Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 39, Issue 3, pp 361–379 | Cite as

Rethinking ‘Efficacy’: Ritual Healing and Trance in the Mahanubhav Shrines in India

  • Shubha RanganathanEmail author
Original Paper


Ritual healing has been one of the core topics in anthropology and, to a lesser extent, in psychology as well. Much of the research on ritual healing has focused on how healing works, and what factors constitute the efficacy of healing. In answering this question, scholars have focused primarily on two main factors—the symbolic significance of rituals, and the relationship between the healer and the patient. This paper explores understandings about efficacy in a context where elaborate rituals do not occur, the role of the healer is minimal, and the sufferers do not have expectations of complete wellness. In the Mahanubhav temples in India, healing is not understood as the removal of symptoms. The healing process involves amplifying unpleasant and painful symptoms, thereby ‘drawing out’ the illness from the body. Moreover, the temple narratives emphasize the transient nature of temple healing, where people rarely become completely well. They therefore frequently return to stay in the temple as and when their symptoms recur, thus forging long-term bond with the temple community and sect. These findings suggest that temple healing is powerful not so much for the practice of specific exorcist rituals, but for providing a refuge and a community for suffering individuals.


Ritual healing Trance Efficacy Mahanubhav Place 



This research would not have been possible without the warm hospitality of the pilgrims and monks in the Mahanubhav temples who participated in the study. Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the 22nd European Conference on South Asian Studies in Lisbon, Portugal and at the Anveshi Research Centre for Women’s Studies in Hyderabad, India. I would especially like to thank Murphy Halliburton for the extremely helpful comments and suggestions. Finally, the comments of the two anonymous reviewers have substantially enriched the paper. Their close reading and specific suggestions have enabled me to refine the arguments presented. The research was supported by a doctoral fellowship from the University Grants Commission.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Liberal ArtsIndian Institute of Technology HyderabadMedak DistrictIndia

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