My Tryst With Spirits in the Himalayas (Satis Shroff) It’s not easy to meet a shaman, Unless you know someone who does. Drove in a taxi to Tibet Road, Then to the Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi Marg, A…
My Tryst With Spirits in the Himalayas (Satis Shroff)
It’s not easy to meet a shaman,
Unless you know someone who does.
Drove in a taxi to Tibet Road,
Then to the Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi Marg,
And ended in Chaangaon,
In the Gangtok suburb.
The bongthing I met,
Had grown old and sick.
He showed me his cardiac capsules and pills,
On the palm of his big hand.
He was grateful that his daughter looked after him.
He advised I should go to another,
A bongthing in the neighbourhood.
A Bhutia woman was selling sausages and sweets.
The fat sausages hung on strings from the ceiling.
A blind Nepali minstrel with a sarangi,
Was playing ‘Resam Piri-ri,’
A Nepali song you hear along the trekking-trails of Nepal.
Ah, it’s so good to hear Nepali being spoken,
Where ever you go in Sikkim.
I asked myself whether I was in Nepal?
Sikkim was once Nepali,
Now it belongs to West Bengal.
The Bengalis speak of ‘Amar shonar Bongal,
And in the same breath ‘Amar Konchonjonga!’
When they come to Darjeeling during the tourist season.
The Sikkimese Kanchanzonga is controlled from Delhi,
And enjoys privileges that Darjeeling can only dream of.
That was the price of democratization of the Kingdom of Sikkim.
The Chogyal of Sikkim and his love and hope
Were deprived of their Chogyaldom by a fierce Indira Gandhi,
Who wanted no nonsense in the sensitive Himalayas.
Some Gorkhalis from Gorkhaland dream of being united with Sikkim,
Rather than Kolkotta.
Like the Mun and Bongthing,
The Lepcha yukmuns (lamas) are facing extinction.
The religion of the Lepchas of Sikkim resembles
The pre-Buddhist faith of Tibet called Pon (Bon-religion).
Tibetan Buddhism dates back to the 8th century.
The architect of tantric Buddhism Padmasambhava
Is known to have sojourned in Sikkim,
On his way to Tibet.
Red hat Buddhists fled to Sikkim,
And speedily converted the Lepchas.
Most Buddhist Lepchas today practice animism.
The service of the muns are needed by the Lepchas
At birth, marriage and during death ceremonies.
The Lepcha language is called Rongring.
A German named Mainwaring went Native,
Lived with the Lepchas and studied their language.
He came to a conclusion that Lepcha
Was the oldest language extant.
Belief and faith is perpetuated by a chain of rituals.
‘Religion is belief in spiritual being’ said Taylor back in 1871.
Mathew Arnold came up with:
‘Religion is morality touched with emotion.’
If religion is a superstructure it is man
Who doesn’t realize the complexities of the cosmos.
The Lepchas believe in spiritual being,
A religion which believes in the continuation of the soul,
Even after the death of the carcass called the body.
You find the soul in trees, rocks, rivers, hills and animals.
Where there is good there is evil.
Evil spirits abound in rocks, lakes, mountains
Are constantly out to do mischief.
You are obliged to pray to them for they hurt us,
If we don’t.
These malevolent spirits are called Moong.
The Lepchas believe in one supreme God
And other Gods and Goddesses.
Some spirits are good (sukyo rum) and bad (aami-moong).
The evil spirit aami-moong gets ferocious
When someone trespasses a garden or orchard.
The evil spirit can paralyse someone.
The bongthing took his time for a séance.
His pretty wife organized the ritual objects.
A metal plate, red rice corns, flowers.
Then he began to pray and recite.
It was a long monologue,
With all the Gods and goddesses and Spirits,
Beckoning, greeting, pleading and cajoling them,
To heal the patient.
The shaman’s monologue was carried out
In a falsetto voice at high speed,
Interspersed with hyperventilation
That involved one deep inspiration
And three forced expirations,
At the end of each recitation.
I greet you the Gods of the Five Treasures of the Snow,
I greet Shiva and Parvati who live in the Snow.
I greet Hanuman and Ganesh.
I greet the Gods from the snow capped peaks,
The spirits from the plunging waterfalls,
The spirits at the confluence of the Rangit and Teesta rivers.
I beckon the Gods and Spirits of the Lachenpas,
God Kirateswary and the twelve Jyotilingas
And Sai Baba.
Throughout the ritual the rice corns were moved in small clusters,
Gathered and dropped gently over the effigy of the main God in question,
Which was symbolised by a metallic vase,
Filled with flowers.
The shaman touched the patient’s head
With a crude broom made of leaves,
To bless the head and shoulders of the patient.
At the end of the séance the bongthing said:
‘There is nothing wrong with this patient.
A naag is running after him,
So I’ll have to do a puja.
Thereafter, he’ll get a charm with a mantra,
Which he’ll have to carry around his neck
For the rest of his life.
The patient thanked him profusely
And the patient and his sisters left for Gangtok
In their Bolero jeep.
* * *
MY TRYST WITH SHAMANISM II (Satis Shroff)
A shaman incarnates spirits in a séance,
Whereby he controls the spirits,
That he has acquired after initial spirit possession.
The fierce mask of the Newari Lakhe dancer
Drew crowds in the village I lived.
The masked dancers of the Mahayana sect
Drew shivers and evoked fear in my childhood.
‘Hush! Don’t be scared.
It is a celebration of victory over Demons,’ said my Mom.
She smeared me with soot from her karai (wok),
To make me look ugly and protect me from evil spirits,
Since male children are targets of evil-eyes in the Himalayas.
Mantras also help.
The houses have red coloured corners to ward off evil,
And prevent them from entering the house.
A half moon sign protects a house.
My Mom always consulted a jotisi,
An astrologer, before undertaking a pilgrimage,
A marriage ceremony or building a house.
As a child I’d grown up with the shamans of the Himalayas:
Bijuwas, dhamis, jhakris, yebas andkusulays
Would frequent our home when we got sick.
Sometimes they’d come during the day,
Other times at night to hold a séance,
Or at midnight to protect the house.
I’d hear the shaman mumbling mantras
And blowing the human femur-horn when he left.
He’d turn up the next day to collect alms.
A shaman also functions as an oracle in Nepal.
My Mom’s Tamang of the Thing clan,
And shamanism belongs to her legacy.
Her grandfather was a shaman and we called him ‘Akhey’
Which means grandpa in the Tamang language.
Good and evil spirits,
The Gods of the forests, brooks,
Animism and the worship of Prakriti,
These were, and still are,
The normal religions of the Himalayan people.
* * *
During the Islamic invasion of Northern India in the 15th century,
Even the Rajputs fled and sought refuge in Gorkha in the Himalayas,
Where they founded a kingdom that grew with each conquest.
The Muslim hordes converted the Indian Hindus
At the point of the curved sword.
Either you embraced Islam or you died on the spot.
* * *
Then came the British Raj in the Indian subcontinent
And made their way to the foothills of the Himalayas,
They brought Christianity and zealous missionaries,
With their aggressive conversions in their colonies.
A lot of British soldiers went native,
Took wives and concubines among Indians,
And left them and their children when they departed.
The people from Sikkim (Lepchas),
Nepalis from Kalimpong and Darjeeling,
Were obliged to take up pray to Jesus of Nazareth,
Enticed with carrots like new housing projects,
Education for the children.
A new race of Anglo-Indian grew up:
Swarthy skinned with English names.
Were they Indians or Brits?
Shunned by caste-Driven Hindus,
Ignored by the Brits.
* * *
Nepal under the Ranas and later Shahs,
Defended itself with the Mulki Ain (Civil Code) successfully
But now Nepal’s a democracy
And it’s no longer forbidden to change one’s religion.
* * *
Patient: ‘When I think of Antonovsky’s Salutogenese-Ansatz,
I see my cancer as an active, constant process,
In which my body battles with all-mighty microbes.
I comprehend the inner and outer processes,
I can manage my own somatic resources
As well as those from outside.
I know the rational meaning of what I do,
As well as what others do for my well-being.
A sense of coherence gives my life
Meaning and hope.
My subjective narration, personal words
Are the essence of my story.
Kollenbaum called it Interoception,
The perception of processes within one’s body.
A bidirectional communication ensues
Between the immune-competent cells
And my Central Nervous System.
My nervous system gets exact information
Of the immune-response.
My immune system becomes a receptor sensorial organ.
It records my immune defence,
My subjective experiences and evocations
Are a great help towards my recovery.
I am the direct observer of developments in my body.
Subjective though it may seem.
I have learned to express my own feelings
And to live my own Ich (Id).
I’ve only found a way
To get along with my neuro-endocrinal tumor.
Every time I go to my oncologist,
He looks and measures it on his sonograph:
‘Alles wie gehabt. Mensch!’
Nothing has changed.
* * *
The inner monologue with my tumor
‘I have you residing within me,
In my mysenterium.
I’ve seen you in the MRT,
From different angles and sections:
Transverse, horizontal, longitudinal.’
I ask myself: where do you come from?
What did I do wrong?
How did I encourage you to grown within me?
The monologue is not always rational,
What does this alien growth
That took all these past years mean?
My illness wants to talk with me.
It was a signal for me to step back.
Career isn’t everything, eh?
* * *
I have to find my own way,
To have confidence in my own inner Ich (Id).
I have my own latent inner resources,
I have to mobilize these resources,
By recognizing, feeling and taking the right path.
Whether the tumor builds its own line of supply,
With new capillaries to get food and oxygen,
To grown or remain dormant,
I must not waver,
For I’ve made a decision.
Avoiding sweets not to spoil my tumor,
Avoiding many killer food
Stuffed with stabilisators and rows of ‘E’ chemicals.
Wholesome organic food is the answer.
‘Death and Dying’ has been one of the themes
In my lectures at the Academy.
When you have cancer you have no guarantee.
I have moments when I write a poem,
Paint a picture or sing a German song.
These moments give me a new value of life.
When a tumor has been operated,
Where’s the guarantee it hasn’t spread cells elsewhere?
Another post-operative chemotherapy?
Are the metastases eliminated from the cells walls?
If only the cancer cells couldn’t contact the endothel cells..’
* * *
Shaman: ‘I have crossed the Tista and the Rangit,
From Melli to Namchi and Rongphu,
From Singtam to the cloister of Mumtek,
From Gangtok across the Roro river,
To Mangan across the Tista to Lachen,
Sinioltchun to the Himalayas,
To the Gods of Tibet,
As well as the Kanchenzonga,
Our Goddess who protects us and helps us
Attain peace and wealth.’
For the Lepchas the first man and woman
Were created in the lap of the Kanchenzonga,
The peak which grows golden
With the first rays of Surya,
Is the treasure trove of gold.
The peak that remains in the cold, grey shadow,
Is the treasure chamber of silver,
An in the other mountains are kept,
The precious stones, corn and holy scriptures.
The five peaks of the Kanchenzonga
Are crowned by an animal,
The highest peak by a tiger,
Others by a lion, an elephant, a horse,
And the Godbird Garuda.
Kanchenzonga is holy to us all:
Nepalis, Bhotias and Lepchas.
The scarlet Goddess who rides
On a white snow lion.
The Singalila and Chola chains create
A massive amphitheatre,
Whose southern side embraces the plains.
A Shangri-la lied between Nepal and Bhutan.
Acorss the passes of Nathu-la, Telep-la Donkia-la and Kongra-la,
Came traders, pilgrims, adventurers, Invaders,
From Bhot (Tibet), Nepal and British India.
New ideas, thoughts and worldly views
Came to Sikkim and began to flourish.
Shaman: ‘I have journeyed to divine and reveal hidden lands,
To recover lost shadow souls,
Hunting for spirits gone astray,
From Heaven into the Land of Yama.
I have crossed so many rivers and mountains,
Holy caves, mighty monasteries, sacred shrines.
I have called upon Shiva of the Himalayas,
Padmasambhava our Guru Rimpoche,
Preayed to him with:
Om ah hung, Vajra Guru Peme Siddhey hung.
I have recited the Om Vajra sattva hung
For the purification of negative deeds and observations.
I have recited the negative emotions
That might be embedded within us.
Attachment, hatred, jealousy, envy, ignorance
That have prevented us from seeing Nature and reality.
I have sung the praises of the 21 Taras,
Especially the White and Green Taras.
O Tara, you are swift in your activity,
Help this patient to recover from his illness,
To generate an altruistic mind and compassion.
I pray to the Fire God Agri, the Wind Gods
Under Indra’s protection,
The rakshasas, churails and other evil spirits.
Ye Gods of Heaven, Earth and Below,
All Gods who have snatched the soul and life
Of this person.
Whether you are in a cave in the Himalayas,
In an island or where rivers meet,
Whether you’re travelling or swimming,
Whether some spirit has enticed you,
Or a naag (serpent) has followed you,
I bid thee come back.
I bid you to draw this motionless body
Out of its spiritlessness,
I invoke a sense of presence and attention.’
* * * *
The patient heard the beat of the metal thali
Reaching a crescendo,
Opened his eyes and perceived
Who stood around him after a long time.
His sisters, his dear mother, the servant girl,
And the shaman’s children with their curious, smiling eyes.
The patient woke up from space and timeless stupor,
As in the initiation rites,
In which a man experiences the other reality,
To give the body a chance to heal itself.
A transcending healing experience,
In which the patient projects his self-healing ability
To the therapist,
Before he returns to heal himself .
The shaman’s monologue with the spirits
Help the patient to heal himself.
* * *
The anger that you have cancer in you subsides.
You accept the malady,
No matter what the cause may be.
Mobilize your resources,
Reorganize your life and make personal changes.
You begin to live your life.
The life energy returns.
Your very relationship with others has changed.
You’ve become thoughtful in what your say.
Enjoy the day with your near and dear ones.
A spiritual belief pervades all,
Connects with God
Or the Godly Principle.
Using prayers, mantras, meditation and trance
You enrich your life,
With dreams, visualizations, spontaneous trances,
Daydreams and good experiences.
You take the time and space needed to bring change
Within your life.
I focus on my memories, pictures and imagination,
For I have found the microcosmos within me.
My ability to describe my symptoms
Means a greater suggestibility as a self-healer,
Whether a physician or traditional practitioner.
Belief is a small pill,
Which can help me.
Hypnotic suggestions can help another,
To stimulate a spontaneous remission within the body.
I know that belief, faith and hope,
Are integral parts of the placebo effect,
Can reduce angst.
I know on my own that meditation,
Biofeedback and visualization can help
To control my feelings, my emotions.
Faith and belief in the Gods and Goddesses
Can cure me.
REVIEW By Satis Shroff: The book ‘Body and Emotion’ by Robert R. Desjarlais costs Rs.225 in India, has 300 pages,publishers Motilal Banarsidass (c) 1992 University of Pennsylvania. It i…
Source: Review By Satis Shroff