Shamanism in Nepal
Photographer: Narendra Shrestha
'Jhakri' is the Nepalese word for shaman; in Nepal it refers to practitioners of the ethnic groups of the Tamang, Magar, Rai, Limbu, and Gurung people. Chet Bahadur Thing, aged 26, is a renowned shaman from the Tamang ethnicity. From a young age, Thing felt a connection with the spiritual world, and learning from his grandfather, he started practicing shamanism at the age of 11. Nowadays, he is considered a Guru or teacher in his community. ‘During ancient times, when there was no medical science or hospitals, shamans used to treat the patients in our village. Even now, people with spiritual problems or body pain visit us for healing or treatment or when doctors cannot heal them.’ Thing explains that the treatment is mainly based on mantras and spiritual insights received from God, as well as through herbal medicines. But if a case requires treatment than the shaman's healing abilities can provide, they encourage patients to seek medical support. Eighteen-year-old Sheela Lamichhane is a student of management in Nepal’s capital city of Kathmandu. When she was 13 years old, her older sister got severely ill. Her parents took her to hospital for treatment but she wasn’t cured. After almost a year of hospital visits, they took their daughter to a shaman who began healing her. Ever since, Lamichhane has been fascinated by shamanism and those who practice it. A year later, Lamichhane herself became possessed by a spirit. ‘I used to run in the middle of the road barefoot like some crazy girl’, she recalls. Her parents took her to Thing, who immediately saw that she was possessed by evil spirit that needed to be purged. Then, at the age of 15, Lamichhane began her shaman training with Chet Bahadur Thing. She had to pass several tests, the most important of which was a seven-day fasting ritual called ‘gufa’ and a ‘holy river meditation’. Gufa typically refers to a cave where aspiring shamans attend fasting and classes over the course of a week. They have to perform puja, a Hindu act of worship, chant mantras, play drums and dance in the middle of the night over burning ashes or coals. Shamans believe that they will gain power or energy from God if they are able to dance barefoot over the burning coals. After the completion of this first test, shaman practitioners must go to a holy river for meditation. Half submerged in the river waters, they have to chant mantras and meditate for more than three hours. This ritual is meant to build confidence and provide energy to become a shaman, but not everyone can pass this test. Lamichhane passed both, and now, at the age of 18, is a practicing shaman. In the mornings, she attends her regular classes at college, before treating patients at home with her parent’s assistance during the afternoon. She will need to pass more tests to get fully certified as a shaman, which should take about two more years. 'I had a dream to be a doctor when I was ten years old and today people know me as a witch doctor. I feel like I was destined', she says.