© 2023 Dr. M. Sheppard

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

Bali Tovil

The Patient

This special Tovil/Pujah was held for one of the Tovil dancers.

Apparently he had been having problems for about a month. When he was curing others, the sannis  (disease causing demons)) had entered him. This resulted in him being burnt on the side of the face and hands whilst he was throwing fire during a Tovil. In addition he felt weak and his eyes felt as though they were burning. He had also become very thin.

Therefore  his Tovil dancing Uncle performed this special protective Bali Tovil for him to cure him so that he would become strong again and be again resistant to the sannis entering him during Tovil Dances or when he was curing patients.

History of the Bali Tovil

The history of this Bali Tovil was related by the maternal Uncle Tovil dancer who was conducting it. He and his brother are tovil dancers and their family have been tovil dancers for at least eight generations. Their daughters often marry other tovil dancers. The patient  himself had learnt Tovil dancing  from his Uncles. The Uncle had learnt this special Bali Tovil from his father. (He had learnt Tovil dancing by being apprenticed to his grandfather.}

He related the following:

Bali Toil is very ancient. It started in India about 2600 years ago at the time of Lord Buddha.

About 60,000 subjects of an Indian King Panduas, were very sick and were dying. The King went to the Brahmins (clairvoyants)  and they told him that a Bali Tovil was required to cure the sickness. “Bali” are yakka (demons) or praeta (ghosts) that trouble humans causing them great problems and illnesses.

The Brahmins then crossed over from India to Sri Lanka to warn that the same could happen in Sri Lanka as had happened in India. They advised the Sri Lankan monks to learn how to perform this Bali Tovil. The monks wrote out all the directions in Pali on palm leaf books. The Brahmins did not know that the monks had recorded their words until they again  visited Sri Lanka and advised the Sri Lankan monks to learn the Bali Tovil but the monks said they knew it already! The Brahmins returned to India.

These texts which had been written down included the Precepts to prevent the terrible disasters from happening in Sri Lanka as they had done in India. They also included the different ways that the Bali Tovil could be used e.g. for pregnant women at 7 months to ensure a healthy baby.-they can even predict the future life of this baby! Also the Bali Tovil can be used to cure many other sicknesses.

It is believed that whilst a baby is suckling it is protected by the eities. Once it starts to be weaned, then the baby can be subject to evil problems and illnesses caused by yakka (demons) and praeta (ghosts) etc. This is why perhaps babies are weaned late and traditionally were not given their first solid food until they were one year old.(See section on childhood in Life).

Offerings during Bali Tovil

The offerings during this Bali Tovil are tale, rice, coconut, king coconut, tolabo (sea plant), limes, cressa (a Holy tree}, mango leaves (they are holy because when the king told people to give up hunting  at Mihintale in historic times, mango became holy – This legend is celebrated every year at Poson as it was Poson Poya when the Holy monk came from India. He was sitting on the rock at Mihintale with the King.– the King was out hunting. The king saw a deer under a mango tree and was about to shoot it when the monk said to him:

“ Can you not see how beautiful the deer is?  He only eats grass not flesh and does no harm to anyone.”

The King became sad and then decided to order that no one should kill deer any longer.

The mango tree became Holy as a result.

There was also a mogahol (rice stemper) in front of the patient – no ladies should cross this. This stemper is made of iron and demons are afraid of iron.

These various leaves etc cause the problems to leave the person by use of Devikaduru (Holy Tree). The problems are drawn out down the body and through the feet.

This is how this Tovil dancer had become sick because he was always curing people and when he drew the problems out of a patient they had been entering into him. Demon sicknesses from his patients had transferred into him e.g. during the Mat Dance.

During the Tovil 108 coconut flower grains were thrown into the Holy water pot and then 108 lighted wicks. This was done whilst the Holy chants were sung  by  the Uncle. The chants described how people in the past had been helped by Lord Buddah and this special Bali Tovil when they had had problems . The songs gave examples of the various kings’ wives etc who had been afflicted and subsequently cured.

The Tovil Timetable

This Bali Tovil had started at 9.30am – we arrived just as they were breaking for lunch at 1230. We all ate lunch together.

At about 1.20pm proceedings started again.

The patient  was dressed in a white sarong over his other sarong and was seated on a traditional grass mat with one of his male relatives (friends) either side. The Tovil man,who was seated on a chair in front of the ptient and his companions chanted the songs as above. When he came to the end of each verse, he rang a bell and  the 2 male companions each threw a coconut flower grain into the Holy water saying “Aybo Awada” - problems go away , live long

They were later to do this with the lighted wicks.

2.20-230  a Tea break – everyone was served with very sweet plain tea.

After this the Tovil continued until  about 3.10pm when the patient placed some offerings into the offering basket. He had  a white cloth over his head which he gradually drew down to his feet and  then into the Holy water and the offering basket.

3.30pm after the offering of the lighted wicks - as with the grains  the helpers tossed lighted wicks into the water in the clay pot. They then left the side of the patient. The Tovil dancer held a bundle of the mango leaves in one hand and performed  the lime cutting against the head of the patient.

The ceremony finished at about 4.20pm. The mango leaf bundle was placed by a window. The offering basket was to be later placed somewhere in the house. The coconuts were given away.

Everyone was then served with  another cup of tea, bananas, slices of cake and biscuits etc.

Lunch break - a buffet lunch was served

Pujah area - NB the different offerings and the rice stemper

Special Pujah basket  attached to the white thread which in turn was then attached to  the patient

After the lunch break the patient again took his place in front of the healer. A supporter sat each side of him. The Healer held the offering basket in his right hand . He started intoning and rang a bell. One of assistants on the patient’s left threw a grain into the clay pot every time the healer rang the bell. At the same time as he did this the supporter shouted out “Abowan” (-  long life). NB the patient was  joined by white thread to the offerings. Then the Assistant tothe patient’s right took over throwing in the grains into the clay pot in front of him every time the healer rang the bell during his chanting.

The healer then started on a new chant.  Both assistants threw in the grains at the same time and  called out “Abowan”.

 The water with the grains  was then poured mostly into one pot and placed with central offerings.

The healer changed to a new chant and  the patient wrapped a white cloth around  his  head. Each assistant threw white lighted wicks which they had first  lighted from the lighted torches that formed part of the offerings in front of them. As with the grains they threw them into the clay pot every time the healer rang the bell. At the same time as doing this they called out  “Abowan”.

The Patient then “scrunched” up  the white cloth and wiped his face with it. Next he wrapped it around his middle then around his feet. His feet were resting on the clay pot. Now the grains were being thrown into the clay pot.

Then he dipped the cloth into the clay pot,  and wiped his arms and feet with it. Then  he circled his  head with it three times and finally placed it in the offering basket  which was held out to him by the healer. The healer then placed the basket and contents to one side.

Then  the healer placed all the offerings into the basket. He rolled up the white thread with the two red flowers and placed them into the offering basket. He circled the basket over the patient’s head three times.

Next he  poured water  from a clay pot containing a bulat leaf, into the offering basket three times and then the water was tipped back into the pot by the healer (to his right).

There was now a new chant and grains were thrown into the pot and Ayobowan was called out by the supporters. The chant became faster and faster towards the end of this  stage.

The supporters now left and the patient was left alone in front of the healer for the next stage

The healer  picked up a big bunch of mango leaves. He started a new chant. During this chant,  from time to time,  the healer shook the bunch of mango leaves.  

 During this chant,  from time to time,  the healer shook the bunch of mango leaves.  The healer then placed the leaves to one side

The healer started a new chant and performed “Lime Cutting” against the patient’s head.

Some whole limes were placed in a clay pot The healer tidied up all the offerings, emptying the ash etc into clay pots. The remainder of  the offerings were gathered into a woven shopping bag and then the patient picked up a  lighted clay lamp which  he carried into his bedroom.

The ceremony finished at about 4.20pm.

Everyone was then served with tea, biscuits, cake and bananas .

Relatives, neighbours and friends attended  this Bali Tovil to assist in the ceremony, prepare the refreshments and generally witness and support the patient.

When I met up with the patient some months later  he had completely recovered and was back to performing his normal Tovil dancing duties now without coming to any harm.

N.B. the white thread joining the patient to the offering basket held by the Tovil healer

Before placing the lime against the patient’s head, he first blew on it

He used areca nut cutters to cut the limes. The cut limes were then tossed into one of the clay pots.

The offering basket with  the orange and yellow flowers was  then suspended by the assistants from the ceiling of the  main room as was the bunch of mango leaves.