Strīkāmā vai gandharvāḥ. Spirit-possession, women, and initiation in Vedic India


  • Per-Johan Norelius



The nature of the Vedic gandharvas, and their female counterparts, the apsarases, has been the subject of much controversy. While often appearing in Vedic texts as a spirit of procreation, opinions have differed as to whether the pali gandhabba-, mentioned in the Buddhist Nikāyas as a being whose presence is necessary for the conception of a human being, should be understood in this light, or (following Buddhist commentarial tradition) as a disembodied soul entering the womb in order to reincarnate. The present study, opting for the first alternative, will explore the older, Vedic gandharva’s nature not only as a genius of fertility and procreation, responsible for conception as well as miscarriage, but also as a lusty, potentially harmful spirit with a taste for mortal women – even married ones. The gandharva’s (in post-RV texts usually in plural) desire for women sometimes expresses itself in his taking possession of mortal females; thus explaining text-passages where gandharvas are said to cause mental illness. This possession could however have positive aspects, as the