Based on ethnographic work in India this thesis deals with various aspects of worship and possession related to the cult of Nākoḍā Bhairava, an extremely popular and famous protective deity among Jains in India.
In its present form the cult seems to have been created and propagated by Jain mendicants about 75 years ago. The idol of Nākoḍā Bhairava is situated in a Jain pilgrimage site in western Rajasthan to which both Jains and non-Jains come to worship. Although Nākoḍā Bhairava is the centre of much attention and the main reason for the site’s popularity, the temple itself is not dedicated to him since he is “only” the protective deity of the site. This becomes the starting point for an analysis of the relationship between religious doctrine and actual practice, the ideal and the real.
One of the the most fascinating aspect of the cult of Nākoḍā Bhairava is the oracular possessions that Jains participate in. In these sessions Nākoḍā Bhairava is believed to enter into individuals before verbally interacting through them with spectators. Jain possession has hardly ever been studied before. Contrary, perhaps, to the general view of Jainism as a religion focused on asceticism and self-control with no apparent space for such religious expressions as possession, I argue that possession is not something new or foreign to Jainism. Further, possession is not one thing. There are various types of possession - depending for instance on who possesses and who is possessed - and they have different implications in the Jain scheme of things.