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Devil dancing
Devil dancing
Ambalama | Butterflies | Exorcism and The Occult | Kumbuk | Palm | Rice | Traditional Dance | Traditional Musical Instruments

Exorcism and the Occult

Although Sri Lanka is basically a Buddhist country, over the centuries Buddhism blended with folk cults. Thus, folk rituals aimed at appeasing evil sprits and exorcising demons as well as appeasing the good or benevolent gods who will thus bestow blessings on the people.

Hence, the visitor to Sri Lanka could, if he so desires, witness several magico-religious rituals and ceremonies, which are still part of the way of the islanders.

The foundation of magical belief appears to be animistic; That is, unseen power exists everywhere, and super-natural beings are believed to influence good and evil. If the correct rituals are performed, these powers or beings can be invoked to assist the magician or sorcerer.

The two types ceremonies were conducted by two types of sorcerers, the God-priest or "Kapurala" and the demon-priest or "Kattadiya".

In Sri Lanka this type of magic prevailed as far back as the first millennium, B.C. There are many records of magico-religious rituals and ceremonies in many early Sinhalese works. In the ancient times in the earliest periods, most of these ceremonies were supposed to have been carried out by so-called "Yakkas", a race of people who worshipped demons.

There are four broad types of magic in the island.

  • Demonism - worship of demons and evil sprits.
  • Kapusim - worship of gods of the Hindu pantheon, semi-gods and deified heros.
  • Grahaism - worship of planets and stars of the universe
  • Charms - A large number of rituals including spells and talismans.

•  Demonism

According to local demonology, the actual number of demons runs into millions, Vesamuni being their King. Demons are believed to haunt forests, mountains and streams. They are also believed to be seen by people in man made abodes such as desolate houses, graves cemeteries and lonely roads and junctions where three roads meet.

The setting of the rituals takes on the form of a circular arena where dancers perform and an ornamental altar of young coconut leaves with offerings.

Masks worm by the dancers take on a range of weird expressions as they flicker in the glow of coconut flares.

The rhythm of the fast drum beat, of the demon-drum of "yak-bera" vibrates through the air, building up suspense. An exorcism ceremony begins with an invitation to the demons to appear. The performers chant in time to the rhythm of the drum beats. The sorcerer implores and finally threateningly asks the demon to stop harassing the afflicted subject and leave, in the name of lord Buddha, and King Vesmuni.

•  Kapuism

The "Kapurala" of the lay priest conducts the ceremony and he presides over the temple (devale). He is not an ordained person and no special questions are required for the office. The profession is hereditary, and handed down from father to son. The priest (Kapurala) invokes spirits of a class superior to demons. They are known as "Deviyas" of Gods, although some in fact are deified heroes whose blessings are invoked for their protection against sickness, evil and granting of prosperity. Although usually considered less evil than the extremely dangerous and must be correctly propitiated or they may bring famine and other disasters upon the mortals.

They become benevolent gods who can bestow good will upon the people when properly appeased.

•  Grahaism

It is believed that there exists planetary deities"Grahayos" who can influence a person's life. If this influence is unfavorable, it could cause sickness of misfortune, which can be averted by performing ceremonies to the nine planets of the solar-system - "Nava Grahayo".

The most interesting is the "Bali" ceremony, a ritual in which performers in colorful costumes dance to the rhythm of drums in front of a brightly painted effigy of vivid colors.

•  Charms

The belief in the efficacy of charms (mantras) as an unfailing protection against earthly dangers and also as a means of annoying enemies is widespread in the island. The sorcerer the person, who practices these charms, or mantras, is known as the "Kattadiya". Before his charms, of spells can be rendered effective, they must undergo a certain process called "Jeevam", by which the spell or charm must be recited a hundred, or sometimes a thousand times. If not, they will be merely a string of meaningless words. Thus, spells can be cast or lifted.

Ambalama | Butterflies | Exorcism and The Occult | Kumbuk | Palm | Rice | Traditional Dance | Traditional Musical Instruments