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Government Gazette

Where have all the spirits gone?

Pix by Rukmal Gamage

Spectacular moments of the Daha ata sanniya enacted in Oruwala Athurugiriya recently

A Sanni, according to Pundit Dr. Nandadeva Wijesekera in his book Deities and Demons Magic and Masks Part 1 is a manifestation assumed by the Maha Kola Sanni Yaka, whose name is mentioned during a plague in the city of Vesali. There are eighteen such sannis personifying certain illnesses.

Each Sanni is believed to be responsible for causing an illness. Though it is not known when the concept was introduced Dr. Wijesekera believes the most likely persons may have been Ayurvedic practitioners. "Treatment of illness caused by spirits is the fourth division of Ayurveda. It is called bhuta cikitsa." writes Dr. Wijesekera.

To quote from P. 143 "When a person falls ill the Ayurvedic physician is consulted. He treats the patient as usual. But if he suspects the illness is caused by spirits or the influence of a demon the kattadiya is summoned.

If the patient does not respond to normal treatment the illness needs "bhuta chikitsa" according to Auyrveda. " The spirit can cause illness by casting an evil look (disti), or by possession (avesa) or even by loneliness (tanikama). In some cases black magic (kodivina) is suspected.

If it is a kodivina then it has to be countered by a Kattadiya. If that is not so the Kattadeiya (devil priest), Yak-edura takes preliminary precautions to arrest the progress of the illness. He charms yellow thread and ties a security thread (epa nool). He offers himself as surety and promises to make suitable offering within three months by performing a tovil.

Within this period the devil possessing the patient has to be exorcised by a special ceremony. A favourable day according to the patient's horoscope has to be selected. The patient should avoid facing Maruva when he is seated at the dancing ritual.

The social position and wealth of the patient determines elaborateness and duration of the ceremony. It may be simple with a few dancers and a drummer or elaborate with several dancers and two or three drummers. The dancing may last from 18 hours to 8 hours the following day"



Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service
Sri Lanka
Kapruka -

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