INDIAN AND HIMALAYAN
FOLK AND TRIBAL ARTS
ON THE HOLY ROOT OF KALINGCHOK NEPALESE SHAMANS
A VOYAGE IN THE SOUL TRANCE, ECSTASY AND HEALING WITH THE
PHOTOS BY JOSH LUSTIG.
Texts and photos kindly courtesy Josh Lustig http://www.joshlustig.com/
An interesting anthropological study on the history and formation of the shamanic rituals and practices found in the Nepalese Himalayan region is edit on ‘Mountain Cults Sailung, Kalingchok, Gosainkund : Territorial Rituals and Tamang Histories’ by Gabriel Tautcher.
This was our first meeting with the shamans and Jun girl, the oldest shaman in the district, seen in a blur to the left … we were invited to Jun girl’s house to witness him attempt to remove a spirit from this woman … ever since she was 14 she has been possessed by a masculine and destructive spirit that inflicts her with migraine-like headaches which stop her eating sleeping and caring her family … she has been to regular doctors who can find nothing wrong with her …
She began shaking pretty much as soon as she sat down, and as Jun girl put on his shamanic robes the shakes and wails intensified … like all the other attempts Jun girl has made to exorcise this destructive spirit, the attempt we saw was unsuccessful … the spirit refused to give up it’s name, and without the name of the spirit Jun girl could do nothing … we were told that when the girl was 14 she was taken to a shaman in a neighbouring district who did a bad job … after each session the pain is relieved for a while, but it will inevitably return.
INTO THE FOREST
As we moved off the mountain paths and truly into the forest the atmosphere changed … the shamans became more animated and the drumming became more intense.
At certain points in the forest the shamans would stop and dance in a circle … building up into a frenzy of drumming and jumping, it would suddenly stop and the shamans would keep moving.
A little way into the forest is the site where the thami people cremate their bodies … it has been in this spot for as long as anyone can remember and has seen a good few pires …
The shamans drummed and danced on top of the concrete platform in preparation for the calling of the spirit … Jun girl (firefly), plays a horn made from a human thigh bone.
Making cotton wicks to be burned in the oil lamps.
Shamanic Dhjangro double face drum.
HAT AND DRUM
Porcupine head dress and drum hang outside Jun kiri’s house.
PREPARING THE SHRINE
Banana leaves, rice, eggs, flowers, money, incense, tika and all regalia that make up the shamans ritual dress are placed within the shrine before the spirits are called.
In this picture we can to recognize some of the shamanic paraphernalia, the ritual vase called bumba, the porcupine hat, the double sided drum Dhjangro. Interesting the view of the offerings.
Shamanic trunk with bumba. (Photo Ethnoflorence, Ethnoflorence Himalayan Archive)
JUN KIRI (THE FIREFLY)
At 87 years old and little more than five foot, Jun Kiri, the head shaman of Suspa, had something of yoda about him … he first arrived at his home to find us having been waiting for three hours … he was so drunk he could barely walk … and yet, once the robes were on and the ritual began, he was transformed into a jumping sprightly child… .
Father and son.
Within the womb of Jun Kiri’s home.
BACK OF JUN KIRI’S HEAD
The Jun Kiri’s “to-the-feet” dred tied up in a knot.
Inside the house … warm quiet dark and dark.
Dance, dance, dance.
Move, from one place to another.
BEFORE THE ROCK
Ambrit … the most powerful of the shamans whom we walked with to KALINCHOK, seeks solace from a granite rock along the path from Suspa …
This was not their time … Gopi and Akal.
SOON THEY WILL BE HERE
At the burning site.
As darkness descended.
… and then we began the journey up to KALINGCHOK, through desolate forests and across rivers that screamed alongside the shaman’s drums.
She was the boss of us all … and also had an incredible singing voice.
All the shamans travelled to KALINGCHOK with their family … Akal and Gopi with their mothers.
Bells of KALINGCHOK.
Om nama shivay.
Smoke, tika, rice and blood mingle in the first morning light.
Not here …
Their songs all centred around the constant sorrow and suffering of life … short refrains were sung in close harmony, wrenching at your heart, and always returning to the same chorus …
You gave me water to quench my thirst …
but what will you do for my desires?
You gave me shoes to walk the mountain …
but what will you do for my desires?
Ambrit, Gopi and Akal at the top of Kalinchok.
These women, wives of the shamans of Suspa, sang the whole time we were walking … the most amazing sorrowful tunes.
Ambrit and his wife walk down the hill from Kalingchok.
Ambrit and his wife throw me a pose.
It was about an hours walk up to the shrine … we left half four to get to the top for sunrise …
This little spot was where we stopped to have breakfast after climbing up to Kalingchok …