© 2023 Dr. M. Sheppard

Special Tovils Baby Tovil Fishermen's Tovil Bali Tovil Family Tovil Sesanthi Pujah

The  patient was seated on a bed with the Flower Fence of offering baskets in front of her. On the bed were carrier bags containing the offerings she would be placing into the offering baskets during the Tovil on the instructions of the Tovil dancers. In the background the Tovil dancers not involved in this dance were relaxing in the Demon Palace. Behind the man with the turquoise shirt on the left is the clay picture  specially constructed for this Tovil. It shows Kalu-Kumaru who was believed to be causing her problems through the actions of the Seven Queens.

The Tovil dancers were singing about the ceremony as  they danced.  They gave examples in their songs of how ancient Queens had been cured  by this ceremony from the same problem from which this young woman was suffering.

Periodically, the patient  was instructed by the Tovil dancers to place the appropriate offerings into the offering baskets.

The dancing became much faster and  there was  some whirling

Then one of the offering baskets was lifted above the patient and passed over her head.

She made obeisance to the offering basket which was carried away.

The cock was then lifted above her head.

The whole area was then “smoked” to call the demons to the area so that they could receive their offerings and in return release the patient from her affliction

This is a special Tovil ceremony held for a woman who is experiencing difficulties in conception or pregnancy.

Briefly the dances and mantras relate the myth of how Ridi Bisava and her seven daughters came to afflict women.

These seven daughters  became demons (Yakkiniyo)  and are among the assistants of the powerful demon  Kalu-Kumara who particularly causes problems to women and girls. Wirz relates their origin :

The Myth

A long time ago fire broke out on one of the mountains of the Himalayas – Mahameru-parvataya. Many demons and a queen, Ridi-bisava emerged from this fire. They then wandered around the Himalayas. In their wanderings, one day Ridi-bisava encountered the god Mahabrahma who was residing on Earth at the time. He fell in love with the beautiful Ridi-bisava and they had seven daughters. But then he deserted her when he returned to Brahmaloka.

Ridi-bisava  then rejoined the demon community with her seven daughters. The daughters became servants of Vesamunu-rajjuruvo. Here they lived for several years and then they asked Vesamunu-rajjurvo to grant them permission to exercise the powers of the other demons  - i.e. to be able to inflict illnesses and troubles upon humans. He granted their request but  instructing them that they should be under Kalu-Kumara with the power to afflict women and girls.

They joined Kalu-kumara but ignored their restrictions. Vesamunu-rajjuruvo became very angry and imprisoned them for 12 years and removed their right to afflict women and girls. On their release they suffered greatly and appealed to Dipapankara-Buddha to restore their permission to afflict women and girls. They tried to trick him by giving him the gift of a cotton cloth  spun and made by them from the cotton they had grown. He saw through their trick and told them they could never have the power to take human life, but he would help them by giving them permission to make women barren or suffer miscarriages. However they must agree to release any women they had afflicted when they were offered  the appropriate gifts by their victims.

They agreed to this  restriction and became known as “the Seven Queens who make women barren”.

The Rata-Yakuma Ceremony

During this ceremony the above myth is enacted in the songs, dances and mimes of the dancers and drummers.

The dancers wearing the white costumes represent the seven daughters of Ridi-basava and the cloth dance culminating in one of the dancers twirling with the white cloth before placing it on top of the Demon Palace is enacting the seven daughters appealing to and attempting  to trick  Dipapankara-Buddha into restoring their full powers to afflict humans. When the Edura “throws fire” into the Demon Palace this is re-enacting the great fire in the Himalayas from which Ridi-Basava came forth. During the comic mimes enacting the “dancer”grooming “herself”and “making the cloth”, represents the seven sisters attempting to trick Dipapankera-Buddha into restoring their powers. The “washing of the baby” and then presenting it to the patient in return for an offering, symbolises releasing the patient from her affliction of bareness  or danger of miscarrying.

One of the  Ratayakuma Tovils I attended was held for a young lady who was about 5 months pregnant. She had been frightened by dogs fighting near her. As she was  still experiencing problems, this Ratayakuma tovil was arranged for her by her family to ensure she had a safe pregnancy and did not miscarry. The family appeared fairly poor and the tovil was held at their home in a remote rural area.

This ceremony was similar, but not identical, to the descriptions of these ceremonies described by Wirz and Kapferer - this is because there are variations between different groups of tovil dancers.

When we arrived about 9.30pm it was the Evening Watch and the tovil dancers were dancing wearing their decorated crowns . In this series of dances they first asked one of the drummers what was  happening and on being told by the drummer they then performed the series of dances and songs relating the myth of the origin of the seven sisters.

Baby Tovil - Ratayakuma

This type of Tovil is described in much  fuller detail by:

Bruce Kapferer in “A Celebration of Demons” p 226-8:

Paul Wirz in “Exorcism and the Art of Healing in Ceylon” p.65-69:

“Rata yakuma or Riddi Yagaya “ by Janani Amarasekara, 1/4/2007 Sunday Observer -Sri Lanka.

The first two references describe the ceremony in social anthropological detail and the latter is a newspaper article.)