Segments in this Video

Exorcism in Sri Lanka (04:30)


In Southwest villages, many believe that demonic possession and cosmic disorder cause disease. Spirit doctors, or eduras, determine the demon, or yakka, responsible. During Mahasona rituals, they make offerings to the yakka pantheon. This video features an asthmatic patient.

Mahasona Ritual Preparations (03:15)

Exorcists build a vedia, or palace structure. Male assistants prepare food offerings, weave baskets, and create masks. Women prepare food for the performers. A clay model represents the wolf-headed yakka that haunts cemeteries; hear its origin myth.

Invoking Buddha and Guardian Gods, Offerings to Ghosts (01:14)

A male relative bathes the patient and dresses him in white. Coconuts and palm flowers dedicated to the goddess of purity help the Buddha to combat Mara. The edura asks Buddha for help in curing the patient.

Healing Gestures (01:08)

Smoking incense entices demons and ghosts to offerings; they must be given gifts and rituals to prevent them from causing illness.

Invoking the Suniyam Demigod (01:05)

The edura summons Suniyam with words, flames, whistles, and drums. He invites the demigod to attend the ceremony and accept his offering of food.

Invocation Dances, Other Offerings, and Appeals to the Demons (03:12)

A white cloth ensnares demons, protecting the patient. The edura breaths incense, inviting the Kanu yakka demon to possess him. He offers sacrificial resin fire and describes the Buddha's virtues. He sprinkles holy water on the patient's head.

Caralava (04:06)

Dancers dressed as women attempt to divert the black demon's attention from the patient. Poems praise him and refer to him as a god. They appeal to the Buddha to pressure the demon to restore the patient's health.

Head to Foot Poem (03:25)

Demons are thought to enter the head and leave through the feet. Offerings are circled over the patient as an invitation for yakkas to accept them; the edura calls yakkas with a whistle and commands them to leave the patient.

Death Time (01:53)

A dancer exorcist places a wand in a mat and tells its story to charge it with ritual power. The mat becomes an intersection between two universes. The exorcist lies on the mat, summoning Riri yakka by waving torches.

Symbolic Sacrifice to Riri Yaka (03:31)

A red cloth represents blood; the edura offers himself to Riri in his manifestation as Maru. Exorcists wave food offerings around the patient's head to draw out the demonic influence. He gives the edura a ring to sever ties with the demon.

Gathering Time Dance of Mahasona (03:06)

Dancers dressed as women whirl around the vedia, drawing the demons into a vortex away from the patient. They use incense and fire to ensnare the yakka; torches placed around ceremonial structures trap them.

Demonic Transformation and Possession (03:52)

A dancer uses makeup to transform into Mahasona. He places burnt offerings around the ceremonial structures, frightens the patient, and draws out spiritual sickness. He moves a rooster between the patient and vedia to persuade Mahasona to enter the ritual.

Midnight Watch: Enter Mahasona (06:06)

The exorcist is both terrifying and comic as the demon, and frightens the patient. His roles include yakadura, female dancer, demon, and exorcist possessed by a demon. See an explanation of the Igaha wand's use in the ritual.

Double Torch Presentation and Possession (06:07)

An exorcist dancer uses flames to attract Mahasona and gradually becomes possessed. He somersaults, purifies the house, runs to a ritual cremation area, and is brought back for purification. The edura dances with a white cloth, purifying and protecting the patient.

Further Offerings and Appeals to the Demons (01:18)

The edura dedicates four special offerings to the Kanu, Riri, Sunniyam, and Billi yakkas. The patient offers flowers, betel, and rice to the demon and invokes the god.

Poems and Procession to the God Mangara (05:13)

The edura uses twelve symbolic objects to persuade Mangara to assist the patient's cure. He enters in a humorous dialogue with the drummer about a toy fiddle and an elephant. Humor is associated with Mangara.

The Appearance of the Hunter of Demons (01:44)

Kaludevi Devi Tava assists Mahasona, hunting animals and humans. He points his arrow at the rooster, a substitute for the patient. Exorcists perfume the rooster with incense for sacrifice. The edura offers gifts to the ghosts.

Dahaata Sanniya the Appearance of the 18 Sanni Demons (04:41)

Eight masked spectacles engage in humorous dialogue with the drummer. Actors take the opportunity to satirize the government; exorcists are usually from a low caste. One pretends to eat the rooster.

Humor for Healing (09:58)

Maru of the disease-bearing demons appears. The drummers beat him to make him less frightening. Masked actors perform slapstick routines using obscenities and confused behavior, taking the opportunity to satirize the government.

Double Torch Presentation of the Demon (02:26)

An exorcist uses two torches to represent Mahasona. He pretends to kill the rooster as a ceremonial substitute for the patient and purifies the house and ritual area. He transfers the demonic spirit to the vedia and to himself.

Mahasona Baliya Final Purification of the Patient, Last Homage to Buddha and the Guardian Gods (04:44)

The edura conducts final vestiges of demonic spirit along a string to a clay icon. He uses the Igaha to indicate cosmic boundaries and recites a prayer to Buddha. The patient places a white shawl over the baliya.

Credits: Mahasona: The Great Cemetery Demon Documentary (00:38)

Credits: Mahasona: The Great Cemetery Demon Documentary

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Mahasona: The Great Cemetery Demon Documentary

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Mahasona is a complex Sri Lankan ritual involving many gifts to the gods and the whole demon army in a series of dances, recitations, and comic performances. This program by anthropologist Barrie Machin shows segments of a Welligama ritual.

Length: 79 minutes

Item#: FPT192057

ISBN: 978-1-64623-775-3

Copyright date: ©1983

Closed Captioned

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