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  • Ritual, Performance, and Transmission: The Gaddi Shepherds of Himachal Himalayas
  • Mahesh Sharma (bio)

I can still visualize the fierce dance of Dhudu—the appellation of Shiva for the Gaddi shepherds of western Himalayas—that leaves him alone, forsaken by his wives: Gorja (Girija) and Ganga. This dance drama is enacted and ritually sung by the Sippi chela-oracles—the low-caste wool-clippers who are also the oracles of Shiva—during an offering of Nauala (a sacrificial offering made to Shiva in his local form as Dhudu by the Gaddis). The Sippnaitus or Sippi chela-oracles dance in trance, possessed by Dhudu, and accompanied by a warlike beat played on nagara (“kettledrums”) and narsingha (“longhorns”). I can still hear the young ones crying, even as numbers of Gaddi men and women lapse into trance, joining the chelas in a dance that has slow rhythmic movement yet is fearsome to behold. Recalling the scene, I can still feel the chill traversing through my spine. I reproduce the last stanza of the Nauala song that I first recorded in 1990 (unpublished):1

Nacch Dhudua Jatan vo khilari ho/ Dhudu naccheya jatan vo khilari ho . . . Dance, O Dhudu, dance! Dhudu dances with his matted-locks swaying, With his dreadlocks swaying.

Dhudu dances with his matted-locks swaying. Dhudu dances and he throws down his crown Down falls Ganga, she falls down from his crown Ganga falls down on the earth. Asks Gorja: who are you, what are you to him? Says Ganga: I am his mistress. Over this both Ganga and Gorja fight, Gorja and Ganga quarrel over Him Their garlands of pearls break apart. They hit each other’s legs with sticks, They hit each other’s arms with pestles, They hit each other’s heads with spades.

Gorja is incensed; she goes to her natal home. Who will help bring Gorja back to you? The devout Bhagirath takes back Ganga The Ganga is taken back to earth.2 You, O Dhudu, You remain alone Dhudu is now left alone. Dhudu puts the entire flora in a box, Dhudu puts the entire fauna in a box. The box he puts under his pillow, For twelve years he goes off to sleep. For twelve years there is famine on earth.

Dance, O Dhudu, dance! Dhudu dances with his matted-locks swaying, With his dreadlocks swaying.

Nauala is a prestige-rite or transformative ceremony held particularly as thanksgiving after the performance of certain rituals of passage, consisting of invocation and propitiation by offering a he-goat as the sacrificial animal. The ritual is performed by Shiva’s chelas-oracles, the Sippis, who enter into trance; possessed, as it were, by Dhudu. The trance possession is considered auspicious and with it starts the ceremony in which a ram or he-goat is offered. The indication of acceptance of sacrificed is divinized by sprinkling water on the sacrificial animal. If the animal shivers visibly, it is an indication of acceptance and if the animal does not, the sacrifice cannot be made. The sacrificial meat is then served as a part of the feast made over to all the participants/ devotees by the host conducting this ritual. While the Sippi-chela is in trance, he makes prognostications about the clan, some general predictions of larger interest, such as one about weather (if there will be drought or much snow, or it will be a normal year). Then he takes specific questions by the host-family, and offers solutions. The devotees also take the opportunity to ask personal questions about the maladies afflicting them, or questions regarding the present and future worries. While the possession dance ends after a while, the devotional invocation of Dhudu—mostly focusing on his marriage to Gorja (Girija, the mountain goddess), or the relationship between Shiva and Gaddis—goes on throughout the night.

This paper documents the Nauala ritual as a prism for folklore and social change. I have used my fieldnotes and others’ documentation to map tangentially the altered perception and articulation of changing self-identity of the Gaddis. In the following sections, I argue that the Gaddis shepherds, who were displaced from their ancestral habitat and the ways of nomads, adopted...

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