . Keyes & E. V. Daniel, eds., Karma. An Anthropological Inquiry. Berkeley, University of California Press.

Berreman, G. D. (1963), Hindus of the Himalayas: Ethnography and Change. Berkeley, University of California Press.

Berreman, G. D. (1964), “Brahmins and shamans in Pahari religion”, in B. E. Harper, ed., Religion in South Asia. Seattle, University of Washington Press, pp. 53-69.

Fanger, A. C. (1990), “The jāgar: spirit possession seance among the Rajputs and Silpakars of Kumaon”, in M. P. Joshi, A. C. Fanger & C. W. Brown, eds., Himalaya: Past and Present. Almora, Shree Almora Book Depot.

Gaborieau, M. (1975), “La transe rituelle dans l’Himalaya Central: folie, avatār, meditation”, Puruṣārtha, 2, pp. 147-72.

Gaborieau, M. (1976), “Preliminary report on the god Masta”, in J. T. Hitchcock & R. L. Jones, eds., Spirit Possession in the Nepal Himalayas. Warminster, Aris & Phillips, pp. 217-43.

Gaborieau, M. (1977), “Introduction”, in E. S. Oakley & T. D. Gairola, eds., Himalayan Folklore: Kumaon and West Nepal. Katmandu, Ratna Pustak Bhandar, pp. xi-xliv.

Joshi, M. P. (1990), “Kumaoni Vamsavalis: myth and reality”, in M. P. Joshi, A. C. Fanger & C. W. Brown, eds., Himalaya: Past and Present, vol. 1. Almora, Shree Almora Book Depot, pp. 201-44.

Krengel, M. (1989), Sozialstrukturen im Kumaon. Bergbauern des Himalaya. Wiesbaden & Stuttgart, Franz Steiner Verlag.

Krengel, M. (1990), “Communication and gift exchange between wife-givers and wifetakers in Kumaon Himalaya”, in M. P. Joshi, A. C. Fanger & C. W. Brown, eds., Himalaya: Past and Present, vol. 1. Almora, Shree Almora Book Depot, pp. 267-86.

Krengel, M. (1992), “Property Relations and Moral Codes of Conduct in Kumaoni Society”. Report to the 91st Annual Meeting of American Anthropological Association, San Francisco.

Krengel, M. (1994), “Local Gods and the Concept of Justice”. Report to the 13th European Conference of Modern South Asian Studies, sept. 1994, Toulouse.

Krengel, M. (in press), “Dominant clans and ritualised exchange. Tradition and change in Kumaon/Himalaya”, in I. Stellrecht & M. Winiger, eds., Perspectives on History and Change in the Karakorum, Hindukush, and Himalaya, vol. 3. Köln, Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.

Leavitt, J. (1985), “The Language of the Gods: Discourse and Experience in a Central Himalayan Ritual”. Unpublished Ph. D. thesis, Chicago, 11., University of Chicago.

Leavitt, J. (1994), “Variations in trance practice along the Himalayas” (Review Essay), Transcultural Psychiatric Research Review, 31, pp. 59-74.

Majumdar, D. N. (1962), Himalayan Polyandry. New York, Asia Publishing House.

Moller, J. (1993), “Inside and Outside: Conceptual Continuities from Household to Region in Kumaon, North India”. Unpublished Thesis presented for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the University of London. London, London School of Economics and Political Science.

Nuckolls, Charles W. (1990), “Deciding how to decide: possession-mediumship in Jalari divination”, in M. Nichter, ed., Anthropological Approaches to the Study of Ethnomedicine. [N.p.], Gordon & Breach Science Publishers, pp. 75-100.

Parry, J. (1989), “On the moral perils of exchange”, in M. Bloch & J. Parry, eds., Money and the Morality of Exchange. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp. 64-93.

Pfleiderer, B. & Lutze, L. (1979), “Jāgar-therapeutic vigil in Kumaun”, South Asian Digest of Regional Writing, 8, pp. 99-118.

Raheja, G. G. (1988), The Poison in the Gift. Chicago & London, Univ. of Chicago Press.

Reinhard, J. (1976), “Shamanism and spirit possession: the definition problem”, in J. T. Hitchcock & R. L Jones, eds., Spirit Possession in the Nepal Himalayas. Warminster, Aris & Phillips, pp. 12-20.

Sax, W. (1991), Mountain Goddess: Gender and Politics in a Himalayan Pilgrimage. New York, Oxford University Press.

Sax, W. (forthcoming), “Residence and ritual in the Garhwal Himalayas”, in M. P. Joshi, A. C. Fanger & C. W. Brown, eds., Himalaya: Past and Present. Almora, Shree Almora Book Depot.

Sharma, U. (1973), “Theodicy and the doctrine of karma”, Man, 8 (3), pp. 348-63.

Strathern, M. (1988), The Gender of the Gift. Berkeley/Los Angeles/London, University of California Press.

Van Gennep, A. (1986), Übergangsriten. [Transl. from the French: Les Rites depassage, éd. A. & J. Picard, 1981.] Frankfurt, Campus. (Orig. ed. 1909.)

Vidal, D. (1987), Le Culte des divinités locales dans une région de l’Himachal Pradesh. Paris, Éd. de l’ORSTOM.

Vidal, D. (1989), “Des dieux face à leurs spécialistes. Conditions de la prêtrise en Himachal Pradesh”, Puruṣārtha, 12: Prêtrise, pouvoirs et autorité en Himalaya. Paris, Éd. de l’EHESS, pp. 61-78.

Weiner, A. (1985), “Inalienable wealth”, American Ethnologist, 12 (2), pp. 210-27.

Weiner, A. (1992), Inalienable Possessions. The Paradox of Keeping-While-Giving. Berkeley/Los Angeles/Oxford, University of California Press.

Winkler, WF. (1976), “Spirit possession in far Western Nepal”, in J. T. Hitchcock & R. L. Jones, eds., Spirit Possession in the Nepal Himalayas. Warminster, Aris & Phillips, pp. 244-62.

Notes de fin

1 The area is situated in the Indian Himalayan hills, South ofTibet and West of Nepal. Kumaon was a kingdom until 1790 when it was conquered by the Gurkhas of neighbouring Nepal who were in turn driven out by the British in 1815. With the Indian Declaration of Independence in 1947, Kumaon became an administrative province of Uttar Pradesh.

2 Further descriptions of jāgars are found in: Gaborieau 1975; Krengel 1989; Moller 1993.

3 On spirit possession in Western Nepal, see Gaborieau 1976 and Winkler 1976; for Garhwal, see Berreman 1963, 1964 and Sax 1991.

4 For a more extended discussion on variations in possession practices in the Himalayas, see Leavitt 1994. He points to a difference between oracular possession in Kumaon and its neighbourhood. “Trance traditions northwest of Kumaon, in the Garhwal region and the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, seem closer to that of the dhāmi, with shrine priests incarnating individual gods (Sax, 1991; Vidal, 1987; 1989)” (Leavitt 1994: 70). The dhāmi of Western Nepal and the oracles in Kumaon (daṅgariyā) have in common that they are servants of the god or simply serve as a vehicle (in case of the daṅgariyā), whereas the shamans in the Tibetan Buddhist context are masters of the spirits (ibid.: 68-69).

5 I only attended two dhuṇi-jāgars and observations by other scholars on Kumaon with regard to dhuṇi-jāgars are somewhat scarce. Villagers sometimes complain that such jāgars are too expensive to arrange.

6 I personally have not observed such extended jāgars like a baishi, but I was told that this is one of the occasions where the Kumaoni mahābhārat is sung and celebrated. Jāgars of this kind are sometimes also held outside a village, for example, in the forest or near a temple on top of a hill.

7 Fanger (1990: 180) delivers a table according to which out of 45 daṅgariyās for inside jāgars, 40 were female. This author (loc. cit.) maintains that also in the frame of house-jāgars male mediums are selected to be the primary daṅgariyās: “Thus, while women may become possessed at jāgars it usually is regarded as a peripheral possession.” I do not share this observation as I came across famous and highly valued female daṅgariyās.

8 According to Fanger’s table Rājpūt daṅgariyās outnumber Śilpkār daṅgariyās forty to fifteen (Fanger 1990: 180). Berreman (1964: 61) points out that in Garhwal, mediums/ shamans are generally Doms (Śilpkārs).

9 The local deity Nar Singh, for example, frequently dances at house-jāgars held by Śilpkārs but is not found in jāgars among Rājpūts.

10 While some of my informants gave the same explanation that Leavitt provides, others pointed out that Gaṅgānāth as well as Ḍānā-Golū (see below) have no right (adhikāri) to dance at the dhuṇi because they have previously been evil spirits.

11 This is a very shortened extract of the legend I recorded; for slightly different versions of this legend see Leavitt 1985 and Gaborieau 1977.

12 Cf. Nuckolls (1992: 78) for spirit possession among the Jalaris: “The ill or suffering person is [...] always a moral hostage of someone else.”

13 A description of the work of the gantuva is also found at Atkinson 1996 [1884]: 824.

14 Apart from the possibility of consulting a gantuva, personal problems like injustice experienced at the work place, lack of success, but also dissatisfaction with court decisions can be placed in front of the gods in the form of written applications for justice. Those applications are mainly placed in the temple of Chaughāṇ-Golū and in some of the Devī-temples.

15 The word saukār means ‘property-owner’; it is also used for a money-lender (cf. Leavitt 1985: 327).

16 According to Fanger (1990) the warming up stage is called naumat, while the following invocations are called panvani and mahābhārat (ibid.: 182f.). Leavitt (1985) who includes translations of the opening songs of a jāgar distinguishes between sandhyā (evensong) and mahābhārat (ibid.: 338f.). During my research I did not come across this terminology, with the exception of the term mahābhārat.

17 The arrival of the deity in the body of the medium but also the question of true statements in combination with the assurance of the identity of the supernatural are critical points. If there is, for example, a menstruating woman in the room it is believed that the deity cannot enter the body of the medium properly. Pfleiderer & Lutze (1979) mention the touching of the hot coals of the dhuṇi by the daṅgariyā as a proof that a deity and not a human being speaks. I was told that the daṅgariyā has to circle the right hand clockwise around the dhuni, and that if she/he uses the left hand and moves anti-clockwise, there is no proper embodiment of the deity. Twelve years ago I frequently observed a ritual sequence that was not present any more in the jāgars seen recently: the medium takes a handful of rice, and throws the grains across the room. One of the ḥāyāṛ catches some of the grains and counts them. An even number (pure) indicates that the deity is present, has power and is telling the truth, an odd number (apure) leads to the doubt that the deity is on the right path and capable to deliver the truth. This ritual sequence sometimes used to be repeated at different stages of the jāgar. I do not know why and to which extent this ritual element has been abandoned; one informant said, that it is not essential.

18 In the case of a khuśī ka jāgar the communication is limited to jāgariya and daṅgariyā; although the saukār and the audience may direct questions to the medium. Examples of this kind of jāgar are given by Fanger 1990; Leavitt 1985; Moller 1993. Surprisingly, in most accounts on jāgar the appearance and role of the victim is not described (exception: Pfleiderer & Lutze 1979), and also the screening character of the gantuvas is absent in most publications.

19 This and the following jāgar extract were recorded and translated into English by my partner I. D. Coulthard, and transcribed with the help of Diwan Singh Bisht, Almora.

20 Our friend, Jaman Ram, is an extraordinary example in this respect. He is a medium for six different deities (Hanumān, Devī, Gaṅgānāth, Ḍānā-Golū, Chaughāṇ-Golū, Nar Singh). The jagariyā decides which deity is called. In a house-jāgar not more than two deities are usually present, and as a rule, the leader of the deities, Chaughāṅ-Golū, is heard first, often followed by Gaṅgānāth. If two deities are heard, the complete invocation and interrogation proceeding is repeated for the second god. If several mediums of the same or different gods are present, one of them is usually leading and speaks more than the others.

21 Among the Thākurs of Kumaon, village exogamy is strictly followed. Until recently all marriage processions went on foot, and it was a rule, that a girl should not be married further away than a day’s foot march. Most affinal villages are five to ten miles away.

22 Women, especially young women, usually visit their mait very frequently, often in connection with feast days that fall on the first day of the solar calendar (saṅkrānt) (cf. Krengel 1990).

23 On the possibility that sins and danger follow the bride in marriage, see Parry 1989 and Raheja 1988.

24 The custom of placing a curse or oath in front of the deities in order to seek retribution is also known in Garhwal (Majumdar 1962: 157, 255) and Western Nepal (Winkler 1976: 253). There are different terms employed to denote such curses or oaths: ghāt (term also used in Garhwal and Western Nepal); hank and chhinga (term used in Garhwal for placing justice in the court of the god). In the research area, both terms–ghāt and hank–were used. Some people said that there is no difference between them, others pointed out that hank functions automatically; it is sufficient that the soul (ātmā) of the person experiencing injustice calls the local devatās to give justice, while ghat involves the conscious act of going to the temple and applying for justice. And yet again another definition was that hank is applied in all property cases while ghāt relates to personal sufferings due to bad treatment. The effects are the same: trouble for the offspring of the offender and recognition of injustice.

25 If a person decides to go to a temple in order to make a ghāt, mustard flowers are essential. There was no consistent explanation regarding the remark that no rice was taken. Some people said that it points to the poverty of the woman; she could not even afford to take rice. One daṅgariyā maintained that taking rice leads to an intensification of a curse, but this explanation was not commonly shared.

26 I was told that about 90 per cent of hanks or ghāts are made by women, and that also if the family as a whole or a male member experienced injustice, it is mainly women who call the gods for justice.

27 See also Sax 1991: 74: “... persons who have no ‘place’ or those who, like women in this virilocal society, move from one place to another, are devalued. With no particular place to contain and constrain their actions, they are regarded as low, impure (too ‘mixed’ in Marriott’s terms), unpredictable, and volatile.”

28 Regarding the association of Golū with a District Magistrate see also Leavitt (1985: 300), who adds that Gaṅgānāth is compared with a local paṭvāri. One of my informants made yet another comparison, saying that the deity is a judge while the bhūt acts as a lawyer.

29 Cf. Babb (1983) on the question of karma and its representation in popular Hinduism; Krengel (1994), on the perception of karma in the frame of folk religion in Kumaon; Sharma (1973), on how members of the same kingroup are affected by each other’s karma.


Heidelberg Univ.
South Asia Institute

© Éditions de l’École des hautes études en sciences sociales, 1999

Licence OpenEdition Books

Cette publication numérique est issue d’un traitement automatique par reconnaissance optique de caractères.
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search