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Eradicated with Blood: Text and Context of Animal Sacrifice in Tantric and Tantra-Influenced Rituals

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Xenia Zeiler


This essay discusses transformations in the ritual use of blood offerings from late medieval to contemporary Tantric and Tantra-influenced traditions. Specifically, it examines animal sacrifice and the use of animal blood or body parts in defensive and/or destructive Tantric uccāṭana rituals in historical

text sources and in Tantra-influenced ojhāī practices (North Indian popular ritual practices of selfdefense and/or destruction that are widely perceived as Tantra affiliated) in contemporary religion. The essay argues that while uccāṭana—mainly because of its partly destructive character and demand for blood—

was apparently never integrated into non-Tantric traditions in an unaltered form, it does serve as one of several roots for contemporary ojhāī rituals. Thus, a form of ‘uccāṭana light’ (including but not limited to blood offerings) has found its way into popular Hinduism.

Keywords: Tantric uccāṭana ritual · uccāṭana light · blood offering · ojhāī


Animal sacrifice, and specifically animal blood, is part of various rituals and worship practices in both Tantric Hindu and mainstream Hindu traditions and is used for a number of reasons. Blood offerings—probably the predominant background for most animal sacrifices—may be perceived as vigorous and effective means to either nourish a deity or, more often, to pacify and propitiate the potentially aggressive and/or dangerous nature of a deity. This underlying

assumption prevails in Tantric as well as in popular Hindu traditions (which are International Journal of Hindu Studies often Tantra influenced), in both North and South India, and the animals offered in such practices are mainly male goats and buffaloes.1 On the other hand, animals, specifically their blood or body parts, are sometimes sacrificed in Tantric ritual based on the belief that particular animals hold particular powers, which can be exploited

effectively to enhance a ritual. In these cases, animal species other than goats and buffaloes predominate. The idea of enhancing a ritual’s effect by employing animal agency through blood offerings from an especially potent animal species serves as the basis for a number of Tantric rituals. Not

surprisingly, these ritual forms are named and prescribed in vāmācāra (“left-hand”) Tantric Sanskrit texts, the most important and frequently mentioned being uccāṭana. Translated as “dispelling/eradicating” (an enemy), these rituals are intended to render a foe harmless (Bu ¨hnemann 2000; Goudriaan 1978:

351–64) in more or less serious degrees for a specified opponent, meaning that the rituals may be conducted with either a more self-defensive (dispelling) or a more destructive (eradicating) tenor. In either case, the ritual may contain a blood offering, and often does. The present essay begins with a

discussion of uccāṭana ritual and the goddess Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯, as she is one of the Tantric deities most strongly and consistently connected to uccāṭana in the textual tradition. The essay first presents textual evidence from the eleventh to the nineteenth centuries. For the goddess Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯, as with many

other Tantric deities, later texts containing not only more but also new and partly innovative material were composed at a certain point in history for the practical ritual, as well as for mythological narratives about the goddess. These new texts meant not only more quantity, but also a new quality of wording

and ritual forms. The further information provided the basis for a shift in the beliefs underlying uccāṭana ritual as well as for its practical implementation, especially regarding animal sacrifice. The rite now began to include not only literal blood offerings, but also animal body parts. The

second part of the essay analyzes the later textual Sanskrit tradition and highlights the innovations that occurred, especially in two widely disseminated and popular late nineteenth-century texts: Mantramahārṇava and Śāktapramoda. The analysis focuses on the substantial transformations these texts initiated

regarding uccāṭana ritual in general, and the involvement of blood offerings in particular. To contextualize the material in the text sources presented here and to localize the contemporary practices basing on uccāṭana in the living religion today, the essay concludes with an analysis of recent

developments of uccāṭana in ojhāī, as these relate to Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯ and other deities. Ojhāī, meaning ritualistic practices for selfdefense, destruction, and ghost expelling, are a distinct part of contemporary popular Hindu traditions in North India, and they are widely perceived as Tantra affiliated. This

last part of the essay discusses contemporary transformed practices rooted in uccāṭana rites and presents ethnographic data from the city of Banaras, pointing out processes of assimilation and the integration of Tantric heteropraxy into orthoprax contemporary Hindu tradition. By complementing the textual

analysis with ethnographic fieldwork, that is, by using an Ethno-Indological 1 For South India, see for example Craddock 2001; for the Kullu Valley in Himachal Pradesh, Elmore 2011; for Orissa, Mallebrein 2007; for Nepal, Michaels 2007.

approach (Michaels 2005), this essay also argues for methodical plurality in researching Tantra, especially in dealing with transformations over time, and demonstrates how anthropology can fruitfully complement textual analysis.

Uccāṭana Ritual and the Goddess Dhūmāvatī

Uccāṭana rituals, whose literal meaning is the “dispelling/eradicating” (of an enemy), are basically practices performed to ruin or overthrow one’s foes. Texts define the term for example as “ ‘driving the victim away, uprooting him, depriving him of his position’ ” or as having the following effect: “ ‘The

direction into which he (the victim) has been thrown by the mantra, into that direction he departs without delay; by the power (of the spell) he leaves behind his wife and sons and his possessions, never to return’ ” (cited in Goudriaan 1978: 352). The ritual aims at harming an enemy either materially, for example as in “destroyingthedwellinghousesofenemies,”orpsychologically,asin“bringingabout mental disorder in a person” (Goudriaan 1978: 353). Both goals are, of course, interrelated: by being afflicted with a mental disorder, the enemy is believed to be left so disturbed that he effectively destroys his home

and family, leaving them and abandoninganysecurityinhislife.Theresultisbelievedtobeapersoninacompletely deranged state of mind who is not remotely capable of harming the ritual performer. This idea—rendering an enemy harmless by driving him away, partly through afflictinghimmentally—

aswellasthisparticularformofritualself-protectionisolder than the Tantric traditions and is mentioned in texts as early as theṚgveda(Goudriaan 1978: 359–60). Although not yet called uccāṭana, the tradition and its underlying beliefs have been part of South Asian texts on “magic” since ancient times. Rituals

explicitly called uccāṭana are fundamentally Tantric in nature. But like many other Tantric practices, uccāṭana rituals infiltrated Hindu non-Tantric texts as well, such as some Pura¯n ˙ as. In Tantric texts, uccāṭana is often discussed in the context of the ṣaṭkarman rituals (Bu ¨hnemann 2000), six rites for

magical purposes, usually including rituals to invite attraction or result in subjugation, immobilization, eradication, pacification, or killing. Originated in the vāmācāra Tantric tradition and serving a rather dark purpose, uccāṭana often includes offerings and ritual practices which are perceived as

polluting and impure in Sanskritic Hinduism, such as blood offerings and animal sacrifice. This is a procedure which is not limited to Tantric texts; for instance, one passage of the Agnipurāṇa states that “through a sacrifice mixed with the blood of a donkey, one will eradicate the enemy (uccāṭayet); through

a sacrifice to which the blood of a crow has been added, there occurs the destruction of the enemy” (137.12–13, cited in Goudriaan 1978: 555). Uccāṭana is related to several deities, mainly and not surprisingly to those with a rather dark vāmācāra Tantric nature. The deity which is most consistently mentioned

in the context of uccāṭana throughout its textual history is Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯, one of the fiercestgoddessesintheHinduTantricpantheon.Thefirsttextualevidenceforhercan be found in the Śāradātilakatantra (paṭala 24.10–14) from the twelfth century.

From this time on, she appears in different Tantric texts, and ever since the formation of the group of goddesses known as Das ´amaha¯vidya¯ she has been included among their

number.Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯isno exception among Tantric deities in that her representation is best surveyed in her dhyānamantras, which are short hymns ritually used for mental consolidation and meditation. The most influential and most frequent dhyānamantra for Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯ up to the present is found in the

Phetkāriṇītantra, probably composed between the fourteenth and the sixteenth centuries: She is pale and fickle, angry, tall, and wears dirty clothes. Her hair is discolored. The widow is rough and has gap teeth. She sits on a cart which has a

crow on the banner. Her breasts sag. In her hand she holds a winnowing fan, and her eyes look very cruel. She has unsteady hands, and her hand shows a wish-fulfilling gesture. She has a big nose, is exceedingly deceitful, and has crooked eyes. Permanently afflicted by hunger and thirst, she arouses horror,

and her abode is in conflict (paṭala 7; my translation). This dhyānamantra dominates all of the text sources on Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯ and bears clear witness to the way the goddess is consistently represented in textual history. It immediately reveals why this goddess was closely connected to uccāṭana. Since the very

first mention of her and throughout her textual history, Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯ is indeed exclusively connected to only two rituals: śatrunigraha (“restraining an enemy”) and uccāṭana (“dispelling/eradicating”) (Zeiler 2012). Both rituals are very similar up to almost identical, and both are used to render enemies

inoffensive or harmless. It does not come as a surprise that a goddess with an exceptionally high potential for roughness, cruelty, deceitfulness, horror, and conflict—all symptomatic attributes of Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯ according to her dhyānamantra as well as to hymns and ritual instructions beyond it—is primarily

connected to the self-protecting and/or destructive ritual of uccāṭana. Figure 1. A Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯ poster displayed for worship in a side room of her temple in Banaras. Photograph by the author.

That uccāṭana is frequently mentioned in texts for Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯ and elsewhere does not necessarily mean that the ritual procedure is described in detail every time. Many passages simply mention the ritual and briefly state its purpose. For instance, although all existing texts on Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯ agree on the

extremely close connection of the goddess and uccāṭana, none of these actually specifies the ritual’s exact procedure until the nineteenth century. Probably because of the extreme brevity of all Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯ texts in general up until that time, there is no detailed practical information on how to conduct the

ritual to eradicate an enemy. Nevertheless, it seems reasonable to assume that the texts in question expected the adept to know the details of uccāṭana, including the necessity of making blood offerings from specific animals. This is because (1) the vast majority of contemporaneous texts giving detailed

ritual prescriptions on uccāṭana, but not related to Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯ include blood offerings in the procedure, and (2) elaborate texts related to Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯ from the late nineteenth century on give more detail on self-defense and enemy-annihilation rituals, and then account for animal offerings in such contexts.

Transformations I: Textual Innovations in the Nineteenth Century Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯-related ritual in general, and uccāṭana in particular, have been described in depth for the first time only in two nearly contemporaneous late

nineteenthcentury texts, Mantramahārṇava (the Dhūmāvatītantra chapter of the Mantramahārṇava, presumably written between 1871 and 1907) and Śāktapramoda. These texts, for the first time in her textual history, praise Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯ in long hymns and, as was the custom for many Tantric goddesses, include

stotra, kavaca, hṛdaya, śatanāmastotra, and sahasranāmastotra. These poetic hymns now depict a “goddess in transition”; in other words, in addition to the established Tantric exoteric representation and ritual practice of Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯, they also contain ideas and beliefs from a Sanskritized Hindu orthopraxy.

It is here that we first find tendencies of ‘saumyaization’—a term I use to denote sweetening or pacification, that is, ‘make saumya’—as well as general unifying tendencies trying to propagate a new identity for Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯ as belonging to the universal Hindu orthopraxy pantheon of panHindu goddesses.

These hymns go so far as to partially identify Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯ with Durga¯ Maha¯devı¯. This identification, however, does not contradict a simultaneous Tantric representation of Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯ in these texts—at times in the very same verses. The hṛdaya, the heart hymn, states:

Requested by the gods, she was born as the destroyer of Asuras. I worship this smoke-shaped one, who mutters and roars aloud (Mantramahārṇava, Dhūmāvatītantra, hṛdaya 8; my translation). I worship Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯, who destroyed Andhaka, whose form is darkness, who looks like a rain of smoke and whose hair bun is untied, the wise one (17; my translation).

Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯ is here linked to Durga¯ by connecting her to the Great Goddess’s mythological birth in the first verse and to the mythology of Durga¯ destroying

Andhaka in the second verse. In the first verse Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯ is also shown against her own Tantric background with a reference to her Tantric representation as connected to smoke and uttering unconventional sounds, while in the second verse reference is made to her Tantric iconography with her

hair loose and again her close connection to smoke. Such interlocking of Tantric and non-Tantric representations without preference for either one is characteristic of the new hymns in the late nineteenth century. Along with the more detailed (and complex) information on Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯ in general, the

later texts now give more comprehensive descriptions of the selfdefensive and destructive rituals related to her. These rituals include animal blood offerings. For a specific reason that is rooted in Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯’s Tantric representation, one animal is highlighted in this context—the crow. In general, Tantric texts repeatedly emphasize the ambivalent or “dark” potential in crows as being beneficial to certain “dark” or destructive rituals such as uccāṭana (Nihom 1987: 104–5). Occasionally, the rituals incorporate the power of the crow—“crow potency”—in their ritual instructions (Zeiler 2013). As with many

dark rituals, the underlying idea is the belief that drawing on allegedly dark and/or evil powers (specifically, the blood or body parts of crows) is the perfect means to counter a threat (the enemy targeted by the ritual)—“individuals considered harmful or evil thus have to be defeated by entities or

objects associated with evil” (Zeiler 2013: 231). But rituals utilizing crow potency are not restricted to Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯ alone, nor does crow potency occur only in uccāṭana. Several Tantric rituals directed at self-defense or destruction make use of animal potency by including the sacrifice of specific animals

renowned for their alleged dark power in order to boost the ritual force. While animals such as dogs, donkeys, snakes, and others are cited in such contexts, the crow is the most frequently mentioned. In most cases, using these animals involves killing them. Whenever crow blood or a crow’s wing is part

of the ritual offerings, this is surely the case, and even when crow feathers are called for, it may be assumed that the animal does not go unharmed. Nevertheless, it is important to note once again that the specific Tantric ritual use of animals in rituals involving animal potency does not build on the

same belief as animal sacrifice in the sense of slaughtering animals in more popular (often Tantra-influenced) Hindu traditions. Even though Tantric rituals involving animal potency have the same deadly outcome for the animal as contemporary ritual slaughters of buffaloes or male goats sacrificed to South Indian

village deities (Arumugam 2015), for example, or for goddesses such as Ka¯lı¯ (Samanta 1994), Durga¯ (Rodrigues 2009), Ka¯ma¯khya ¯ (Urban 2001; Urban 2010: 57–72) and others, we have to keep in mind that each of these animal sacrifices has its own special background. This includes diverse reasons for the

sacrifice and why it is done; it also involves fundamentally different ritual applications, that is, how the sacrifices are done. Since the nineteenth century, rituals requiring crow blood or wings have also been connected to Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯. For example, verse 17.56 of the Tantrasārasaṃgraha advises

burning a crow on a cremation ground and strewing the ashes in the house of an enemy to be killed while chanting Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯’s mantra. In more detail, the prayoga, or ritual application, of the eight-syllable dhūmāvatīmantra (dhūṁ dhūṁ

Dhūmāvatī svāhā) in the Mantramahārṇava twice mentions crow potency as part of a complete and detailed rite for worshiping the goddess. Not surprisingly, this prayoga is tailored entirely to the deity’s special sphere of action, namely, the eradication of enemies. It follows the typical format of Tantric ritual instructions, beginning with the characteristic opening sequences that precede the actual prayoga: mantra, viniyoga (application of the mantra in ritual), ṛṣyādinyāsa (mental appropriation/assignment beginning with the ṛṣi), karanyāsa (mental appropriation, assignment of the hand), and

hṛdayādiṣaṅganyāsa (mental appropriation, assignment of the six limbs counting from the heart). The person undertaking the ritual is then instructed to begin the japa, that is, the repetition, of one hundred thousand eight-syllable dhūmāvatīmantras, while standing naked on a cremation ground. After

outlining several other ritual steps (requiring the perfection of the mantra with a homa (oblation) of sesame seeds and purified butter, as well as water oblations and feeding Bra¯hman ˙ as), the actual prayoga instruction is given. It includes ritual directions for rendering an enemy ineffective, for

example, how to inflict fever and gain power over the opponent (Zeiler 2013: 233–34). The ritual killing of a crow is also described: If one burns a crow in the fire at a cremation ground, takes its ashes, chants the mantra over these, and throws them at the head of the opponent, he [the

enemy] will be ruined immediately (Mantramahārṇava, Dhūmāvatītantra, prayoga of the eight-syllable dhūmāvatīmantra 8; my translation). After merging nīm and a wing of a crow, he shall recite [the mantra] one hundred and eight times. Then he may put this in the smoke with the name of the one to be

subordinated [and] immediately he will conquer the enemies (12; my translation). The crow’s explicit involvement in Tantric rituals, especially in uccāṭana and other rites used for such dark purposes as killing, contributes to the understanding of inauspiciousness and impurity, especially in left-hand Tantra,

where the concepts of auspiciousness and purity prevalent in Bra¯hman ˙ ic Hinduism are obliterated. Substances and materials regarded as impure or dangerous in Sma¯rta orthoprax Hinduism, such as blood, are highlighted in Tantric ritual precisely because of their reputation in Sma¯rta Hinduism. The

major reason why animals like crows believed to be inauspicious by mainstream Hindu traditions are incorporated into Tantric rituals probably follows a similar logic. Both substances and animals considered inauspicious and impure are thought to enhance and highlight the “magical” potential of Tantric rituals and their alleged inherent power.

Transformations II: Blood Offerings and Ojhāī Today

In order to study the complex and diverse transformation processes in Tantric and Tantra-influenced ritual, it is not only beneficial, but also necessary to use interdisciplinary approaches. In researching the interrelations of popular religion and Sanskritic orthopraxy, one cannot stop at discussing textual

traditions only. The need to contextualize written sources has been acknowledged ever since the cultural turn in the humanities. The interdisciplinary approach of combining textual analysis and anthropological fieldwork in South Asia research has been termed EthnoIndology by Axel Michaels:

If, thus, Indology opens up to an intensified study of the contexts of texts, if it also accepts fieldwork as a legitimate, adequate and proper (and not just supplementary) method for an appropriate analysis of the contents, functions and productions of texts, if it tries to combine the results of the textual

and contextual studies with anthropological theory, it then situates itself at the confluence of philology, anthropology and history. It is this confluence which I call Ethno-Indology… (2005: 11). When it comes to contextualizing Tantric uccāṭana and other self-defense and/or destructive rituals in contemporary Hinduism, it is fruitful to look closely at ojhāī practices. Ojhāī—healing rituals or exorcism to dispel ghosts perceived as causing a disease

—is widespread in North Indian popular religion. The practice is widely perceived as Tantra-affiliated by people making use of the services of an ojhā, or exorcist, mainly for two reasons. First, a number of offerings are shared by Tantric and ojhāī rituals. All of these, namely, alcohol, bhāṁg, and, at

times, animal sacrifice, are considered impure in Sanskritic Hinduism. On the other hand, ojhāī may be and in practice often is related to deities with a Tantric origin or to nonSanskritic gods with a pronounced protective village deity background. In order to build significantly on the previous textual cases

which highlighted self-protective and/or destructive rituals and blood offerings related to the goddess Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯, I will briefly discuss the example of Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯-related ojhāī. This deity is worshiped today in a fairly large and lively temple in Banaras, known as the temple of Dhu ¯pcan ˙ d ˙ ı ¯. Dhu

¯ma¯vatı¯ is the patron not only of the temple, but also of the whole mohallā, city quarter, which also has the same name. In her contemporary temple, Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯ is no longer perceived and worshiped as a Tantric deity with a dangerous or even malevolent nature, but as a guardian mohallā Devı ¯ with an

inherent and pronounced protective nature. While all pujārīs are aware of her distinct Tantric background and representation, in her temple Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯ is clearly depicted as a benign manifestation of Devı¯ and, for the vast majority of devotees, has lost her Tantric affiliations. Integrating the former

Tantric Dhu ¯ma¯vatı ¯ into non-Tantric contexts in contemporary Hinduism was possible because of a thorough saumyaization—pacification or sweetening—of her representation and her ritual. She was transformed and adapted to the popular, nontextual context according to the interests and needs of her devotees in a contemporary temple. To reconcile the deity’s textual Tantric and contemporary non-Tantric representation is not seen as an insolvable issue in her temple today:

Here Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯ gets both [ways of worship], aghora and sāmānya [“widespread, popular”], but more sāmānya.…In worship, Tantra is used for special things. But otherwise: How pūjā is done for every Devı¯, her pūjā is done—sāmānya. Both are possible. Her Tantric worship happens only very seldom here. Her sāmānya pūjā always, every day. Ninety-nine and a half

percent. Tantric worship is very rare. If someone needs something, he does it. Both are correct—this way and that. Pūjā is pūjā. Whichever way it is done.… That’s just like with balī. No matter whether coconut or male goat or lime or fruit—balī is balī. So some people offer a coconut instead of a male goat. This is balī as well. Some people don’t even know why it [a coconut] is offered.2

She is a Tantric goddess, and she has Tantric rituals. But not everybody knows that she is a Tantric Devı¯. People’s ideas about worship are different. She may be worshiped as are most other deities, with devotion, simple and mainstream. She has two representations, is it not so? Widow and virgin. For the widow, it is Tantric worship; for the virgin, mainstream.3

But these quotations already hint at the fact that some remnants of the deity’s Tantric textual background remain; for example, she has been used in ojhāī and still is today by two acting pujārīs of the temple. The practice is openly performed in her temple, and no objection is made by the temple visitors

that pujārīs, who are in fact taking care of the goddess’s non-Tantric pūjā, are involved. In fact, in specific contexts, as in ojhāī, Tantric worship is even considered essential, and the pujārīs of the temple also serving as ojhā state that Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯ favors Tantric ritual, animal sacrifice, alcohol, and havana. Theojhās of Dhu ¯pcan ˙ d ˙ ı ¯ believe that only by worshiping the goddess regularly in such (Tantric) ways are they able to perform exorcisms and healing rituals successfully. Practically speaking, this Tantric worship is understood to include japa, repeated chanting of the Tantric Dhu ¯ma¯vatı ¯

mantra, the offering and consumption of alcohol as prasāda, and occasionally havana, fire sacrifice. In ojhāī, Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯ is believed to aid the ojhā during the entire process of ghost exorcism. The siddhi or śakti—both terms are used in the

Figure 2. Non-blood balī for Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯, made of coconut and lime, placed before her statue at the temple in Banaras. Photograph by the author. 2 One pujārī of the temple who is not active as ojhā, temple of Dhu ¯pcan ˙ d ˙ ı ¯ Banaras, February 23, 2005. 3 One pujārī of the temple who is also an active ojhā, temple of Dhu ¯pcan ˙ d ˙ ı ¯ Banaras, May 6, 2003.

temple to denote power—granted by Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯ for long-lasting Tantric ritual practice is seen as essential authorization and a necessary prerequisite even to begin dealing with ojhāī. It is also believed that the goddess protects the ojhā in his struggle with ghosts. Practically speaking, during exorcism, the ojhā draws concrete help from the goddess. She reveals and names the type of harmful ghost, thus opening avenues of attack: “With the help of Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯’s power I transfer the bhūt, who possesses a person, into a clove. Daily I give food to the Devı¯, I worship her. Thus she will do things I ask her for.”4

This support by the goddess in ojhāī performed by her pujārīs is then combined with a characteristic of the practice widespread in North India. Ojhāī often contains Tantric practices, as well as non-Sanskrit popular worship and exorcism practices. Of great importance for ojhāī are Bı¯rs, local protective

deities who accept substances in their rituals which are also crucial to some Tantric rituals: alcohol, bhāṁg, and blood sacrifice (Coccari 1989a). In North Indian popular religion, Bı¯rs are associated with danger and also with power. Ojhās are dependent on the cooperation of the Bı¯rs in their work, as the

latter are perceived as lords of all deities and ghosts in their particular geographical area of supremacy. The connection of ojhāī to Bı¯rs is largely accepted in popular religion, although today the practices have also infiltrated Sanskritic Hinduism. Some of the Bı¯r shrines in Banaras are renowned for

their Tantric practices; for example, Lahura¯bı¯r, who is one of the most popular Bı¯rs in Banaras, is used by the Dhu ¯pcan ˙ d ˙ ı ¯ pujārīs in their work. The Bı¯rs’ power and affiliation with the ghost world predestine Bı¯rs for exorcism practices

Figure 3. Anojhāof Dhu ¯pcan ˙ d ˙ ı ¯displayingitemsimportanttohis rituals:A Dhu ¯ma¯vatı ¯yantraanda ritual compilation. Photograph by the author. 4 One pujārī of the temple who is also an active ojhā, temple of Dhu ¯pcan ˙ d ˙ ı ¯ Banaras, January 17, 2005.

and for the interweaving of ojhāī and Tantra in a specific way. As Diane M. Coccari puts it: Ojhas, in particular, introduce what we might call a “transgressive” element into the Bir cult: some engage in an eclectic blend of sorcery and tantric

ritual (popularly called tantra-mantra), including blood sacrifice and offerings of liquor and cannabis, and it is through this “tantric procedure” (tantrik paddhati) that worship of the Bir is thought to yield the most immediate results (1989b: 260). Animal sacrifice is not a required part of ojhāī, but it may

take place in order to reinforce the practices. In and around Dhu ¯pcan ˙ d ˙ ı ¯, animal sacrifice related to ojhāī seldom takes place. In general, beyond ojhāī, public blood offerings or animal sacrifices are rarely conducted today in Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯’s temple in Banaras. If animal sacrifice occurs, then it has

become customary to perform it in the form of the socalled “ear cutting” of male goats, instead of slaughtering the animal. This practice is widespread today in many temples across India in which animals were traditionally sacrificed, a fact which in itself speaks for the normative disrepute and

condemnation of all animal offerings in present mainstream Hindu society (Pandian 2005). In the Dhu ¯pcan ˙ d ˙ ı ¯ temple in Banaras, the male goat’s ear is cut in front of the sanctuary, but later the animal is killed elsewhere, for example, in the courtyard before the temple entrance. So, although animal

sacrifice does occur (albeit seldom), moving the act of killing beyond the sacred sphere into a public, but not religiously defined, location accounts for an advanced saumyaization of the deity and her ritual. Although to date animal sacrifices have been public events, alterations in the actual location for the

sacrifice strongly indicate a new, transformed perception of Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯ as a non-Tantric, even sanskritized deity. In public, both pujārīs and devotees submit to mainstream, Bra¯hman ˙ ic normative rules and values and arrange a substitute for the actual killing.


Contemporary popular Hinduism is influenced by many practices and beliefs. In ritual and worship practices, both Tantric and Sanskritic influences have contributed to shaping lived Hinduism. Tantric and Tantra-influenced practices, including but not limited to blood offerings and animal sacrifice, have found

their way into popular or mainstream Hinduism, for example, into ojhāī practices. Such practices as well as others related to Tantra have been contested in Sma¯rta Hinduism and continue to be for a number of reasons. The processes of integrating Tantric esoteric heteropraxy into Bra¯hman ˙ ic orthopraxy and

normative Sma¯rta Hinduism need to be studied by using a multimethodological approach. This essay demonstrates the benefits of Ethno-Indology for studying Tantric traditions, and especially their transformations. It is true that the Tantric textual tradition of uccāṭana in general and as related to the

goddess Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯ includes blood offerings; moreover, self-protective and/or destructive Tantric rituals use animal sacrifice in a very specific form and for a very specific reason, namely, boost the ritual with the potency of an allegedly powerful animal species. However, with an Ethno-Indological approach,

it is possible to verify that the Tantric practice of uccāṭana and blood offerings in general play only a minor role in today’s rituals. Both the Tantric deity’s representation and the Tantric rituals have undergone extreme transformations. The goddess Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯, despite her highly specialized textual

representation as an exclusively Tantric deity with a limited and exceptionally dangerous sphere of action and ritual, was largely adapted to normative Bra¯hman ˙ ic standards and transformed into a widely respected, benign, and protective goddess whose sphere of action and ritual practices meet the needs

of her present devotees. Combining textual and anthropological research has also contributed to understanding how changing environments and conditions, such as changes in communal structures, changes in the backgrounds of devotees, or the rise of sanskritizing and norming tendencies, have exerted an

essential and direct influence on transformations in the pantheon, on ritual and worship practices, and on the belief system of contemporary Hinduism. The transformations of both self-defense and destructive rituals and of the deity Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯, who is frequently related to these rituals in the textual

traditions as well as in her flourishing temple in Banaras, clearly follow general tendencies in Hinduism. The diminishing of blood offerings and animal sacrifices and the saumyaization of Tantric deities go hand in hand and are subject to propagations of uniformity. In the case of goddesses, these have been

and still are largely personified in the all-inclusive Great Goddess Durga¯ Maha¯devı¯. Dhu ¯ma¯vatı¯ is represented and worshiped in her temple in Banaras in a popularized way, largely according to Bra¯hman ˙ ic tradition. As is the case with many other originally Tantric goddesses, this goddess and her

ritual are today largely integrated into the Sma¯rta tradition. Elements of Tantric and/or other rituals informed by popular religion appear in only a few contexts.

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