What sickness's do patients have?
Usually a combination of mental and physical symptoms. These include stomach and chest problems, fevers, headaches, paralysis, low energy, fainting. Erratic mental behaviour is often present, such as talking to invisible beings, suicidal or violent behaviour. Sorcery may be blamed for interpersonal problems between familiy members or the family and outside world - failing business's, disputes with neighbours etc.
What is the success rate?
100%. Yakaduras and anthropologists who have seen dozens or hundreds of rituals report no failures. It is important to note that not all patients with health problems are treated - only those diagnosed to have sickness's caused by demons.
Are doctors consulted?
Most patients will have seen a medical doctor first, or an ayurvedic practitioner, with no result. Mental health care is very limited. Exorcism rituals are expensive and will not be the first resort for most people.
Are these rituals free?
No, they cost the equilvalent of 2-3 months salary to the patient's family to have them performed. Large rituals involve many people trained from childhood to perform them.
Why is Buddhism involved?
Following the path of Buddhism actively protects from evil. There are many legends of demons attacking or tempting Buddha while in meditation, as well as stories of Buddha attacking and dispelling demons. The power of Buddha and the gods who follow him is frequently called on during the rituals.
What causes the torch to flare up?
This is dummala, the resin from the sal tree, under which Buddha is said to have been born. It is used in two ways - the smell is used to attract demons, while the burning flames are used to purify and drive them away (see picture right). The sudden flames are produced by throwing the powdered incense over a torch.
Why is the ceremony at night?
Demons are most active from dusk to dawn and at their most powerful at midnight. They can be summoned before midnight, but are more easily dealt with towards dawn, when their powers are on the wane and the gods becoming stronger.
How can I find out more?
Read Bruce Kapferer's many books for highly detailed academic analysis. If you are visiting Sri Lanka there is a small but worthwhile museum in Ambalangoda with displays and objects covering all the traditional dance forms.
Flaming dummala to drive away demons
Click for large picture
Background Notes and FAQs