An Ancient Custom Reveals Its Purpose

Sarmishta Mani

“I call myself Sarmishta Mani. I am a counsellor working to help individuals, whether children or adults, lead more effective lives, should they experience any kind of dissatisfaction with what’s happening in their’s currently. I find a lot of things inspiring, and I love it that human beings have infinite capacity for change should they acknowledge that capacity. The message of my mentor never fails to move me: We come from the same spiritual source, one may lose touch with that source as one lives out life as a human being, but one returns to that source as one evolves and becomes more of the Being than what one previously was.” – Sarmishta

As a student of Psychology, I am amazed by the layers of understanding that the human mind contains. Reality, or one’s understanding of the outer as well as inner world as each individual perceives it, is actually a coming together of several forces in the individual’s life, going back as far as to heredity, the environment one exists in and one’s personal interpretation of these forces. Since each of us is unique in the combination of these various forces, no two distinct person’s reality are the same. The genes that predispose a person to a particular temperament, the parental care or control that the individual experienced, the social environment in the form of extended family, peer groups, neighbours, institutions – all play major roles in shaping that person – her reactions, interpretations and beliefs, her physical or mental abilities, acceptance or expectation, involvements or rejections.

India is a land of striking contrasts. One area that plays out this contrast is the socio-cultural set of practices that this country’s rich history has borne witness to. They include the traditions, norms, habits etc. that have been most commonly identified, picked, practiced, nurtured by the people who believe they belong to that particular culture. It even becomes a part of one’s identity or how one defines oneself. Within India there are thousands of such cultures operating as sub-cultures of larger and more established ones. Not often do people have the wisdom to step beyond the socio-cultural boundaries and explore what keeps people on the other side going.

This apathy defined my life too, till I attended a course on the concept of `Possession’ as recognised by cultures all over the world and soon thereafter was able to participate as a hidden onlooker at a religious possession ritual that I so far had little patience to attend. The understanding and sensitivity that the recent learning had planted in me showed me a world that functions with its own set of rules, regulations, order and outcome. That particular night’s experience had the impact of looking at differences in my world with a new found respect. Below is an account of the proceedings, both in the compound adjacent to my apartment and inside me.

It was close to 11 P.M. In front of the temple attached to the Slum Clearance Board’s dwellings the drumming was peaking. The shouting among those gathered had gained volume, indicating that the Mother Goddess, whom they were propitiating, had descended among the humans present in the gathering. One woman was wildly throwing herself all over within a circle created by the onlookers who were in the grip of devotion. Soon more joined to reveal that they too were in the Possession of an All Powerful God.

How did I know all this?

I was watching the entire scene from my window in the dark, through a small gap in the drawn curtains. I could not help it. I was myself possessed by fascination, fear and revulsion. Fascination – because here were customs I had only heard about and never experienced, Fear – because at that moment a part of my brain was instinctively wondering if The Divine Power could sense my presence or worse still, could take hold of my body and mind. Revulsion – because it looked extremely primitive and beyond the comfort-level of my socio-cultural background to me. I turned away from the whole scene telling myself that some things in India cannot be changed ever (of course I had to give myself a lot of pep talk to calm down my fear).

Why am I mentioning this here? What has changed?

I remained blissfully comfortable in my `understanding’ about the motivations of the `others’ till I realised how completely ignorant, naive and arrogant I was being. When I am confused, suffer sadness that I am unable to resolve, carry the burden of emotional pain that stops me from being in happiness and peace, I use certain tools to bring myself relief, don’t I? I try to read about what is bothering me, seek knowledge to prepare myself to deal with the situation, visit a Psychotherapist….

That is just what belief in Possession is. The whole Drama of Possession is just a vent. An outlet. A release that is socially accepted, even respected. It belongs to the set of tools that some people have easy access to, to take care of their burdens or rather, to seek temporary relief from their share of burdens.

In the light of this new way of interpreting this ancient practice, I realised that I do not necessarily have to believe in a ritual or a practice, rather I must learn to value another human and her choices to create a world that is meaningful to her.

3 thoughts on “An Ancient Custom Reveals Its Purpose

  1. Pingback: Content and contributors – March 2014 | aainanagar

  2. After reading this, I’m reminded of the numerous times I have disregarded and mocked such rituals, which didn’t have any rational use, according to me..and how I have even tried explaining to some people, about their “ignorance”, superstitions and so on on. Your artcile gives a new perspective to this..Yes, when we have our tools, be it calling up a friend, google our “symptoms” along with other so called rational and modern ways to survive, to go on to another day, or just to calm our fears..why shouldn’t different people approach and practice what they can..

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