Village Ritual Sites

Like the house, the village is simultaneously and inseparably a spatial, social, and ritual unit. Even more than the kutum and kuda segments, the house and the village are the axes around which almost all ritual contexts revolve, a fact probably to be ascribed to their clear boundaries, the consequent opposition between inner and outer, and their direct relationship with the local representation of the earth goddess (and the sky gods). At the annual festivals, the house and the village are mandatory tsoru units, while tsoru commensality at the kutum and kuda levels is optional in these contexts. In the following section, I will introduce the village’s most important ritual sites and the relationships associated with them. The spatial dynamic of ritual movements from one to another will become evident in the descriptions of the rituals.

Places of the Dead and the Ancestors

The cremation site (mosani, rai’sang*) outside the village boundaries is the place of the “recently” deceased (duma); the stone platform in the center of the village (sadar) is the seat of the ancestors (anibai, ani puni, agtu lok). Both places are equally collective, and no individual notice is taken of particular persons. As part of the collective mortuary rites (gotr), stones are brought to the sadar to symbolize the ancestors of an entire generation. The sadar is the assembly place of the Four Brothers, opposite the village deity’s shrine, and while it does not receive sacrificial offerings itself, it participates in the blood for the village goddess. The more or less round construction is made up of vertical (sil) and horizontal (sadar) stones and is slightly higher in the middle in some villages. Outside the village, there is another stone platform, known among other names as poda munda due to its location in the dry fields (poda, langbo*). Like the sadar, this platform is associated with the ancestors, but it is significant only in the mortuary ritual (gotr) already mentioned, when the dead depart from the village in the form of buffaloes.

The cremation sites of the different groups in the village are spatially separated from one another to varying degrees. The Gangre and their resident affines cremate their dead immediately next to one another, but at distinct locations. The Dombo groups also bury their dead at the same place, but separated from the Gadaba by a low stone wall. The Goudo and Kamar, who live in one of the hamlets, cremate their dead on the other side of the river. The Gadaba do not set up stones at the cremation site,[1] although stones ritually substitute in cremation for the corpses of those who die far from the village and whose bodies are not brought back. These stones are not given any special treatment later. As well as at the cremation site and in the abstract location of the underworld (patalpur), the dead also linger at a ritual - and invisible - village boundary, called bejorna,

where they are offered rice and beer (pendom), as at the cremation site. Although the duma are associated with the places mentioned, their inconstancy and movement is a primary character trait. In this, they are similar to the demons (rakias, but). The wind is considered a vehicle for duma and demons; rustling in the trees (outside the village) is a sign of their presence. Ritual techniques therefore attempt in various ways to take away freedom of movement from the dead and the demons by shutting them in or out or banishing them from specific places.

  • [1] A Gadaba who is a member of the Olek (Mahima Dharma) religious movement set up amemorial made out of rocks and cement for his father, so far the only memorial of this kind.
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