Studies in the ritual traditions of the Kumaon Himalaya
Ethnographic investigations into the ritual traditions of Kumaon Himalaya have led to the isolation of a 'death-cycle complex', i.e. a unitary complex of ideas, functions and ceremonial performance concerned with the ritualisation of aspects of Kumaoni death and the inter-relations between the living and the dead. The pattern of officiation and sets of traditions and practices characteristic of this complex are described and are shown to be distinct from, yet complementary to, brahmanical institutions and ritual traditions. One aspect of this is their striking contiguity with certain traditions of world renunciation. The major ceremonial components of the death-cycle complex, rites of propitiation, possession, sacrifice and procession, are described and discussed in turn. Rituals of propitiation are viewed in conjunction with the orthodox death ceremony as rites of passage concerned with the symbolic transportation and transformation of the dead soul. Rituals of possession, during which the dead are re-incarnatedas divinities among the community of the living, are analysed as sacred assemblies held to promote exchange, healing and regeneration. Following this, detailed attention is given to the Kumaoni Autumn Goddess festival, a ceremony which celebrates the annual death, propitiation and liberation of one of the region's major deities. This is seen as a death-cycle complex in minature and the processes of the rituals are shown to symbolically correspond to cycles and processes within nature and the domain of agriculture. Throughout the entire work particular attention is given to the elicitation from the ethnography of motifs suggestive of activities of ritualised journeying. The 'ritual journey' is viewed as the primary symbolic mode used to represent and effect passage within and between the various stages of the death cycle complex. By way of conclusion, consideration is given to the status of the concept of the journey within North Indian Hindu society generally. The ritual journey is then shown to be consonant with a more abstract concept altogether, that of movement, a motif which underlies not only journeys of transportation, incarnation and procession but also the notion of ritual passage itself. Finally, these various types of symbolic movement are viewed ultimately as providing abstract foci for a play upon power, the acquisition and utilisation of sacred creative power, and the winning of life out of death.