Spellbound By The Ladakhi Oracle

For tourists, there’s an air of mystery that surrounds the Ladakhi oracle. Even before you visit the Oracle, instructions like ‘Don’t speak too loudly’, ‘Be respectful’, ‘Don’t make unnecessary noise’, ‘Watch your words’ are thrown at you by your guide. With all these instructions, you conjure up an image of an arrogant, high-handed person perched upon a podium. With this image in mind, we drove to Saboo village to meet the famous Oracle.

As we reached our designated stop, we noticed two things right away. On the left was an open ground, with an unobstructed view of the mountains and the blue sky, and a small settlement to the right, where two Ladakhi children played outside their home. Since this was just our second day here, we were fascinated by the rosy-cheeked, smiling children. Like most other visitors, we started to click photos with them, only to be interrupted by our impatient guide. “It isn’t good to keep the Oracle waiting,” he said solemnly, prompting us to move on. This only strengthened our view of the Ladakhi oracle being someone larger than life.

The gorgeous view of the sky and the mountains from Saboo Village, the home of the Oracle

The gorgeous view of the sky and the mountains from Saboo Village, the home of the Oracle

We were guided to a newly built brick house, which looked like any other suburban home. Still unsure of what to expect, we stepped inside and were immediately taken aback. Nothing was as expected; instead of the sombre home, filled with an overpowering smell of incense, we found big windows, polished cabinets and grand portraits. In fact it could easily pass off as one of our own. As we sat with the small group of people, we realised that we may have been way off the mark with our idea of a snotty Oracle.

We gathered quietly in the designated session room, looking around for the grand oracle. As we waited, a warm lady offered us some Yak Butter Tea and asked us where we were from as she pampered her grandchild. She told us the giggling boy’s name as she tousled his hair and asked whether we liked the tea. We were enchanted; surely, this couldn’t be the mighty Oracle, right?

Soon, we were informed that the oracle session was about to start and asked to stay quiet. But wherever was the Ladakhi oracle? Turns out the scary, touch-me-not person we had conjured up in our minds was never coming, because this smiling, tea-offering grandma was the Oracle!

Here the doting grandma is calling upon the spirit to enter her body

Here, the Oracle calls upon the spirit to enter her body

We were surprised at the transformation from a doting grandmother to a focused sibyl. Awe-struck, we watched her form small wheat pyramids, pour water in one of the seven cups before her and assemble the vajra and dumbroo (her instruments).

Vajra and Dal; her instruments

Vajra and Dumbroo; her instruments

A few minutes later, the sweetest voice we’ve ever heard rose up, echoing through the house as the Oracle chanted, praying and playing the dumbroo at the same time. In hushed whispers, our guide told us that the Oracle was summoning a spirit to enter her body. Minutes later there was a sudden silence, which signalled that the spirit was here and ready to answer our questions.

The oracle stopped singing, a sign that the spirit was here

The Oracle suddenly stopped singing, a sure sign that the spirit was here

A local woman sitting next to us stepped forward. She said she was increasingly unwell, more mentally than physically, as years of hard work and negligence by her children had left her unhappy. Hearing her story, the Oracle assumed the role of a worried mother. She reprimanded the lady for being dependent on others for her happiness and then went on to console her when she started crying. The oracle called upon the woman’s son (the oracle is a highly respected entity) and scolded him for neglecting his mother. She told the repentant son to take his mother to the Amchi (local Ladakhi doctor) or he would suffer from a fate worse than death.

The oracle chastising the old lady's son

The Oracle chastises the old lady’s son for his negligence

To reassure the lady that her troubles were over, the Oracle burnt her own tongue with a hot knife and chanted to the gods above. She followed up by placing a small pipe against the lady’s forehead, arms, stomach and heart and sucked away the lady’s illness.

The Oracle uses a pipe to suck away the illness of her believers

The Oracle uses a pipe to suck away her believers’ problems

To an outsider, the entire spectacle might seem phony, the Oracle’s answers diplomatic and her healing techniques outdated. But to a Ladakhi, the Oracle forms the single most important part of society. She instills hope when there is none, grieves with her followers, chastises them like a mother, and guides them towards the light; that is the magic of the Oracle.

While I might try my hardest to convey how I felt, listening to her chants in the middle of her followers, I cannot do it any justice. Some things are better experienced than spoken of!

Things To Keep In Mind During Your Visit To The Ladakhi Oracle

  1. Ensure that you have prior permission before clicking pictures.
  2. Once the session starts, maintain decorum.
  3. Avoid offending the spirit in any way.

Interested? Chamba Camp, Thiksey arranges a private Oracle session for its guests.

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