Accepted paper:

Categorizing the spirits at Balaji temple: a study comparing the vernacular and psychiatric nosology of spirit-possession in north India

Author:

Nilisha Vashist (University College London)

Paper short abstract:

This paper describes the perceptions on spirit possession and healing among the afflicted in Balaji temple, Rajasthan (India) through case studies. Analyzing these, vernacular nosology is discussed and evaluated vis-à-vis standard psychiatric diagnosis for divergences/convergences between the two.

Paper long abstract:

Spirit-possession has variously been explained in psychiatry as a specific mental disorder or one including different such disorders. However, the experienced realm of this phenomenon is difficult to lend to neat demarcations into psychiatric categories of disorders. As such, the psychiatric nosology of mental ailments is often incommensurable with the general native perceptions on spirit affliction and exorcism. These native beliefs usually involve multi-vocality of intruding spirits and their manifestations onto sufferers and their social groups as well as beliefs on etiology, effect and course of healing. This paper is drawn from the data gathered during fieldwork (including case studies) in Balaji temple in the state of Rajasthan, India, which is renowned for ritual healing of those possessed by spirits. The vernacular beliefs on different aspects of spirit-possession like causes, types of spirits and pattern of affliction, symptoms and manifestations as well as exorcism as found among the visitors that comprise of sufferers and their care-groups are described through the means of case-studies. These beliefs are then analyzed in order to attempt to arrive at vernacular nosology of spirit-affliction, which is then compared with the standard psychiatric nosology in order to evaluate possible convergences or divergences as well as strengths and short-comings of both.

panel P101
Collaboration between psychiatry and anthropology: nosological and etiological challenges