Dance in Fire;Science or Mystery

Biranchi Poudyal ,Asia

In late 1980s, a person named Chandra committed suicide by hanging himself from peepal (Bodhi) tree nearby his house. It was an “ill-timed,” “unnatural” or “bad omen” death. Consequently, his family and other close relatives frequently encountered problems of dealing with his spirit; they were uncertain that the appropriate performance of the morgue rituals would be effective in altering his bad spirit (kacho bayu) into good spirit (pako bayu). -—an expert in dealing with spirit was consulted by Chandra’s brother. As many suspected, the incineration and morgue rituals had failed to alter his spirit into forefather soul and Bayu utarnu ritual should be carried out to sooth his upset spirit.

The Bayu Utarnu for Chandra’s ghost began under the headship of a prominent spirit consultant. It comprised nightly ritual during which the religious expert, using heavy mantras and chants, convinced the Bayu to possess intimate male allies, who performed as a spirit agent. After this, the ritual reached its climax, the ceremony known as ‘khali khane’. On the chosen night, the possessed agent performed dance on burning coals of holy fire, thereby altering the ghost into a Pako bayu who would no longer invite ill luck to his family and relatives.

Through chosen agent’s body, Chandra’s bayu willingly gave an account of his suicide and its aftereffects. He began by describing the reason behind his suicide. Then narrated his conversation with his wife, and his decision to buy two more livestock. He then told about the discovery of his corpse by villagers and gave a description of the police investigation and funeral ceremony. The description ended with the bayu indicating the day for his ‘khali khane’ ritual and exact number of fire woods to be used.

Before the performance of khali khane, a goat is sacrificed at cross road in name of upset Spirit and to any other devil who may be wandering around the house. These devils and spirits, like the bayu, are always voraciously waiting to take any offerings of food made to divine spirit.

In the ripen evening of predicted day, the Brahmin priest belonging to Chandra’s family built a sacred framework (jagya) in the patio. The jagya represented the formation and process of the universe; the holy fire was at the center with the different deities, offerings and participants put around the border After the worship of gods, the priest performed the hom(religious firework) sacrifice by offering  various pure vegetal to the chant of sacred mantras. While hom took place outside, the Conjurer, summoned bayu inside the house with his prayers.  When the priest fulfilled the hom process, the other con juror kept on burning the holy fire with the logs ordered by the bayu. The fire burned down to smouldered ash – like the “fire of incineration”.  Controlled by Chandra’s nu-men spirit, the con juror rove around the jagya in the inauspicious direction, just as the main mourner does before kindling the funeral fire, and then returned to the house.

Finally, Chandra revived, embodied in the agent’s body, together with other Conjurer who were controlled by nu-men spirits. The incineration takes the form of Chandra dancing on the smoulder ashes of the holy fire. Chandra’s spirit willingly offered itself as a victim for sacrifice that altered him into a pako bayu. Following the incineration, Chandra’s pako bayu was settled in a stone idol and placed in the worship room of his house.

Khali Khane” practice was metaphysically grounded in Nepali society. Since the period of Prithvi Narayan shah, it was practiced in Gorkha during Shahs‟ regime.    In Nepal, spirits are believed to be ubiquitous, found in all living beings as well as non-living things (stone, hill, river , etc.), and there is a strong belief that spirits can be transferred from living beings to inanimate objects and vice versa . Thus, with belief to overcome misfortune by diverting upset spirit from living being to non-living being such exoteric practice are prevailed till date.

However, explanatory precedence must be given to the incorporating sacrificial cosmology. In the phenomenology of Martin Heidegger, particularly his hermeneutic notion of ontology in “Being and Time” (1967), tries to clarifying the relation between meaning and ritual practice. For Heidegger the universe is essentially a ground of probability in which the nature of any phenomenon is by no means given to mortal consciousness. The linkage between ontology and phenomena of universe is interpretation of whole and part. In this case the ritual practices of ‘Khali khane’ is Part, conditioned by the whole.


Austin, J. L. 1975. How to Do Things with Words. (2nd ed.). Cambridge, Mass.

Heidegger, M. 1964. Being and Time. Oxford. 

Hofer, A., and B. P. Shrestha. 1978. Ghost Exorciums among the Brahmin of Central Nepal.

Nicholas, R. 1981. Shraddha, Impurity and Relations between the Living and the Dead.