October 07, 2017
The importance and complexity of what we call “Ritual”
This post discusses the complexity of ritual, and how the term “symbol” does not do justice to ritual in Indian cultures. I believe it is inappropriate to use the word symbol because it radically separates the symbol from that which it stands for. No example demonstrates simultaneity (rather than symbol) better than the idea that women and the earth share “fertility” and are thus ‘dirty’. Woman is not a symbol of the earth, nor is the earth a symbol of woman….but both share fertility.
To illustrate this point and explain the importance of cultural rituals around childbirth, I’ve compiled examples of this phenonoma throughout India.
Himachal— A complex phenomenon of this region is ‘ritual pollution’, which declares that women should not go into the kitchen nor temples, mosques etc. during the postpartum period because they are ‘polluted’ or jooth. (this is throughout India, not just HP)
Jeeva research in Himachal Pradesh interviewed women postpartum in one village. Their explanation of notions of ‘pollution’ show that it is not just an individual phenomenon but is shared by the earth:
- “In our place we do not go to the fields to work after the prasoota (birth) was done. We consider it as jooth. That is why we have to inform all the villagers by announcing it to them”. (Rani Devi)
- “After the prasoota is done then we consider a jooth of 3 days in the village. After the birth is done no one from the village goes to the field to work. On the 3rd day after all the cleaning is done they go back in the fields to work”. (Sapna Devi)
Similarly in Belary District we heard that Hole Puja is not just worship, but also is a prayer to reduce the postpartum woman’s bleeding. (This is another reason women postpartum and menstruating are ‘dirty’—what is normally inside the body is now outside.) Women postpartum relate:
After delivery on the third day they do hole puje (they make a puja to reduce her dirt or bleeding). Then they do Gangamma's puja. They put chuttige (poking with the hot needle). They keep sickle, neem leaves and make puja. They make mutton curry and share it. (Durgama)
On the third day, they do hole puje (to stop bleeding). On that day, they keep kudugolu (sickle) and neem leaves and do puja. (Shanta)
The sickle was once used to cut the umbillical cord and now is used ritually along with neem leaves.
In this Pavra and Bhil adivasi(tribal) area both female and male dais (huarki and huarku) handle childbirths. Burdvu(local traditional healers or shaman) are specialists in casting the daana (seeds, usually of jowar). This ritual is of major importance in this site, both as an invocation to one or more deities as well as to divine the source and solution to any problem during labour, birth or afterwards. Postpartum women here reported the following about the disposal of the seeds or daana used in the rite.
We did the baara (removal of pollution) ritual after 7 days of the birth. My mother-in-law (a Dai) put the daana near the stand for drinking water and broke the nail of a little chick and put a mark of blood on the baby’s forehead.
The huaarki (dai) kept the seeds of black gram, jowar, small millets and okra. She wound a thread around a cowdung cake and kept it near the water stand. Then she broke the nail of a little chick and put a mark with its blood on the baby. She gave me the daane used in the puja and we gave that chick to the huaarki. On the 9th day when they sent me to the river to bathe, first I released those daane in the river and then Itook my bath.
In this area of Jharkhand, as in many other places, bathing is an intrinsic part of cleansing or purifying the mother post-partum.
On naarato (9thday) the Dai bathed me and my baby. The naai (barber) was called and he cut everyone's nails. On the same day oil was given to villagers. Then on ekoosa (21stday) she bathed both of us again and performed the soshthi puja with us in front of the banyan tree.
On the 7thday after prasov (birth) to purify the body they bathed me and the baby, but nothing after that. On the 40th day we called the maulana to perform the milaad and we kept the baby's name. All who had come were given food.
August 24, 2017
A Bondo woman enacting a birth situation in Southern Orissa. She is grabbing a curtain which simulates a rope--helping her to bear down and birth.
Disaris or Healers among the Bonda Tribals of Southern Odisha—an interview I did with women of that tribe about 10 years ago.
How People Become Disaris
J - Is there a relationship between the jungle and the disari?
M – The person who becomes a disari will be taken by the deptha (a spirit) into the jungle. He will roam in the jungle with the deptha. He will be fed by the deptha in the jungle and taught by the deptha. They will say that it was because he was roaming with the deptha, that none of the wild animals harmed him.
Also, he will be safe from thorns and stones and any accidents. Even though he will not have returned for 2 or 3 days, he will come back hungry. After going to the jungle, he would sing a song not in the Bonda language but in dida, kondo or languages of other tribal groups. When the disari sings songs in this other language the people believe he/she is disari.
M – Yes, they will go searching for the person. If they find him, and he refuses to come, they will then know that he is “caught by the deptha”
J – Some of the disari’s power is bringing the untamed power of the jungle into ever day life.
C – Disari can be any gender and from any clan. Deptha spirit can be mountain spirit, water spirit, or grove spirit. The person will stay in the jungle all night possessed by deptha. Deptha teaches that person herbal medicines. They won’t know where they are or what happened to them. The next morning, they will come back home, singing and shouting in different languages.
J - When he [Kalabathi’s father] became “abnormal”. What is the literally meaning of “abnormal”?
H – Drunken, mad, possessed, out of the head
J - Do all disaris go through madness in this way? Including the women?
H – No, some may have dreams. M and B know two women who became disaris and both became through the process of dreams.
J – Do some become ill or have fever or something else?
M – No sickness
J - Are they understood to be controlled by a spirit?
H – Yes
J – It seems there are three parts to becoming a disaris, or men disaris, (1) madness, (2) knowledge of the herbs, and (3) starting to do the rituals.
J – Do you know of any women disaris?
M – There are two women disaris, but they did not become disaris like the men.
J – How did they become disaris?
M – They had a dream. They do not do any of the big sacrifices, just the small, small ones
J – Do they do herbal medicine?
M – Yes, Kalabathi’s mother did know how to use some of the herbal medicines.
Kalabathi’s Father & Mother
Kalabathi’s father name was Budha Sisa who was 23 or 24 when he became a Shaman, when he became abnormal and sang the Shaman song. One day when he became mad and was singing the song, the Deptha (A spirit) asked him to sacrifice a goat. But Budha Sisa said that he cannot offer a goat. Instead, he offered coconut and a white chicken and did a ritual. From then on, he started doing all the rituals all the time.
At the same time, his wife also knew the rituals and Budha Sisa showed his wife the medicines that were used for the rituals. So, after his death, his wife also became strange. Seeing that, Kalabathi’s brother kept one of his mothers’ miniskirt and a cow bone under his mother’s head at night while she slept. He thought that the Deptha might not like her--seeing the miniskirt and the cow bone and she would become alright. However, he died because of the jealousy of others. ???
Kalabathi is from Dumripada village and her mother was aShaman. After her mother’s death, Kalabathi threw all her mother’s medicine and tools in the fire during her cremation.
After the cremation, one day, while Kalabathi was sleeping with her friends at her house, she heard a sound of a bird which was disturbing her sleep. So she got up and searched for the bird in the house. However, she could not see the bird; instead she saw 2 white stones which she threw in the cremation place.
So she said that we threw these stones and again it came back to my house. She once again took it back and threw it in the same place. Then later she had a dream that a husband and wife comes to her and tells her that we want to give you something in your hand. But Kalabathi refused to take it. Therefore, she did not become a Shaman.
2 – Sombari
Sombari from Bodapada says that if a layman does any ritual it will not work. Only the Shaman has the power to do that. Even the use of some medicine by ordinary people will not work. Sombari’s husband was a powerful Shaman. He could do different magic like removing stones, sticks, and bones from the patient’s body.
First he was possessed by the mountain spirit and became Shaman later he got a training in Malkangiri on Herbal medicine. He was able to read so he was having some books with him. In 2007, he died in an accident. In the cremation fire they burnt all the books he used. He was sick for 2 months before his death. So he thought that he would die and he told his wife after my death you will not be able to do the rituals that I used to do. Hence, you give back all my tools and destroy all my medicine. So after his death, his wife returned a kind of chain, long knife, Rs 50 and a new cloth to the blacksmith who made those things. However, she had a dream but she refused to become Shaman.
Sombari told that whenever her husband sang songs (mandhra) or does some Puja he gets convulsion and falls down. Then people bring turmeric, water and pour on his face and help him to move his legs which are stiff already then he will become alright after some time.
3. Sombari’s husband, Bodapada
The husband of Sombari, Bodapada stayed in the field to drink liquor without having food for a week. After a week, one day at night, when he was returning to home, he became abnormal and started singing Disari song and then he became unconscious. He was given incenses by which he became alright. Then he asked for white goat, chicken, coconut and three white chickens from his wife. When his wife agreed to give whatever he asked to give, the spirit left him. Then he did the ritual with white goat, chicken, coconut and three white chickens. In addition to that, he also used 3 mats, 3 coconuts and 3 white chickens. Those things are normally used for all the rituals. Then, two years later, once again he was possessed by the spirit. So, he asked for black sheep, black chicken to do ritual again. His wife once again agreed to give those things for ritual and then the spirit left him and he did the ritual.
August 05, 2017
June 21, 2017
Traditional Postpartum Care---Tightening and Binding
These photos are from Florence, a French midwife who worked in rural Afghanistan many years ago. They show a simulation of a postpartum practice—two women using a cloth to gently compress different parts of the new mother’s body. It is understood that the mother’s body has expanded/swollen with extra fluids while pregnant and birthing. Now this gentle compression is both soothing and helping deal with the extra fluids. Notice the final photo in which the feet are rubbed and the toes are pulled.