Concept of Health and Disease among the Jaunsari S.N.H.


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, Dehradun-248195(UP)

Concept of Health and Disease among the Jaunsari S.N.H.Rizvi

INTRODUCTION 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 solved. 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 elevation. 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. Discussion 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 causes. 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 time.


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 evil-eye. For getting a person ‘cured’ of evil-eye a pujari (priest) is consulted and the pujari resorts to one of the following methods: (i) (ii) Pujari offers some worship then blows some ash and gives it to the patient to keep it. 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 deteriorate. 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 JaunsarBawar. 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 changed. (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) (ii) (iii) (iv) Sheran (Boils): This is caused due to excessive heat in the body. Sookha roag (Rickets): This is caused due to undernourishment. Shookh (Marismus): This disease is also caused due to undernourishment. Tapedik (Tuberculosis): According to the Jaunsari tuberculosis is caused due to excessive intercourse, smoking, drinking, and excessive physical work. (v) (vi) (vii) Dhaak sujak (Gonorrhea): This is caused due to sexual relations with more than one man.. Aak shak (Syphilis): Sexual relations with more than one woman are the main cause recognized for this disease. Sond juney (Worms): Sond juney is caused due to worm infestation.



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