Academic journal article
By Gellner, David N.
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute , Vol. 8, No. 3
ASSAYAG, JACKIE & GILLES TARABOUT (eds). La possession en asie du sud: parole, corps, territorie / Possession in South Asia: speech, body, territory (Collection Purusartha). 447 pp., map, illus., bibliogr. Paris: EHESS, 1999. 220 FF (paper)
This substantial collection on spirit possession in South Asia brings together thirteen empirical studies, an introduction by Gilles Tarabout, and an epilogue by Jackie Assayag. Seven of these fifteen contributions are written in English, the remainder in French. One chapter is on Nepal, three are on north India, one on Orissa, and seven are on south India (induding four on Kerala, Tarabout's own 42-page article being one of them). A large range of possession phenomena are covered: malign ('demonic') possession (Freeman, Caroline and Filippo Osella, Racine, Uchiyamada, and Tarabout); oracles (Freeman, Berti, Krengel, Tarabout, and Carrin); dance representations of the gods (Toffin, the Osellas, Srinivas, and Freeman); accounts of particular mediums/shamans (Schombucher, Mayaram, and Carrin); possession of devotees in worship (the Osellas); case studies of victims of possession (Berti, the Osellas, Uchiyamada, and Tarabout); descriptions of ritual procedures to induce or prevent possession (Krengel, Schombuche r, Padoux, Berti, Freeman, and the Osellas); ritual texts associated with possession performances (Schombucher, Berti, Freeman, and Krengel); and Tantric ritual practice (Freeman and Padoux). Several authors explore the ways in which possession is sometimes used in the sacralization of space (Toffin, Krengel, Srinivas, Uchiyamada, and Tarabout), though it has to be said that in Srinivas's description of a temple festival in Bangalore possession seems to be fairly tangential.
Both in his introduction and in his article on the two main forms of possession in south Kerala Tarabout makes the point that definitions of possession in terms of trance are ethnocentric. In fact in South Asia there are numerous afflictions ascribed to some sort of spirit possession which do not necessarily involve any conscious awareness or change of mental state on the part of the person affected. Contrariwise, trance-like states can occur, for example during religious devotions, without being seen as caused by possession.
It is striking to this reviewer that, despite the massive expansion in what is known, the broad outlines of an approach to possession first sketched by Dumont in his 1959 article 'Possession and priesthood' (Contributions to Indian Sociology 3) remain valid, though he is rarely cited in this collection. …