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उत्तराखंडी ई-पत्रिका

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Dance the Angry God of the Politicians”: Re-imagining the Poetics of Possession in Toronto

मेरी ये कबिता" उखेल " जिसे मेरी पुस्तक "उकाल - उंदार " में से श्री लुक वाइट्मैन जो के अमेरिका में प्राफ्फिसर है ने अपने रिसर्च पेपर में समलित कर इसे बिधार्थियो के समक्ष प्रस्तुत किया ! ये हमारी गड्वाली माँ बोली के लिए बहुत हे गर्व का दिन है/था जो उन्होंने मेरी एस कविता को चुनकर पहली बार गड्वाली बोली में रचित कबिता को समान दिया साथ में अमेरिका में गड्वाली में लिखे जानेवाले रचनाओं को वहा के लोगो तक पहुचाने का प्रयास किया ! मै व्यक्तिगत रूप से उनका ह्रदय आभार प्रकट करता हूँ . ! ये मेरे ही लिए नहीं अपितु हमरी गड्वाली बोली के लिए भी हर्ष का दिन था ! एक बार पुन्ह: लुका जी का आभार।। आपके कामेंट के प्रतीक्षा बनी रहेगी ------ पराशर गौर

Dance the Angry God of the Politicians”: Re-imagining the Poetics of Possession in Toronto

By Luke Whitmore

In 2006 Parashar Gaur self-published, through Hamsraj Commercial Services in Toronto, a collection of poetry entitled Ukal-Undar (“Ascent-Descent”) written in the north Indian regional language/dialect of Garhwali, with accompanying translation in Hindi. Gaur, now a resident of Toronto for several decades, is a beloved figure in the small community of Indians from the Garhwal and Kumaon regions in the state of Uttarakhand who reside in the greater Toronto area. We met in 2010, when having moved to Toronto and done an internet search for “Toronto, Garhwali” I came across his name, looked him up in the phone book, called, and introduced myself. I had been on the search for Garhwali communities in North America as an outgrowth of my work on the pilgrimage place of Kedarnath and its immediate locale, located in the Kedarnath valley of central northern Garhwal. Thus, I look forward to hearing the responses of those who specialize in North American Hinduism to this case study – I come to this work as someone with a growing interest in Himalayan Hinduisms and Garhwali language and culture rather than as a specialist in North American and transnational Hindu thought and practice.

Parashar Gaur is well known in Garhwali and Delhi circles as a playwright, poet, writer of political satire, and as the producer of one of the first Garhwali language films ever made: Jagwal (“The Wait”). His poetry in Ukal-Undar primarily focuses on topics connected to the region of Garhwal. Some poems celebrate traditional Garhwali/Himalayan village ways of life. Others mourn the disrepair of village life today, a situation he regards as caused by modernization, poor government, and greed. He particularly focuses on the poignant and sometimes violent history of the past half-century of struggle for the creation of an autonomous hill-state out of the northern section of Uttar Pradesh, culminating in the creation of a new state in 2000. Maintaining awareness of this history in the Uttarakhandi community of Toronto, in some ways an uphill battle, is an endeavor of particular importance for Gaur today.

I will discuss a specific poem from this collection entitled Ukhel (“Emergence/Exorcism”) in which Gaur maps the structure of a traditional Garhwali healing ritual onto some of what he views as the problems facing the region today: the socially divisive character of Uttarakhandi politics and the difficulties of preserving traditional forms of Garhwali culture and identity. This poem, I argue, inhabits a transnational Hindu subjectivity in a distinctive way. It does not jettison or de-emphasize the importance of deity possession in favor of what Amanda Huffer has called, in speaking about “new Hindu religions movements, a “decontextualized theolinguistic register to signify more egalitarian, democratic, inclusive, ecumenical, and universalistic impulses.” (Huffer, 2011, 374) Yet neither does the poem enact a straightforward affirmation of what Steven Vertovec has called “’popular’ Hinduism” (Vertovec, 2000). Rather, I read it as enacting the possibility of a third way – a literary attempt to treat the phenomenon and poetics of possession as an ongoing interpretive resource for living life as a Canadian Garhwali Hindu.

Emergence/Exorcism/Ukhel (my translation)

If after my death

my home place

became free,1

then what was my part in this?

While I was alive

in her eyes

I always saw

the affliction of hunger and starvation

the pain of helplessness.

Who knows how many unfortunates like me there were

who must have been unable to give their mothers

even a tiny amount of happiness.2

Seeing all of this

Her heart/mind would have felt a wound,

the swelling of suppressed damage,

curses emerging

in the place of prayers.

She must have said “(this is all) nonsense!”

And someone, tearing their hair on their chest,

wounding their palms,

someone must have said3


May you never know happiness.

As you caused me suffering,

may God bring it about that you

also will be reduced

to abject, writhing begging

in front of your own children.”


Someone did something like this

for my native place.

So, why not just go ask someone,

why not do a healing ritual?

Make the arena for the deities

Dance the angry god of the politicians,

Going on strike against them,

worship the unsatisfied ghosts of the speechmakers,

the spirits of the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Harijans 4

Don’t fall

into the trap of caste

Join voices together

and united, challenge those ghosts.

Those unsatisfied ghosts

they are the lineage-deities

they stay with us and show the way.

Just keep your vow to worship them

and it will make them all dance:

cows and calves, men and women large and small –

the whole village will begin to dance.

Hey Nagaraja, just as you have helped us before,

give these helpless people the shakti to resist.

Hey ghosts! We swear,

we who have not yet made you dance –

When the provinces and counties of my region,

the common people, the mountains, the village,

when all these regain their true identity,

What will I do?.....

Then, all the mountains will do your worship.

Then there will be the establishment of a new Garhwal.

1 The creation of Uttarakhand in 2000, a goal that was not achieved without the deaths of protesters.

2The state as mother.

3Seeing the painful amount of effort required to bring about the creation of the state, and the deeply negative impact on the new state, created by the feeding frenzy of political power and self-interest that immediately followed, someone cursed the state. The state, and the spirits of those who died to create her, became a hantya, an unsatisfied ghost/spirit who has died an unnatural death.

4This practice in Garhwal goes by the general name of devta nacna/nacana (god-dancing, causing-the god to dance). In such events, enabled by the drumming that is a signal feature of Garhwali culture, devtas will possess humans and dance through them as they make their wishes and needs known. The hantya needs to be ritually transformed into a good devta who will thenceforth protect the community provided she receives regular worship. As William Sax has shown in his recent work God of Justice, successful healing interactions with the devta require the people involved (the family unit, the village) to work together cooperatively as a community.

The language of possession and healing seen here carries specifically Garhwali echoes. Garhwalis will often describe themselves as, relative to the majority of Indian Hindus who live “below” on the plains, especially accustomed to the phenomenon of possession. “Here in Garhwal”, as it was once put to me, “we live very close to our Gods. They come inside us all the time.” While descriptively speaking Garhwal is not especially distinct in this regard, this view is an important aspect of how Garhwalis understand themselves. And it is a marker of ambivalent connotation. On the one hand, as residents of the storied Himalaya, what is often termed the Land of The Gods (Dev Bhumi), Garhwalis are proud that their home is understood by many to be a region of special sanctity and purity. On the other, along with residents of other mountainous regions in India, Garhwalis struggle with the perception that relative to the plains-living majority they are in some way or other “backward”, uneducated, and overly superstitious. Practices of possession map to both of these connotations.

In talking about the translation and interpretation of this poem with Parashar Gaur, I attempted to broach the question of what Garhwalis in Toronto, and Torontonian Hindus more broadly, think about the phenomenon of possession. In our conversation he mentioned to me that he has been greatly enjoying a magazine called Canadian Hindu Link, and commended it to me as a useful document. He also suggested that, as part of my work on his poetry and because of my evident interest in possession, that I submit a piece to Canadian Hindu Link about the importance of possession for Garhwalis. To contextualize this possibility, here is a list of the article titles from the most recent edition of the magazine (Volume 4, Issue 3, 2012).

Be Happy With What You Have

Rama and Krishna: Myth or History?

Are Rituals in Hinduism Relevant Today?

Gyanji's Nuggets of Wisdom

Dharma and Religion: A Vedic Perspective

British Legal, Education Systems Derived from Hindus

Governance of Mandirs

Hinduism Does not Condemn Gay People

Hindusim: The Natural Way of Life

The Caste System in Modern Hindu Society

Technique of Controlling the Mind

My Thoughts about Krishna and Gita

Raksha Bandhan Festival

Onam Festival of Kerala

Tolerance Isn't Good Enough: The Need for Mutual Respect in Interfaith Relations

Fear of Death

Tamil Weaver's Wisdom

Purusharthas: The Four Goals of Life

Promoting Vedic Knowledge

Krishna, The Cardiologist

When I asked him such a piece might make Garhwalis embarrassed in any way, he replied that it certainly wouldn’t but to the contrary that possession is a very common feature of Hindu experience in the Greater Toronto area but that no one wants to talk about it. While I would need to know a great deal more about the texture of Hindu communities in the greater Toronto area before submitting such a piece, I take very seriously the intensity of Parashar Gaur’s insistence that this should be part of public representations of Hinduism in Toronto. I sense that it is part of his distinctive vision for the ways that Garhwali identity can flourish outside of Garhwal and outside of India.

Ukhel is a poem that Parashar Gaur wrote in 1963, twenty-six years before moving to Toronto in 1989. The poems in Ukal-Undar are written between 1962 and 2006. The collection as a whole, therefore, spans a period of time in which Gaur was living in both Delhi (where he spent his latter teenage years and most of his adult life) and Toronto. Gaur uses a poetic image derived from a specifically Garhwali ritual vocabulary to make a call for social and political reform, and he does so in a book of poetry that he chose to publish on the other side of the world in 2006. This usage of a healing exorcism as a poetic figure to express his hopes for the future of the region is a rhetorical move emblematic of a distinctively Garhwali experience of life as a Torontonian Hindu intellectual. It marks an affinity for what might be termed a Garhwali popular Hinduism that is wedded to a commitment for political, economic, and social reform. However, Gaur does not merely affirm the importance of holding on to a specifically Garhwali identity and acting in ways that will benefit Uttarakhand. He goes beyond a commitment to preserving a strong connection to Garhwal and shows how the practice of poetic composition can itself be a way of re-interpreting and nourishing a specifically Garhwali Hindu Canadian identity.