Dewali through Sociological Lens: A Study of Ancestor Worship amongst the Khadkas of Nepal
A search for a sense of security in the ever-changing world is an essential part of the human condition. In this regard, often an attempt is made to connect to the other-world. Ancestor worship is one such age old attempt followed in different societies and communities. In the case of the Chhetri community of Nepal, the term Dewali represents a form of ancestor with its own unique cultural connotations. It is an ancient shamanistic practice which has rich established beliefs and ritual, passed from generation to generation by the means of practice, folklore, proverbs and myths. According to a belief, Dewali is performed to please the household deities (masto god) for peace, health and long life of family members. There is no specific idol of masto god thus the ritual is performed by the Jhakri (Shamans) who act as a mediator to reach the god.
The practice of Dewali is very rigid in Nepal as compared to other parts of the world where Chhetris are inhabited. Chhetris are highly populated caste group of Nepal with 16.6% of the total population as per Census of Nepal, 2001. In terms of religious association, Chettris belong to a larger Hindu population. However, there are certain sub-categories within this community who has retained their ancient shamanistic practices along with the more organized Hindu practices. The Khadkas of Nepal is one such community amongst the Chettris who has retained shamanistic rituals in the form of Dewali till today. However, there is hardly any literature or academic work done on this practice of the Khadkas. Moreover, it has been observed through oral history that the Dewali tradition has went through many changes in the sense that no longer it is been performed in the actual traditional manner. Indeed, some Chettri groups have totally given up this practice.
Thus, the present study attempts to fill the gaps. It aims to analyze the contemporary significance of the Dewali ceremony as a practice amongst the Khadkas of Nepal. It is an attempt to understand the continuity and change in the ritual and ceremonies. It also attempts to explore the role of women in the ceremony associated with Dewali.
The present study is primarily qualitative in nature based on methods such as participant observation, group discussion and semi- structured interviews.