12 oct 2016

The Indian concept of “possession”

Submitted by Anonyme (non vérifié)

India is culturally a country full of wealth and how is it possible not to fall in confusion in front of such a profusion?

That's why there is the need for a key for the access to the Indian national soul, to understand India beyond the multitude of appearances in literature, dance, music, architecture, etc.

We know that, basically, each nation is only an aspect of the universal human nature. The different situations have underlined different sides of the minds. The Finnish constancy, the English phlegm, the French measure, etc. are not national particularities in the strict sense, , but elements of the universal human nature.

India, as we know it, has historically stresses one particular aspect : the psychology of the behaviour, or, maybe better said, the question of the mood.

Indian music is notably based, for example, on the “ragas”, meaning colour or melody, where different notes are orchestred to express particular moods. This orientation is at the heart of Indian classical music, but also the ghazals, qawwali, etc.

In the same way, the Mahabharata and its most famous part the Bhagavad Gita expresses a deep reflection on this question of behaviour and moods. Of course, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Islam in the subcontinent always were religion focussing on the question of the mind and its relationship with the attitudes.

That's why to understand nowadays India, there is the absolute need to grasp the principle of possession.

Be it in Bollywood or in post-modern literature, this is precisely the key of the Indian national culture. The Taj Mahal, built in the name of love for a deceased person, testifies the obsession of love, exactly like the “bhakti” is a proof of the adoration, the devotion for God.

But what means to be possessed? The word which is here to know is “bhoot”, a supernatural creature able to take forms of human or animals, being the ghost of a deceased person.

The maybe best Indian novel to read about it is the marvellous Vetâlapanchavimshatika, written in Sanskrit in the 11th century by Somadeva who compiled old stories.

A king must carry a vetala or baital, i.e. a vampire, who asks him many twisted moral and juridical questions ; any wrong answer would bring the death of the king. It is a deep philosophical work, of rationalism across a magical presentation typical of the period.

And as we know, India is still semi-feudal and therefore there is a strong presence of possessed and obsession in the Indian culture. It has a double aspect : a national aspect, a feudal aspect.

The Bollywood movies shows possessed people : people behaving in a bad way or seeming at least like that, people obsessed by an idea or a love.

Sometimes, the presentation is complaisant, sometimes critical, but always the entire abnegation of the individual for his new obsession gives him as a kind of supernatural presence.

The fascination for actors like Amitabh Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan, Kajol Mukherjee-Devgan, etc. comes precisely from their ability to express their “possession”, in a very deep way, like Shahrukh Khan in Devdas.

Indeed, this is what explains the success of the Bengali novel Devdas, written by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay in 1901, where is shown the “possession” of an individual falling in love but unable to live its love and loosing its psychological balance until self-destruction.

A very famous movie is here of course Devi by Satyajit Ray, from 1960, where a person is believed to be possessed by the goddess Kali, who played historically a very important role in West-Bengal, where the question of the “bhoots” counts for the Hindus as for the Muslims.

Bengal played a significant role in this approach, with its thorough study of the question of the relationship between minds and behaviours, in a movement going to the 16th century's mystical Chaitanya to the novel Anandamath published by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay in 1882, without forgetting the works of Rabindranath Tagore.

But it is true for all India.

The Indian culture is fascinated by the presentation of possessed people, be it in a religious way or because of love, war, crime, revenge, etc. and therefore, it is hard to discern which aspects are linked to materialism, which one to idealism.

This gives a kaleidoscopical aspect to the Indian culture and it's necessary to understand this concept of “possession” to go beyond and understand India.