Shamans in Asia, 3.


pp. 51-85 – Anwarul Karim : "Shamanism in Bangladesh".

p. 55 literally meanings of <arabi terms for categories of shaman

type of shaman

literally meaning of term




dar ‘door’ : "one who begs from door to door."


hodja {one who hath made the h.ajj (pilgrimage)}

pp. 56-57 nature of shamanesses




"A female shaman stands for purity. She wears a clean sari. Her house looks neat and clean. The shamanesses have either inherited their knowledge ..., or they have studied by a guru (preceptor). Some of them were instructed in dreams."


Bediya "women work as shamanesses and are skilled in ... the removal of nervous and rheumatic pain." ["They massage for rheumatism" (p. 73).]

pp. 56-57 exorcism & physiology

p. 56

"Both male and female yogis are often engaged in exorcism and herbal healing."

p. 57

"The shamans in Bangladesh also have a good knowledge of human physiology and the nervous system. ... The shaman consider the nervous system a cakra, or "wheel," which corresponds to the plexus or ganglion."

pp. 60-61 evil eye; hound & tree of the dead

p. 60

"Mothers paint their newborn babies,

farmers set up deformed wooden dolls ... to ward off the evil eye. ...

Certain animals ... may also cause harm through the evil eye. Mothers zealously guard their children and put a black mark around their cheeks ... . ...

There are reports that milch cows after being affected by the evil eye stopped giving milk ... . But as soon as an ojha or faquir is called, the cow and calf return to normal."

"There is a custom among people in rural Kushtia to offer food to

p. 61

dogs on certain religious occasions in the belief that a dead person returns to the house in the shape of a dog. {viz., dead person’s soul is in occupation of the hound as a possessing-spirit} ... There is another belief in Kushtia that if a person dies leaving his family in debt, he reappears in the form of a dog and guards the family until the debt is paid back."

"There is also a belief among rural people that the persons who meet an unnatural death may turn into ghosts and take up their abode in certain trees. When these trees are either damaged or destroyed, the ghosts will take revenge." ["Rural people in Kushtia perform certain rituals concerning fruit-bearing trees ... . They paint the whole house. Then they put ... marigold flowers ... on a piece of earthen plate ... and worship the trees." (p. 84, n. 12)]

pp. 62-63 iron; amulets

p. 62

"Among the Hindus, the sons as well as the wife of the deceased avoid salt for ten days. The sons ... bear in their hands a piece of iron."

"During childbirth ... both the mother and her child are vulnerable to spirit possession. ... During this period, which continues for forty days, the mother ... has to keep an iron rod in her bed beside the baby and when she goes out she must carry it with her for fear of being possessed by a spirit. It is believed that spirits shun iron."

p. 63

"In certain areas, ... confinement rooms are often protected from evil spirits by ... mustard seeds {this is also a Bon practice} strewn over the doorway. Other methods include hanging up a piece of fishing net, the horn of a cow ... . ... Sometimes a coil of thread or a cowrie is used ... . ... Plants growing on graves are used, too."

pp. 64-67 parley with spirit; diagnosis




"he holds a parley with the spirit, asking him who he is and what he wants to do, and then he orders the spirit to leave the patient. If the sprit is unwilling, the shaman throws turmeric into the fire and asks the patient to inhale the smoke. This is done in order to evict the spirit ... . He also reads out incantations and blows them over black peppers, asking the patient to chew the same. Likewise, hot mustard oil is put into the ears in order to make the spirit talk through the patient. ...


The shaman also uses a looking glass and a split bamboo for magical use to diagnose spirit illness ... . ...

The shaman holds a winnowing fan upside down in his left hand. He places a small lamp ... burning ... in it. ... When the flame of the lamp suddenly burns brightly, ... the illness has been caused by a spirit.

... the shaman ... uses a twig of a nim tree (Melia azaddirechta) and brushes the patient with it ... .


... in rural area people consider jinn to be male and pari to be female. A female is always attacked by a jinni and a male by a pari."


[cure of a mad woman by a fakir] "The moment the patient saw the faquir, she shrieked and went to a corner. The faquir had a small looking glass and a stone ring. He asked the patient to look into the magic glass ... . ... The woman made a sign that she could see an object in the looking glass. The faquir then shouted ... . His whole body began to shake and tremble. ... he made a circle around himself and the patient. He burned turmeric and asked her to inhale. ... The faquir then stroked her with a broom and put hot mustard oil into her ears. He repeatedly asked for the identity of the spirit. ... Then the faquir burnt mustard oil ... . ... There was a burning sensation all over the body of the patient, and she agreed to talk. ...


Faquir : Who are you? Where do you live?

Patient : (with a strong nasal accent) I am Kalu, I live in the bamboo groves behind the house....

The faquir ... brought out the root of a herb ..., which she chewed and swallowed. ...

Faquir : ... carry with your teeth the earthen pitcher full of water from the house and break it when you leave her. ...

She carried with her teeth an earthen pitcher full of water and broke it".


[cure of a demented young man by a fakir] "The faquir ... shook his whole body. ... After a while there was an incomprehensible sound. The spirit spoke. ... The spirit, with a strong nasal accent, said that the man was possessed by a female spirit when he was young."

pp. 67-68 glossolalia; a female spirit-medium

p. 67

"I believe that spirit possession is a reality."

p. 68

A physician heard his niece, "who lived all her life in a village and was not at all conversant in the English language, start talking in English. This was witnessed by many ... . Such a case of spirit possession was confirmed by ... a highly qualified professor of sociology who witnessed cases in which simple village folk living in rural areas start talking in English when possessed by a spirit. ...


In the Kushtia villages ... the spirits ... said that they were murdered secretly and that no religious ceremony was held for them. There were others who said that they had committed suicide."


"In a Kushtia village ... a woman faquir who hade her living as a shamaness ... on each Thursday ... was possessed by a spirit ... . ... the spirit visited her hery Thursday evening after the Mughrev prayer, and his visit was marked by a buzzing sound. .. We heard a buzzing sound, and the woman was in trance." {Once, I heard a buzzing sound emanating from the head of a woman-inmate in an insane asylum (in Maryland, c. 1978).}

pp. 69-70 diagnosis based on patient’s name




The invocation of spirits is an important part of Bengali shamanism. This is done to command the presence of jinn or demons ... . The faquir ... uses


the name of the patient. ... For example, the initial of Ahmed is A, his element is fire, his planet is Saturn ... . The initial of Rahela is R, her element is water, her planet is Venus ... . The faquir also makes a diagram on the ground that names certain demons, fairies, and jinn in order to ascertain the cause of the disease."

pp. 70-71, 83 cure of snake-bite by ojha




"the ojha ... specializes in the treatment of snake bites. Rural people in Bangladesh consider serpents to be deities. ... It is thus important to find out what spirit is behind the snake bite and how it can be appeased. It is the duty of the ojha to find this out. In Kushtia ... if someone is bitten by a snake someone runs to the house of an ojha ... . ... On reaching the place the ojha makes the person sit on alow stool and then moves the person’s right hand in the air in a circular pattern, uttering incantations ... . Then he shakes himself violently and falls into a trance.

... all precaution will be taken to prevent the venom from spreading. It will then be tied with a rope {tourniquet} ... to check the flow of the poison. ... He then ...


cuts the place of injury and takes out blood in sufficient quantity ... . ... In most cases, the ojha uses chickens to gauge whether he has sucked out the poison from the injury."


"They ... arrange certain religious songs known as bhasan ["The word bhasan suggests one who is floated." (p. 84, n. 15)], padma-puran, or behula laksmindar. ["In Behula Laksmindar the hero, who had been bitten by a snake, was thrown in a river and ultimately brought back to life by supernatural means. It is thus a folk practice in rural bangladesh for the body of somebody who dies from a snake bite to be thrown into a river." (p. 83, n. 10)]. In these songs the serpent deity Manasha... is invoked."

83, n. 9

"barren women may be blessed with children if they worship the serpent goddess Manasha. ... In rural Bangladesh serpents, which generally live in the straw roofs of houses, ... are believed to possess {to be possessed by?} the souls of some deceased members of the family. In Bangladesh ... it is believed that this soul, if unable to free itself from earthly bondage, takes the form of {taketh possession of the body of?} a snake and lives within the very house where it escaped from the body. The rural people in certain areas of Bangladesh also believe that if mating snakes are covered up with a piece of cloth {Aztec-codex conventional depictions of human sexual intercourse involve snakes under a blanket along with the human couple}, the same piece when recovered possesses magical qualities – it cures disease."


[quoted from S&SLB, p. 218 :] "Three sanctified cowries are sent to fetch the snake which caused the bite. The cowries are found stuck on the body of the snake, one at the head, another at the middle and the third one at the tip of the tail. Thus the cowries carry the snake to the place where the exorcist is waiting with the patient for its arrival. ... After that a cup of milk is placed before it. ... Thus the patient is cured."

S&SLB = Asutosh Bhattacharya : The Sun and Serpent Lore of Bengal. Calcutta : KLM, 1977.

p. 57, 73 Bediya




"Bediya ... also exhibit painted scrolls representing the exploits of Hanuman, who accompanied Rama. ... Their men are often engaged in ... monkey shows. The women, besides ... selling trinkets, are also engaged as snake charmers."


"The bediya ... generally live in houseboats ... ."

Medicinal birds caught by bediya fowlers :-



cureth __


pankauri, " a kind of water bird that looks like a crow"

enlargement of the spleen and puerperal (childbirth) disorders


pencha ("spotted owlet")

"love potion"





"The female bediya are also palmists. ... They are much sought after by village maidens for the sake of the potion with which they restore to them their estranged lovers. They also make forecasts as to the sex of unborn children."

pp. 74-76 biographies of shamanesses




[in Uttar Lahini] A shamaness who was a yogini "had a temple by the side of her house ... . She applied various healing techniques including exorcism ... . ... she did not learn her trade from her family nor was she instructed by a guru. Once in a dream it was thrust upon her by a deity whom she identified as Kali. ["the use of herbs was communicated to her in dreams." (p. 84, n. 16)] [This shamaness] had a magic stick that had been given to her by a Tantric woman whom she visited in a crematory after being made a shaman[ess] by the deity. ... Before beginning her day’s job, [the shamaness] recited the following mantra ... :

Sixty-four mohanto, ten kapalik, six kabiraj. ... 108 Kali ... .


[She] touched the head of [a woman who "suffered from spirit possession"] with her magic stick kalchander lathi ("stick of faquir Kalachand") and made a circle around her while reciting the following mantra :

... Jinn, bhut or pret, you ... have to appear here for talks. ...

The woman was in trance. [The shamaness] then asked the spirit possessing the woman, "Who are you? Why do you possess this woman? What do you want from her? ..." The evil spirit in the woman said that his name was Kadaruddin. ... Kadaruddin (the spirit) replied that he would not leave her because his face had been burnt by a faquir who used burnt turmeric for treatment, and it would be difficult for him to go back to his own people with a burnt face. [The shamaness] said to the spirit if he would go back to his own people he would find everybody with a burnt face. ... But [the shamaness] pressed him to show a sign of his departure ... by breaking an earthen pitcher full of water. ... I found the woman [patient] carrying the earthen pitcher full of water with her teeth only. ... she dropped the pitcher, which broke".


[in Jugia] A shamaness’s "father was a veteran shaman before his death .... [She] had received mystical signs and instructions in her dreams, which suggested that she was being possessed by a spirit. Her father ... was very happy to learn this. Gradually [her father] trained her in various shamanistic methods."


Clark Chilson & Peter Knecht : Shamans in Asia. RoutledgeCurzon, London, 2003.