Shamanism in Nepal


The main event in our journey to Nepal is the Nepali specific shamanic teachings given by shaman and tour guide Bhola Banstola.

Before I talk about my personal experiences and journeys during our shamanic sessions, I feel it is good to give a little information about Nepali shamans and their healing practices.

So here is a good intro about the topic:


Essays on the Ethnology of Nepal and South Asia,

Kathmandu 1983, A.W. Macdonald.

The tiny country of Nepal lies between India and the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China. Prithivinarayan Shah, the first king of the united Nepal once declared the country to be a “…garden for all types of people” for it is home to more than sixty different ethnic groups. The geography of Nepal is equally diverse ranging from the jungles of Terai in the South to the towering Himalayas in the North. It was not until 1950s, when Nepal’s borders were opened to the West, that foreign scholars become aware of this land’s amazing diversity and mystery.

Hinduism, Animism and Buddhism are the major religions practiced in Nepal. Regardless of their religion, however, the majority of people turn to the Dhami/Jhankri (shamans) for help. The people seek a shaman’s help for physical and emotional healings as well as relying on them to protect their animals and crops from natural calamities. The Nepali concept of health is quite different from that found in other parts of the world. A health issue is not just something that has gone wrong with an individual but can also include difficulties with their relationships with their families, communities and universe.

Nepali shamanism is based on an animistic belief that honors Mother earth and respects the spirit that resides in all living beings. This universal worldview is key in preserving the ecology of the land and in bringing harmony and creating healthy alliances with to all things visible and invisible. The role of the Dhami/Jhankri is to reestablish this harmony. Shamans are the central figures in their communities for they are not only healers but also the storytellers, dancers, singers, artists and musicians. They acquire these talents, their spiritual power and wisdom through their personal helping spirits, ancestral deities, elemental spirits and guides. They accomplish their work by voluntarily modifying their state of consciousness in order to perceive what aspects of the person, family or community require rebalancing.

In 1962, Prof. A.W. Macdonald attempted to define the Dhami/Jhankri in the following way stating that the shaman is “…a being who goes into trance and at that time voices speak through his body which allow him to diagnose illnesses and sometimes to cure them, to give advice concerningthe future and to calrify present facts in the light of the evidence which took place in the past. He is therefore, at the same time a priviledged intermediary between spirits (which give and cure sicknesses) and men; between the past, present and the future; between life and death and, in another perspective, between the individual and a certain social mythology. He can, it seems, be of any jat (caste) and he can take as pupil, in order to transmite to him his knowledge and his techniques, a person of any jat (caste)”1. In 1966, Macdonald designated the Dhami/Jhankri as the healer who, after having suffered possession by a spirit from outside of his everyday world, manages to control and regulate it. In his 1967 book, People of Nepal, Kathmandu, the Nepali anthropologist Prof. D.B. Bista defined “Jhankrism” as “Shamanism/Animism”. By 1976, publications such as Spirit Possession in the Nepal Himalayas, and testimony by renown anthropologists provided evidence that the Dhami/Jhankri played a similar role as the shaman in other cultures.

shamanThe Nepalese shamanic sources of power come from honoring Mother Earth and the spirits of the place where the shaman performs his ceremonies. The shamans must call on the guardian spirits and deities who inspire him; the keepers of the earth, snowclad mountains, trees, rivers, lakes, and medicinal plants. The sacred hidden language of the land is felt in the form of rhythms, vibrations and warm and cool sensations in the physical body. Understanding this language, the shaman has to honor the spirits of the place and ask their permission. If the place is spiritually dead or some malignant spirits have taken over, the shaman must first revive the balance or fill in the gap of what is missing by calling on the spirits of the place.

Among most Nepalese people, it is believed that the ‘soul’ never dies but transmigrates from one body to another through many cycles of death and rebirth. The culture believes that while the physical is a gift from our blood relations, the soul we have is directly inherited from our past life experiences. As we are part and parcel of all our ancestors, the ancestral deities are a strong source of power and protection for the Nepalese shaman. Bloodline ancestors from the father’s lineage and milk line ancestors from the mother’s side are equally important. Without the ancestors’ blessings and help, not only are shamanic healings difficult, but loss of equilibrium and imbalances are likely to arise in everyday lives.

While the term Dhami or Jhankri are used all over Nepal, some ethnic groups have unique terms for the shaman. Some examples include:

Tamang people: Bonpo

Gurung people: Khyapri

Kham Magar people: Ramba/Rama

Rai people: Bijuwa

Limbu people: Phedangba

Tharu people: Ojha

In research conducted by the university in the late 1970’s it was noted that for every shaman there were 70 people that the shaman cared for, where as a each medical practitioner was responsible for over 27,00 people. This meant that far more people received individualized care by a shaman than could be seen by a medically trained person. Today, thanks to the aggressive introduction of conventional care and religious conversion, far fewer people are seeking the services of shamans that in the past.


For instance, due to influences by other traditions, people in Nepal now have more choices when seeking seek spiritual help. Along with shamans, people may consult a Hindu Brahman pandit, a Buddhist lama, a Christian minister or priest, an Islamic spiritual healers(pir) or other spiritual counselor for assistance.

This “modern” transition is tragic as human beings are no longer attending to being in harmony. For most of our collective human past, people nurtured very good relationships with nature and all that is created. Our ancestors made offerings, revered their ancestors, honored Mother Earth and understood that caring for the plants and animals was a part of being and living a harmonious life. The result is that many human beings feel fractured, fragmented and disconnected from the Source.

The role shamanism can play in healing our collective “Fall from Grace,” is to help restore people to harmony, to mend the tears in the fabric of interrelationships that make and keep us vital, reintroduce individuals to their own preciousness and help people to remember the profound sacredness of nature. In many ways, it is our oldest spiritual connection that holds the biggest hope for a bright future!