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Concept of Health and Disease among the Jaunsari


Abstract: The present paper deals with the concept of health and disease among
the Jaunsari. It has been attempted to discuss the common beliefs of the Jaunsari
concerning health and their classification of diseases and the manner in which the
problems of health and disease are solved. Among Jaunsari, disease is attributed
to more than one cause and, hence, the treatment is also of different types. They
believe that cause for illness is either of two categories, which are, i) supernatural
causes, and ii) physical as well as non- supernatural causes.
Jaunsari still believe in luck, charms, talisman, and horoscopes. Disease,
disability and mental illness are attributed to supernatural causes as being a divine
punishment for people’s sin. The era of spirits and demons is still prevalent
among them, different kinds of medical practitioners abound, priests, magicians,
exorcists and quacks etc.
Faith exerts a great influence on their daily routine of life as they are
highly fatalistic and this faith acts as a soothing balm to the Jaunsari people
involved in calamities such as epidemics.
The Jaunsari have ‘preventive magic’ and the aims and objectives of
‘preventive magic’ are similar to the preventive medicine based on science as
both magic and science are used by human beings to achieve the same target. No
doubt there is a difference between magic and science because magic is based on
the faith of the people in ‘supernatural powers’ while science depends on
physical/natural cause.

Anthropological Survey of India, North West Region, 192/1, Kaulagarh Road,

Concept of Health and Disease among the Jaunsari



The present paper deals with the specific concept of health and disease
among the Jaunsari. An attempt has been made to discuss the common beliefs of
the Jaunsari people concerning health, their classification of disease and
disabilities and the manner in which the problems of health and disease are

The importance of people’s own concept has been emphasized in a

number of studies. Rivers (1924) and Clements (1932) have made significant
contributions in the field of concepts of health and disease. Clements had tried to
trace the worldwide distribution of five basic concepts of disease, such as sorcery,
breach of taboo, object intrusion, spirit intrusion and soul loss. Majumdar (1958)
said, “Disease is vital problem for every society, primitive or advanced, and every
society has developed its own recipe for the treatment and cure of the disease to
which it is heir. Primitive systems of medicine or even magic have much to
commend, and so long as the people have faith in the system they own, it helps
them to tide over periods of crisis, and reduces the mental conflicts that they
evoke”. Prasad (1961) opines that, “Our village society has not yet completely
emerged from the era of spirits and demons and of theology influencing medicine.
Worship of deities followed by fasting during calamities like epidemics of
cholera, plague and smallpox, and in famines and floods is still practiced even
now, though on a reduced scale. Conjuring and exorcism are still practiced, and
talisman, charms and spells are often used by the people”.

To understand the perspective of disease, it is of importance to grasp the
ideology of health. Health is not only the result of interaction between an
individual’s heredity contribution with his or her natural and cultural
environment, but is also largely determined by the biological and cultural
adaptation and evolution of the society and the population. Health and disease are
measures of the effectiveness with which a human group has adapted to the
environment (Lieban, 1973).

Nurge (1958) found supernatural and natural causes of illness in a Philippine

village. The former are agents of disease “such as spirit-gods, witches, and
sorcerers”. The latter include indigestible foods, sudden change in temperature,
strong winds, and blood or air “trapped in the body”.

Kaku and Matsumoto (1975) conducted a study to find out the influence of a
folk superstition on fertility of the Japanese living in California and Hawaii.
According to their study “the Japanese folk superstition of Hinoe- Uma seems to
have been a factor influencing the crude birth rates of Japanese in California and
Hawaii in the year 1966 in addition to other more obvious factors, such as
declining fertility and increased use of contraceptives. Although, only a carefully
designed social investigation which includes specific questions on Hinoe- Uma
will render a clear indication of the relationship between fertility and a
superstitious belief, the current social life style of the Japanese residents in
California and Hawaii helps to further support the probability of the presumed
effect of the superstition.

The Universe of Study

The study relates to the Jaunsari population of Jaunsar-Bawar of Dehradun
district in Uttarakhand. Jaunsar-Bawar, a homeland of the Jaunsari is situated in
the CIS-Himalayan region. It forms approximately half of the Dehradun district
and located at the north-western corner of the Uttarakhand state. The area is
somewhat oval in shape it lies between latitudes 30º 31´ and 31º 33´ north and

longitudes 77º 45´ and 78º 72´ east and is divided into 39 Khats and 385 villages.
River Yamuna forms its eastern boundary and separates it from Dehradun
pargana. River Tons (western) forms its north-western boundary before it
confluences with river Yamuna near Kalsi. Thus the whole of the Jaunsar-Bawar
is practically encircled by these two rivers. Jaunsar-Bawar is surrounded by Tehri
Garhwal and Uttar Kashi districts in the East and North; Bashar, Raiengarh,
Taroach, Jubbal and Sirmur in the West and Doon valley in the South.

The southern of lower portion of the region is called Jaunsar while the
northern portion is called Bawar. Jaunsar is larger and triangular in shape bounded
on the north by Lokhandi, on its east River Yamuna and on the west River Tons.
The altitude of Jaunsar-Bawar varies from 3000 feet to 10,075 feet above sea
level. The climate of the area varies greatly from place to place according to

The Jaunsari is one of the five Scheduled Tribes of Uttarakhand,

known for its institution of polyandry, which has shown signs of decline in recent
years. According to 2001 census their population is 81,375, which is about 39 per
cent of the total tribal population of the state.


In every society, a substantial and integral set of beliefs, knowledge,

techniques and practices are related to the major life experiences of health and
disease. The belief that illness is a punishment for wrong doing is widespread in
human society. It is commonly believed that if man offends supernatural forces,
their mystical powers would punish the individual or the family by causing
sickness, death or other natural calamities.

To the Jaunsari, health means right condition of the body, in other words,
proper functioning of the body is known as health. Those are regarded as healthy

who can take heavy food, have a good muscular body and are able to work hard.
The Jaunsari believes that for proper health it is necessary to be free from all
kinds of mental tensions too. On the contrary, illness means a person is not feeling
well. As most of the ailments are thought to be due to sins, crimes, and to people’s
disobedience of natural and religious laws, the cure prescribed for such type of
ailments as reparation is by appeasing the gods by prayers, vows, incantations and
sacrifices etc.

Jaunsari still believe in luck, charms, talisman, and horoscopes.

Disease, disability and mental illness are attributed to supernatural causes as being
a divine punishment for people’s sin. The era of spirits and demons is still
prevalent among them, different kinds of medical practitioners abound, priests,
magicians, exorcists and quacks etc.

Cause of illness
Among Jaunsari, disease is attributed to more than one cause and, hence, the
treatment is also of different types. The Jaunsari believe that cause for illness is
either of two categories, Supernatural causes, and physical and non- supernatural

1) Illness Caused By Supernatural Powers

This category of illness is believed to be caused by the intervention of a
supernatural being (a deity or a god), or a non- human being (such as a ghost, an
ancestor, or an evil-spirit) and a human being with a kind of supernatural power
(a witch or sorcerer). Hence, this category is divided into three sub-categories
according to causative agent recognized by the Jaunsari:
(a) Wrath of Gods and Goddesses: sins, crimes, disobedience of religious laws,
evil- eye, witch and sorcerer.
(b) Wrath of non-divine sources, e.g., evil spirit, and
(c) Ghost intrusion.

(a) Wrath of Gods and Goddesses
Jaunsari still believe that many diseases are due to curse of some god or
goddess. For example, kodh (leprosy) is considered to be due to the wrath of a
god or goddess for sins committed by someone. And, hence no treatment can be
of any use. Only gods and goddesses are to be propitiated by saying prayers and
taking bath in the holy Ganges. When leprosy afflicted person dies his body is
buried instead of being cremated. On the other hand instead of weeping and
lamenting his relatives rejoice, this brings the family deliverance. Sometimes
leprosy afflicted person commits suicide by jumping into the river so that at the
time of rebirth he/she may not suffer with this disease.

Phaash (measles) is considered to be the curse of a goddess. This goddess is

appeased by not frying of food in oil or ghee in the house. Pujari (priest) chants
mantra to stop it spreading in the family as well as village, and gives a talisman
to the patient.

Jaunsari consider chicken pox as displeasure of the goddess and they

propitiate the goddess rather than taking the patient to a medical practitioner for
the treatment. On identification of the disease, the patient is given brinjals and
horse gram to eat. This aggravates fever and speeds up eruption of boils on body.
Patient is given curd, light and cold food as intestine of such patient becomes very
tender, due to high fever, and at times rashes erupt inside intestine. However, curd
is given only if patient is free from fever. Chicken pox patient is treated mainly by
indigenous methods and rarely by a medical practitioner. After disappearance of
boils, the patient is massaged with mustard oil before hot water bath. After bath
patient is required to take rest for sometime. This process takes place once in the
evening for three days to soften upper layer of affected skin for its early removal.
Reportedly such bath cures patient within three days, otherwise, cure takes more

Sitla is considered to be the chief goddess of the Jaunsari. She is worshipped
with fear as she is the controlling goddess of epidemic of cholera. They believe
that if proper and regular prayers and worships are offered to the goddess, she
proves to be benevolent. A sudden outbreak of epidemic diseases like cholera, etc.
calls for worship more number of times in addition to her usual worship. In
addition to this popular belief goddess Sitla is also invoked in case of any serious
illness and the sick person takes a vow to offer her proper prayers on recovery.

(I) Evil-eye:
Jaunsari call witch as raag. One of the common and interesting beliefs
among Jaunsari connected with health and disease is the effect of raag (Evil-eye).
Every one is considered to be in possession of a certain amount of supernatural
power. It is believed that evil-eye has the worst effect on children. People believe
that whenever someone remarks that the child is beautiful, healthy or intelligent,
the child immediately develops signs of disease, gets weaker and every thing
about his/her appearance becomes deformed.

Not only children even grown up persons are believed to be affected by

evil-eye. For instance, if anyone sarcastically or earnestly remarks that a certain
person wears finery, the evil- eye begins to operate soon after the remarks were
made is adversely affected. Even a farmer having a good crop is vulnerable to
For getting a person ‘cured’ of evil-eye a pujari (priest) is consulted and
the pujari resorts to one of the following methods:
(i) Pujari offers some worship then blows some ash and gives it to the
patient to keep it.
(ii) Pujari makes an amulet and gives it to the afflicted person, he spells
some charms on mustard seeds and hands it to the afflicted asking him
to wear them round the neck (Jaunsari call it bujri).
(iii) Knaeded flour is cooked and thrown after revolving it round the
afflicted person.

Jaunsari strongly hold that there is no way of curing a person of evil-eye
except talisman, spells and prayers or offerings and they also believe that if
modern Medicare are used the patient’s condition will worsen and further

Certain preventive measures are also taken to avoid an evil-eye. Among

children a black spot is marked on the forehead from the carbon deposited in the
chulha. The belief is that because of this mark spectator will not be able to see the
beauty of the face and hence, no comment is made and the child is protected from
the evil-eye.

(II) Witches:
Jaunsari call witch as dankan or daain. A witch is supposed to possess
mysterious supernatural power of casting an evil-eye with disastrous results. They
believe that a child, more often a female born on the darkest midnight of the
month of Bhadon is supposed to have this power. Her evil-eye brings a series of
misfortune on the person, victim of her evil-eye. People believe that dankan
herself is not aware of power she has and victim is one whom she loves or hates,
others are of vulnerable. Once such a dankan is identified, efforts are made to kill
her. The ‘rituals’ to save the victim, once a dankan has cast the evil spell, are
costly and it is difficult to arrange the ‘ritual’ often.

(III) Sorceress:
Jaunsari call sorceress as pishaach. A female who has magical powers
to harm others, is called pishaach. It is believed that the eyes of a sorceress are
so powerful that as soon as she looks at any person, he/she feels some sort of
trouble. A number of Jaunsari told about the presence of sorceress in different
villages in the form of village women.

(b) Wrath of Non-Divine Sources
(I)Evil-spirits: Jaunsari worship certain spirits to prevent the spirit from harming
the worshipper, by causing a disease. They believe that worship turns
malevolence of these spirits into benevolence. They name a number of diseases
e.g., Matri, Jimbhoot, Opara, Chaad rooiain, Mushar, and Ukrava , assigning
them to these evil-spirits..

(i) Matri is one of the commonly recognized evil-spirits in Jaunsar-

Bawar. This evil-spirit is recognized to be responsible for attacking people of all
age groups especially young ones and children. In children it causes formation of
“white curtain in eyes”. At other ages it causes numerous defects, i.e. an affected
person cannot work properly, becomes yellowish, and feels weak. Sometimes, the
attack of this evil-spirit causes excessive weeping and /or laughing. It is also
believed that due to the intrusion of matri (Evil- spirit) a person is found to be
always ill, sometimes unable to see and hear properly.
They believe that when people walk through forest after sunset
this evil- spirit intrusion takes place. To avoid the intrusion of this evil-spirit they
try not to go outside especially in the forest after sunset and try to return home
before sunset.

(ii) Jimbhoot: The other evil- spirit recognized in this area is Jimbhoot.
This evil-spirit is believed to be responsible for attacking persons of all ages
irrespective of sex. The person attacked by this evil-spirit starts taking food in
excess of his/her normal diet and the face of such person looks somewhat

(iii) Opara: The third evil-spirit recognized in this area is Opara. It attacks
mostly people of young age. The person attacked by this evil-spirit starts moving
his head and gets a condition like locked jaw.

(iv) Chaad rooiain: The fourth evil-spirit in this area is chaad rooiain,
under whose influence the soul of the attacked person strays about and the heart is
not in its right state. “is rog mein rogi ki aatma bhatakne lagti hai aur dil thikane
mein nahin rahta hai”.

(c) Ghost (bhoot paret): Jaunsari believe that persons dying unnatural death
become bhoot paret (ghost).The ghost hunts the place where they had lived and
clings to any person who passes by the place alone or during the night. As soon as
a person is possessed, his/her face undergoes change and he begins to babble
meaninglessly. His/her eyes widen and he/she develops a large appetite so that he
alone can eat up all the food in the house prepared for all the members of the
family. If a person falls unconscious immediately after his return home from
outside during the night it is deemed that he has been possessed by a ghost.

Pandits or exorcists are called in to rid the person of the ghost. It is

said that exorcists too work through the power of local gods and goddesses and they
make the afflicted person sit before them and toss grains of rice in their palms. They
ask their ‘gods’ what is the matter with the afflicted person. A crowd is seated round
the person who is being relieved of the ghost. The Pandit or exorcist then tells what
has happened to the affected person. He tells in detail whether he has been scared
by something in the darkness or possessed by a ghost. The exorcist drives away the
ghost by spells or by blowing grains of rice and asking the person to eat them.
Sometimes a sacrifice is made and this rids the person of the ghost.

Certain preventive measures are also taken against all sorts of illness
caused by supernatural means in the form of charms and amulets. This shows that
the Jaunsari have ‘preventive magic’. The aims and objectives of ‘preventive
magic’ are similar to the preventive medicine based on science as both magic and
science are used by human beings to achieve the same target. No doubt, there is a
difference between magic and science because of the fact that magic is based on

the faith of the people in ‘supernatural powers’ while science depends on
physical/natural causes.

2) Illness Caused By Physical and Non- Supernatural Sources

In this category, illness is explained as being caused because of the
disobedience of natural laws. They define a number of physical or natural causes
of diseases which operate directly on the organism to produce illness. Some such
causes recognized by the Jaunsari are as follows:

(i) Sheran (Boils): This is caused due to excessive heat in the body.
(ii) Sookha roag (Rickets): This is caused due to undernourishment.
(iii) Shookh (Marismus): This disease is also caused due to undernourishment.
(iv) Tapedik (Tuberculosis): According to the Jaunsari tuberculosis is caused
due to excessive intercourse, smoking, drinking, and excessive physical
(v) Dhaak sujak (Gonorrhea): This is caused due to sexual relations with more
than one man..
(vi) Aak shak (Syphilis): Sexual relations with more than one woman are the
main cause recognized for this disease.
(vii) Sond juney (Worms): Sond juney is caused due to worm infestation.


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