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Deadly Power: A Funeral to Counter Sorcery in South India

Author(s): Isabelle Nabokov
Source: American Ethnologist, Vol. 27, No. 1 (Feb., 2000), pp. 147-168
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the American Anthropological Association
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deadly power: a funeral to counter sorcery in

South India


Princeton University

In this article, I argue that the regenerative potential of Tamil sorcer
countersorcery in South India inevitably depends on destruction; I de

strate what ritual specialists' and sufferers' perspectives can reveal about r
tions of power, death, and regeneration. I take issue with Bruce Kapferer's

cent proposition that sorcery is a creative practice through which hu

beings make and remake their lives. [sorcery, countersorcery, ritual healin
funeral symbolism, South India, Tamil people]

The anthropology of sorcery has changed during the 20th century. T
change occurred when Bronislaw Malinowski, the founder of the ethno
method, debunked the prevailing assumption that sorcery was a manifes

primitive irrationality. Instead, what Malinowski discovered among the Trobr
of the Western Pacific was that sorcery was a pragmatic practice, a logical me

overcoming the uncertainties of human life (1922, 1948). His student, E
Pritchard (1937), shielded the practice from Western scientific prejudices by
that Azande sorcery in Africa was, first and foremost, a social fact expressing

conflicts and contradictions in their social system. When anthropologist

that sorcery accusations thrive in times of rapid social change, they proposed
positive function: sorcery (and this applied to witchcraft as well) served to in

forces of disorder and chaos deployed by colonial and postcolonial politic
mies (Comaroff and Comaroff 1993; Douglas 1970; Marwick 1982; Redfiel

It is Bruce Kapferer who recently launched a radical attempt to remove an
gering charges of primitivism from sorcery (1997). On the basis of extensive

in Sri Lanka, he asks anthropologists to consider sorcery as a creative phe

that defies categorization, a body of practices that is concerned "with the for

man action," "sociality," the "contingency and magicality of human exist
tentionality," "consciousness," "the body," and above all with the ways
which human beings constitute their life worlds (1997:1-8). Whereas late
tury evolutionists argued that sorcery was false knowledge that would be

by science and modern technology, Kapferer maintains, "Sorcery is often fou
a profound grasp of the dynamics involved in the practices of human beings"
fore, it is just as significant, if not more so, as a general comprehension of h

tion as a social science theory (1997:22).

It would be insensitive not to see the desirability of bringing such an orig

spective into anthropological discourse. I, for one, am wholeheartedly in

scrapping the ethnocentrism of the last two centuries and appreciating the co

tive role sorcery may play in empowering other people to make and rem

lives. This is especially important since Kapferer stresses that he is not offeri

American Ethnologist 27(1 ): 147-168. Copyright ? 2000, American Anthropological Association

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146 on Fri. the personal conflicts and torments expressed in the language of spells. what passes as a Sinhalese theory of human action aligns more with Kapferer's own summary of Sinhalese social practices: they have impact. it leaves out at least two dimensions that define major parameters of the human experience. regeneration.. While casting doubt on Kapferer's earlier claim that the self of a pa- tient is simply or automatically reconstituted according to the sequential. 23 Dec 2016 04:57:16 UTC All use subject to http://about. Since the practice of sorcery fulfills its purported telos (re-origination. unexpected. his readers often realize that the people concerned with sorcery cannot articulate or are not aware of its alleged powers. the subjective experiences of the sufferers. This is a surprising consolation coming from the scholar who once argued that ritual was "illusory and mystifying of the objective conditions of human existence" (1983:5). and their reactions to a sorcery diagnosis or a prescribed cure. or unwanted consequence? This question is prompted by my research on sorcery and countersorcery in the south Arcot district of Tamilnadu. When Kapferer elicits multiple points of view.jstor. The problem. creative or destructive . 1996). [but] is specifically the power that human beings exercise" (1997:263).. In short.224. and who also maintained that the rhetorics of Sinhala Buddhist nationalism behind the 1983 anti-Tamil riots were predicated on the violent dynamics of the Suniyama sorcery rite (1988). they do not appear important to Kapferer. objective This content downloaded from 14. In all fairness. That would be fine if phenomenology could illuminate the subjectivity of the Other. He argues that the dynamics of intentionality underlying Sinhalese sorcery are not propelled by calculated interest or utilitarian rationale but by a multivalent logic of motives and choices that condenses the plenitude of human action in the world (1997:5). is that in expanding the agenda of sorcery. On what grounds can Sinhalese sorcery discourses now escape the totalizing effects of ritual. "Sorcery is . and reconstitution) of hu- man beings-the specific realities associated with it. ordering or disordering. seems to diverge from the need to ask other people what they see. and any other complicated. South India. feel. The failure to attend ethnographically to other peoples' "points-of-view" may pose another risk." as Thomas Csordas does (1994:7.. He minimizes the personal aspect of sorcery for its sufferers.. Indeed. In fact. seems to me unsatisfying. Anthropologists may lose their understanding of the implications of various forms of social practices they locate. Kapferer himself tries to preempt such criticism when he writes. often obtained in conversations with sorcery specialists and through Kapferer's observation and analysis of the countersorcery ritual. Kapferer may be weakening understanding of its local articulations.american ethnologist 148 pragmatism. This almost exclusive focus on general human experience. and they empower . the claim is sometimes contradicted by participants. . see also Desjarlais 1992. neither moral nor immoral . their connection to ethnic genocide. But to claim that any engagement with the world is first and foremost "grounded in embodiment. as opposed to (intrinsically prevaricating) thoughts and the mind that creates them. reflexivity (whether as light intimations or deep convictions) and discursivity. . Sorcery's complete cycle-from the initial diagnosis to the successful defeat of spells-opens new forms of consciousness. Experience comes into question when it is construed from cultural representations of spells. predominantly physical. are not important. the claim that sorcery empowers and regenerates is not always supported by eth- nographic evidence. this problem plagues not only Kapferer but also many current an- thropologists making use of the phenomenological approach. The Tamils are quite clear that sorcery is power. My documentation supports many of Kapferer's insights. understand. it seems to me. and so on.139. think. As a result. they are directed into the world.

and abhorrence surrounded the entire subject. a presumed action that unleashes mystical. nature. 1983: 1 79-226). One morning. All six camis I worked with obtained their powers during deep personal crises that culminated in life-changing initiatory vi- sions.. as Reverend Carl Gustave Diehl noted in 1956. The practice aims to exclude or. Even if victims are not physically killed. Although creative-everyone makes up his or her own analysis-Tamil countersorcery is not good to "constitute life worlds" as Kapferer implies it is in Sri Lanka (1997:1-8). in Tamilnadu the topic evokes widespread "disgust and hatred" (1956:268). that spells appeared to be wholly imaginary. known in Tamil as camis.139. and that feelings of disbelief. According to him. of sorcery among the Nyoros in Africa. A gloss for the denigrated practice of sorcery is cahatai (the largest of the drums played by Untouchables at death). in Tamil. Tamil countersorcery rituals verify his current argument that sorcery "highlights that truly extraordinary capacity of human beings.jstor. In Tamil countersorcery. even self- destructive. All this may explain why. like a Sinhalese exorcism (1979a. 23 Dec 2016 04:57:16 UTC All use subject to http://about. 1979b.' Much as John Beattie observed. remove someone else from social life and may also cause the destruction of one's own personal identity.146 on Fri. the outer configuration of Tamil sorcery The scarcity of South Indian ethnographic documentation on sorcery may not be surprising. held on a regular basis. 55-year-old man with clear eyes and a warm smile whom I shall refer to as Nagaji. These practitioners are independent religious entrepreneurs who have received-from various South Indian goddesses-the ability to interpret the signs (kuri collutal) beyond ordinary human knowledge. malevolent forces that aim to disempower or eliminate another person. drums do what voices should not. sorcery and countersorcery in Tamilnadu alert everyone to a form of killing. felt significances cre- ated from existential predicaments.2 Like that mortuary drum..a funeral to counter sorcery in South India 149 structure of a healing ritual. Despite the fact that this unidentified sorcerer was always somebody else. "the less it is spoken of the better" (1963:28).224. in Tamilnadu. This free-form engagement. the successive manipulation of symbolic forms does not appear to produce similar inner transformations. he was on his daily round selling milk. and I tried to learn why. to construct and transform their life situations" (1997:xi-xii). My goal is to show that Tamil countersorcery contains consequences far beyond the freedom to author one's own transformations. I never witnessed the execution of a sorcery spell or met a sorcerer (mantiravati: one who says mantras). I detail the complex workings of such agency. it is no wonder then that in my 14 months of fieldwork I heard no one admit to having paid a sorcerer to harm anyone else. fear. . participants infuse the ritual process with highly specific. Given these dire consequences. I also observed that these camis performed countersorcery rituals on an impressive scale. In the ethnographic case that follows.3 This was especially true for a frail. Indeed. at the heart of Tamil countersorcery is a paradox whereby the participants' relatively unrestricted inventiveness is articulated with strong imagery of a predominantly destructive. nine years prior to our meeting. makes it possible for ordinary Tamil villagers to re- constitute themselves and their realities. Such power can result in a form of death for the person who employs it. the following oc- curred: This content downloaded from 14. fashioned in direct relation to personal experience. I learned that sorcery verdicts consti- tuted a significant percentage (approximately a third) of the divining seances that male practitioners. their opponents intend them to be rendered socially dead.

informing their petitioners that they suffered from what is known in Tamil as eval. This way he could expose matters hidden to people. however. this sorcerer was said to shape little effigies in the forms of his victims. Many demons turned out to be of tutelary lineage who in that respectable role protected the fertility and the health of the descent group. or re- produce. especially the eyes. She wanted him to "do good for people. or maranam. He began to enter trances regularly.224. but she disappeared. Soon. or her demonic manifestations.146 on Fri. The effectiveness of the spe- cialist's responses depended upon it. To activate these figures with hu- man life-force (uyir). and dedicated himself to the service of his new mistress. When the villagers me and woke me up. Generally. Word of Nagaji's new gift spread throughout the south Arcot dis- trict and beyond. with fairly clear-cut identities and myths of origin" (1981:1 21). I realized that I had been lying in these thorny bushes for three days. Over time. the command that brought marital divorce. There was tampanam. Returning to the same spot. . the command that paralyzed. and prescribe remedial ritual measures. asking me to follow her to a clump of thorn bushes. I left home earlier than usual to sell milk because my wife and I had had a fight. 23 Dec 2016 04:57:16 UTC All use subject to http://about. After this second apparition. the goddess Sakti. a beautiful lady appeared to me. he dotted their bodies. on the spot where she originally appeared to him near the bustling town of Gingee. renounced sexual love altogether. In order to cast his command. the command that tied the mouth.4 Observ- ing ritual precautions and avoiding pollution.7 The way the goddess. speak. Eival means command and implies that people are victims of sorcery spells." By this. I came to learn that eval always required three participants. he understood her to mean that he had been chosen to serve her for life. Nagaji had a second revelation. vay kattu. the goddess. It was at homemade shrines like this one that I observed camis." and I fell unconscious. Rather than being ordinary victims of this inauspicious (turmaranam) fate. she "descended" upon his body. most sorcery demons are what Gananath Obeyesekere calls-in reference to the Sinhalese yakas-demons. On my way to town. like Nagaji. I heard a voice that said. Nabokov 1997.5 the original sorcerer directed his commands into these effigies. Those days we were often not on speaking terms. which allowed him to fuse with his goddess." This time the goddess did not appear in a vision.150 american ethnologist On that day. disclosed that it was she who had invited him "to follow her. identify the causes of any persistent sickness. as Nagaji explained. which could actually kill (see Diehl 1956:269 for other commands). with a black substance (mai) concocted from the boiled and charred skulls of first-born sons. this damaged his victim's ability to move. "Don't stay here. I was told that the female demons were also avatars of the goddess KalT. some claimed that sorcerers preferred her assistance to that of peys. His true expertise resided in his ability to re- cruit the services of specific demons known in Tamil as peys. petanam. his regular clients built a small sanctuary. peys describe spirits of people who are barred from transitioning into the hereafter because they have met untimely deaths (ahalamaranam) (Caplan 1989. creator of the world. dedicated to his goddess. His commands were quite specific.139. My camis friends agreed that KalT was involved in casting most spells.6 The camis told me the sorcerer did not merely activate his malevolence through the impersonal forces I have described.jstor. the eval involved a sorcerer whose name was not disclosed but whose practices were common knowledge to specialists like Nagaji. Nagaji broke up with his wife. took command was reminiscent of her initiatory techniques: she appeared before targeted victims and This content downloaded from 14. Reiniche 1975). I did. "named beings in the pantheon.

her father took her to the Tindivanan Government Hospital about seven kilometers from his village. Untouchable (Paraiyan) woman in her late twenties living in the western part of south Arcot. for a split second victims could glimpse the malevolence streaming at them. to let part or all of one's life flow away" (1990:190. First. jerking and shivering on the dirt floor of her single-room house. urban men-are the main protagonists of this discourse. Although she appeared to cami Nagaji as a beautiful woman. so that vic- tims of the goddess's evil eye. She grew thin and weak. but one must first identify This content downloaded from 14. as Margaret Trawick noted. She cast no seductive . But she continued to suffer. In this case. In Tamilnadu. and powerless woman with sad eyes and a ragged sari who first revealed to me the emotional conflicts and personal torment that found catharsis in the conviction that she was under another's command. Nine years before I met her she began experiencing convulsions. the doctor's failure to cure or help her confirmed their sus- picion that Laksmi was afflicted with a different kind of illness.146 on Fri. Laksmi continued to suffer from chronic convulsions and pain in her arms and legs. In spite of his fears of the medical bureaucracy. when Laksmi refused food. Laksmi was diagnosed with epilepsy (valippu). a dangerous lapse: in Tamilnadu. I must emphasize that this village woman I call Laksmi was not a typical target of sorcery spells.a funeral to counter sorcery in South India 151 commanded their line of sight. "Who did it?" The key to this discourse lay in these people who could unlock the mysteries of their own afflictions.jstor. Alarmed. In the context of sorcery attacks. but Laksmi was soon unconscious. dishev- eled. Momentarily. In their divinations. After waiting for two days. it was this tall. the fear removes from the self its natural ability to command. I was told that. the camis never identified them publicly. instead of gaining heightened sight and control over the hidden signs of life.8 But as exceptions can confirm the rule. Over the next few years. One day they were so severe a neighbor alerted Laksmi's mother. she stared with the destructive force of the evil eye. therefore. Money and property are commonly at stake in sorcery suspicions. so that the consultants were the only ones who could answer the paramount question. Laksmi felt better and resumed work in the peanut fields.139. The next day. Over time. For Laksmi's parents. the only cure is a ritual procedure. she then collapsed into a deep sleep-grinding her teeth and suffering from nightmares. In the morning. This instantaneous awareness infused them with fear (payam). see also Caplan 1989:55). Sorcery in Tamilnadu incriminated not just a sorcerer and his demons but a third participant as well. "To submit to payam is to lose control. the plight of Laksmi Laksmi was a low-income. I will relate the experience of a person who believed she had been victimized by sorcery. it is common knowledge that bio-medical treatment has no therapeutic effect against af- flictions caused by supernatural or moral agencies (see Hiebert 1983 for a detailed taxonomy). men-particularly well-off. thin. her mother sent for a local priest who whipped her with freshly-cut margosa leaves-a plant imbued with powers to ward off affliction. Laksmi returned to her senses. blood-dripping creature. to come under another's power. prescription drugs were unable to control her convulsions. her father took her to a nearby village where a temple priest made an amulet (tdyattu)-a thin piece of copper foil that he engraved with protective symbols and rolled up in a small cylindrical case for Laksmi to tie around her arm. in the presence of targeted victims of sorcery she became a terrifying. Three of her four children died. lost focus and sank into a helpless fog and disempowerment. instead. 23 Dec 2016 04:57:16 UTC All use subject to http://about. the person or persons who deliberately ordered and paid for the spell.

For Laksmi. In the privacy of her small. By Tamil standards. she was disturbed by the personal and social ramifications of the cami's diagnosis: someone had tried to hurt her. that her lover left of his own free will and was not coming back. Katteri was the ghostly spirit of a woman who died in pregnancy (or childbirth) and now vented her fury by attacking other childbearing women. the man returned to his wife. the "husband's" wife. three of whom died in infancy.jstor. Only when she fully accepted this finite rejection was she ready to undergo Nagaji's treatment. Although he did not name the sorcerer. he had already been married. Gen- erally. the rite that turns a Tamil woman into a widow) since he never tied it anyway. it was not surprising that these people were at the root of one's suffering. the inner configuration of Tamil sorcery By following Laksmi's case and seven others like it. Was the diagnosis vindicating on its own? Did she hope the sorcery would weaken." She still wore the marriage badge from her first. the "husband's" abrupt desertion was clear evidence that her jealous rival. Therefore. and her lover would come back without further effort or expense? Why did she seem so passive about her victimization? A month later. I gathered that sorcery suspicions were initially formulated on the basis of known resentments or jealousies. she returned to her parents.146 on Fri. snatching their unborn babies and small children." Over the years. I learned that she had a good reason for suspecting that someone did not wish her well. During our initial conversations. During my first visit to her home two weeks later. The sorts of intolerable victimization that did justify immediate action incriminated loved ones whom it was too emotionally painful or frightening to suspect. I would not cut my marriage necklace (tali. had resorted to sorcery to win him back. Laksmi's parents decided to consult someone to say kuri and settled on cami Nagaji.139. Instead. Nagaji revealed that Laksmi suffered from a command.american ethnologist 152 the cause of the affliction. Five days after she delivered their fourth child. But for her. After three unhappy years. Such revela- tions were often met with resignation (Lambek 1993:262-263). she was not concerned with the technical aspects of the original . they were not married. Only when one confronted the This content downloaded from 14. Laksmi had no legal recourse. dilapidated hut. Laksmi agreed with Nagaji's explanation of the cause of her suffering. legal husband. Laksmi visited Nagaji for a second consultation-this time in private. she bore four children. At age 16. now she lashed out. Nagaji's words carried weight with Laksmi because they confirmed what she suspected. But Laksmi never took advantage of Nagaji's recommended exorcism to remove the spell. "I don't care whether he dies. Although Laksmi's "husband" could have wed her-polygamy being illegal but not uncommon in Tamilnadu-he did not. people one had offended by reneging on financial obligations or marital transactions. he blamed a demon named Katteri. Unlike the cami. On that occasion. this news seemed to energize her. To my surprise. To do this. the real suffering did not come from any sorcerer or demon. Laksmi yearned for the man's return. the inital suspects were familiar personal enemies-for example. It was then that Lak- smi began experiencing the convulsions." Only now did I discover that Laksmi never married her "husband. Nor could Laksmi have made a case to get him back. she had deprived his true wife of her marital rights. She was 20 when she began seeing another man whom she addressed as "my husband. he confirmed that both the rival wife and the "husband" were plotting against her. who was known for decoding such signs. Laksmi had married a drunk who squandered her dowry and beat her. 23 Dec 2016 04:57:16 UTC All use subject to http://about.

the hour the original spell was cast. While the effects of human-cast evil eyes are relatively benign and may be neutralized without help from specialists. it was a private logic. 23 Dec 2016 04:57:16 UTC All use subject to http://about. Normally. mutism. sorcery victims have been likewise incapacitated through visual means. This is precisely what the camis' decoding seances begin to do. frantic trances. according to cami Nagaji. by sorcery demons rather than envious neighbors. Their inability to face such a personal repudiation becomes the cause of their suffering with such symptoms as paralysis. and in- fertility. that they no longer existed for the father of their children and from acknowledging that a person took deliberate measures to eliminate them from the world. In camis' minds.9 But neither ritual terminology nor practice corroborated the camis' suggestion of the cosmological dimension to their confrontations with sorcerers and demons. like cooked rice (Maloney 1976. like Laksmi. In the domestic context. The experience of being manipulated and rejected by relatives and lovers provided the necessary level of emotional pain and strength of conviction for defending oneself. the ritual I am about to describe was considered to be a counterat- tack on an opposing sorcerer. demons are consciously intent on doing harm. The camis fashion the seven- This content downloaded from 14. if you will. One was forced to see what one suspected but could not accept or internalize. Their removal entails a complex rite that borrows its process and symbols from the Tamil mortuary ritual. This state of blindness conforms with what read- ers have now learned about the key condition of sorcery victimization. ends up stalking and commanding them. convulsions. the emotion that. Human eye-focused malevolence is often considered involuntary. they must strike back in precisely the same manner he had operated. victims must be empowered to see what is blocking them. the camis duplicate for each patient one small effigy (pavai) that. for example. It was not simply a sociology of insoluble conflicts or a history of unprecedented changes that seemed to fuel this Tamil sorcery discourse. The same logic applies to the countersorcery rite. demonic gazes can kill. a subconscious witching power. a first step. This occurs at midnight.jstor. which means . Rather. nightmares.10 To initiate the kalippu ritual. a psychology of painful revelations.a funeral to counter sorcery in South India 153 agonizing realization that these intimates tried to assume command over the relation- ship was one impelled to mount a counterattack. or rejection (Fabricius 1972[1779]:35). violent head or stomach aches. This Tamil logic is clear: what human beings do not or cannot see. the countersorcery ritual The countersorcery rites that I observed were invariably carried out on new or full moons by the same camis who delivered the diagnoses of sorcery in the first place. what remains hidden from people.224. like camphor lumps lit just outside the home. Visual assaults by sorcery demons require a more elaborate intervention. casting out. circular hand motions draw the troublesome malevolence into absorbing. The word also describes rites regularly performed in households to ward off evil eyes. purifying substances that either leave no residue. the original sorcerer shaped. To arrest this degenerative process and regain the capacity for independent action.139. or that can be discarded. these commands grip people. like Laksmi. causing them to feel fear. This emotion prevents them from seeing the negative forces heading their way: from discerning. it is believed. Because the original commands were personalized attacks. Pocock 1973). a chance to regain command over themselves.146 on Fri. But kuri is only a diagnosis. To neutralize his spell. the procedure to counteract an evil com- mand is simply glossed as kalippu. they require customized counter-procedures. On the other hand. tricks them. Now I address the ritual that finalizes this drawn-out process that gives people.

known in Tamil as muram. and oversized sexual organs. As one barber explained. Before the first circuit the camis punch a small hole in the pot so that water drips out. The chief mourner. Prior to the formal procession to the cremation grounds. "one always gives uncooked rice. By looking at these incarnations of the invisible forces commanding them. By the third circuit. The camis have their patients carry a new clay pot full of water on their right shoulders. 23 Dec 2016 04:57:16 UTC All use subject to http://about. are markers of differentiation between pure and impure. "At birth the god Brahma gives man a knot. usually the son.139. or ashes from funeral grounds. this action preceeds internment or cremation and climaxes the ceremony.154 american ethnologist inch effigies using rice or wheat dough. The knot is then abruptly ripped off. or in a pot with their limbs drooped over the rim.146 on Fri. "At times of separation. First. . enshrouding the doll. During Tamil funeral processions for caste Hindus. The breaking of this pot symbolizes the end of life" (for a similar exegesis. where the village barber tears off the knot (mutittuntu) containing a rupee coin (kal panam) just before a cremation or a burial." The next phase is even more suggestive. patients can begin to objectify them. In the funeral context. A symbolic separation is also encoded into the crafting of the effigies. many are placed on their backs in a winnowing fan. clay. "At birth we come out of a pot.jstor. the dead person's relationships are torn apart. this action is performed by living kin on be- half of their dead. At a real funeral. see Srinivas 1952:151). On the last day of life that knot must be removed. A village barber. They then invite their This content downloaded from 14. whose ceremonial duty is to punch holes in the vessel. Each effigy is encoded with the same iconographic characteristics as the original. This seems derivative of funeral symbolism.11 the camis draw. and consciousness. vitality. as a specialist told me. Here the camis set the cloth covering the effigy on fire while its victim stares intensely at the flames. the cloth is dropped. told me. anthropologists have noted that winnowing fans used in ritual de- note what Christopher Fuller calls "the separation out of polluting and inauspicious elements that can then be cast away" (1992:193). The fans." one female consultant said. concludes three circles of his mother's or father's corpse by breaking the pot. Elsewhere in India. our mother's womb. What follows is a funeral for the effigy. used daily to sort grain from chaff. dung. mouth rice). In the context of countersorcery rites. with yellow turmeric powder. the fans underscore the dissociation between afflicted and healthy selves. a towel stretched above the corpse is filled with vaykkarici (literally. a cakkaram. around each patient. uncooked rice is poured into a cloth stretched above the effigy. however. Consanguineal and affinal kin each grip a fistful of vaykkarici and circle the corpse to feed it. the umbilical cord. I observed village washermen carrying such fans in order to signify. In doing so. The camis finish the effigies by dotting them with charcoal paste to open the eyes (kan ti?appu) and bestow life (uyir) on them. or protective enclosure. this way the patient can feed the doll. These effegies also share the dominant features associated with demons: protruding tongues rouged with red vermillion powder. At Hindu funeral rites there also exists the breaking of the trickling pot (kalikutam utaittal) (Good 1991:135). moving clockwise around the effigy three times. bulging eyes."12 At exorcisms.224. Then the camis tell patients to smash the pot on the ground. whereupon a rupee coin is tied to one corner of the cloth. this links sight. the pot is empty. the living distancing themselves from polluting corpses. After this activating process (known in Tamil as seyvinai seytal).

this "is generally achieved by cutting some object" (1976:205). as appears to be Sinhalese practice (Kapferer 1983. Once a human death has occurred. the breaking of the trickling pot.139. Because they insisted that only men could join in this expedition. Elmore's description of one method of exorcism he observed in 1913 from the adjacent state of Andhra Pradesh. In the countersorcery ritual. All of them followed the same sequence of actions and manipulated the same symbols. the household's women huddle in arm-linked clusters near the corpse to sway. such actions seem to protect patients as they recover the capacity for volition and mobility. weep. The doll is dead. the camis have them chop up the broken pieces with a large knife. according to Gananath Obeyesekere. 23 Dec 2016 04:57:16 UTC All use subject to http://about. But contemporary Tamil removals do not actually incorporate all the usual burying ceremonies. "was a form of arrest. handing them metal nails to insert into the doll's arms and legs. their mournful words contrast a happy past before death with a desolate present.224. interpretations of the funeral symbolism On at least 36 separate occasions. the kalippu ritual is essentially over. The camis light a small lamp near the crucified effigy. since the camis now ordered them to hop three times over the winnowing tray.jstor.a funeral to counter sorcery in South India 155 patients to work for their own recovery. It was the fact that kalippu rituals were richly encoded with mortuary symbolism. the camis carry the used or dead effigies to the nearby river bank. Crushing pumpkins concludes beginning rites like consecrations for new houses. In Sinhalese sorcery rituals. Whenever a death occurs. and intone their lamentations-a genre of song called oppari. such as bicycles and rickshaws. deploring his or her absence. An examination of what is left out confirms that this ritual works to exorcise outlandish and unwanted forces. 1997. and the cremation. This content downloaded from . emphasis added). Yalman 1964:126). But a larger finale still lies ahead. First. with the "usual burying ceremonies" (1984:50. Then they employed the winnowing tray to dissociate patients from the negative powers. the countersorcery rite differs from a funeral by the conspicuous absence of formalized mourning. In metaphors and hyperboles. an image of dough was placed in a pot that was then interred in the funeral grounds. moan. After this." he told me. After smashing the pumpkin on the ground. 1988. stomping on limes is associated with the blessing of newly purchased vehicles. It was not merely the exercise of violence against sorcery effigies or their abandonment in the "jungle" that extirpated their malevolence. an oil lamp burns for 16 days until all ceremonial responsibilities have been fulfilled to assure the soul a successful journey to the afterworld. In Tamil rituals. and the spell is neutralized. They light a camphor lump atop a pumpkin and wave the flame around their faces. I watched five different exorcists perform the ritual described above.146 on Fri. limes and pumpkins are common deflectors of the inauspicious. There. T. consistent with W. the tying of the knot. The camis first objectified the invisible forces of sorcery affliction. Next they borrowed from funerary actions like the feeding of the corpse. The songs honor the deceased as the prototype of the ideal kin. But the cami Nagaji said that near the water he enclosed the dolls in another rice flour circle. Close to dawn. beat their chests. It meant to say. reminiscent again of funeral practices. They skip rites that are integral to real funerals in south Arcot. "This cakkaram. meaning comparison. I never saw what happened. 'Do not come back!' " Then he lit some dry brush and cremated them all. Tamil camis have their patients crush limes in the northeastern corner of their enclosures.

Knipe 1977. Save for their size. This content downloaded from 14.139. All preoccupation with re-incorporating the deceased into the extended kinship web of ancestors. the healing dolls of the camis are clearly modeled after malevolent powers. horizontal ef- figies sculpted out of mud for ceremonial purposes in south Arcot (see Hiltebeitel 1991:321-324. His interpretation also explains why the living remain unmoved by the demons' deaths. it pays no attention to the fate of the soul. however. and their anthropomorphic representations are given life for the sole purpose of being destroyed. Malamoud 1982. When I asked Nagaji about the functioning of his countersorcery rite. which for some scholars constitutes the hallmark of Hinduism. Furthermore. Emphasizing this destiny is the fact that their heads. known in Tamil as karumati. Nabokov 1995:425. the kalippu ritual omits other representations of the social order that constitute a real funeral. ends by abolishing all that the person once was. like those of corpses at funeral rites. almost shocking. all looked simi- lar: greedy (tongues out). which dispatches the departed (preta) to the hereafter as an honored ancestor or pir (Hopkins 1992. In Laksmi's case. Varaiki. Since the ritual aims to remove sorcery. 23 Dec 2016 04:57:16 UTC All use subject to http://about." This iconography is consistent with popular knowledge of these demons and common understanding of countersorcery rituals. Although the camis encoded the effigies with distinctive features. no inlaws to make ceremonial prestations. indeed no kin at all. about this funeral is that. One sure way to hasten the untimely dead from this world. it would appear that Elmore was correct when he understood in 1913 that "the demon has been left buried" (1984[1913]:49-50). What is additionally striking. is missing entirely (Knipe 1990). footnote 11). There are no male family members to observe strict pollution taboos. and no sons to perform the breaking of the trickling pot. where they trouble the living through sorcerers' spells. It is as if the individual whose funeral is underway were a complete stranger. their iconography was typical of the giant-size. According to both Nagaji and Laksmi.jstor.224. with no social identity or kinship role. But who does this pseudo funeral seek to eliminate? To answer this question readers must take a second look at the effigies themselves. Nagaji claimed. shameless (oversized sexual organs). crucial ceremony. Meyer 1986:167. would be mortuary rites. generally face south toward the realm of Yama. He also made the demon. God of death. since it is the dolls that actually undergo the death rites. he told me. and scary (bulging eyes). The demons must die. Parry 1994). killed "whomever the sorcerer ordered him to do. As readers will see. no grandchildren to circle the corpse ceremonially while holding a torch (neypantam). This is in sharp contrast to the prototypical Hindu funeral that adds a second. identified by her distended belly and streaming hair. Nagaji fashioned her effigy holding a decapitated baby in its right hand-a representation of the demon Katteri. They represent demons who threaten the order of social and cosmic worlds. and the demon Kutti Caittan (small Satan) holding his characteristic fork. Since in Tamil cosmology demons are beings who have perished before enjoying marriage or childbirth.146 on Fri. save for the final lighting of the lamp. This facsimile of a funeral that begins with no emotional comparison and no public display from the living kinship . As with the miniature effigies fashioned by sorcery healers. the effigy represented someone other than a demon.156 american ethnologist Second. who. they have no direct descendants who can perform their funeral and post-funeral rites (Knipe 1990:124). Varaki makes her victim's bodys swell and Kutti Caittan is a Christian demon. it is in the variable meanings invested in these symbols that the real effectiveness of this funeral resides. their divergent interpretations suggested that ritual symbols could be invested with contradictory meanings and still have the desired effect.

For instance. he functioned as mid-wife for Laksmi's rebirth.139. it brought relief and a new life. smashed. "Forget about your past! It is dead now. Rather than performing a healing rite.. On the contrary. At real funerals. she claimed to have only a minimal.. to break with my 'husband. The doll was a representation of the lady. he officiated over the effigy's death. an end to a relationship that her lover had already denied her." She needed no decoding of symbols to tell her that its purpose was the ritualized death of her living relationship with this "husband" who had never married her and had returned to his legal wife when Laksmi bore their fourth child." The cami made it crystal clear that his ritual action was not simply or primarily con- cerned with expunging a demon. She almost died. More importantly. To eradicate the cause of those excruciating negations of her being. .. the French Indologist Charles Malamoud argues that the old Brahmanical funeral rite was "the samskara par excellence" (1982:445). she simply recalled Nagaji saying something like.13 Laksmi interpreted the effigy's symbolic funeral differently from Nagaji. I was experiencing the symptoms that normally come before my convulsions..' I wanted nothing more to do with him. Because she died we had to perform her funeral and give the things required for a death ritual. She [Laksmi] is coming back to us. Parry 1994). nor evoked better times. "I was trembling. she enacted the only familiar ritual known to provide a sense of meaningful closure. She is like a new born. she participated in a rite that. you are entering a new life where things will be better. At first. however." she said. To effect this separation.. or even to witness. The kalippu was her last chance to return to life. he stood in as primogenitor by giving life to Laksmi through the doll. a twice-born experience that moves a person into a second existence entirely dissimilar from the first (Van Gennep 1909).. no Tamil woman in the south Arcot district would ever be allowed to perform. giving her the tools (such as nails) to incapacitate the forces that commanded her..224. she had This content downloaded from 14. 23 Dec 2016 04:57:16 UTC All use subject to http://about." When I probed what she made of her participation in what had paradoxically been characterized by Nagaji as a life-giving funeral.15 For her part. Laksmi snapped at me. "You ask why I did that death ceremony? I already told you. The term. a woman cannot break the trickling pot or watch a cremation. "Today is your last day of suffering. "To avoid karma [here meaning bad result]. "the cami dealt with the spell in the appropriate way...a funeral to counter sorcery in South India 157 That woman was seriously sick. he seemed to have carried out a rite of passage. which he glosses as "perfectionement... The goddess restored her life . . From now on you won't have any convulsions. This ritual was not dangerous for her." describes Brahmanical rites of passage that initiated individuals into purified ontological states (1982:445). perfunctory memory of what had transpired. destroying her old life and reconceiving her into profoundly altered conditions of existence. In the role of funeral specialist. Laksmi sat alone in the middle of a circle where she neither cried.. Through this symbolic process he facilitated her re-incarnation." Except for chopping the pumpkin.. In modern ethnographic contexts. in social reality. Nagaji's own interpretation followed customary understandings of mortuary rites.14 Female mourners are prohibited from entering the funeral grounds and must remain within the family threshold where their mourning clusters express sorrow over the loss of relatives or loved ones.jstor. and sliced her own way to recovery and personal freedom. Finally. nor wailed.146 on Fri. This funeral gave her permission and power to initiate.. because. The message to the lady was. He guided her as she pierced. Instead. at that moment." This was a relief. other writers confirm that it is the timely death that constitutes the truest form of this perfecting (Kaushik 1976. crushed.

Over time. 1997). the removal rite was not the way to end an unfinished relationship or the way to rebirth. "To each his or her own truth. Rather. Central to the participants' understandings of how and why this therapy works in such idiosyncratic ways is Sudhir Kakar's contention that while an Indian shaman may symbolize symptoms. or health. argued that such symbols are multivocal. In his research on religious symbols in nearby Sri Lanka. I found myself with such radically different exegeses from camis and patients that they did not seem reducible to the peculiar multivocal or equivocal characteristics of symbols. he does not translate them (1982:82). first and most eloquently. In fact. In other words. Although some Tamil rituals seem to crystallize primordial motivations (Nabokov 1996.139. as was proposed by Turner. For this young man.jstor. I elicited radically different exegeses from camis and patients. almost" (1994: 108). however.146 on Fri. I needed to . the son of a village school teacher told me. demons. This was because they contained formal associative properties and a special capacity to refer to both sensory phenomena and normative values (also see Laderman 1987). That ritual symbols do not communicate identical understandings to all participants would not have come as a surprise to Victor Turner who. I also discovered that the kalippu ritual contained transformative resonances that exceeded its apparent purpose. integration. per- haps because his formulation of culture is as much indebted to Sigmund Freud as to Max Weber. countersorcery as open-ended therapy Laksmi was not the only participant to contradict Nagaji's interpretation. In the case of Tamil countersorcery rituals. I did the kalippu because I was getting crazy. I did the kalippu not because a sorcerer placed a spell on me. This content downloaded from 14. Not because there was a demon on me. The morning after having a kalippu done (his second in five years). it is people who infuse these constructs with highly personal meanings. it was simply a way to obtain release from the command of a selfabsorbing mind. clearly addresses current emotional experiences and interpersonal dramas. Let me review his comparative study of Western psychoanalysis and Indian exorcisms based upon his observations at the Balaji temple in the north Indian state of Rajasthan (1982).224. But. susceptible of many mean- ings (1967). Gananath Obeyesekere eloquently demonstrated that culture is the creation of individuals who bestow certain symbols with private significance (1981:18). this insight is not new. coolly officiating over her "husband's" definitive removal from her life. which. I read too much. to let go (pohavita) of my thoughts. I think too much. and so forth-that are said to have their roots in deep psychological dynamics. that's all. as readers have seen. that is. There was none. in the Tamil case it is not symbols that in and of themselves formulate the causes of affliction and shift participants to new conditions of confidence. thus eluding consciousness (1981:21). Obeyesekere concentrates on those personal symbols-matted hair. The symbols invoked during Tamil countersorcery mean different things to different people because participants fill them with meanings drawn from and relevant to their own individual experiences. this Tamil therapy seemed better characterized by Jean-Marie Gibbal's description of the Ghimbala healing cult in Niger. It could become an attractive cure for those who were not victims of sorcery. this is not the case in the present countersorcery ritual. On the face of it.american ethnologisl 158 assumed the ritual posture of a male mourner. 23 Dec 2016 04:57:16 UTC All use subject to http://about. He did not.

Kakar reminds his readers that a customary psychoanalytic cure is based on the assumption that mental or physical disorders can be the symbolic expression of a personal or emotional problem that has eluded a patient's consciousness. whose incantation invoked a social myth that did not correspond to the patient's personal state. I cannot agree with Sudhir Kakar when he writes that the Indian shaman offers personal resolutions that are less individualistic than those provided by the Western psychoanalyst (1982:82.139.146 on Fri. Nagaji intended Laksmi to see the negative feelings that disempowered and blocked her from finding a way out. Kakar adds. Unlike the Cuna shaman. causing her greed. Nagaji's work was reminiscent of the Cuna shaman whose recitation of a birth incantation. Kakar himself is quick to point out that this is not what the Indian shaman does. Nagaji's view of his cure was premised on the patient's receiving. True. In my experience. Working from the assumption that most sorcery victims cannot see or understand what is commanding them. on roles she assumed. neither did he give a narrative shape to her conflicts. Yet. For Kakar. see also Laderman 1987). "Look lady! you need to focus on this image because it embod- ies the kind of emotional motivations and longings you have been denying for too This content downloaded from 14. similar to Kakar's observation at Balaji. they concentrated on giving patients a text about their afflicted selves. 115-11 6). Tamil sorcery camis were not concerned with re-integrating patients into their social fold. through his ef- figy-making he objectified her interior state. he tried "to foster a self-reflective attitude in the patient" (1982:81). Another look at what the cami Nagaji tried to impart through his effigy-making activities makes this clear. for example. [with] connecting (or reconnecting) the individual with sources of psychological strength available in his or her life situation" (1982:81-82. For Nagaji." a process that involves concentrating on what he calls "the text of the mental illness-on its under- standing. emphasis in original). he not only modeled it after Laksmi's physique but drew upon received demonic ico- nography to portray her.a funeral to counter sorcery in South India 159 A Western-trained . he produced a personalized text about her afflicted self. He never told Laksmi. according to Claude Levi-Strauss. This is why. and sorrow to become transparently embodied in and to herself.224. if not exactly the same sort of "language" Levi-Strauss is talking about. jealousy. The healing rituals he saw performed at the Balaji temple "seem to be more concerned with the context of the illness . eases difficult labors because it gives parturient women a "mythic language" to predicate and overcome the physiological duress of delivery (1963. at least an expressive "image" derived from Tamil mythology. emphasis in original). Far from focusing his therapy on the social context of Laksmi's sickness. Nagaji did not translate his therapy. By opening the eyes of the doll." Nagaji presented her with a symbolic expression of the very problems that eluded her awareness. Instead. he did not help her reconstruct her individual past with verbal associations. Nagaji produced a different effigy. Much like the psychoanalyst praised by Kakar. translation and genesis" (1982:81-82. this shift in emphasis explained why "the special idiom" underlying the symptoms of sickness treated at Balaji "is left at the symbolic level without any attempt at translation" (1982:82). fear. Nagaji fashioned his "representation of the lady" herself. . For this reason. the psychoanalyst must "foster a selfreflective attitude in the patient toward his bodily signs or symptoms. or her relationship with her "husband. In other words. 23 Dec 2016 04:57:16 UTC All use subject to http://about.jstor. the little doll could only represent Laksmi because that was what it had stood for in the original sorcerer's hands. however. which seems to be the case at Balaji (and elsewhere in India. from Nagaji's perspective. But. see Carstairs and Kapur 1976).

in the Tamil case the transformative power is always destructive. this countersorcery cure fits Gananath Obeyesekere's definition of a "standard ritual" that is used by patients in nearby Sri Lanka to express different psychological conflicts because it "has sufficient flexibility to cope with them" (1977:289). that perpetrators had genuine reason to be frustrated by their victims' actions. division.146 on Fri. Their recruits are always the untimely dead. as one ritualist told me. and fueled. his contention that sorcery is the beings exercise" (1997:263) and that it symbolizes "the potencies change the circumstances of their lives" (1997:20-21) may ulti open-ended procedures of Tamil countersorcery. still disagree with Kapferer on the nature of sorcery pow notes that myths. he released by Sinhalese sorcery as neither moral nor immoral. The activating substance of their spells comes from the disinterment and dismemberment of the corpse of a first-born child. they catalyzed hidden motivations that sprang from. It was true. also 1988). Because the participants were at liberty to infuse and personaliz specific." These details are consistent with a general understanding of sorcery. it is compared to cahatai. "announces the loss of a human bond. practically no words at all. felt significances created from their current situations. Brahma.224. Because Tamil sorcery is from beginning to end concerned with the abortion of biological and social reproduction.139.american ethnologist 160 long!" His kalippu ritual entailed no instructions. As Edward Schieffelin might say. Without a didactic gloss. This undecod pragmatic their own I must though he practice through which people reconstitute their private place in those worlds. patients read its open text from their own perspectives and vested interests. and transgression" (1997:34. everyday dramas. no intersubjective dialogue. or clear-cut prescriptions as to how this ritual functioned. its regenerative capacity is and mu cated on death and its role in Tamil culture. th roborate Kapferer's recent argument that in Sri Lanka "sorcery emphasis in original).org/terms . Indeed. there was nothing moral about sorcery. But they were also quick to point out that these people's idea of equity was to This content downloaded from 14. 23 Dec 2016 04:57:16 UTC All use subject to http://about. Their mantras aim at disempowering and exiling some people from their social milieus. Instead. practices. who threaten the fertility of women like Laksmi. In the absence of an all-encompassing hermeneutics. From my consultants' perspectives. they seemed freer to associate and project whatever commanded them onto the ritual effigies. the funeral drum which.jstor. they conceded. This was why I found myself with different exegeses from camis and patients. "No "necessarily ordering or disordering. a body that is a supreme symbol of generational continuity (Nabokov 1996). and rituals related to cated on "metaphors of the political-of violence. the destructive powers of sorcery The working cosmology reproduced and exploited by Tamil sorcerers and their language of command draws upon and exerts forces that are fundamentally destruc- tive and antisocial. In that sense. creative of the social or (1997:263). com tainment. authority. Their effigy-making activities clearly abrogate the life-giving power of the Hindu creator. they were "completing" the symbols with meanings relevant to their own experiences (1985:721). The Tamil countersorcery ritual symbols did not seem to formulate the deep psychological dynamics that Obeyesekere found in Sinhalese exorcisms. ideas. like the demon Katteri. As I will now show.

The funeral I have just detailed is the only empirical evidence of removal that I could document. Many scholars have noted that Hindu mortuary rituals and their Brahmanical an- tecedents seek to obliterate not just the physical remains of the dead but their personal characteristics and biographies as well. expelling him from her life for . Yet. This may also explain why a young woman could be subdued by her lover one moment and vanquish him the next. 23 Dec 2016 04:57:16 UTC All use subject to http://about. Even the birth-like transformations performed by the cami Nagaji were not without destructive import. The perspective I have just described is the only one I was able to elicit: I never met a sorcerer. To understand the full significance of this mortuary treatment. "To fight sorcery you must sor- cerize" (1995:16). Readers must never forget that Tamil sorcery is a speculative discourse with no recourse to ob- jective reality. The Tamil funeral also attempts to efface the individuality of the deceased. In short. it is always a given perspective on what happens. about exercising the wrong kind of power. While in the abstract. The therapeutic powers derived from such a perspective go without saying. in this time and place. and no recognition is given to the pass- ing of a unique life" (1994:210). but those who suffer from them.jstor. they experience a kind of catharsis. Those who participated in countersorcery were casting the sole command of this discourse: only they had activated the drums of death. the distinct personalities of these supernaturals never joined together-they were either demons or gods-in reality one could never be sure what they were. mine). it is authenticated only by subjective impressions. specific people say. and what is done to them. These repositional meanings go to the heart of a sorcery cosmology that is volatile itself. who had paid for a spell. I never witnessed a spell's execution.146 on Fri. What is ceremonially lamented is an idealized and some- This content downloaded from 14. she sought an identical revenge. everyone agreed that sorcery was not about rightful justice but about its dark side. or anyone else. supernatural entities may be on your side one moment and against you the next. while Jonathan Parry wrote that such representations still prevail in contemporary Benares: "No place is made in the mortuary rites for a celebration of [the dead's] individual achievements. For example. more emphatically. trans. The powers recruited by the original sorcerer to enforce his spells were the same as those powers that assisted the camis' destruction of sorcery.224. People take command of their relationships and execute their executioners. no eulogies are delivered in praise of his particular virtues. on interpretations of the whole business of real life events and personal dramas. Laksmi realized that her "husband" had tried to erase her from his life and memory. This perspective begins to crystallize when people are rejected by someone they had not considered to be an enemy. let us explore the larger perspective of Hindu funerals. Charles Malamoud describes the old Brahmanical crematory ritual as a "rite of suppression of the deceased's worldly person" (1982:443. on what. but in a bipolar way. When at last they see (or as we might say project into) their rejecters in the demoniclooking effigies that are then crucified and cremated. The cami's intervention did not stop with making effigies but with the unmaking and. Paradoxically. do. with their funerals. and they did not wish to have for antagonist. in Tamilnadu the very people who tap into this commanding power are not those who commission spells. they could be easily persuaded to switch sides. In such a worldview. This fits with Hildred Geertz's observation in Bali.139. one can go further. Therefore.a funeral to counter sorcery in South India 161 take command of those who failed to behave according to their expectations. arguing that in Tamilnadu countersorcery is the only sorcery that is actually commissioned.

But. and destroy.146 on Fri. I find his related focus on unified. As in most Indian sacrificial rituals. is more like reaching out to discover where others are coming from.16 Conse- quently. to say the least. when used to re- position the Tamil self this power is destructive. 23 Dec 2016 04:57:16 UTC All use subject to http://about. She never alluded to the circumstances of our original meeting at which she had been so miserable. This cami personally underwent a rebirth following a death-like separation from his former self. those who assimilated his therapeutic text. especially for anthropology. I paid a final visit to her village. she did most of the questioning. but specific attempts to deal with. Before I left India. What authenticates the removing procedures is no enactment of a generalized will to create. but camis like himself filled the countersorcery ritual with meanings drawn from and relevant to their own individual experiences. or personal memories. readers learn once again that sorcery is power. My argument is not merely that spells and counterspells kill-that goes without saying-but that Kapferer's analysis of sorcery assumes too much activeness on the part of actors. senses of continuity with the past. like the dead who undergo real funerals. objective representations of spells and standard ritual performances questionable. the injured self. previous relationships. rather than endowing social life with generality and unrestricted activeness. For the first time. notes Acknowledgments. Readers begin to understand that Nagaji premised the rebirth he extended to his patients on the repudiation of past experiences. so to speak.224. The resumption of life that Nagaji's funeral facilitated. as Bruce Kapferer seeks to do. for Tamil sufferers. In the end. what is officially commemorated is a member of a kin group. In Tamilnadu. This appeared to be Laksmi's experience. This suggests that not merely patients. asking about my daughter and nodding attentively. are messy. one can see how Nagaji's entire therapeutic philosophy was predicated on his own initiation as a recruit of the goddess. subjective dilemmas: people who attempt to eliminate others who leave them because they feel hurt and angry and cannot stand that feeling. I recognized her tall silhouette among the group of women picking pods. She approached us with a broad smile. the casting of spells involves a wealth of motifs drawn from relatively consistent representations: from mythology (the demon's biography). Its regenerative potential is always bound up with death-of injurious others. and the new relationships and pleasures that it anticipated in an ongoing. and whatever forces hold people in their thrall. emerged newly born after his kalippu rituals. and what is ritually preserved is an ancestor.139. Nor did she seem to recall what had led her to consult cami Nagaji in the first place.jstor.162 american ethnologist what stereotypical relative. Research for this article was conducted in Tamilnadu from Au 1990 through October 1991. Understanding the ways through which human beings constitute their life worlds. In . painful life situations. the procuring of vitality inevitably depends on an initial act of destruction. and activates its language of command. It was supported by a Junior fellowship from the American This content downloaded from 14. and she and I sat under a scrawny tree. without biographies. and from anatomy (the eyes as the locus of a person's vulnerability). a deadly deed. Kapferer's idea that people actively strive to regenerate or reconstitute themselves does not account for the complex relations of control and situations of disempowerment that. revitalized existence were dependent upon a complete removal of all a person used to be. As her father led me to the peanut fields. from etiology (the taxonomies of sorcery sickness). But what creates the reality of sorcery in the Tamil world. constitutes much of the experienced pain of sorcery victimization. and former identities.

and Hildred Geertz-for their encouragement and perceptive remarks. I was told that the sorcerer utters his commands at night while standing na- ked in a water tank. Early in the century. so that its corpse may not be carried away by a witch or sorcerer. which means destruction. see Diehl 1956:293. My thanks also go to the three anonymous reviewers-notably the reader who advised me to consult the work of Sudhir Kakar. Elmore's description of an exorcist ceremony (1984:47-51) and Carl Diehl's review of Tamil printed handbooks on spells (1956:267334)-the topic of south Indian sorcery has gone virtually undocumented in the region's ethnography. Cuniyam is the other word. curses. The word is actually a compound derived from two foreign words. I am grateful to Peter Nabokov for editorial help and critical comments. An earlier version of this pa- per was presented at the 1994 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Chicago and in the Department of Anthropology of Barnard College in 1997. Edgar Thurston. 1997) both present real evidence for the practice of sorcery in Sri Lanka. For all of these spells the underlying principle is what James Frazer termed "sympathetic magic. but cremated instead.146 on Fri. mantras can help people secure a good marriage alliance. It literally means embryo child (Wijesekera 1989:181). operating on the principle that affliction is transmitted via physical contact. Sorcery has been widely discussed in the ethnography of nearby Sri Lanka. For a detailed discussion of these specialists' initiatory visions. copper foil) with sickness or affliction and secretly placing them in the house of the victim or at a nearby crossroad. Save for two dated studies-that of W. But Tamil and Sinhalese sorcery traditions differ in several important respects. Although mantras can be learned by anyone from widely available handbooks sold in train stations and bus stands. I was only able to record imputations of sorcery in Tamil- nadu. to be used in magic rites" (1906:271). 1. confirming that the sorcerer's activities are indeed lethal. Although this This content downloaded from 14. is buried near or even within the house. Emily Martin. which Obeyesekere describes as "the most deadly form of sorcery practice in Sri Lanka" (1975:4). The first is mantirikam. and so on. This belief is so entrenched that the corpses of first-born sons are not buried. 5. 3. as Diehl also observed. 4. if it is a male. they are. For another reference to sorcerers standing in water. For instance. retrieve stolen property. "among the Paraiyan (Untouchables). names. lime. words. 1976) and Bruce Kapferer (1983. which Diehl translated as "black magic" (1956:267). 2." that whatever is said or done to the effigies affects their human targets (1965[1911-1915]:301). however. observed that. T. a first born child. prayers. such as the corpses of unborn babies or infants. While Gananath Obeyesekere (1975. which Reverend Diehl translated as "that which has to do with Mantras" (1956:267). I never encountered the songs known as vas-kavi. cre- ate power (Padoux 1989). the Superintendent of the Ethnographic survey of the Madras Presidency. transfer to a better job. as is the case with most Tamil Hindus. This power can be used for benevolent or malevolent ends. When human targets come into contact with these objects. and some other castes. On the other hand. 6. when properly uttered. The key myths of Sinhalese sorcery did not seem to function as chartering narratives for Tamil sorcery either (see Kapferer 1988. Mantras are syllables. the malevolent power begins to . or songs that. cripple an enemy. 1997). On the one hand. mantras can destroy property. There is another category of Tamil spells that corresponds to what Frazer called "contagious" magic. The result is a slow but steady decrease of the victim's life-strength.a funeral to counter sorcery in South India 163 tute of Indian Studies in Chicago. The second Tamil gloss for sorcery is pillicuniyam. It comes from the Sanskrit sOnya. see Nabokov in press. Instead." the notion common to many ritual traditions that "like produces like. Thurston reports a similar practice among the Pulluvan caste of Malabar (1987[1909]:231). Known in Tamil as vaippu (deposit). however. Pilli is the Malayalese term for sorcery. formulas. 1988.224. one of my consultants associated the origin of Tamil sorcery with the version of a well-known Sanskrit story. or separate lovers. generally "in the hands of professional people" (1956:268). relating King Daksa's (or Takkan in Tamil) exclusion of Lord Siva from his sacrifice (Nabokov in press). 23 Dec 2016 04:57:16 UTC All use subject to http://about. for which I express my gratitude. invocations.jstor. these spells involve infusing certain organic substances (egg. There are two other Tamil glosses for sorcery.139. suggesting that the South Indian sorcerer's power derives not only from words or mantras but also from substances. I wish to thank my colleagues at Princeton University-Vincanne Adams.

it is eval.146 on Fri. as I argue elsewhere. Carstairs. 15. In Witchcraft and Sorcery in East Africa. Lionel 1989 Religion and Power: Essays on the Christian Community in Madras. Bloch. and R. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. performs his own funeral serv- ice (Bloch and Parry 1982:13. John Middleton and E. This is also the case in Sri Lanka. at the time of his initiation. characterizes the Hindu pantheon: "The opposition between the gods and demons is purely structural. were known throughout Tamilnadu for heroic ba against demons. it literally means: "making a verb active. close female relatives (especially daughters) were allowed to follow the funeral procession to the village's boundary. but the goddess KalT inspired countersorcery rites. According to Louis Dumont. Hopkins 1992:151). 7. 16. but numerous scholars have observed that the Hindu worldview tolerates such ambiguities. G. When acting as an exorcist. which is the most common sorcery technique identified by the camis. or the control acquired by the sorcerer over his victims' images. This is a metalinguistic phrase commonly used in Tamil grammar books. Kapur 1976 The Great Universe of Kota: Stress. Maurice. Another example of how Tamil rituals may borrow from others involves the investi of the family deity that.224. 9. however their supernatural assistants were not the desses who regularly spoke through them during their divining seances. or even collusion. 1-44. 13. I observed that. I never observed this prestation in contexts other than death. by definition. John 1963 Sorcery in Bunyoro. Naga terpreted signs with the help of Sakti twice a week. and Jonathan Parry 1982 Introduction: Death and the Regeneration of Life. Nagaji did not attempt to identify with KalT retained his own consciousness and personality. that there cannot be birth without death" (1992:1 32). In Death and the Regeneration of Life. Pp. Caplan. L. camis replied that they would be guided step by step by their tutelary goddesses-man . they are opposed" (1976:64). Change and Mental Disorder in an Indian Village. eds.american ethnologist 164 procedure is by far the best known to Tamil lay people. In such a cosmology. In this healing context. For instance. or sannyasin. 8. who. among the Piramalai Kallars of Madurai it is a woman-either the widow or daughter of the deceased-who performs the breaking of the trickling pot at the center of the village. Nagaji may have predicated his countersorcery on the model of the prototypical Hindu renouncer. Obeyesekere 1975:12-14. When I pointed out that they had not actually witnessed the evil sorcerer's ritual.. H. like KalT and Ankalaparamecuvari. .jstor. among low castes. between God and evil (Russell 1977). they are alike in all ways except that. 25-51. Pp. The rite is repeated at the cemetery by the chief male mourner (Good 1991:162). is predicated upon the key scenario of mar (Nabokov 1996). but I presume that the rice is cooked and eaten by the recipient. Madras: The Christian Literature Society. 10." 12. London: The Hogarth Press. the notion of deities as channels of sorcery is not a contradiction in terms (see also Tur- stig 1985:71). 14. M. This content downloaded from 14. Wendy O'Flaherty Doniger. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 11.. however. Nagaji's exegesis confirmed Margaret Trawick's recent observation that most Tamil healing systems are rooted in the "idea. The noted historian of religion. Western readers may find the goddess's implication in this sorcery puzzling because our dualist Western cosmologies forbid any possible confusion. references cited Beattie.139. see Kapferer 1983:76. 27-56. Winter. Maurice Bloch and Jonathan Parry. eds. 23 Dec 2016 04:57:16 UTC All use subject to http://about.

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1 1 5-150.139. ed. Seattle: University of Washington Press. New Jersey 08544-1011 inabokov@princeton. 1999 Isabelle Nabokov Department of Anthropology 100 Aaron Burr Hall Princeton University Princeton.jstor.00 THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS 5801 South Ellis Avenue * Chicago."-John Urry. Illi This content downloaded from 14. 1999 final version submitted September 1. editor of Touring Cultures:Transformations ofTravel and Theory Cloth $30." -Arjun Appadurai. It is at the same time a probing ethnographic conversation with the rich Weberian tradition of work on Theravada Buddhism. Harper. In Religion in South Asia.L. 23 Dec 2016 04:57:16 UTC All use subject to http://about.00 I 14 W-MMIi i K THE WORK OF KINGS The New Buddhism in Sri Lanka H. accepted February 22. Nur 1964 The Structure of Sinhalese Healing .146 on Fri.224. SENEVIRATNE "This important book adds an important piece to the troubling puzzle of how a religious tradition devoted to compassion and social harmony could turn violent and xenophobic.american ethnologist 168 Yalman. University of Chicago Paper $22.Jane Desmond's focus on the touristic staging of both the'cultural' and'natural' makes the analysis exceptionally novel. Edward B. DESMOND "A most insightful and distinctive contribution to the contemporary analysis of NEW FROM CHICAGO ITIrlurI TAIIEu IIIU 31161W 31RbliN IUUKRIr -AMOL I" Bodies on Display from Waikiki to Sea World JANE C. Pp.