Panel 15:

SHAMANISM IN SOUTH EAST ASIA

Organizers and Chairs: Lidia Guzy & Stefano Beggiora

This panel seeks to explore diverse forms of shamanistic worldviews and non-dualistic ontologies in contemporary indigenous (Adivasi) South Asia. Papers will address culturally specific local worldviews using a broad range of forms communications with the non empirical, other than human sphere and reality. Diverse forms of cultural expressions such as trance techniques, ritual embodiment and possession, ritual speech, oracles, ritual bodily performances – generally prevalent in cultures of orality – will be particularly investigated. The papers deal empirically and theoretically with shamanistic complexes of indigenous cultures of South Asia. All papers are based on extensive fieldwork in South Asia.


Shamanism of Middle India – Examples from Koraput

Guzy, Lidia

University College Cork, Ireland

This paper presents the continuity of local shamanic tradition within the Rona, an indigenous group of Koraput, Odhisa, amidst the dynamics of exogenous religious changes.
States of baya – divine craziness- are common ritual, rhetoric and performative features of gurumai, the Middle Indian shamans of the Rona community. At nights, accompanied by the sounds of a one-string instrument, the dudunga – the mostly female gurumai encounter other entities through glossolalia, poetic speech, parallelisms and entranced songs. This state of baya – is considered by the Rona community as the voice and advice of the other worldly.


Shamanism and Oracles among the ‘Monpa’ Adivasi Community of Arunachal Pradesh

Beggiora, Stefano & Sanders, Fabian

Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia

This presentation aims to shed light on the findings of a recent research mission in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, in which it was possible to identify and study a case of an oracle of a certain importance, who was previously unknown to western scholars. The man, physically possessed by a local deity, becomes the temporary vehicle or the expression of the god’s voice (Karma Thinle, karma ‘phrin las), acting in a trance-like state as the medium for the divine communication with humankind. In Tibetan, the persons possessed in this manner are defined as ku ten (sku rten), a term which means ‘bodily vehicle’ and thus gives a very clear idea of the passivity of the individual who performs this function as an instrument of the deity. We will analyze in linguistic and literary terms the liturgy that induces the oracle in trance, the specific iconography of the local deities and their hypostasis as a peculiar case of glossolalia.


Possession, Selection, and Literacy: New Rules for Ritual Specialists in the Donyi-Polo Movement

Scheid, Claire

University College Cork, Ireland

This paper explores the varied and changing roles and requirements of ritual specialists in Donyi-Polo (Sun-Moon) – an indigenous religion among the Adi in Arunachal Pradesh, far Eastern Himalayas – in response to religious formalization initiatives that have reshaped ‘sacred space’, ritual and worship, and literacy requirements in the community.


On Shamanic Inaction in Eastern Gujarat

Alles, Gregory D.

McDaniel College, USA

The shamans whom I know best, the badva among adivasis known as Rathvas in eastern Chhotaudepur district, Gujarat, are not at all powerful political actors, whether globally or locally. This contrasts sharply with the prominent political involvement of shamans in various historically important “peasant” movements in India. In this paper I shall pursue these contrasts. My goal is to uncover, at least in a preliminary fashion, the conditions whose absence has been conducive to shamanic inaction in eastern Chhotaudepur district.


Differentiating Shamans from other Ritual Intercessors in South Asia: A Theoretical Perspective

Sidky, Homayun

Miami University, USA

Shamanism has captivated the imagination of Western scholars since the 17th century. The literature is varied and voluminous. One of the seeming intractable problems in the field of shamanic studies is a disagreement over the nature of the phenomenon in question. Drawing on the thriving and dynamic shamanistic traditions in the Himalayas, this paper attempts to generate theoretical criteria for distinguishing shamans from other South Asian ritual intercessors in terms of their worldviews and techniques for achieving altered states of consciousness.