Self-Possessed, 4.1.0-4.1.4



Regional Languages & Models of [Spirit-]Possession

pp. 110-72


Lexicography, Languages, and Themes

pp. 110-42


In general

pp. 110-2



pp. 112-3


Urdu (at Balaji)

pp. 114-9



pp. 119-20



pp. 120-2


In the Himalaya-s

pp. 122-7


Tamil & Simhala

pp. 127-33


Yaka:dura of S`ri Lanka

pp. 133-6



pp. 136-8


Tulu & Irula

pp. 138-9


Assam (at Kamakhya)

pp. 139-42


Exorcists, Oracles, and Healers

pp. 142-6


On “Folk” and “Classical” in South Asia

pp. 146-56


Lexicography, Languages, and Themes

pp. 110-42



In general

pp. 110-112

p. 112 divergent dialectal characterizations of spirit-possession

as “riding” (Hindi, Nepali, Simhala, Malayalam),

as “dancing” (Tamil, Malayalam), …

as a force “coming into the body” (e.g., Hindi, Marathi, Tulu, Irula),

as “play” of the deity (Hindi, Marathi, Nepali),

as a kind of “ecstasy” (Bengali, Marathi, Nepali),

as a “weight” (Bengali), … or

as a symptom of a multilayered world visible “as if in a mirror” (Tibetan, Sanskrit).”

{Thus, the “mirror-like” feature of the “nature of mind” in the “Great Perfection” system of the rN~in-ma may allude to an occult aptitude for spirit-mediumship.}




pp. 112-113

p. 113 in Hindi : playful divine breeze

[quoted from Erndl 1996:178; also Erndl 1993:108] “When a woman is possessed, the goddess is said to take on a 'wind form' [“pavan rup”], enter her, and 'play' within her.”



Urdu (at Balaji)

pp. 114-119

pp. 114-6, 158 Hanumant's divine court in the Balaji temple in Mehndipur, Rajasthan; healing caerimony thereat

p. 114

Hanuman .. is the supreme magistrate. He is assisted by two subordinates, Bhairavji (… Bhairava) and Pret[-]raj (King of the {Preta-s} [“wandering spirits of the dead” (p. 113)]), who are [Hanumant]'s messengers (dut) – as Hanuman is Rama's messenger (duta).”.

Whether pilgrim or afflicted petitioner, Balaji is proffered sweets (laddu), parts of which are … returned to the client as prasad. … Through the consumption of this prasad {as eucharist}, the power of the deities is said to be infused into the clients. …

p. 115

The music that most often sends afflicted members of the audience (or concerned relatives) into trance … is instrumental “snake-charmer” music …

Naagin, which, appropriately, inspires some of the possessed to writhe like snakes.

{This writhing would indicate such persons' bodies to be possessed by NAGa-s ('dragons').}

The word used for this trance is the Urdu pes`i, literally a “hearing” or “appearance in court,” in which the classical symptoms of [spirit-]possession occur. Initially these include rhythmic swaying (jhumna) …, but eventually violent whirling of the head and upper body, … somersaults …, and so on. Women's hair is always unbraided … during the proceedings.

p. 158, n. 4:23

[quoted from Dwyer 1999, p. 113] “the possessed frequently experience a choking sensation (gala bhar ana), a contraction of the muscles in the throat”.

{A choking sensation accompanied by contraction of the muscles in the throat is also caused the the harsh nerve-drugs inflicted on prisoners of psychiatrists in the state madhouse. Because such involuntary victims of psychiatrists are usually (or always) imprisoned and tortured by atheist-fanatic psychiatrists on account of the victims' devout religious piety, a comparison with deity-possessed devotees in temples is highly apposite.}

p. 115

During the pes`i …, the client or the clinician's assistant, performing as a surrogate on behalf of the client by temporarily taking the bhut from the client, becomes possessed with Bhairavji or Pretraj.

This double possession of the invasive bhut along with Bhairavji or Pretaji is understood as a battle between bhut and dut … . It is often cast as a battle; the dut may be assisted by an army of positive spirits …, called phauj (Urdu for “army” …),

{Likewise, Siberian shamanic healing-sessions are often undertaken as battles of shaman (and/or shaman's helping spirits) against the intrusive sickness-spirit.}

constituted of former bhuts that have been transformed into this lower grade of protective dut by the exorcistic … procedures of the clinician-ritualist(s).

[p. 158, n. 4:27 : “For another example of this {religious conversion of spirits} …, see Bertrand 2004 on the conversion of … Khmer spirits in Cambodia known as bray to Buddhist parami, spirits who exhibit the Buddhist perfections.”] {Still another set of religiously converted deities are the native Bodish deities who allegedly underwent convincement to Buddhatva (or else to Bon).}

If the clinician or his or her assistant has taken on the bhut, the battle transpires within his or her body, which has also become possessed by the dut. If the client has retained the bhut …, one of the regular actions of the assistant is forceful beating on the back (usually the lower part …) of the victim with the fists, followed by wrenching upward movements of the fists, said to drive the bhut(s) up the spine and out the top of the head.”

Often the clinician (or the assistant) and the victim are both in [spirit-]possession, writhing …, both sets of eyes locked or rolled back.”

p. 116

Communication with a spirit, or more often interrogation, even harshly worded, occurs in South Asian [spirit-]possession. …

[p. 159, n. 4:30 : “For a similar process of questioning the spirit in more Islamic-centered possession, see Nasir 1987:165 f. For a Buddhist context, see Vogt's findings in S[`]ri Lanka”.] {Interrogating a possessing-spirit was likewise routinely formerly performed in Omoto S^into.}

In this case, the confessions of the bhuts are spoken out after the battle has been suspended because of the exhaustion of either … who has borne the bhuts. … Usually, the bhut reveals the required information upon the relentless interrogation of the clinician or healer.

This part … resembles a talking cure … that deals directly with the bhut-pret

[An instance of spirit-possession by a bhuta-preta is mentioned (pp. 159-60, n. 4:31) in the account by Philostratos concerning Apollonios of Tuane's visit to India, where an epistle is addressed (p. 160, n. 4:31) by Apollonios to the bhuta-preta.],

in which the clinician attempts to address the problems of the entity and elevate it into the ranks of the phauj, thus freeing the afflicted individual of his or her madness”. [p. 160, n. 4:32 : “Cf. Hiltebeitel 1989a and Mayer's study of the phenomenon in the [r]Nyingmapa sect of Tibetan Buddhism (1996:109-132).”]

Bertrand 2004 = Didier Bertrand : “A Medium Possession and Its Relationship with Cambodian Buddhism : the Gru Parami”. In :- John Marston & Elizabeth Guthrie (edd.) : History, Buddhism, and New Religious Movements in Cambodia. Honolulu : U of HI Pr. pp. 150-69.

Dwyer 1999 = Graham Dwyer : “Healing and Transformation of the Self in Exorcism at a Hindu Shrine in Rajasthan”. SOCIAL ANALYSIS 43.2:108-37.

Nasir 1987 = Mumtaz Nasir : “Bait.hak : Exorcism in Peshawar (Pakistan)”. ASIAN FOLKLORE STUDIES 46.2:159-78.

Hiltebeitel 1989a = Alf Hiltebeitel : Criminal Gods and Demon Devotees : … Guardians of Popular Hinduism. Albany : State U of NY Pr.

Mayer 1996 = Robert Mayer : A Scripture of the Ancient Tantra Collection. Oxford : Kiscadale.

pp. 116-7 exorcism as relieving the spirits from their burden of miseries

p. 116

the Hindi terms bhut, pret, … sankat, upari hava, and so forth “... never occur with such adjectival descriptions as 'evil or malevolent' … . …” …

{Spirits/deities never behave harmfully toward anyone of the sanatana dharma, simply because all spirits/deities approve of the sanatana dharma.}

The only preceding adjective used was, in fact, 'unhappy,' dukhi, connected to their descriptions as … hovering unfulfilled in the air, unable to proceed forward.”

{Spirits/deities may in the vicinity of persons nominally membres of the sanatana dharma sometimes “hover … unable to proceed forward” if such nominal membres are not sufficiently erudite in philosophy of (and mythology of) the sanatana dharma; for then such spirits/deities are unable to fulfill their mission of expounding (to such nominal membres) details of the doctrine of the sanatana dharma.}

The implication here is that the conception of these as “evil spirits,” with … “evil” emphasized, is a Western construction … . …

{Spirits/deities often do behave harmfully toward persons of a “Western” (European) religion/philosophy, simply because spirits/deities quite generally disapprove of “Western” (European) religion/philosophy, particularly disapproving of Christianity and of all similar such varieties of atheism or of doctrinaire unbelief.}

p. 117

This reconfirms that the exorcisms are designed to alleviate misery rather than evil, an important distinction when considering the healing process.”

{Atheism and unbelief are indeed the main causes of misery in any world.}

p. 117 dietary advice for the spirit-afflicted; terminology for spirit-induced sickness

The final procedure in the adalat … often includes dietary advice – usually the elimination of … inertia-producing (tamasik) foods such as … garlic (because bhuts are attracted to these) and the addition of foods … such as barley – and the prescription of gifts of uneaten food offerings to cows and dogs.

the terms for … spirit-induced illness, are the more standard Hindi upari hava (breeze from above) …,

{Cf. the name of /UPARI-cara Vasu/, the 9th Vasu god.}

while the chief clinician/priest/exorcist/psychologist is termed bhagat” {Skt. /bhagavant/}.

p. 160, n. 4:36 being pressed with the weight of heavy stones as an ordeal

At “Balaji …, the visitor may see on any day a fairly large number of people with large heavy stones either balanced on their heads or placed on several parts of their supine bodies. These are meant to press on the bhut-prets in order to help expel them from the victims' bodies.”

{During the anti-witchcraft persecutions of the Protestant Reformation, many falsely-accused “witches” were pressed to death with heavy weights (when they would not confess to the false accusations against them invented by the Protestant eccesiastical officials).}

pp. 117-8 Chinese (Confucianist) parallels to (and praecedents for?) the adalat method of exorcism

p. 117

this model of possession, exorcism, and healing is … found in China. … . … Han dynasty (206 B.C.E.-220 C.E.) … present a “bureaucratized netherworld,” with its “hierarchy, its tax offices, tribunals, and prisons.” [Seidel 1987, p. 228] …

p. 118

The Tang court “continued to employ at least fifteen master spirit-mediums (shiwu …) in the Imperial Divination Office (Taibu shu …) of the Court of Imperial Sacrifices (Taichang Si …) plus a number of related exorcists known as 'Spellbinding Erudites' (Zhoujin boshi …, Zhoujin shi …, or Zhoujin gong …).” [Davis 2001, p. 61]

During the Song dynasty, a “Rite of Summoning for Investigation” (kaozhao fa …) … included … spirit-soldiers (jiangli …), rather like those operating in the adalat, … marshaled to locate and identify an afflicting spirit, then at the command of the ritual master, “to seize, bind, flog, pummel, yoke … the demon.” [Davis 2001, p. 106] This is reminiscent of the adalat … . … “it is the demon who confesses, … and the demon confesses

because it is only the demon who has something to confess. ...” [Davis 2001, p. 106] …

In the story of Nala (nalopakhyana) …, Nala … has understood that he was not responsible for his actions while possessed by Kali {Yuga}, the spirit of darkness” (Shulman 1997, pp. 7 sq).

Seidel 1987 = Anna Seidel : “Post Mortem Immortality”. In :- S. Shaked; D. Shulman; G. G. Stroumsa : Gilgul. Leiden : Brill. pp. 223-37.

Davis 2001 = Edward L. Davis : Society and the Supernatural in Sung China. Honolulu : U of HI Pr.

Shulman 1994 = David Shulman : “The Riddle of Nala”. J OF INDIAN PHILOSOPHY 22:1-29.

p. 119 clients of of spirit-possession curing are praedominantly well-educated and urban

[quoted from Pakaslahti 1998, p. 132] “seeking help from Balaji is not correlated with illiteracy, lack of education, low social status or as rural background as the patients are predominantly relatively well-educated, from higher castes …, and of urban domicile.”

{It is likewise the case that for China the clientele attending spirit-possession caerimonies (led by red-hatted Taoist priests) are praedominantly well-educated and urban.}

p. 119 deities similar to Hanumant {The name /Hanu-mant/ 'Jaw-possessing' would allude to the likes of the Andamanese custom of carrying on one's own body the actual mandible of a dead ancestor.}

Hanuman as lord of bhut-prets is reminiscent of other deities …, notably`a, “Lord of Hosts,” … or, more appositely of[-]ravan.a {'Sword-Roaring'}, a minor deity often associated with [spirit-]possession, who is specifically called bhutaraja (King of Spirits) and bhutes`am (Lord of Spirits).”

{A “Lord of Hosts” is mentioned in Thilli^m; while a “Lord of Spirits” is mentioned in the Aithiopian Book of Hn.o^k 33-41, 43, 45-55, 57-63, etc.}

Aithiopian Book of Hn.o^k




pp. 119-120

p. 119 weighty possessing-deities

In Bengali, \bhara\ (to fill) is attested in the sense of [spirit-]possession … . [Sen 1971, pp. 701-2] The nominal form bhar means “weight,” hence the two meanings conflate : being filled with or bearing the weight of a spirit or deity.”

{cf. the weighing-down mentioned in p. 160, n. 4:36.} {cf. also the weightiness of the “Old Hag” in the “Old Hag syndrome” of (so-called) sleep-paralysis.}

Sen 1971 = Sukumar Sen : An Etymological Dictionary of Bengali. Calcutta : Eastern Publ.

p. 120 Bengali terminology for varieties of spirit-possession

The most common terms … found for [spirit-]possession are, in addition to bhut bhara, … the Sanskritism apadr.s.t.i …, which compares to the attested Sanskrit term dr.s.t.ipatam.”

[quoted from Bhattacharyya 1986, p. 181] “mathara golamal.a was a general term for madness and apadr.s.t.i one of several causal agents of madness.”

June McDaniel … isolates three types of goddess possession :

(1) bhar nama (nama; to descend or alight …), oracular possession, often experienced in a state of apparent pain, in which the “person often writhes on the ground, gasping and screaming” [McDaniel 1990, p. 91];

(2) aves`a, which, based strictly on McDaniel's informants in Bengal, is defined as … “a spontaneous … possession by a deity, often accompanied by visions of lights or paradises” [McDaniel 1988, pp. 87, 96]; and

(3) maha-ullas (the ritual group posssession of the S`akta cakra).” (McDaniel 1988, p. 87)

Bhattacharyya 1986 = Deborah P. Bhattacharyya : Pagalami : … knowledge in Bengal. MAXWELL SCHOOL SOUTH ASIAN SERIES, no. 11. Syracuse U Pr.

McDaniel 1990 = June McDaniel : The Madness of Saints : ecstatic religion in Bengal. U of Chicago Pr.

McDaniel 1988 = June McDaniel : “Possession States among the S`aktas of West Bengal”. J OF RITUAL STUDIES 2.1:97-99.




pp. 120-122

pp. 121, 162 spirit-possession by a deity or by a saint

p. 121

the vernacular angat yen.e (lit. “coming to the body”) is the usual Marat.hi term for [spirit-]possession by a deity or a saint.” (Stanley 1988, pp. 40 sq)

p. 162, n. 4:67

Sontheimer notes that one who is possessed by any one of these the gods Biroba, Mhaskoba, and Khan.d.oba is called devaci jhad. (god's tree) (p. 193).”

p. 162, n. 4:71

the Poona District gazetter discussed the demigod Vetal.a, the local demonology, and the ubiquity of belief in spirits and possession in Maharashtra; cf. Gazetter of Bombey State, Poona District (1954:126-128).”

Stanley 1988 = John M. Stanley : “Gods, Ghosts, and Possession”. In :- Eleanor Zelliot & Maxine Berntsen (edd.) : The Experience of Hinduism : essays on religion in Maharashtra. Albany : State U of NY Pr.

p. 122 spirit-possession of praegnant women

There is “a kind of negative possession in Maharashtra of pregnant women by a group of minor divinities known as Sati Asara (Skt. Sapta Apsaras) or Malavaya (female beings …). [Feldhaus 1995, p. 48, cf. also pp. 11-13; and for ethnographies pp. 126 sq] … In one ethnography, a woman from Pune ... was diagnosed by another woman from Pune in a state of oracular possession. … “Then she {the woman who was oracularly possessed} gave her {the Malavaya's} word, in her possessed state … . ...” [Feldhaus 1995, p. 134] This is similar to the situation at Balaji in that a [spirit-]possession was recognized and confirmed by another person in [spirit-]possession.”

Feldhaus 1995 = Anne Feldhaus : Water and Womanhood : religious meanings of rivers in Maharashtra. Oxford U Pr.


Frederick M. Smith : The Self-Possessed : Deity and Spirit Possession in South Asian Literature and Civilization. Columbia U Pr, NY, 2006.