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Photographs from De long en large Ladakh by Jean Mansion - Édition Findakly. Copyright Lise Mansion

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Patrick Saint-Martin

Kham Magar Villages and Shamans of Rukum

The RUKUM District is one of the most isolated areas in western Nepal. This territory is the stronghold of the MAGAR ethnic group known for perpetuating ancestral traditions in mountain villages. They are of Hindu obedience with a strong Animist influence worshipping Bhumi Dévi, the mother goddess of the earth. They intensely practice a form of Shamanism unique in HIMALAYA of which they are the only holders. Some particularities suggest a Siberian influence among the KHAM MAGARS, especially through the panoply of objects they use during rituals. The RÊ drums with single skin and crossbars as well as leather armors decorated with bells and animal attributes are the most characteristic. The area of "SIBERIAN" Shamanism being very extensive between the Bering Strait and Central Asia, it is therefore not very surprising to find slightly heterogeneous objects in HIMALAYA. The KHAM MAGARS are also the only Himalayan Shamans to use the BOLTOS (Archer's Bracelets) and the GAJOS (Drum Stick), which have a protective role, always worn on the wrist holding the Drum. As for the GAJO, it is of course used to strike the Drum but its function goes far beyond that; it serves as an object with healing power like the Phurbus.

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Considering all these peculiarities and the lack of information on the subject, this region intrigued me greatly.

The access by the tracks being uncertain in this post-monsoon period, we decide on a pedestrian itinerary starting from Darbang, chief town of the district of Myagdi. It will not take us more than 6 days to cover the 90 km which separates us from our goal via the Jaljala pass, then we will have to follow the course of the Uttar Ganga river, cross the great plain of Dhorpatan then go into the gorges until the first MAGARS villages of Uppalo and Taka Sera then Lukum located about 20 km further south.

As soon as we arrived in Taka, we met Ram Prasad, a retired former soldier who asked us why we came here. We tell him of our interest in Shamanism and he proposes us to meet the dean of the Shamans of the village; the old Lakshim Garti. We follow Ram in the narrow streets of the village to the Jhakri's house. Ram and Garti exchange a few words about us, we quickly get acquainted while drinking tea and a ceremony is set for the next evening during the full moon of Kartik Purnima.

Katga Bura, a student of Lakshim will practice the rites which will last more than five hours. The following year, we will return to Taka for another healing ceremony with Man Prasad Bura Magar. The latter demonstrated his charisma, incredible energy and ability to fight evil spirits and supernatural forces with his drum until exhaustion. He is undoubtedly part of the last generation of Shamans to perpetuate this ancestral tradition in all its authenticity.

We leave Taka Sera the next morning in the direction of Lukum, another Magar village in an adjacent valley, known for a strong shamanic activity.

As soon as we arrive, we hear the sound of the Drums coming from a house at the entrance of the Village. A good ten Shamans Men and Women are gathered on a terrace, they seem to practice a ritual for a child with songs and dances.

These two forays into MAGAR country allowed us to witness complex rituals, sometimes difficult to decipher, to observe the in situ use of objects and especially to meet at the dawn of the third millennium extraordinary men, mediators between the world of humans and the invisible forces of the universe.

  1. Village et chamanes Kham Magars du Rukum
  2. Kalingchok et les chamanes Thamis