10/12/08 Michelle Granara Blog Entry Yesterday was a pretty wild day. We went to see a soothsayer, I didn’t really understand what a soothsayer was before we went and still I’m not exactly clear on what we saw. I don’t know if it was a Buddhist thing or a Hindu thing, I think it was a blending of the two because I’m under the impression it started with Buddhist rituals but then the soothsayer was possessed by Hindu Gods.
We got to the soothsayer’s home at about 8:30 and shortly after that a crowd gathered. The crowd all placed big green leaves, called betel leaves, on the railing and then they placed a small amount of money on the leaves as an offering.
They all stood outside of the Devale (House of the Gods), when the soothsayer entered, wearing only a sarong and some necklaces leaving his chest bare. Then he went about the Devale chanting. We were in the way back so all we could really see was some fire every once and a while and the soothsayer moving frantically within. Then he started ringing a bell and then some one outside started ringing a whole bunch of bells. There was an enormous racket and the soothsayer disappeared into some back room and then suddenly his voice changed. He was initially soft spoken in his chanting and then there was this monkeyish laughter and then his voice turned deep and booming. He was believed to be possessed by Lord Vishnu. We were told that in the evenings he is usually possessed by the Goddess Kali and then he sounds like he is speaking in the voice of a women.
The believers formed a line, and one by one they stepped up into this unseen room. Then Vishnu would read their mind and pronounce what was troubling them and how it could be cured. It seemed like most people came seeking advice about everyday things like marriage, jobs, or children. He then would prescribe what they could do. I remember one case where someone’s child had fallen in with a bad crowd and to cure him from their bad influences they would have to collect the child’s hair, without the child knowing and then use some oils and then bury the hair somewhere. Our professor told us a story of how once a man came and the soothsayer pronounced that he was a murder and there was nothing the Gods could do for him, and the man ran out wielding a sword.
A few hours later the soothsayer came out of the trance, and we got to meet with him inside his house. It was weird because he was very soft spoken and humble and the booming voice we had heard all morning didn’t seem like it could have possibly come from him. We noted that in his house there was an enormous television. One of our professor’s told us that this soothsayer was very popular among politicians during elections so it was probably an offering from one of them.
The soothsayer agreed to let Jared, from Carleton College, come back the following weekend to study him as part of Jared’s independent study on ritual healing. I think we will all be interested to read Jared’s paper once he’s studied soothsayers and exorcisms in Sri Lanka. Maybe then I’ll understand a little bit more of what we saw.