Streetparade of the gods

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    Sirha of the goddess Kankalimata
    In a state of trance the sirha of the goddess Kankalimata pierces his cheeks. As a “living god on earth” he is oblivious to pain.
    © Cornelia Mallebrein

  • Cultural context

    We can only surmise which individual deities are actually represented in this exhibition. Often, they can only be conclusively identified if their original place of veneration is known.

    According to the participants in the rituals the venerated deities are actually present in the figures. The gods are present during the rituals and attend to the requests and woes of their followers. The religious practise is essentially shaped by the belief in the transcending significance and effect of the act of seeing: the gods allow their worshippers to catch a glimpse of them (darshan dena), which in turn is received by the devotees (darshan lena). By the gods showing themselves, the visual communication between them and their worshippers is opened up – in contrast to the hearing of god’s word in the great book religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam).

    The gods are not only present in the cult figures, but also in people, the so-called sirhas, male mediums or dancers in a state of trance. One cannot decide to become a sirha, it is the deity who picks a medium. Upon being prompted by the believers, the god or goddess will take possession of the sirha.

    If a sirha is representing a female deity, he will wear a long dress and a colourful blouse decorated with cowries and mirrors. The sirha of a male god will wear a hip cloth. He will hold attributes of the deity in his hands. If he is representing a wild and powerful goddess, the attribute is often a rope studded with nails which he will use to flagellate himself, or a trident which he uses to pierce his tongue. As he is possessed by the goddess, he is oblivious to pain.

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