Accepted Paper:

The divine dwelling within: Siri spirit possession in Tulunadu, South India  


Pauline Schuster-Löhlau (University of Würzburg)

Paper short abstract:

The Siri spirits of Tulunadu, Western Karnataka, can not only be encountered dwelling in physical structures, but also in the bodies of the female and male performers of the Siri ritual. The poster will visualize how the Siri spirits take possession of places and, at certain times, of human beings.

Paper long abstract:

As elsewhere in India, the worship of ancestors, local deities and spirits plays a crucial role within the framework of Tulu culture, society and folk religion. According to the (traditional) world view of the people living in the Tulu-speaking areas of Western Karnataka, local deities and spirits dwell in the invisible realm of māya, whereas man, animals and plants live in the physical world of jōga. However, the boundary between the two realms is permeable, so that supernatural beings may descend to the world of humans at certain times. One of these occasions is the annual Siri festival which takes place all over Tulunadu on the full moon nights from February to May. During the Siri ritual, female and male performers, siris and kumāras, get possessed by the characters of the mythological Siri family for the whole night. In general, siris and kumāras completely identify with the character they embody, considering themselves a part of the Siri family, being proud of acting as the spirits' mediums. Moreover, the Siri spirits seem always present in the performers' lives, dwelling in their hearts and minds. Physically, the Siri spirits reside in small shrines located within temple-like structures called siri āladεs, either in anthropomorphic or aniconic form. This form of dwelling is probably easier to grasp than the concept of spirit possession, but still, the poster seeks to visually explore the notion of the "divine dwelling within", in a literal as well as in a metaphorical sense.

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