18
Oct
11

Jāggars

“Over the centuries we have transformed the ancient myths and folk tales and made them into the fabric of our lives. Consciously and unconsciously we weave the narratives of myth and folk tale into our daily existence.” – Jack Zipes

My previous post produced two official comments; an expected roar of silence from some; one empathizer from offspring; and, a surge of emails from others – with varying tones of advice, gripe, commiseration, vacuity, analysis of my psyche and fascinatingly oblique commentaries – the latter leaving me with one single bemused thought: I would be a darling of the shrink community and if I had the money, would keep at least a few occupied and financially secure for some years!

There was also a flurry of links to blogs with humorous posts. Taking the hint, I did make an attempt not to be darkly dismal and reverentially gawked at Humour for a long time waiting for it to tickle my Muse, but she of the whimsical kind and devoid of the lighter vein, ultimately skewered him with the acerbic end of a funny bone. Woe is me!

But thanks for the insights and here is a toast to all – cheers – which has joie de vivre associations.

 *

Was preparing for a journey and witlessly looking for something; found an old chewed-up diary.

Rather pleased to stumble upon it because it was my ‘Ballads and Bards’ chronicle once retrieved from the slobbering chops of the dog-that-passed-inadvertent-wind. Then, kept so carefully that even I had forgotten its location and eventually thought it had been thrown away (like so many other documents) by the mater.

Unfortunately, unable to salvage much and crucial pages are missing. Am in the process of trying to pep-up images from my mind and reword some narratives.

 *

The movie links to this post were filmed years after the first notations and are fairly amateurish – but it is a documentation of sorts. I am also making copious use of information sent in 2007 by Rajesh Panwar of Kaladhungi.

The performers had been invited specially to explain the ‘Jāggar’ tradition to a group of city children who were part of an Outward Bound Programme. It was extremely poignant for me, to watch ‘Dās’ Nanda Ballabh perform in such an bizarre setting with a buffet table behind him and trying to maintain the ancient dignity and sanctity of the custom.


In Europe, those who practise varying traditions of story-telling and similar styles of performances are generally called Shamans, Bards or Versifiers. Such practitioners known under different names can be traced and still found within many ethnic cultures from all over the world, e.g., Bakhshi in Central Asia.

In India, professional storytellers are traditionally called Kathāvāhchak, Vyas or Dās. Kathā is an Indian style of Hindu religious storytelling that involves a ritualistic performance. It is primarily a recitation of Hindu religious texts such as the Purānas, Rāmayan or Bhāgwat Purāna often interspersed by a commentary known as Pravachan.

Shiv and Pārvati/Shakti find great veneration in the Kumaon and Garhwal hills of Uttarakhand. These divine figures often become the focal point of all commentary and are in due course revealed as the protagonists in their various Avatārs or reincarnations.

 *

In spite of being worshippers of Shiv and Shakti, the people of Kumaon also have a rich tradition of folk deity worship. It is believed that Kumaon once had a custom of

Yaksha (kind of demigod; also associated with Vishnu) worship. Besides worshipping the usual gods and goddesses associated with Hinduism, the people of Kumaon believe in Kul Devatās (family gods), Gram Devatās (village gods), Nāg Devatās(snake gods), Bhumi Devatās (land gods) and Veers (the brave heroes).

The Veers are brave men of some long forgotten age who in due course of time assume super-natural powers and become folk gods. Their heroic deeds grow to be more potent through innovative narratives and continue to maintain time-honoured beliefs of the people.

Folk gods have separate stories attached to their names and each one is remembered through some peak, temple or Jāggar. The presence of ‘Nāg‘ or snake worship is an indication of the reverence given to the brave.

 *

Jāggar falls in the category of ghost and spiritual worship, in the form of a folk song or at times combined with dances. Sometimes, Jāggar may also be in the form of Puja folk songs and sung in honour of the various gods and goddesses.

I have no idea whether ‘Dās’ Nanda Ballabh is still alive or not. He was rather frail and aged when I last met him. The noteworthy thing about him was that he unremittingly refused to convert his Jāggar into the extreme ritualistic and frenzied voodooist/witchcraft/Ojha style.

It will not be fair to term the hill people as being the most superstitious communities I have come across, but it is a fact that those inhabiting the hill, forest and desert areas are more susceptible to spirit lore.

In Uttarakhad and Himachal regions, I never knew when any of my drivers, trackers or kitchen staff would suddenly become morose and ask to be relieved with pay for a few days off. Why? Because they had to get back to their village and rid themselves of ‘it’. They would become disagreeable and even abscond if leave was denied. Fortunately, such occurrences were far-and-apart.

A fascinating trivia dated July 25, 1838 from the pages of ‘Wanderings of a Pilgrim in Search of the Picturesque, During Four-and-Twenty Years in the East; With Revelations of Life in the Zenāna’ by Fanny Parkes (Published 1850):

“. . . The Hill-men are so alarmed that they run away from service. My paharīs came to request I would let them all depart….at length they agreed to remain, if I would give them a kid to sacrifice the angry goddess who resides in the mountain….they are extremely superstitious. . .”

*

I once enquired about the process of getting rid of ‘it’ and was told that on reaching their village they approach the priest who would then arrange for a Jāggar.

Once the decision to perform Jāggar has been made, a time is set and a large fire lit. The villagers and family members gather around it, waiting for the Dās to invoke the spirit. A Dhol (Drum), Hudka ( hourglass shaped drum/damaroo associated with Shiv) and Thāli (Salver) are used as instruments.

The hypnotic sound of singing, beating of the drum and the salver compels some of the gathering into a stupor. A few shout and leap; at times ripping off their clothes. ‘Possessed’ they move around the fire, and the Dās begins to address them by the name of the spirit or spirits summoned. He asks for answers to the questions that have been communicated to him and seeks remedies. More often than not the spirit will insist upon a sacrifice of a goat or a bird. The spirit is then sent back to its Himalayan abode and the spell is broken.

There is an interesting Hindu Proverb that states – ‘The Three great mysteries: air to a bird, water to a fish, mankind to himself.’

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4 Responses to “Jāggars”


  1. 1 Samira
    October 19, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    I agree that most indigenous communities living in hilly areas or deserts tend to have an intimate connection with the world of spirits. And while it might be easy for us city dwellers to “pooh-pooh” at their beliefs, we cannot deny their importance in the lives of those who still live “close to nature”.

    An amazing piece of work in this regard by Dr Nitin Rai and his team at ATREE: http://www.atree.org/sites/default/files/brt/brtmap_eng.pdf – the only map of sacred sites of any tribe in India, as far as I know.

    Also, highly recommended is “The Songlines” by Bruce Chatwin.

    • 2 bichhubooti
      October 19, 2011 at 3:56 pm

      Thanks very much for the map link. I second the reading of “The Songlines”.

      Here is a personal dichotomy of sorts – I am not superstitious at all but enthralled with the indigenous communities’ connection with the world of spirits and considering the time spent away from the cities and some of the encounters I have had – I can only say that there is stuff that science has not been able to explain and the scientific mind is then compelled to take a walk!

      • 3 Samira
        October 20, 2011 at 6:13 am

        I know – have the same dichotomy, but don’t like to talk about it much since people have used it to point out my “unfairness” at not “believing” in rituals that “other” people follow in the cities! It is futile to try and explain this contradiction to someone who has not spent long periods of time living with indigenous communities, and experiencing the world as they do.

  2. 4 sacredfig
    October 25, 2011 at 9:43 am

    I found similar belief in spirits while in Kerala – also worship of Yakshas and snakes. They still retain sacred groves, or ‘Kaavu’ which have shakti temples in them. One is very inclined to believe in spirits in places like that – nature overwhelms you, and sometimes you just want the support of something, even just an idea, to make you feel less so. It was all a bit freaky in the kaavu – barely any light coming through the thick growth of trees, nobody in sight since the temple was closed in the afternoon, and the batteries on both my cameras failing when I tried to take any pictures 🙂


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