Nayaka - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Nayaka believe in natural spirits that reside on hilltops, in water sources, in high trees, and on the ground. They have added Hindu deities and the deities of neighboring people to their pantheon.

Religious Practitioners. There are a few individuals in each local community who are occasionally possessed by spirits and then mediate between humans and the spirit world. Most are men, but some are women. There are also diviners who can identify the supernatural causes of diseases.

Ceremonies. With the exception of death, which is celebrated quite elaborately, Nayaka barely mark life-cycle events, if at all. A communal celebration is held annually, in several locations in the area. During the celebration offerings are made to the ancestral and natural spirits. Through possession a sort of collective contract is renewed, by which the living undertake to preserve cultural continuity, to keep the "ways of the forefathers," and the deities undertake to preserve physical continuity, safeguarding the living from mortal diseases. The souls of the people who died during the preceding year are joined during the celebration with the other spirits.

Arts. A few individuals play the bamboo flute, or beat a drum, on their own. Only at the annual celebration is there any collective music making. Then dances are held, a band plays music, and a play is performed.

Medicine. Illnesses are classified into those for which a natural cause is obvious and those for which it is not. The former are treated by medicinal plants, known to all; the latter by establishing supernatural causes through divination or possession, and then by making offerings.

Death and Afterlife. A ritual is held in the place where the death occurred; the corpse is buried elsewhere. The spirit of the deceased, dangerous to meet, roams in the forest until it is brought back into the community of spirits during the next annual celebration.

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