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Chapter Eight Bhaktapur's Pantheon
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Ghosts and Spirits

The various supernatural beings we have been discussing are all called "dya: " in Newari, a term that we have variously glossed by the histor-


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ically cognate terms "divinity" and "deity," as well as by "gods." In addition, Bhaktapur also has a diverse assortment of beings that are not dya: , nor in Western conception "gods." These beings are heterogeneous nebulous forms having wills, understanding, motivations, and some sort of corporal identity. They are usually, but not always, malignant, and of various degrees of potency. All of them are uncanny, the subjects of thrilling accounts and horror tales. In comparison to the divinities with their canonical representation and traditions, these forms, "ghosts" and "spirits," are more vaguely defined and there is much less agreement on their nature and proper names. The social and psychological implications and uses of these creatures differ in important ways from those of the dya:s . Our purpose for introducing them in this chapter is a limited one—to see what light they may throw on the nature of Bhaktapur's aggregate of supernatural actors. These beings may be roughly sorted into those that are somehow derived from some spiritual substance left by humans after their deaths, and those that are independent beings in their own right—as are other living creatures in general, including gods. There is not always agreement if a particular kind of uncanny creature belongs in one or the other category. Most of these beings are familiar South Asian forms, some few are perhaps of Northern origin.

The ghost-like creatures, associated with spirits of the dead, are often called preta or bhut-pret (from the Sanskrit preta , locally pronounced "pret "). "Preta " refers to the particular spiritual principle or entity that represents the continuation of a person after death, and that undergoes various transformations. For the first twelve days after death the spirit is conceived to be in a preta form, after which it is variously conceived as becoming an ancestor spirit or pitr[*] , or of being safely on its way to some place of judgment, or state of reincarnation (app. 6). The corpse itself is also referred to as a preta . There are various mishaps that can prevent the proper passage through and beyond the preta stage, and the preta then will become a troublesome earth-bound ghost. A person who was not "ready" to die or did not want to may become a permanent preta . Someone who dies in such a way that the proper rituals cannot be done—such as in an accident away from home or whose death is considered "unnatural"—can also become such a preta (cf. G. S. Nepali 1965, 124f.). The presence of these ghosts is often harmlessly manifested in such events as a window or door moving by itself or a chair shifting position. They stay around their former homes usually, and will not harm family members if as many as possible of the proper postdeath


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rituals have been performed. There are, however, more malevolent varieties that may enter a person and consume them from the inside,[65] causing them to lose weight and become ill, and which require the services of a special spirit exorcist.

Bhutas (from the Sanskrit bhuta , in Bhaktapur pronounced "bhut ") are differentiated from pretas (by more theoretically inclined Newars at least) as being uncanny forms that are not derived from human spirits and that are independent beings.[66] They are responsible for the same kinds of phenomena as pretas —unexplained movements of inanimate objects, illness, apparitions, and sleep disturbances. There are still other beings that for some people are kinds of bhutas , for others kinds of pretas , and for still others neither pretas nor bhutas but independent beings. Among these is the Khya,[67] which exists in two forms, white and black. The white is benign and guards the house from other spirits. It sometimes may snuggle up to a person, and produces a tickling feeling. Black ones may produce frightening nightmares. They may press on people's chests during sleep, making it difficult to breath or to move. While for some people Khyas are independent spirits, but not bhutas , for others they are a kind of bhuta ; for still others they arise from a body that has not been thoroughly cremated so that some flesh. remains. Another group of spirits are Twa(n)s, which shriek at the moment of the death of someone in the area, and whose shriek may cause the death of people who hear it. Another is the Kini or Kikini, which has the form of a beautiful woman who tries to seduce young men. If they yield they will sicken and die. The only clue to her spirit nature is that her feet are placed backwards on her legs. There is also the Kawa(n), a particularly dangerous spirit, which looks like a skeleton and makes a rattling sound when it moves. If you run into one, it will kill you. Kawa(n)s help guard the goddess Mahakali, and are represented by boys in the Nine Durgas dance dramas. People talk of actual encounters, their own and others, with such spirits. Legends and "literary" tales told in the city tell of still other demonic forms—such as the giant Raksasas[*] and goulish Pisacas who are not, however, thought to be encountered in the ordinary life of Bhaktapur as the other spirits and ghosts may be.

The ghosts and spirits cluster at crossroads, inhabit the woods and fields outside of the city, lurk in the dark, and are driven away by bright lights. Sometimes they may invade a home but usually lurk in outside shadowy areas. An encounter with them is usually a matter of some accident or inadvertent mistake. There is a period lasting about one month in the spring of every year when rice planting is under way in the


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fields around Bhaktapur when the "bhut-prets " are free to enter the city (chap. 15). This freedom is explained in that the protective Nine Durgas have completed their annual cycle, and have left the city. The spirits must be chased out of the city during the subsequent Gatha Muga: Ca:re festival. Usually, however, ghosts and spirits are the private concerns of individuals or families. This, we shall argue in the context of the other supernatural beings in this chapter, is reflected in the attributes that are ascribed to them.


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