Demonic or Divine? Ghaṇṭākarṇa in Sanskrit and Bengali Literature
The paper will focus on Ghẽṭupūjā, a set of ritual practices performed by women to appease Ghaṇṭākarṇa (‘Bell-Ears’), a deity popularly known in Bengal southern districts as Ghẽṭu, Ghā̃ṭu or Ghẽṭudebatā. Sanskrit literature describes Ghaṇṭākarṇa variously. In Vaiṣṇava mythology (e.g. Harivaṃśa), Bell-Ears is a hungry piśāca who is liberated from his sins by Kṛṣṇa. In Śaiva narratives and in Tantric magical texts, he is listed as one of Śiva’s loyal gaṇas, or a powerful guardian deity. Further to that, in Agnipurāna he is praised as destroyer of visphoṭaka, an umbrella term used
in medical literature to indicate a number of skin diseases such as chickenpox, smallpox, leprosy, vitiligo, scrofula, itches, etc. This specialism is still dominant in Bengal, where Ghaṇṭākarṇa is celebrated as the husband of Śītalā (the North Indian pox goddess) and the one who protects children from itches and cutaneous diseases. In this form, he continues to enjoy popularity and is especially worshipped in women’s votive services (meẏeder bratakathā) on Phālgun Saṁkrānti. The paper seeks to contribute to existing literature on representation of illness and ritual strategies in vernacular culture by means of an analysis of a little-known mythological
figure at the crossroad between divine and demonic. The study relies on textual sources in Sanskrit and Bengali (including previously unexplored manuscript material) and data from several years of fieldwork in Bengal. Fabrizio Ferrari is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Chester (UK). He graduated at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice (Italy) and was awarded a PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London (UK). His teaching activity covers three general areas: (1) Indology; (2) Indian medical systems and healing traditions; and (3) Indo-European comparative mythology. His research and publications
focus on the interaction between Indian medicine and vernacular healing traditions. Professor Ferrari has researched extensively on medical and ritual approaches to contagion and disease deities, with particular attention to greater Bengal. His recent publications include Religion, Devotion and Medicine in North India. The Healing Power of Śītalā and a three-volume set (co-edited with Prof Thomas Dähnhardt) on nature and the environment in South Asian myths, rituals and folklore. He is currently working on Indian materia medica and folk deities associated with diseases and healing in Middle Bengali literature and Sanskrit Tantras from Bengal.