The cursing practice in Sri Lanka as a religious channel for
keeping physical violence in control: the case of Seenigama
J.P. Feddema
Journal of Asian and African Studies
Vol.32 No.3-4
Dec 1997
COPYRIGHT @ E.J. Brill (The Netherlands)


            This study deals with the cursing services in Sinhala Buddhism in 
            Sri Lanka which some gods offer to the people. The author, who is 
            using the mimesis and scapegoat mechanism theory of Girard as a 
            point of reference, concentrates on the god Devol in the hamlet of 
            Seenigama on the south-west coast. Why do people ask gods to harm or 
            even kill their adversaries? Why is cursing on the increase in the 
            country, and how does Buddhism, a religion preaching "ahimsa" 
            (non-violence), cope with the cursing practices? The author 
            dissociates himself from the idea of some writers, that cursing is 
            identical to black magic. Cursing is certainly a form of violence, 
            but because it stops at one incident, without triggering endless 
            cycles, it can traditionally be seen as a religious channel for 
            violence, that helps to keep it in control, according to the author. 
            Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1997 E.J. Brill (The Netherlands) 
            The theme of my research, carried out in the early nineties in the 
            South of Sri Lanka in the so-called Low Country, focuses on creed 
            and practice concerning violence in Sinhala Buddhism. In this study 
            I deal with one aspect of this, namely the activities connected with 
            certain gods, especially Devol Deviyo in the hamlet Seenigama. These 
            serve the people by meting out punishments and other forms of 
            violence involving putting curses on particular indiviuals. My 
            questions are: how to explain this cursing ("awalada," "sapa 
            karanawa" or "pali gahanawa"), why do people ask the gods to harm or 
            even kill their adversaries and what role does Devol Deviyo play in 
            that practice? I will also briefly deal with the increase in cursing 
            since the sixties. The mimesis and scapegoat mechanism theory of 
            Rene Girard will be used as a reference. As a side issue I finally 
            deal with the question of how Buddhism, a religion preaching 
            "ahimsa" (non-violence) tried (and tries) to cope with the practices 
            of cursing relating to some gods who, like the demons, are all 
            "placed under the supreme jurisdiction of the Buddha" (Sarachandra, 
            1958, p. 114); consequently all rituals and beliefs are "integrated 
            into a Buddhist cosmology" (Gombrich, 1971, p. 5). Cursing, widely 
            practised by Buddhists, is part of those Buddhist rituals and 
            beliefs and therefore can not be dismissed as "folk religion." 
            Obeyesekere, in his study of 1975, unfortunately identifies cursing 
            with sorcery and cites besides Seenigama, the Hindu and the Moslim 
            shrines in Muneswaram and Kahatapitiya. My study however deals only 
            with the ceremonies of cursing in the Buddhist shrine of Devol 
            Deviyo at Seenigama (meaning sugar village). I also did some 
            research at other shrines to Devol in Sri Lanka. I conducted my 
            research by the method of "participatory observation" and by 
            interviewing people in the concerned area, i.e. along the south-west 
            coast. The most important subjects of research were naturally the 
            supplicants and priests at the shrines. Some of these and other 
            informants could speak English. Otherwise I was helped by an 
            interpreter. The myths around Devol Deviyo I learned from my 
            informants. The Weeragoda story of Devol killing his child one can 
            also find in Weerakoon (1985, p. 107). In 1993, 1994 and 1995 I 
            visited the Seenigama shrine at different times. 
            I will first describe the activities of the gods involving cursing 
            and their background and then concentrate on Devol Deviyo. Generally 
            speaking the Sinhala Buddhist gods seek the well-being of the people 
            and abstain from assistance in "kodivina" (black magic) and other 
            forms of harming, hurting or even killing people. Gods however often 
            have also their "dark" or - in the words of the average Sinhala 
            Buddhist - their "bad" side. That does not make them less popular. 
            The Sinhala Buddhists actually like gods with a "bad" side, because 
            it makes them feel more at ease with the negative sides of 
            themselves. The great popularity of the god Kataragama 
            (Skanda/Murugan) is not least due to the fact that he is known as a 
            warrior and that he has a concubine or a second wife besides his 
            first wife (Gombrich and Obeyesekere, 1988, p. 191). A god who like 
            Buddha appears too holy (one can also say too light or too 
            "ahimsa"/non-violent), e.g., Vishnu, the protector of Buddhism in 
            Sri Lanka (Gombrich and Obeyesekere, 1988, p. 71), is not easy for 
            the people to approach about ordinary problems. The distance between 
            such a god and the people has become too great. 
            There is on the other hand also the moral influence of Buddhism in 
            society. In this respect preference should be given to the gods 
            without "dark" sides. This shows that there is something 
            contradictory in society. The same applies to the curses of gods 
            like Getabaru, Devol Deviyo, Kadavera, Suniyam and Kali.(1) Every 
            Buddhist subscribes to the five precepts, including the first one of 
            "refraining from killing living beings" (Dhammananda, 1987, p. 163). 
            People on the other hand can hardly abstain from taking revenge 
            ("paliganima" or "paliyak"), if someone has done something wrong to 
            them, even if that means badly harming or killing the adversary 
            through cursing. Public opinion however condemns the practice of 
            cursing. Getabaru for example is one of the "dark" faces of the god 
            Kataragama, but due to the karmic effect of the good deeds of the 
            Buddhists the latter has risen so much in the hierarchy of the gods, 
            that it would be better not to remind the people any more of that 
            "dark" side. In view of this Getabaru therefore withdrew to an 
            isolated place on a mountain in the interior near Morawaka on the 
            road from Galle to Deniyaya. There in isolation and, as it were, far 
            from the official Buddhist world he exercises now his despised yet 
            well appreciated powers. People fear and therefore also respect his 
            power to curse. 
            The case of Kadavera is even more ambiguous. He too is one of the 
            "dark" faces of Kataragama, but his place still is in the town of 
            Kataragama. His power to curse cannot be exercised inside the (big) 
            shrine of the god Skanda, but is carried out in secret outside the 
            shrine at a place at the Menik river, where he also receives "billa 
            puja" (animal sacrifices) (Feddema, 1995, p. 143). This especially 
            is embarassing to many Sinhala Buddhists. Today they consider 
            Kataragama unlike Kali as a national Buddhist god, since the shrine 
            a few decades ago completely fell into the hands of the Sinhala 
            Buddhists (see also Gombrich and Obeyesekere, 1988, p. 99 and 
            Chapter 5). Knowing that Buddha has condemned "billa," they feel 
            somewhat ashamed that Kadavera is accepting "billa" from people, 
            especially businessmen, and exercising harmful powers near or at 
            least not far from the Kataragama shrine. They often try to deny it 
            or to cover it up, when I ask for information about it. 
            Amiguity of Devol Deviyo 
            We see the same ambiguity concerning the god Devol in Seenigama on 
            the south-west coast. He has a shrine ("dewale") on the beach, where 
            he performs his blessing together with the goddess Pattini. However, 
            about 400 metres off shore on a tiny and hardly accessible island he 
            performs (via the "yakka"/"demon" Diwi) his cursing. This indeed is 
            ambiguous. On the one hand Devol Deviyo likes to preserve the image 
            of a respected Buddhist god. On the other hand, he wants to continue 
            to respond to appeals for cursing, which promote his fame in the 
            A tacit compromise settles the problem. People who want to pray, 
            bring an offering ("puja") or make a vow ("bara"), come to the 
            shrine on the beach. People who come for "cursing," go to the 
            island. They have to take the trouble to go there or to wait for a 
            while, if the sea is rough. It is outside the official Buddhist 
            world as it were. From the land one cannot see what happens on the 
            island, because a stone wall has been erected there to ensure 
            privacy. For the hamlet this seems acceptable. I think of the case 
            of Weeragoda, a village nearby, where another shrine of Devol Deviyo 
            is located. In 1992 the "kapuwaraya" (the priest/servant of gods, 
            abbreviated to "kapua") of Seenigama looked after the shrine of 
            Weeragoda because of a temporary vacancy. In the beginning he 
            sometimes also did cursing on request, until this evoked protests 
            from the population. Cursing has a negative effect on the 
            environment and is therefore bad for the village, the people argued. 
            In Seenigama this negative influence has been neutralized by the 
            narrow stretch of the sea, people think. 
            Devol is a local god. He is in charge of a large part of the Low 
            Country along the south-west coast. He is reputed to especially look 
            after the owners of fishing boats and (recently also) the owners of 
            transport vehicles, such as buses and vans. In the fishing season 
            the boat owners ("aithikaru") together with their "kamkaru," the 
            often poor fishermen who cooperate with the "aithikaru" (Feddema, 
            1988a), go at least once a month to the shrine of Devol Deviyo to 
            offer some "puja." 
            The shrine is situated on the main road between Colombo and Galle. 
            The passing buses and vans stop briefly to put some coins in the 
            till, kept beside the road at the entrance to the shrine area, and 
            worship. Every month an amount of about fifty kilos of coins is 
            collected. It shows the magic power of Devol Deviyo, people believe. 
            "He can do big things," a young man in one of the surrounding 
            villages told me. People may sometimes qualify his cursing trade as 
            "paw" (bad), but they still respect it, because it is a sign of the 
            power he has and which they might need or have to avoid one day. 
            In the mythology around Devol one sees his magical power too. He is 
            a son of the king Rajasinghe of the town Kudupura, as the myth 
            tells. The king banishes him together with six of his brothers 
            because of their dissolute behaviour. The seven brothers in vain try 
            to land from their ship at different places in Sri Lanka. At last 
            they are shipwrecked near Seenigama. With the help of the god Sakra 
            and a raft they reach the coast safely. However the goddess Pattini, 
            who was in charge of that area then, puts seven 'mountains' of fire 
            in front of them.(2) The brothers throw their ornaments into the 
            fire, trying to change fire into water in order to help at least 
            Devol survive. Pattini allows him to stay. It is unclear what 
            happened to the six brothers. Devol receives the consent of Pattini 
            - the god Skanda helped him with that - to ask offerings from the 
            people in exchange for healing sick people at seven places: 
            Seenigama, Unawatuna, Udulgapitiya (Dodanduwa), Weeragoda, Gintota, 
            Ambalangoda and Panadura. 
            The Weeragoda myth is also an illustration of Devol's magical power. 
            Weeragoda is about 6 miles from Seenigama. Devol goes there to live 
            at the house of his concubine. Every morning he walks to Seenigama 
            and comes back with rice, fish and a few coconuts. The woman wonders 
            how he manages to do this. They have a son. When he is old enough, 
            she asks him to follow his father and find out what is going on. The 
            boy tells her after coming back, that his father is making rice from 
            beach sand and fish with his walking-stick and gets coconuts by 
            commanding a few coconut trees in Seenigama to bend down to him. 
            Devol sees this as a betrayal of his secret, flies into a rage, 
            kills his son and departs. He leaves his walking stick behind, which 
            grows into an imposing and very rare tree for that country. It is 
            remarkable that neither Weerakoon nor any of my informants questions 
            Devol's killing of the innocent boy, which is usually the case in 
            myths about scapegoats (Girard, 1986, pp. 34 and 143). People are so 
            impressed by Devol's magical power, that it seems everything he does 
            is taken for granted. 
            The Threatening Competition with God Kataragama 
            Devol Deviyo, though perhaps "viewed by the Buddhists of that area 
            as a major deity in their pantheon" (Obeyesekere, 1975, p. 7), is 
            still a local god, who has not (yet) a place in the official 
            Buddhist pantheon. Being a local and not a national god is a 
            drawback, more so today since distance hardly plays any role with 
            the modern means of transport. It is therefore not easy for him to 
            compete with the very popular pantheon god Kataragama (Skande), 
            although the town Kataragama is somewhat on the periphery of the 
            country. Today nearly everbody undertakes a pilgrimage to Kataragama 
            once a year for religious and/or recreational purposes. Orthodox 
            Buddhists, who do not bother so much about the gods, also go in 
            order to give alms ("dana") to the many beggars who flock there. The 
            most suitable periods are August and April, festival and new year 
            months. The pilgrimage is often a pleasure trip for relatives, 
            friends or people of the same village, as well as being religious. 
            Devol Deviyo cannot compete with all that, although his "dewale," 
            like nearly all Devol shrines, has a festival for a week in August. 
            Most of them recently added innovations copied from Kataragama like 
            "fire walking" and the "kavadi"-dance, both under the guidance of a 
            "kapua." The dance is very popular among the young people, because 
            it is often for them the only chance to have contacts with 
            contemporaries of the opposite sex. Two Devol shrines (Unawatuna and 
            Panadura) also made Suniyam their patron god. This is an astute 
            decision, because recently the god Suniyam has become a rising star 
            among the Sinhalese (Obeyesekere, 1986 and Feddema, 1996). In 
            Unawatuna the "kapua," besides his general work in the Devol shrine, 
            even allows Suniyam to take possession ("avesa") of him in order to 
            be able to help people with their problems as an "avesa sami." That 
            is a good innovation in order to attract more clients, because the 
            "avesa sami" is becoming popular in the country and it is trendy to 
            consult him. The Devol shrine at Unawatuna is still flourishing, 
            while the ones in Udulgapithiya and Gintota have nearly come to a 
            standstill. Of the seven Devol shrines the position of the one in 
            Seenigama is by far the best. This is neither due to innovations 
            imitated from Kataragama, although the festivals such as "fire 
            walking" in August, attract thousands of people, nor to the 
            introduction of Suniyam as the patron god of the shrine. The main 
            cause is the practice of cursing. 
            Cursing is a centuries old tradition in Seenigama, but generally it 
            was invoked by the people no more than a few times a month. At 
            present there are more than 20 occurences of cursing per day on the 
            tiny island, much more than the average number of people coming for 
            the ordinary "puja" or "bara." Traditionally Wednesday and Saturday 
            are the proper days for cursing, but the demand today is so great 
            that it is not possible anymore to limit it to those two days. The 
            increase came to a climax in the eighties. Obeyesekere mentions for 
            the early seventies an estimate of 1 per day, but I wonder whether 
            this is not rather too low, also because he gives a much higher 
            estimate for the Kali shrine at Muneswaram, 11 per day (1975, p. 9). 
            The "kapua" Lionel de Silva, who started his work in Seenagamma in 
            1968, has given me an estimate of 60 per month in 1970. That would 
            mean an average of about 2 per day for that year already. He 
            mentions a same average of 2 per day for sixties. For the year 1975 
            de Silva however mentions the number of 150 per month, meaning about 
            5 per day. In 1980 according de Silva 300 people per month (about an 
            average of 10 per day) came to the shrine to request cursing. Since 
            then he mentions an increase of 100 per month every five year. In 
            1985 there was an average of 400 per month (13 per day), in 1990 an 
            average of 500 per month (17 per day) and in 1994 an average of 600 
            per month (20 per day). I could only check these data partly for the 
            years 1994 and 1995. I visited the shrine on Wednesday 7 July 1994 
            and counted then 22 clients for cursing. Wednesday is like Saturday 
            a day people prefer for cursing, as I said before. I needed more 
            indications of the average number of clients. In November I came 
            again and then over 5 days from 12th till 16th of November counted 
            an average of 17.4 per day. (Saturday 12-11: 16; Sunday 13-11: 14; 
            Monday 14-11: 8; Tuesday 15-11: 9 and Wednesday 16-11: 26.) The 
            total number of clients for cursing on those five days was 73. Of 
            them 50 were males and 23 females. Thursday the 18th of November I 
            missed. Friday the 19th was a "Poya"-day, the monthly Buddhist 
            celebration day on full moon. None came that day. Cursing on a 
            "Poya"-day is not done. Also the priests will not serve the people 
            for cursing on that day. On the day after "Poya"-day there were 26 
            clients for cursing, 17 males and 9 females. That was Saturday 
            20-11. On Sunday 21-11 I counted 21, of whom 7 females. Especially 
            the number on Sunday 21-11-'94, as a Sunday not being a prefered day 
            for cursing, could be an indication, that de Silva was not very far 
            wrong with his estimate of 20 per day in 1994. 
            At the beginning of 1995 and in December of that year I visited the 
            shrine in Seenigama again. In the week of 25th of February till 3rd 
            of March I counted 195 clients, of whom 84 were females. (Saturday 
            25-2: 47; Sunday 26-2: 32; Monday 27-2: 22; Tuesday 28-2: 51; 
            Wednesday 1-3: 25; Thursday 2-3: 6; Friday 3-3: 12.) That would mean 
            an average of nearly 28 per day. Especially on Saturdays it is very 
            busy for the priests. On three Saturdays in March I counted more 
            than 30 clients each day, meaning 38, 36 and 33 on respectively 4-3, 
            11-3 and 18-3. On the 16th of March it was "Poya"-day again. That 
            affected also the number on Wednesday 15-3, there being only 12 
            clients, of whom 5 were females. The day before a "Poya"-day is also 
            not preferred for cursing. Friday 17-3, the day after a "Poya"-day 
            also had a low number of clients, there being 6, of whom 3 were 
            females. That could indicate, that the average of 28 per day on the 
            basis of the data I collected in the week of 25-2 to 3-3, could be 
            high. On the other hand in that week there was also a day, which was 
            not preferred - the 1st of March. Nobody likes to curse on the first 
            day of the month, as it is not an auspicious day for this. It was 
            however a Wednesday. Maybe because of that as many as 25 clients 
            came that day. It nevertheless was relatively low in comparison with 
            the previous day, i.e. Tuesday 28-2, when 51 clients came, of whom 
            22 were females. The figure of 51 for a Tuesday is abnormally high. 
            It would appear that many of them came, because they wanted to avoid 
            the first of the month. These data suggest an average of 25 per day. 
            The first months of the year however seem popular for cursing. In 
            the week of Sunday the 10th to Saturday the 16th of December 1995 I 
            counted a number of 136, of whom 52 were females (Sunday 10-12: 12; 
            Monday 11-12: 13; Tuesday 12-12: 11; Wednesday 13-12: 27; Thursday 
            14-12: 14; Friday 15-12: 18; Saturday 16-12: 41). That would mean an 
            average of 19.3 per day in that week. My data for 1995 suggest 
            anyhow an average of 20 to 25 per day for that year. That is 
            certainly much more than the 1 per day Obeyesekere mentioned for the 
            early seventies and also more or less in line with what the "kapua" 
            de Silva estimated for 1994. The number of priests also reflects the 
            increase in cursing. In the sixties there was one "kapua" at the 
            shrine of Seenigama, while in the seventies and the early eighties 
            two priests were employed. In 1986 a third one came. Since then 
            three full-time priests work at the shrine, joined in 1994 by a 
            fourth one on a part-time basis. 
            Methods of Cursing 
            At the Devol shrine in Unawatuna the clients for cursing activities 
            are just as numerous as the clients who ask for blessings to help 
            them find a job, win someone's love, or become pregnant, or to aid 
            them with visa problems or lack of energy. The cursing in Unawatuna 
            (about 3 or 4 cases per day) however is not done in the name of 
            Devol Deviyo, but of Suniyam, the patron god of the shrine. That is 
            also true in the Panadura shrine. In Unawatuna as well as in 
            Panadura a tiny island is not available and the "kapua" in both 
            cases does his best to prevent the leader of the shrine (Devol 
            Deviyo) from getting a bad name in the Buddhist environment. This 
            cover-up of the cursing practices, being carried out at a Devol 
            shrine however, doubtless with material profit, is rather underhand. 
            Cursing is on the increase. That the Hindu goddess Kali recently has 
            become popular among Sinhala Buddhists is not unrelated to her 
            cursing activities. A further indication is the "polgahanawa"-ritual 
            in the shrines. People take a coconut with a small flame on top of 
            it in their hands holding it at chest height, bring it above their 
            heads and then throw it with force to the ground onto a piece of 
            cement or a big stone, which is placed there for that purpose. If 
            they manage to smash the coconut, it is primarily meant to reinforce 
            the wishes they have laid before the gods. It can however also 
            indicate a wish to harm an adversary. Cursing is done in this way in 
            Unawatuna and Panadura. In most other shrines cursing cannot 
            officially be done, but today more and more people are using the 
            "polgahanawa"-ritual to express an informal cursing. 
            Seenigama however uses a special stone ("gala") for the cursing 
            practice, or rather two stones, a large and a small. The person 
            concerned grinds red chilli, black pepper, white onion and mustard 
            with the small stone on the big stone, while he or she utters the 
            words of his or her curse. The "gala" itself is not important, 
            because it is, just like chilli and pepper, part of every household 
            kitchen. The "gala" in Seenigama however now has a special power in 
            the minds of the people, having been used for so many years for 
            cursing. The most important aspect of this institution is the 
            cursing itself. It is performed orally. The client has to pronounce 
            the words of his or her curse, instructed by the "kapua," who sits 
            near him or her. The "kapua" first asks the client to tell him what 
            he or she wants to happen to the adversary whether known or not: 
            death, a serious mental illness, an accident, broken legs or being 
            forced to leave the village of residence. The kapua then says: "In 
            the name of Devol I call punishment and evil over . . ." and asks 
            the client to repeat this or use other cursing words while grinding 
            the chilli etc. on the "gala." He (she) often also says: "May you 
            die young and be reduced to ashes" or "May you not prosper but 
            perish" or more in general or indirectly: "May those who are jealous 
            of me perish." He (she) must say it quite a few times. Repetition of 
            the curse on different occasions is important. The "kapua" therefore 
            asks the client not to limit his visit to the island to one time, 
            but to come three times. Only then can he guarantee the effect of 
            the curse. Most people comply and pay 265 Sri Lanka rupees 
            altogether (if one curses two times the fee is R 175,- and one time 
            R 100,-). The monthly income of the shrine from the cursing fees in 
            1994 was roughly R 52,000. In 1995 the average monthly income was 
            about R 61,000. 
            Revenge of Kuveni's Son, the Scapegoat Diwi? 
            Although cursing may formally be conducted in the name of Devol 
            Deviyo, the real work is done by Diwi-yakka. Diwi is an interesting 
            figure. He is according to the Seenigama myth a son of the Aryan 
            prince Vijaya, the founder of the Sinhala nation, and the Yakkha 
            queen Kuveni (Gunawardena, 1985, p. 60). The Yakkha were the main 
            origional inhabitants of Ceylon and had both kingdoms and cities 
            (Wijesekera, 1987, p. 67 and 1986, p. 7). They were subjugated and 
            later on demonized by the Aryan conquerers (Feddema, 1995, p. 
            133/134; Wijesekera, 1987, p. 360). Demons or evil spirits are today 
            called "yakku" (singular: "yakka"). They can be seen as scapegoats, 
            who are still resentful about what happened to them (Feddema, 1995, 
            pp. 134, 145). Diwi is a special scapegoat, because the founder of 
            the Sinhala nation killed him when he took the side of his mother 
            Kuveni. She was ill-treated and chased away by Vijaya after he had 
            made use of her and her love in order to destroy and subjugate the 
            Yakkha. When Devol came from Trivandrum (South India) to Ceylon, 
            Diwi helped him together with eleven other "yakku" to land at 
            Seenigama and cross safely over the "mountains" of fire that Pattini 
            had put in front of Devol. Was it a kind of revenge or resistance on 
            the part of Diwi to help a newcomer from South India against the new 
            rulers of Ceylon including the goddess Pattini? Devol in any case up 
            to now sees in Diwi his right hand or main servant. In every "Devol 
            Natuma," a religious dance feast in the honour of Devol, 12 oil 
            lamps burn constantly for Diwi and the other (eleven) "yakku" to 
            thank them for their assistance during the landing of Devol. 
            Also remarkable is the Telme-dance at the Devol Deviyo feast. The 
            story of that dance is as follows: Vijaya became in his 
            reincarnation a king in India. He had a small lake in front of his 
            palace on wich floated a large lotus flower. One day there was a 
            strong fragrance emanating from the lotus. The king could not resist 
            the scent and went to the lake placing his nose very near to the 
            flower. Kuveni was present in the flower, reborn as a baby frog. 
            When the nose of the king was near the lotus flower, she crept via 
            his nose into the head of the reborn Vijaya, causing him a constant 
            This story does not need much explanation. If Kuveni is still 
            vengeful, it is clear that her son the "yakka" Diwi does not mind 
            harming or even killing Sinhalese people, after they have been 
            cursed in the name of Devol Deviyo. The people know that a "yakka" 
            who has the sanction of a god can be very violent (Feddema, 1995, p. 
            136). They are also aware of the magical power of Devol Deviyo. No 
            wonder that the people fear the cursing power of the Devol-Diwi 
            A "yakka" may not object to harming or killing people, but that is a 
            different matter for Buddhists. One becomes a Buddhist by taking 
            refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha and subscribing to the five 
            precepts. The first is: "I will abstain from killing living beings." 
            It also implies abstaining from torturing and tormenting. Cursing is 
            a deliberate deed, causing people harm, torment or death. An 
            important justification for cursing has always been that it was 
            directed at punishing "bad" people, especially thieves. Buddhists 
            certainly can understand that, as theft has now increased markedly. 
            Cursing then is seen as an alternative to the modern system of being 
            punished by the police or the state. Using this rationalisation, 
            even good Buddhists participate in the practice of cursing. 
            The Case of Mr. T. 
            The case of Mr. T from a village about 30 miles north of Galle and 
            nearby Seenagama can be seen as a typical example. He is a middle 
            class Buddhist 60 years of age. He believes in the existence of the 
            gods and the demons, but normally ignores them. In 1991 someone 
            broke into his house during his absence and stole R 2000,-, some 
            jewellery belonging to his wife and the official property deeds of 
            two pieces of land he owns. The loss of the deeds especially worried 
            him. He reported the theft to the police. Neighbours told him they 
            saw a person from the village near his house on the day of the 
            break-in. He was probably the burglar, but proof was lacking. Mr. T. 
            rejected the idea of going to the police again, but told some 
            friends and neighbours that he planned to go to Seenigama. If he 
            went to the police again, the suspect would soon find out that he 
            was accusing him of the theft. If he was really guilty, he could 
            take revenge e.g. by destroying the two deeds. For this reason Mr. 
            T. chose to go to Seenigama: "I wanted to avoid the suspect's 
            getting the feeling of being chased by me. By going to Seenigama I 
            acted "innocently." I only told the people that I was going to 
            Seenigama. The suspect had no proof that I went there with the 
            intention of cursing, let alone with the purpose of cursing him." 
            On the island of Seenigama the "kapua" asked Mr. T. whether he 
            wanted the death of the suspect. His answer was: "I don't care if he 
            dies due to the cursing, but the most important thing for me is to 
            get back the deeds to the two pieces of land." The "kapua" promised 
            him that they will be returned to him before a certain date (9th of 
            September 1991). He hardly believed it, but he nevertheless made a 
            "bara" (vow) at the shrine on the beach, that he would give seven 
            oil lamps to Devol Deviyo, if the deeds were returned within the 
            promised time. One day before the fixed date Mr. T. visited 
            Seenigama again. The "kapua" answered him: "Wait, it is not yet the 
            9th of September." The next day just after his midday sleep, someone 
            reported to him that in a paddy field nearby documents had been 
            found. They proved to be the deeds. The money and jewellery were 
            still missing. He did not mind so much, because he was glad that he 
            had his deeds back. At about midnight someone knocked at the door. A 
            young man about 27 years of age apologized for the burglary and 
            offered biscuits. He was accompanied by a friend. Mr. T. accepted 
            the biscuits and gave the two persons tea. The next day he fulfilled 
            his vow and gave the biscuits to the "kapua." Since then the thief 
            never appeared in the village again. The moral condemnation by the 
            community of what he had done was such that he could not live there 
            any longer. 
            Mr. T. strongly believes that it was due to Devol Deviyo or his 
            servant Diwi that the young man apologized to him and left the 
            village. In this case exile and not death was the punishment. Mr. T. 
            comments: "I did not exclude death, because going to Seenigama 
            implies that risk, but retrospectively I do not regret that he has 
            not been killed, but was forced to live in exile." Death or exile, I 
            asked him whether that is a Buddhist way to take revenge. Mr. T.: 
            "No, Buddhists should leave revenge to the gods or to the effect of 
            karma during this life or for the next birth of the evil-doer. I am 
            aware of that, but we Buddhists mostly still wish to take revenge 
            ourselves and want retaliation in the short term." 
            The fact that a god is carrying out the revenge helps people of 
            course not to be troubled by the Buddhist conscience in this matter. 
            An middle-aged farmer from Koggala, whom I met at the shrine in 
            Seenigama, had big problems with some neighbours. When I asked him, 
            whether participating in cursing did not worry him, being a 
            Buddhist, he answered: "No, it is not contrary to Buddhism to wish 
            someone's death in the case of cursing, because it is the god, who 
            does the job and he will of course look to it, that nobody will be 
            harmed or killed unrightfully." 
            This "divine punishment of an evil-doer" seems effective, because 
            people believe in it and because of the social context of the 
            villages. Every villager soon gets to know all the village gossip, 
            if someone tells the neighbours that he or she is going to visit the 
            shrine in Seenigama for a special purpose. Thieves and other 
            evildoers often become very worried, which shows they are under 
            social control, have a religious conscience or believe in the divine 
            power of punishment. "Maintenance of anonymity is very important for 
            the clients," according to Obeyesekere, who adds: "Hence people who 
            live in the vicinity of a shrine rarely visit it" (1975, p. 5). My 
            research gives a different picture. Black magic is practised in 
            secret, but cursing is mostly not. People areoften very open about 
            it, not having any objection to publicity; indeed the contrary is 
            true, as the case of Mr. T. shows. People from nearby villages, 
            Seenigama included, certainly also come to the shrine. Only 
            high-class people from the cities often feel ashamed, that they 
            participate in the cursing practice. They sometimes keep their names 
            secret at Seenigama. In general however people are eager to tell 
            others what kind of injustice someone has done to them and that they 
            therefore went to the shrine of Seenigama to invoke a punishment on 
            The negative sides of this "religious system of punishment" are the 
            lack of an independent judge or an adequate judicial system and the 
            fact that suspects are always seen to be guilty. One takes the law 
            into his or her own hands and can do so because a god or priest is 
            prepared to help him or her in exchange for some money. The suspect 
            in Girard's terms can sometimes become the scapegoat for various 
            frustrations. With the help of a god but without an open and fair 
            trial the scapegoat then is exorcized. This is a more serious 
            consequence, if the scapegoat is not a thief or another evil-doer, 
            but just an adversary. 
            Other cases might illustrate this. One day in March 1995 I was 
            allowed entrance to the small island, when the cursing took place. 
            It was crowded on the tiny island. About 15 people (mostly 
            accompanied by relatives and/or friends) requested the service of 
            the priest at the same time. In order to save time, the priest 
            invited all to come together in the small shrine to participate in 
            the religious ritual antecedent to the cursing. The music of a horn 
            was heard, presents were given, oil lamps were lit and the priest 
            asked Devol Deviyo, the resident of the Seenigama Dewale, as he 
            explicitly called him a few times, to help those troubled persons 
            against their adversaries. After that the priest went to the "gala" 
            (stone) just outside the shrine, where the real cursing started for 
            the persons concerned, one after the other. Patiently they waited 
            for each other and later on for the boat to bring them back to the 
            mainland. During that time I managed to ask all of them to tell me 
            the reason for their coming. Here is a brief summary. 
            1) A middle-aged businessman, a local politician from Colombo was 
            killed by 6 men with knifes. The suspected wrongdoers had all been 
            caught and were waiting in jail for their trial. The widow did the 
            cursing and the sister of the murdered man read the names of the 
            six, who were charged for murder. The husband of this sister was 
            also present. For them the trial was not enough. They wanted the six 
            persons, whom they call murderers, to become mad too. 
            2) A woman of about 45 years of age without children from a suburb 
            of Colombo came, because her husband was living with another woman, 
            who lived at her parents' home. She still loved her husband and 
            wanted him back. The cursing was not directed at him, but at the 
            lady and also her parents, because they allowed him there to spend 
            the nights with their daughter, she said. She wished them to die. 
            3) A man of about 35 years of age had a farm of 29 toddy-palm trees 
            in a village near Galle. From them he produces toddy on a commercial 
            basis. Someone destroyed the blossoms of his trees. He does not know 
            the wrongdoer, but it must have been a person, who is jealous of 
            him, he said. 
            4) A man from a village nearby was building a house. While the house 
            was half ready and couldnot be locked, someone took the opportunity 
            to steal a door and a window frame. The wrongdoer was not known. 
            5) A high-class lady from Kandy was here with two relatives, because 
            her only son, a student, was being bewitched by or at least in the 
            grip of the family of his girlfriend, who influenced him not to 
            study and not to come anymore to her as his mother, she said. Caste 
            or class differences would not have bothered her, if there had been 
            "true love," but this family according to the lady had no manners 
            and was just manipulating her son. To destroy that family seemed the 
            only way to get him back. 
            6) A woman of 33 years of age from a suburb of Colombo wanted her 
            husband to die, because he had left her and their baby of one year 
            for another woman after three years of marriage. Her husband did 
            this for the money, she said, because that woman is rich, having a 
            job with a salary. 
            7) A cinnamon farmer and his wife from Embalapitiya were robbed of 
            jewellary, R 3000,- in cash and a video cassette in their own house 
            by four mashed men, who tied the man's hands behind his back. They 
            were not so concerned about the stolen goods, they wanted revenge 
            and the unknown thieves to be killed. 
            8) A farmer of about 55 years of age from Koggala had three 
            complaints. One neighbour was a drunkard who constantly shouted 
            loudly at him. Another neighbour had destroyed a gate on his land. 
            Thirdly 5 young boys had set fire to the leaves of some plants from 
            the forest, which he had spread out in the sun for drying. They were 
            all jealous of him, he said, because he was progressing economically 
            and they were not. 
            9) A retired Navy officer and his wife from Ambelangoda had come, 
            because someone had damaged their beautiful house by throwing big 
            stones onto the roof at night at about 4 o'clock. He called himself 
            an innocent person. He therefore had no idea who could have done 
            this. He asked for a punishment and that it would not happen again. 
            10) A woman of about 28 from a suburb of Colombo had been deserted 
            by her husband, who now lived with another woman, who was still 
            living with her parents. He took their four year-old child with him. 
            An elderly sister accompanied her. She wanted husband and child back 
            and cursed the other woman and her parents. 
            11) A farmer of about 40 years of age, who called himself a 
            relatively poor man, from a village near Galle, had a small piece of 
            land of about 6 acres next to the land of a wealthy powerful farmer 
            "with vehicles etc." Recently the latter with a number of men had 
            just occupied the land. The police did not help him. For him there 
            was no other option than to curse the evil-doer. 
            12) A man and wife of about 45 years of age from Ratnapura, who 
            owned and ran a flourishing cafe-restaurant at their house, had been 
            robbed of more than R 300,000, a watch and a camera. Burglars came 
            at night, breaking a window. The owners discovered the robbery only 
            the next morning. 
            13) A man of about 50 years of age from a village of south-east Sri 
            Lanka had a severe quarrel with his wife. She ran away and was not 
            prepared to return. He had come there, because he wanted her to be 
            punished for that and at the same time he wished her to return soon. 
            14) A middle-class man from Colombo and his wife had come there, 
            because they had a land dispute with the sister who lived in the 
            next-door house. They had lost a court case about that, but they had 
            started an appeal, because the judge in their opinion had overlooked 
            an important detail of the case. They were not able to wait till the 
            Appeal court had given its judgement. The sister was acting injustly 
            towards them, they said. They asked Devol Deviyo to use his power to 
            get her change her mind. 
            15) A woman from Colombo, who had a secretarial job at the 
            university, was living with her brother. His purse with R 3500,- had 
            been stolen, after he had left it near an open window in his house. 
            The thief, a neighbour, had shared the monney with 2 friends and 
            together they had spent most of it on drinking and eating. One of 
            them was not satisfied with his part. He had therefore revealed to 
            the brother and sister under condition of secrecy the name of the 
            thief. The woman, a Christian, now on behalf of the brother was 
            cursing the thief. She was combining her trip to the shrine with a 
            few days vacation in Radgama, a village 30 miles south of Seenigama. 
            It was not because of the lost money, she was there. She wanted him 
            to break his legs and to openly acknowledge to them, that he had 
            stolen the purse, she says. 
            These cases speak for themselves. Cheating, e.g. borrowing money, 
            but not returning it, and evidence, that someone is practising black 
            magic against you, can be a reason for cursing too. People also go 
            to Seenigama, if a girl has fallen in love with a man who is not 
            acceptable to her family. Cursing such a man is then justified by 
            picturing him as a villain. Businessmen and politicians are known to 
            visit Seenigama in order to try to eliminate rivals. That at least 
            is the rumour. It is however highly doubtful, whether they then 
            would succeed in those intentions, unless the rival was at fault 
            towards them. Competition sometimes indeed was and is a motive to 
            try to curse a rival, no matter whether the chance of any effect is 
            small. Traditionally fishermen sometimes cursed other fishermen, 
            because their boat attracted more fish than their own boat. There 
            however must be a well-founded reason for cursing. Someone must have 
            done something wrong towards you. If not, one might be tempted to 
            give false evidence. The cursing then will not help or even have a 
            boomerang effect on the curser, my informants stress. A kind of 
            injustice must be at stake. It makes no sense to curse innocent 
            Cursing is not Identical with Sorcery 
            To think otherwise is to confuse cursing with black magic 
            ("kodivina"). Obeyesekere seems to do that. In the article cited in 
            Ethnology the word sorcery is used many times in this respect and he 
            speaks of "public sorcery shrines" (1975, p. 5). Seenigama is indeed 
            a public shrine, but certainly not a sorcery shrine. Cursing cannot 
            be identified with sorcery. Buddhists tell me that in their view 
            cursing is a minor thing in comparison with sorcery. Anyhow, there 
            are quite some differences between the two. 
            1) Cursing is a matter of words and done by mouth, while sorcery is 
            more a matter of action and is performed by hand, e.g., by putting 
            some charmed material into a pot or on the ground near the house of 
            the person one wants to harm. 
            2) In the practice of cursing one supplicates a god or gods and with 
            sorcery one tries to enlist the help of demons. 
            3) The specialists concerned with cursing and sorcery are not the 
            same. Cursing is led by a "kapua" (priest) and sorcery is performed 
            by a "kattadiya" (demon specialist). Moreover the "kapua" is only 
            intervening between the god and the curser. The latter indeed does 
            the actual cursing himself, while in practising sorcery the client 
            is only paying the money; all the work is done by the "kattadiya." 
            Cursing is financially also much cheaper than practising sorcery. 
            4) In the cursing process the name of the wrongdoer, whether known 
            or not, is often not mentioned. The priest might know the person or 
            even be related to him or her. There is also no need to do so, 
            because the god will know. In the practice of sorcery the names of 
            the person to be harmed are always mentioned, and often written down 
            too. The attack is direct, while in the cursing process the 
            accusation is often more indirect. 
            5) Cursing is a reaction and has to do with retaliation, while 
            sorcery is an action towards a person, based on hatred and jealousy. 
            Moreover sorcery mostly starts a cycle of violence, while cursing 
            does the opposite: the cycle of violence stops after the cursing. 
            This last is probably the most important difference between cursing 
            and sorcery. It shows that cursing is not only to be seen as 
            violence, but also as a religious channel for violence that helps to 
            keep it in control. Girard sees judical punishment as embodying 
            revenge in principle, but as infinitely superior in practice to the 
            extent that it represents the "last word" of violence. The 
            punishment is not carried out by the injured party, but by a 
            "transcendent" entity, the State, against which no further revenge 
            will be taken. The same seems to apply for the practice of cursing. 
            There is no counter-cursing. The wrongdoer cannot take revenge and 
            will not take revenge, because he or she feels guilty, the more so 
            by being punished by a god. Sorcery may be "a canalisation of 
            aggressive impulses of individuals" (Obeyesekere, 1975, 11), cursing 
            however is in nature a religious channel for keeping physical 
            violence in check. 
            Cursing remains itself no doubt a form of violence, just like 
            sorcery. It therefore is understandable, that Devol Deviyo does not 
            carry out the retaliatory violence directly; he lets the "yakka" 
            Diwi do the dirty work for him. Thus, just as the god helps the 
            believer escape blame, so the "yakka" helps the god escape blame. 
            There is however also another side. Because cursing violence tends 
            to stop at one incident without triggering endless cycles, there is 
            a strong analogy with the judicial system, with the god playing the 
            role of the transcendent entity, the State. 
            If a judicial system is completely lacking, the religious system is 
            according to Girard "essentially functional in preventing the 
            vicious circle of mimetic violence" (1990, p. 56), e.g. by the 
            "lesser" violence of sacrificial substitution (Girard, 1984, pp. 17 
            and 103). Today in Sri Lanka however the judicical system is not 
            lacking. Effective or not, it punishes wrongdoers and forbids blood 
            revenge. The idea of revenge by taking the law into one's own hands 
            and even killing adversaries did, however, not disappear from the 
            minds of the people. In the case of cursing today, religion is 
            therefore also used in order to avoid punishment by the judicial 
            system which does not allow people to harm others severely or to 
            kill them because of feelings of revenge or enmity. Moreover the 
            'religious system of punishment' in the eyes of the people seems 
            often more effective than the modern judicial one. 
            Frustration After a Rise in Expectations 
            How can we explain the increase in activities of cursing? In the 
            first decades after gaining independence in 1948 there was a strong 
            rise in expectations among the people. These high expectations could 
            not be met. The ensuing frustration caused an increase in jealousy 
            and scapegoat mechanisms among the people. Not only was the system 
            or the ruling political party blamed, but also neighbours and 
            minority groups,(3) who seemed to be more fortunate than themselves. 
            The context of what Girard calls mimesis and scapegoat mechanisms is 
            a process of urbanisation in the demographic and especially in the 
            cultural sense. 
            The capital Colombo in the first two decades after independence 
            became an irresistible pull-factor for people of the country-side. 
            It was at the same time a period of enormous population growth. 
            Since 1948 the population of about 7 million doubled in less than 25 
            years. Employment possibilities were far outstripped by this 
            population growth, especially in the rural areas. Thousands tried 
            their luck in the capital. Colombo not only became densely populated 
            in and around the centre, but also expanded tremendously, absorbing 
            the villages within a distance of twenty to twenty five miles. On 
            the coast, even in the far south, many shanty squatter settlements 
            came into existence. Here the traditional Sri Lankan pattern of 
            village community is often disturbed. 
            In the villages around Colombo middle-class urban dwellers more and 
            more "displaced the original inhabitants of the older village" 
            (Gombrich and Obeyesekere, 1988, p. 69). The social cohesion of the 
            traditional village (with, e.g., communal harvest rituals and 
            communal funerals where nearly all were present) slowly disappeared, 
            not only from the suburbs of Colombo, but also from many other 
            villages around the country. This process of urbanisation in the 
            cultural sense - one can also call it (a kind of) modernization - is 
            not limited to the city itself. The process has been strengthened by 
            the modern and relatively cheap means of transport in the country 
            and the increased mobility as a result. The high rate of modern 
            education in Sri Lanka, since the thirties, has contributed to the 
            spreading of a semi-urban way of life to the rural areas too. 
            Kinship ties however still play an important role in Sri Lanka. In 
            most cases the extended family does not live together any more, but 
            is divided over village(s) and town. That lessens the importance of 
            the kinship system. Yet migrants from the rural areas mostly still 
            rely on their close and more distant relatives in the city or town 
            and often even on other non-related village people there, if they 
            need a job or temporary lodgings. Certainly the extended family, 
            which even in its contracted form resembles the nuclear family, 
            including the married sons and daughters with young children, 
            remains a strong unit of mutual support and social control. 
            More Mimesis in a Less Hierarchical Society 
            What seems important is the disappearance of the social cohesion of 
            the traditional village, based on hierarchical caste and class 
            distinctions between families banded together through the hierarchy 
            of patron-client relationships. Everybody knew his or her place. 
            That limited the envy due to mimesis. Girard understands mimesis to 
            mean that one does not have desires autonomously or independently, 
            but chooses instead to model himself on another person and to use 
            his or her desires as a model. In a less hierarchical society this 
            model becomes at the same time an obstacle whose position one wants 
            to take. The paradox therefore is that in an egalitarian society 
            there is a great increase in mimetic desire and rivalry. Equality is 
            good in itself, because it ends the injustice of (feudal) hierarchy, 
            but on the other hand it is also a source of new suffering, because 
            it leads to a never ending desire for more material things and a 
            rise in competition and rivalry (Girard, 1986, p. 123; Feddema, 
            1988b, p. 213). 
            This seems to be the case in Sri Lanka today. "The people of the 
            country are completely in the grip of the desire to get rich," as 
            one of my informants puts it. This applies to the whole period since 
            1948 because of this rise in expectations after independence, but 
            especially to the years since 1977, when the United National Party 
            (UNP) came into power. Before 1977, the left-wing nationalist Sri 
            Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), who also cooperated for a few years with 
            Trotzkyites and Communists in a People's Front, tried to moderate 
            that trend among the people. It was the time of a more or less 
            autarchic protectionist policy, closing the borders to the import of 
            modern (attractive) goods from abroad. The government even strongly 
            advised the people to avoid a life of luxury and to bring their 
            savings to the bank regularly. 
            In 1977 a new era started. Since then competition has even been 
            enhanced from above, because the UNP strongly favours free 
            enterprise. A new class of entrepreneurs, owners of private 
            transport vehicles and small industries, came into existence. This 
            new class directly or indirectly provided the impetus for a huge 
            rise of mimetic rivalry. People see this social group as their 
            reference group, with which they compare themselves and which they 
            want to copy. It seems to be a new answer to the frustration of the 
            high expectations after independence which could not be met and of 
            the educated and well-qualified young people who in large numbers 
            remained unemployed. 
            Rebellion or Accommodation? 
            The American sociologist Robert Merton distinguishes five different 
            responses to such a situation of frustration (1957, pp. 193-211). 
            One is rebellion. It was the reaction of the People's Liberation 
            Front (Janatha Vimukhti Peramuna), JVP, via a violent youth uprising 
            in the beginning of the seventies and later again at the end of the 
            eighties. It was an example of what Girard calls the scapegoat 
            mechanism. In the seventies the JVP considered the SLFP or the 
            ruling People's Front and in the eighties the ruling UNP as the 
            scapegoats, which had to be 'exorcised.' Action provokes reaction. 
            After its defeat in the seventies, but especially at the beginning 
            of the nineties, the JVP itself became the subject of revenge. The 
            leader was killed in 1989 and many of his followers just disappeared 
            when the JVP collapsed (Chandraprema, 1991). 
            Another type of reaction according to Merton is conformity. Taking 
            the new class of small entrepreneurs as the group of reference seems 
            to be just such a reaction. Conformity in this case means adjustment 
            to the status quo by longing for and trying to achieve the same 
            position as the new entrepreneurs. This does not look impossible to 
            the average people, since many of the new bus owners and garment 
            industrialists are ordinary people like themselves, sometimes even 
            previous classmates at school. It is an illustration of the paradox 
            I mentioned earlier, namely that mimesis is increasing in a more 
            egalitarian society. Wanting to reach a position like that of the 
            new entrepreneurs means, however, that one has to compete with 
            "equals," who are striving for the same thing. If it takes a long 
            time before even the beginning of success comes, the misfortune is 
            often attributed to a scapegoat, to someone, who is more prosperous 
            than oneself. A scapegoat can be found among neighbours or among 
            colleagues at the job or even among the reference group of new 
            entrepreneurs themselves, who appear to have many enemies. One not 
            only feels better, because someone else can be blamed for what seems 
            at first sight one's own failure, but even more importantly, one can 
            "project onto others one's own jealousy and indeed more generalized 
            feelings of hostility" in this way (Gombrich and Obeyesekere, 1988, 
            p. 130). The answer often is to harm the scapegoat by harassing him, 
            destroying or stealing his goods. In the cases mentioned above we 
            came across the word jealousy used explicitly a few times, as an 
            answer to the question, of why they had been troubled by the 
            adversaries, whom they wanted to curse at the shrine in Seenigamma. 
            Just destroying a gate or the blossoms of toddy trees would appear 
            to be clear forms of enmity, probably wholy or partly based on 
            jealousy. Theft is a more complicated matter. I have no intention of 
            analysing why people start stealing or even burgling. There must 
            certainly be an economic reason. There is however often also the 
            more hidden motif of envy. Are thieves not frequently using as a 
            justification for their deeds the fact that the harmed person, from 
            whom they steal, is more prosperous than they? 
            Frustration after the rising of expectations due to independence, 
            migration (rural-urban and rural-rural), urbanisation in the 
            cultural sense, the disappearance of social cohesion of the 
            traditional village based on hierarchical caste, sex and class 
            distinctions, and the increasing gap between poor and rich due to 
            economical competition, all created a climate, in which mimetic 
            envy, violence and crime could flourish. The increase of cursing in 
            the recent decades seems to be a reflection of that. Urban dwellers 
            and countrymen, rich and relatively poor people, men and women, are 
            all going to the cursing shrine at Seenigamma. 
            And the women go too. That also looks like a reflection of the 
            above-mentioned socio-cultural changes in the country. In November 
            1994 I counted over a period of 7 days, the poya-day not included, 
            39 women (32.5%) out a total of 120 persons, who had come to the 
            Seenigama shrine to curse. In February and March 1995 over a period 
            of 12 days I even counted 138 women (43%) out of a total number of 
            320 cursers and from the 10th till the 16th of December 52 women 
            (38%) out of a total of 136. That is certainly a higher percentage 
            than in the past, when the father or the brother mostly did the 
            cursing for the deserted, unmarried or widowed women. Women however 
            are, at least today, often the driving force behind the decision of 
            the man to go to the cursing shrine in Seenigama. The retired Navy 
            officer from Ambelangoda, whom I mentioned among the 15 cases, felt 
            a bit ashamed, that I had met him at the cursing shrine. He stressed 
            his innocence, but also added that his wife, who according to him 
            "very much believes in the power of the gods,' had induced him to 
            Lastly a few concluding remarks about the attitude of Sinhala 
            Buddhism towards the cursing institution. Buddhism did not succeed 
            in preventing or stopping the disguised violence of cursing through 
            Devol, Getabaru and Suniyam, in the past or at the present. Hardly 
            anybody foresaw the sudden breakthrough of mimesis and rivalry after 
            the independence and after the introduction of economic 
            liberalisation, nor the violence, jealousy and "scapegoating" this 
            provoked. Buddhism had and still has, however, some success in that 
            cursing in official public opinion cannot boast a good name. It has 
            to be concealed. Devol and his priests therefore have to carry out 
            the cursing activities on a tiny uninhabited island, a few hundred 
            metres from the coast, behind the wall built around the island. This 
            means that the practices there are kept hidden from the eye and ear 
            of the formal Buddhist society. Cursing is in other words tolerated, 
            but not approved. One knows and is aware that cursing is intensively 
            practised by Sinhala Buddhists, but it does not have an official 
            Buddhist sanction. 
            Recently, i.e. in the last few years, passengers in buses and vans 
            make a gesture of worship with their hands folded in front of their 
            chest towards the shrine of Devol Deviyo in Seenigama when they 
            pass. Furthermore since 1992 the priests of Devol and Getabaru have 
            been allowed to carry out cursing activities in a tiny building on 
            the official premises of the main shrine of Vishnu in Dondra. Vishnu 
            is said to have been nominated by Buddha himself on his deathbed to 
            protect Buddhism in Sri Lanka. He is not only respected as a high 
            Buddhist god, but is also considered to be a "Bodhisattva" (a future 
            Buddha). Therefore, it is not insignificant that recently in Dondra 
            under his aegis Devol and Getabaru were allowed to practise cursing 
            activities. It is not only an additional illustration of the recent 
            increase in cursing activities, but it also shows that the need to 
            conceal or to disguise the cursing violence in the formal Buddhist 
            Sinhala society of Sri Lanka is somewhat less pressing today.(4) 
            * Dr. J.P. Feddema is an antropological researcher at the Free 
            University of Amsterdam. 
            1 The goddess Kali is mentioned last. Not because she is the least 
            involved in cursing activities - probably on the contrary the most 
            of all - but because she is still considered to be a Hindu Tamil 
            goddess. Because Sinhala Buddhists today, due to the cursing 
            practices at her shrine, are becoming more and more worshippers of 
            Kali, I could not therefore leave her out. 
            2 This confrontation of Devol with Pattini, the mother-goddess of 
            the living, causes Weerakoon to write that Devol is not the expelled 
            son of an Indian king, but "the returning ancestor from the land of 
            the dead" (1985, p. 105). 
            3 Not only is the minority group of the indigenous Tamils used as a 
            scapegoat in Sri Lanka, but Christians (because of their privileged 
            position during the colonial time), Muslims, Mayalali workers and 
            Indian Tamil plantation workers in recent decades also have been a 
            target of an anti-movement among the Sinhala Buddhist majority 
            (Jayawardens, 1990). 
            4 My thanks go to all those without whose help I would not have been 
            able to carry out this study. I cannot mention them all, but I make 
            an exception for W.N. Dharmasuriya especially, M.R. Tilakaratna, 
            D.M. Somasiri, S. Serasingha and Sarath Weerarathna. I am also 
            grateful to Mervyn Ananda M.A., Dr. M. Anspach, Rev. Fr. Harry Haas, 
            Dr. Paul Hubers, Dr. A. Lascaris, Dr. Nancy McCagney, Helen 
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