Hundreds of Dhami and Jhankri (Traditional Healer and Shaman) from all over Nepal flock to the Gosainkunda in Rasuwa on the occasion of Janai Purnima. Janai Purnima is a sacred festival that has great religious and cultural values in Nepal varying from one ethnicity to the other.
According to the lunar calendar, Janai Purnima falls on the full moon of Shrawan (July/August). Janai means holy thread, and Purnima means full moon day, thus it is the Janai festival on the full moon day of Shrawan.
Jhankri, The Shaman of Nepal
Nepalese believe that spirits and people walk the same paths and that shamanistic rituals are integral not only for the individual body but for society as a whole. Popularly known as the Jhankri (shaman) are mediators of the sacred world.
The role of Jhankri is to re-establish the harmony between all things visible and invisible in order to preserve the ecology of the land. The Jhankri are not just healers, but also storytellers, dancers, musicians, and artists. It is believed that they acquire their numerous talents by personally helping spirits, ancestral deities, elemental spirits, and guides. Jhankri performs healings, mantras, and sacrifices, incorporating several other ritual forms of very intense and powerful cultural practice known as Shamanism.
According to the locals, Dhami is one who fulfills a specific ritual function, while “Kul– and –Jhankri” refer to the means by which this function is fulfilled—possession by Kul-Deuta, the lineage deities, and utilization of the Jhankri’s shamanistic equipment to gain access to spirits.
The Ritual Objects of Shamans
The altered state of awareness of the Dhami-Jhankri is associated with the constant beating of the drum and extensive chanting that enables them to enter a state of receptivity that permits communication with the spirits after a prolonged period of time. When embodying their spirits, both Dhami-Jhãnkris and Kul-Dhamis shake or tremble. This shaking is said to originate in the belly and extend outward to the extremities. As the deities or spirits enter the body, this shaking increases in intensity until the words of the spirits are forced up from the abdomen and through the mouth.
There is various equipment they wear while performing the ritual which is listed below.
Damaru or drum with Chopin (2 sided drum with sash). This power drum, associated with Shiva, is used for tantric rituals and is played with a twisting motion so the two beaters – attached by cords, hit the drum heads simultaneously. It produces a rhythmic and spiritual sound by which the universe was created and is regulated. The Chopin (sash) is typically embroidered with the colors of the tantric elements and waves its colors as the drum is played. It is used to attract and dispel negative energy.
Phurba – Ritual Dagger
Phurba is used to attract and dispel negative energy. After collecting the demons or evil spirits into the Phurba, the Jhankri pierces the ground with the dagger dispersing or redirecting the harmful energy by releasing them from whatever was causing them to be evil. Still used by Buddhists and shamans in Nepal, Tibet, and the Himalayas, these magical daggers date back to at least the 7th or 8th century.
Snake Vertebrae and Rudraksha Bead Naga Mala
Snake vertebrae prayer bead necklace is worn by Jhankri to invoke snake gods to protect themselves during healing rituals. The Naga Mala are primarily used in healing ceremonies for protection against harmful spirits and to connect the shaman with the sacred snake gods and goddesses who help inform their work. The preparation of the snake bones, and creating the necklace itself, involves an intricate sacred ritual to properly empower them. Rudraksha, meaning ‘Enlightened’, seeds symbolize divine wisdom and are traditionally used as prayer beads.
Yak Bell Hat Strap
Yak bell hat Strap are worn over a headpiece and under a chin to secure the Jhankri’s ‘hat’; Indigo dyed cotton cloth covering a woven fiber band with attached conical and crotal bells. It is used in healing rituals and to protect the shaman and the villagers from witches and other evil beings. Some of the bells are newer case brass, some are old hand forged iron.
Worn by Jhankri during rituals and ceremonies to protect themselves from witches and harmful spirits. It is a hand-carved wood and has pictures of different deities carved in it.
This wand from Northwestern Nepal (near Lake Jumla) is a powerful shaman tool. Held in one hand while chanting, the shaman shakes it with short, quick jerks and then taps it to the ground to cleanse the area from harmful spirits.
The Ceremonial stools are Hand carved of wood. They are used to sit slightly elevated off the ground for meditation and for ritual ceremonies.
Ritual Necklace with Rare Large Anaconda Snake Bone
This sacred shaman necklace is particularly rare because of the size of the snake vertebrae used. It is colorfully detailed with the old European handmade glass trade beads and old clear quartz beads, and the age and use of worn small brass crotal bells. The pair of unusually large snake vertebrae are from a 20-foot anaconda. They have been painted green. The preparation of the snake bones and the necklace itself involves an intricate sacred ritual to properly empower them. The bell sound helps the shaman transition into a trance state in preparation for a ceremony and the snake bone connects them to ancestral spirits.
Dhyangro with Phurba Handle
Played by a Jhankri, with a curved stick, to facilitate entering and maintaining the Jhankri’s trance state for their journey into the spirit world. A deity will often reside in the drum during the ritual.
Ritual Apron Belt
This large belt is an essential part of all Nepalese shaman costumes. The belt, or apron, is heavy and loud with many parts: hide leather, iron chain, hand-crafted crotal, cylindrical bells and bangles, and brass conical bells. The cowrie shells, goat horn, and wild boar tusk are all symbolic and spiritual tools. They are used in rituals to protect Jhankri villagers and the area from witches and other evil beings. It is a waist belt with hanging bells and over-the-shoulder cross straps.
Ritual Amulet and Bell Necklace
This leather amulet with the four cowrie shells and brass conical bells on a chain is a sacred ritual necklace is worn to facilitate entering a trance state. The bells make a nice sound when worn or hung in the wind that represents a caravan of yaks coming down a mountain, creating a magical link to their ancestors who migrated over the Himalayas from Tibet to Nepal.
Dressed in a long robe and a headdress of peacock feathers, protected by straps or bells, ironmongery, and cowries, and armed with his flat, double-sided frame drum, the shaman usually accompanies his spiritual performance with the recitation of a myth that may continue for many hours, revealing both his prodigious memory and his gift for storytelling.
Today, the theatricality of shamanism has entered the commercial world; many shaman performances are now given in hotels for the entertainment of tourists.
Janai Purnima at Gosainkunda
Dhami and Jhankri celebrate the festival to boost and renew their spiritual power and also pray for deceased Shamans. It is believed that performing the ritual and praying at the lakes of Gosainkunda on this auspicious day reaps divine insights. Also, they perform their unique spiritual dancing and singing ritual followed by drums and sacred rituals which is certainly a sight to see.
Gosaikunda or the “Lake of Lord of Cows” which Shiva is, is a sacred place and Goddess Gauri. The huge rock in the middle of the lake is believed to be the remains of a Shiva shrine. Each year during the full moon day of Janai Purnima, thousands of devotees pay a visit to Gosainkunda for Shiva-Parbati blessings. It is said that one who takes a holy dip in the cold, crystal clear water of Gosaikunda purges their sins.
Drinking alcohol is an important part of all rituals during the annual pilgrimage during Janai Purnima. Alcohol acts as a social event during which men and women meet and even more during the Janai Purnima holiday. The drink is also used as an offering to the Gods.
Janai Purnima at Paanch Pokhari, Sindhupalchok
Another destination that pilgrims go to is Panch Pokhari in Sindhupalchok District to mark the festival and make offerings on the five sacred lakes. While the pilgrims pray for a prosperous harvest the shamans at the lake practice their rituals on this day
Janai Purnima at Muktikshetra
For the festival, pilgrims from the surrounding areas, from the neighboring nation, and from within the country gather at the Muktinath Temple to pay homage to Lord Muktinath. Devotees take three plunges and two ponds viz, Laxmi and Saraswati Kunda, and run under 108 waterspouts called “ Muktidhara” considering that it brings them salvation. After the ritual bathing pilgrims make offerings to Lord Vishnu in the form of Muktinath.
This sacred day is also celebrated by the Gurungs and Thakalis, the hilly region’s ethnic groups by organizing a Yatung Mela (fair) on the sites of Muktinath Temple. Thakalis celebrate this three-day festival by organizing horse races, drinking, and dancing. They also showcase the local products on the occasion.
Featured photo: Tamang Shamans celebrate Janai Purnima Festival in Nagarkot. by Ekant sw