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.