Sunday, February 24, 2008

Jezebel Spirit

Went down to the crossroads
The Spirit World via Kathmandu, Nepal

Long-term Siren watchers (shout out to C Drake, Tim Makins, Jayanthi, George, Carter, Sarasvati, KulluKid and Martin! in the house) know of my standing fascination with the nexus of human and divine.

That is, spiritual
embodiment/channelling/possession/incarnation of the human body, in its
myriad forms; from the semi-theatrical devotional (Bharatanatyam and other devotional dances) to current folk phenomena (Nepal's "Buddha Boy") to ritual incarnation traditions (Nepal's Kumari and Tibet's Tulku reincarnation system - HH Dalai Lama being the best current example).

I'm going to blame it all on my youthful fascination with anthro-filmmaker Maya Deren, who did extensive work with the Haitian Vodouns, and wrote the seminal book about that belief system, Divine Horsemen.

This was one reason Hinduism always made so much sense to me, intuitively. How could God be completely separate, outside of and apart from us? Hinduism (and Tibetan Buddhis
m, among others) has this great ongoing tradition of living humans embodying the divine. They walk among us! (In fact, in Hinduism and Buddhism, we already are god, we just have to realize it. But I digress.)

Fortunately I've been able to track down, witness and photograph many manifestations of these various traditions - the Tibetan State Nechung Oracle at Dharamsala (my photo below), Newar Astamatrika masked dance and its attendant "possession" rituals, Bhaktapur's ferocious NavaDurga dancers (photos forbidden there, though), Theyyam ritual god dances of North Kerala, Nepal's Ram Bomjom (the so-called Buddha Boy) back when he was under the tree in Bara district in southern Nepal, the Thiksey Monastery oracle (who danced waving swords on a 3-storey ledge and threw chhang on me) and dinner with (as well as blessings from) 2 of the 3 Kathmandu Kumaris, just to name a few.

There is a Hindu concept of the teertha, which means (in one interpretation) "meeting place" or crossroads . People who are into sacred geometry, vaastu, feng shui and architecture study the bricks-and-mortar manifestations of these teerthas. I'm more interested in the walking ones.

And the (never-ending) quest continues.

This poorly-written article from the Mangalorean is the first I've heard of a Dakshina Kannada (southern Karnataka) tradition known as Bhootaradhana, or "honouring the ghosts and spirits."

The rituals, costumes and traditions seem to be
close to that of North Kerala's Theyyam, which makes sense because they are in a geographically adjoining area. (My photo of Bhagavati Theyyam in Payyanur, above.)

The origin of the cult can be traced from ancestor worship, mother goddess, serpent and trees are incorporated. (Mangalorean photo at right.) There are certain spirits originated from Hindu God Shiva who sends the Bootas or Ganas to earth and ask them to receive offerings from human beings.
...The Bhootas are those spirits which once long back in time used to be in blood and flesh like any human being but nevertheless they were endowed with special and extra-human powers to do and undo things as per their will.... The event is called Bhootaradhane or Bhoota Kola. The season of Bhootaradhane begins usually by the first week of February which also signals the arrival of summer. The Bhootaradhane of various bhootas might go up to May 15. The first couple of bhootas to arrive on the scene are Kallurti and Panjurli.... Regional Resources Centre at MGM College Udupi has an entire library of audio and video and documentary evidence of the various bhootas in Dakshina Kannada and the neighboring Kasargod district in Kerala.

If anyone out there has more information about this tradition, or (even better) has ever witnessed a Bhootaradhane festival, I would love to hear about it.

And, if anyone has a correction or clarification about the Hindu (or any other) tradition to share - please do so, politiely. I am certainly open to corrections, but be nice. After all I am just a gori, and at a genetic disadvantage. The only stuff like this my people do is snake-handling and speaking in tongues (and we don't get to wear cool costumes). The Old Testament god doesn't approve of people looking too good.


Arun said...

I did witness a bit of Bhootaradhane or Bhootada Kola although not in an authentic manner. It was in a cultural show in Bangalore. You can see one of the pictures I took at

Though, have been planning a visit for a while to Mangalore to witness it, though, hasn't happened. If I do make it, shall try to update.

Arun said...

The missing link -

Sirensongs said...

Thanks, Arun. If the bureaucracy gods hadn't intervened I would have been in Mangalore this December! Also on the list: the Mookambika Devi mandir.

I have mixed feelings about the 'inauthentic' presentations of these, Theyyam on a stage...or the Ladakh Festival performances of the chaam dances. hmmm... but it does spread awareness of the traditions.

Sirensongs said...

@Arun: looking at your photos, some of the costumery has definite resemblance to that of Theyyam....also, a bit to Yakshagana. (another art form, this time classical or semi-classical, I have yet to witness) - thanks again.

c said...


You can't be an old testement prophet either. the job takes a beard...and if you had one of those,you'd make ripley.

Awesome pics grasshoppa, give yourself props.

Yours Truly said...

Hi Sirensongs,
Well first of all am a big fan of your blog and have been reading your blog for quite a while. Well am a Mangalorean (rather my parents are, m frm Mumbai) and have seen the Bhoota. It is usually held in the villages and probably April / May is a good time to witness it. Its usually held in the smaller temples in the village areas. There are also the Atta (dance form) and the Yakshagana which are prominent. Thats all I can update on currently. Well will try to get you some more updates. Also do try to visit Mangalore, its a nice place a bit like Kerala minus the commercialism.


Sirensongs said...

@Yours Truly - Thanks very much for the info! It does sound as though it has lots in common with Kerala Theyyam. :-)

@C Drake: No, I can't be an OT prophet, but I could handle snakes or speak in tongues - women are allowed to do both. ;-) Thanks for props, there are lots more photos where these came from. Some day soon I really do have to settle down and collate....oh, PS, I need to marry an Indian to get my visa stabilized, I think.

c said...

for a visa? I think you should marry from love ...or something....but kidding apart, can you marry a pio( person of indian origin) or register for a university course...or get a friendly TV producer to give you a job or somethi.g?