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2 - A Stormy Biography

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 November 2023

Asaf Sharabi
Affiliation:
Peres Academic Center, Israel
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Summary

Abstract

I begin by describing the initial appearance of Mahasu in his current territory and how his territory expanded over time. I also present the narratives of the locals with regard to the appearance of Mahasu, and I draw a comparison between old narratives (from the era of the British Raj) and modern narratives that I gathered during fieldwork. Finally, I show how current myths and stories about Mahasu reveal a conceptual change in Mahasu’s characteristics.

Keywords: myths, narratives, biography of gods, British Raj

The Appearance of Mahasu: Version 1

It is hard to determine with any certainty when belief in Mahasu began, at least in its current configuration. Nineteenth-century British colonialism has provided several sources that allow us to conjecture, at least partially, the structure of Mahasu’s cult and how far it extends into the past. One early source that alludes to Mahasu is the writing of James Baillie Fraser, a Scottish traveler and artist who explored the Himalayas in 1815 and published his impressions five years later. Fraser mentions Mahasu in one solitary paragraph in connection with his chronicles of Bunkoulee village. He writes that the village is located near Lakha Mandal (“Lak,ha Mundul”), so it can be surmised that he is referring to Bhankoli village, which today has a Mahasu temple. The village is located in the Jaunsar-Bawar region, in the southern section of Mahasu’s territory.

Two more historical sources that discuss Mahasu at length are the writings of Walter Hamilton, published in 1820, and those of George Robert Carlisle Williams, published in 1874. They also refer to Mahasu worship in the Jaunsar-Bawar region, but unlike Fraser, they note that they did not actually visit Mahasu’s territory. Williams relies mainly on an 1827 report by Major Young, an English army officer. This means that both Williams and Hamilton researched the Mahasu phenomenon as it was described in the early decades of the nineteenth century.

According to Hamilton and Williams, the belief in Mahasu originated in Deogar. “[B]eing the spot where the sect and tenets of the Mahassoo Dewtah religion originated,” Hamilton reports, “the division of Dewgur has been considered holy land.”

Type
Chapter
Information
The Biography of a God
Mahasu in the Himalayas
, pp. 47 - 80
Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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  • A Stormy Biography
  • Asaf Sharabi, Peres Academic Center, Israel
  • Book: The Biography of a God
  • Online publication: 18 November 2023
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9789048553846.004
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  • A Stormy Biography
  • Asaf Sharabi, Peres Academic Center, Israel
  • Book: The Biography of a God
  • Online publication: 18 November 2023
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9789048553846.004
Available formats
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  • A Stormy Biography
  • Asaf Sharabi, Peres Academic Center, Israel
  • Book: The Biography of a God
  • Online publication: 18 November 2023
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9789048553846.004
Available formats
×