SPIRIT POSSESSION IN RAJASTHAN - Jeffrey G. Snodgrass 02
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
SPIRIT POSSESSION IN RAJASTHAN - Jeffrey G. Snodgrass [Professor, Department of Anthropology. Colorado State University]
Despite Rajasthan’s many benevolent spiritual beings, possessing entities are more than often evil and malevolent. These include capricious ghosts trapped between the human world (manushya-loka) and the world of the ancestors (pitri-loka), ghosts that are referred to by Hindus as bhut-prets or malris and by Muslims as jinds (from the Arabic djinn; Muslims speak of possessing entities as a hajris, “presences”).
Some spirits are said to linger as ghosts because of their immoral deﬁance of customs that keeps them bound to their earthly existences and enmeshed in the lives of their friends and family. Others are believed to have passed away before the time allotted to them by Yama the Hindu god of death and are referred to as akal mots (untimely deaths) reluctant to leave this world. The latter include murder victims, suicides (for example, young women who throw themselves in wells because of premarital pregnancies), accident victims (such as, the author was informed, a foreign tourist who drowned in one of Rajasthan’s palace hotels), unmarried male children (who have no descendants to remember them), and stillborn babies. Other malicious spirits said to seize humans are dissatisﬁed ancestors (purvajs, pitr-pitranis), demons (raksas), witches (referred to as dakan if they are still living, meli if they are dead), deceased widows (considered sexually voracious or “hungry” entities who lust after the bodies of newlyweds), and still living men who send their own souls to torment and kill their enemies (Snodgrass 2002b, 45–49).
The distinctions between benevolent and malevolent spirits are not always clear, as even mischievous spirits can be used for good. Mediums who control their spirits—using spiritual energies to heal, locate jobs, ﬁx marriages, predict the future (as oracles), find lost items, chastise the sinful, and reward the deserving— are referred to as bhopas, ojhas, and bhagats, which could be translated as “shamans,” and who are akin to, in Komal Kothari’s words, “human, or living shrines” (1982, 25)
Controlling spiritual beings and being able to summon them at will—on auspicious days and at regular intervals—entails learning the songs, drumbeats, chants, smells, or images that please each entity. A shaman, when linked to a particular temple through the observance of that shrine deity’s niyam (regimen), can be referred to as a cauki, literally a “square stool”—in the sense of a judicial seat where legal court hearings (peshi) are held and justice is dispensed by divine powers (Gold 1988b, 38; Kothari 1982, 31; Seeberg 1995).