Phainomenon of Possession (spirit-possession in Karnataka)

pp. 22-31 in Karnataka generally




"Such of the gods in whom they had interest and faith possessed the patients. ... All of them were the devotees of these deities for two or three years when they started getting possessed by them."


"Hindus ... believe in possession traditionally."

"Every body normally likes voluntary possession and it is considered to be beneficial both to the person and others."


"In more severed cases shamans are called to drive away ghosts. The shamanistic cures emphasise upon spells, offerings and the transference of the ghost from the victim to someone else."


"Spirit possession ... troubles the women most because they are ... more attractive to the spirits than are males."


"Most of the people narrate the story of a friend / relative who suffered the wrath of a demon / possessed by a spirit. Even the educated ones ... narrate stories of having seen a spirit in the dark."


Practitioners of voluntary spirit-possession "were revered and respected in the neighbourhood. During the possession state, these patri offered solutions to the problems of their neighbors, who come to seek their service. Thus all the voluntary possession cases were


earning their living in this way as Darshan patri."

"The authors ... consider possession as one of the acceptable ways of earning status in the society as the people have belief in such phenomenon."


"there was high prevalence of possession (2%) ... and a majority of the people (90%) believed in possession."

pp. 32-34 elsewhere than Karnataka




[spirit-possession in Mayotte (West Indies) :] "A host may enter trance intermittently primarily for the spirits’ amusement, but also in order to permit her spirit to pursue its social relationships with the host’s kin or acquaintances. Finally some hosts became curers, i.e. mediums. Mediums treat illness related to sorcery, manage the spirit possession cures of others, and diagnose and consult over a wide variety of topics."


"In India possession syndrome is common, socio-culturally sanctioned phenomenon and is used for different purposes, such as to provide a source of livelihood (by priests and healers), ... to protest, ... to be one with the others (religious group possession)."


"One of the functions of the traditional Navajo ‘hand trembler’ is to help patients decide what kind of expert they should consult."

pp. 56-63 particular shrines dealing with cases of spirit-possession





Karibass-ajja [/ajja/ ‘grandfather’ (p. 58)] shrines

Srikshetra at Ganagapura on river Bhima


56 "the drummers play on two huge musical drums, ... and the shrine-bells are rung continuously for nearly half an hour."

62 "the beatings of drums, ringing of bells"


"the ‘cases’ brought over there start slowly swinging their body to and fro, letting loose their hair, rolling on the ground, somersaulting, ... and intermittently laughing, and weeping."

"the clients start ... swinging the body around, rolling on the ground, somersaulting and ... even start climbing up on the steel pillar".

tied to body

56 "a talisman (tayata)"


applied to body

"Sacred ash (Vibhuti) and lemon"



57 "The cases do not recall as to what happened to them".

63 "The clients claim no memory into their behaviour during the possession state."


58 "New moon days"

"new moon (Amavasya) days"


59 "the cases admit the object of possession on their own, which get the stamp of approval from concerned family members."


for the saint Karibass-ajja : no exorcism at Ukkadagathri (on river Tungabhadra, in Chitradurga district); this is done at Chandra Guttemma temple at Byadagi (in Dharwad district) instead.

p. 61 no exorcism in Srikshetra. The Saint "is reported to be residing in the Paduke (wooden sandals) of the Saint, which are being worshipped everyday in the shrine."

pp. 59-60 Muslim-style self-exorcism (in Jod Gomat Dargah at Bijapur) [/dargah/ ‘Muslim saint’s tomb’ (p. 169).]




self-exorcism is done on Thursdays. "The priest is not involved in the healing process of the cases."


"buy a sacred thread from the priest and tie 40 knots first and then tie it to the tomb. Tying the knot signifies ‘tying up the God’ for forty days ... . ... If her problem is not solved within 40 days, the thread tied to the tomb is said to strangle the Holy Spirit (God) itself." "Thus the clients are supposed to experience a kind of transference, from the possession of ‘evil spirits’ to the ‘holy spirits’."

pp. 63-68 particular traditional healer-practitioners


pp. 65-66

pp. 67-68


Yelavatti in Shirahatti taluk

Badami in Bijapur district


65 Lingayat married man, in charge of shrine of goddess Renuka

67 Ayurveda man



68 "a deceased person, who is known to the patient and also to the family."


66 "The Spirit may demand for fruits, sweets, egg; beedi, etc."


non-recall by client


"But she does not claim any memory of her experience."

pp. 63-64 Muslim-style exorcism by professional exorcist




at Malapur (area in Dharwad city), by old woman healeress, in charge of a dargah :


"the ‘Spirit’ is being arrested in the bottle and the same is to be thrown in an old, abandoned well far away from the city limits." {cf. jinn (genie) sealed into bottle, and the bottle cast into the sea, in the 1001 Nights.}

pp. 106-109 voluntary spirit-possession




"in voluntary possession phenomena, the behaviour was characterized by dramatic talks, giving advice, maintaining particular postures and gestures and making peculiar sound ... . It is but natural and an accepted behaviour on the part of an individual [who] was considered as possessed by the God / Goddess. He was therefore, considered as superior to the non-possessed. Hence the case under possession state was expected to be in a position to give advice and suggest solutions to people who came to him / her for relief of their problems ... .


... a few of the cases keep burning camphor ... on their tongue, as a mark of being possessed by God / Goddess. ... The people gathered around the case ... get satisfaction of being able to talk with God / Goddess through the help of this medium (i.e., the possessed case). ... Thus, it has been found that voluntary possession helps both, the person who is possessed and also the people with problems. Thus the voluntary possession episodes are culturally desired and socially respected events in the life of an individual. Usually, all kinds of people – rich or poor, educated or uneducated, rural or urban, go to such possessed individuals to redeem their life problems. ... Therefore, the voluntary possession phenomenon once acquired, continues to be retained throughout the life of the person ... . ...


In both the types of possession cases the respondents claim no memory of their present behaviour, as to what happened to them during ‘possession episode’." {this is likewise true of African spirit-possession cases.}


"it was reported by majority ... of the voluntary possession cases that they were getting possessed twice a week. The respondents were usually getting possessed on every Friday and Tuesday or on every Wednesday and Saturday, depending on the Gender of The ‘Object’ from which they were getting possessed.


If possession attacks were of a female deity / Goddess

Friday and Tuesday was very common. On the other hand


if possession was due to a male deity / God

Wednesday and Saturday were the days when the respondents would get into possession states."

p. 109 "On the other hand possession states among involuntary possession episodes were more commonly manifested once in fortnight".

pp. 121, 136-137 cases of possession by deities




(Respondent # 2) "he was taken to the family deity, Goddess Manemanchamma to get her blessings. After the visit he started manifesting possession states by the same deity. ... This respondent gets into possession state Three times in a day and for five days in a week, i.e. from Monday to Friday. Each episode may last for ½ an hour to 1 hour depending on the size of the gathering assembled at the temple to seek his advice for their problems."


(Case # 9) "the respondent ..., falling unconscious, [had the impression of the] appearance of an image embracing him. ... He was therefore taken to a Shrine, as the family thought it could be due to ... the family deity ... . ... there, the respondent started getting possessed. ... He also reported that the same goddess – Halagadarasamma possessed his father and grandfather. The possession takes place only on Tuesday and Friday, in a week.

... at the shrine the drums and bells are played. From then on the respondent enters into trance – ‘Possession State’. He starts talking in an authoritative dramatic voice. In the trance state he gives suggestion and advice to the people who have come to him for their problems."


(Case # 10) "When he visited the temple, the temple priest (then under possession state) declared that ... was ... because of ... Lord Shaneshwar. ... Accordingly ..., the respondent has been manifesting attacks of possession by ‘Lord Shaneshwar’ on two days a week."

transformation of involuntary into voluntary possession

p. 140 (Case # 11) "Here a woman who is considered to be getting possessed by an evil spirit, developed control over her possession attacks and turns the evil possession to a good type i.e. voluntary possession. ... As a result of this we have a ... case manifestation wherein an evil, possession i.e. otherwise understood as involuntary possession taking the shape of good i.e. voluntary possession phenomenon and helping the respondent, her family as well as her clients who come to her seeking advice / suggestions in tackling their life problems."

{similar to this transformation of involuntary to voluntary possession is progressive "mastery" of a possessing-spirit by a candidate in the process of developing adept shamanship, as known in Siberia}

p. 144 possession by dead saint

(Case # 14) "She reported that she was being possessed by 1 male and 1 female ghost of Maratha caste ... . The family members would say that

whenever the male ghost possessed her she would demand sweets, biriyani and

if possessed by a female ghost she would develop various physical symptoms ... . ...

Now she is said to be free of possession by evil spirit and getting possessed by the Baba (deceased Saint) of the Dargah. This transformation is considered as a mark of recovery ... (i.e. she is considered as relieved from the evil spirits).

Now she is expected to visit this Dargah on every Thursday ... to give ‘Hazari – Attendance’ during which time she is able to help others who are around her ... . If the respondent does not follow this ritual she is afraid that she would be attacked by the evil spirit/s once again. ... Any body who get relief from their possession episodes, should serve here by giving ‘Hazari – Attendance’ on the specific day/s. During ‘Hazari’ attack the respondent would cover her head with sari pallu (border) and keep swinging her body. She speaks fast in a monotonous style, asking relevant questions to other persons who are around and answering to their queries, offering solutions to their problems."

S. R. Patil : Phenomenon of Possession (Psycho-Socio Clinical Study of Spirits). Reliance Publishing House, New Delhi, 2006. [S. R. Patil is wife of R. M. Patil (p. viii)]