© 2023 Dr. M. Sheppard

Health Ayurveda Plants Mantra Tovil Treatments

For much  more  explanation, reading and Anthropological and Sociological detail on Tovil and Ceremonies see for example:

Paul ‘Wirz “Exorcism and the Art of Healing in Ceylon” 1954

Bruce Kaferer “A Celebration of Demons* 1983

Gananath Obeysekere “The Cult of the Goddess Pattini” 1984

See also internet searches under these headings.

All of these volumes provide extensive reading lists.

The ceremonies I attended in the mid 1990s up to 2015 followed in the main the general format as those described by Wirz and Kapferer at a much earlier period. However as both social scientists point out there are variations between different groups of practitioners. The groups conducting the ceremonies I attended referred to the ceremonies as mostly Mahasona Ceremonies or Sanni 18s.

Internet provides a wealth of detailed information on Ayurvedic Medicine and Ayurvedic Plants used daily to promote health and well-being and for specialist treatments.


The highly illustrated descriptions in the following sections are the results of my observations, visits to and participation in various curing ceremonies 1994-2015. In addition visits were made to the other available alternative health practitioners to investigate the various heath options and for comparative purposes

Some Available Options


When a Sri Lankan suffers afflictions they have several options available to them:

Western Medicine

Throughout Sri Lanka Western Medicine is widely available - there are clinics staffed by nurses and regularly visited by doctors. Primary health care is largely free or inexpensive. There is a system of state run hospitals in most of the larger towns and cities and specialist hospitals to which more complicated and specialist cases can be referred in the Colombo and its environs. In addition there are many private hospitals and practising doctors who run private clinics. Pharmacies are widely available and dispense prescriptions or sell a wide range of  “over the counter” medicines.

Although this Western medicine option is widely accessed by Sri Lankans, it is often not felt that that the root cause of their ailment is addressed by Western medicine and so can recur. This is because in Sri Lanka sickness, disease and bad luck are often attributed to supernatural causes. Thus it becomes necessary to consult alternative specialists who treat these supernatural causes and thus hopefully effect a permanent cure.

Ayurvedic Medicine

Ayurveda is a very ancient system of medicine developed in India and Sri Lanka about 3000 years ago. The name AYURVEDA derives from the Sanskrit words “Ayuh” (life) and “Veda” (science or knowledge) or healthy living. Ayurverda aims to promote healthy living and cure the body of disease using natural plants, herbs and oils. Ayurverdic doctors train for several years and receive certificates. It is estimated that 75% of the population use Ayurverdic medicine. Ayurvedic practioners are widely available all over Sri Lanka. Some practise on a small scale part time from their homes, whilst others have large clinics and hospitals that have in-patients. Pharmacies dispensing for Western medicine also dispense ayurvedic prescriptions. Nowadays many tourists visit specifically for Ayurverdic treatments at the many tourist Ayurverdic Centres.

 (See separate Section on Ayurvedic Medicine for more details)

Mantra Healers

These healers recite sacred mantra to cure a patient’s ailment(s). They may utilise oils and ayurvedic herbs in their preparations of herbal curative “teas”, protective “necklaces, armbands etc. Whilst they prepare and apply these they recite the appropriate special mantras.

(See section on Mantra for further information)

Monks and Temples

(See sections on Pilgrims)

Soothsayers, Astrologers and Clairvoyants

These practitioners are commonly consulted when an individual feels they need to avert problems or combat bad luck, loss of jobs or crop failures. The advice from and consultation of these practitioners then often assists the individual’s choice of an appropriate option to effect not only an effective and hopefully permanent cure but also deal with the root cause.

Tovil/Devil Dancing

(See Sections on Tovil, Dances and Ceremonies)

 the disease causing demons who are believed to be present and strike their victim particularly at night.

Although Buddha preached equality, caste is still respected. The world of the occult is also organised into a hierarchy. Buddha is at the zenith, next the Deities and below them the demons who are also in hierarchical order according to their origin. The legends of the disease causing demons is sung during the Devil Dance ceremonies and are also recited during the curing mantras, to free the afflicted from the demon sickness. The history and origins of the various dances and their success in curing often mythological patients is sung, danced and mimed during these ceremonies

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