The History of Ghost Exorcism and Sacrifice in Nepal
What happens to our souls, or spirits, has been a matter of philosophical debate for thousands of years, giving birth to some of the world’s most treasured religions. Belief in the soul is a common belief shared by billions across the globe, and what happens afterwards is what sometimes divides those beliefs.
In Nepal, the soul is an important aspect of all features of life, especially what happens after the body dies. In 1968, a man committed suicide by hanging himself in a village; this was an untimely,” “unnatural” or “inauspicious” death. Because of this, his family were left to deal, not only with his body, but his spirit. As an unnatural death, they were not sure that the proper burial rituals would be enough to allow his spirit to become an ancestor destined to be reborn.
The proper rites were conducted but within six years, the crops were failing and the cattle sick. The family believed that the rituals had not allowed his soul to be reborn and the problems they were facing were due to his ghost reminding them of this fact. “As a ghost, he would inevitably be forgotten because his kinsmen would not offer him food at the annual worship of his ancestors. Consequently, a bayu utarnu (raising/creating the bayu) ritual was performed to exorcise the ghost (kancho bayu) and transform it into a deity-like spirit (pako bayu) that is worshipped daily by its household. Over time it may become the focus of a cult for its lineage and their descendants and thus be remembered for many generations by their worship and food offerings”.
The rituals to exorcise spirits can last for weeks at a time; nightly séances with the specialist would be held where they would use powerful mantras and chants, as well as their own tutelary spirit. “Through the medium the ghost related to his kinsmen and neighbours the circumstances surrounding his death. Once this happened, the exorcism reached its climax, the rite known as khali khane. On the chosen night, the possessed medium danced on the hot coals of a sacrificial hor fire, thereby transforming the ghost into a pako bayu who would no longer bring misfortune to his household”.
Looking at the ritual, we see that the exorcism is technically a sacrifice; specifically, it is a “second cremation that achieves a transformation of the spirit of the deceased”.
It is not entirely sure as to when these rituals started to be established, but we know they have been an important part of Nepalese culture for centuries. It may have had its roots in Hindu sacrificial cosmology – for example, “Krishna’s spirit remained a bayu because his suicide rendered his body and spirit inappropriate offerings for his sacrificial funeral pyre. Thus for the khali khane sacrifice to be effective, he must be first made into an appropriate offering. This is the purpose of the spirit possession séances”.
The history of ghost exorcism and sacrifice is Nepal is of incredible interest to scholars; not only do we learn more about the religions of the people themselves, but we can trace the history and the origins of these beliefs and gain an unique insight to what may lie ahead.
Gray, John A. (1987) Bayu Utarnu: Ghost Exorcism and Sacrifice in Nepal, Ethnology, University of Pittsburgh- Of the Commonwealth System of Higher Education.