Shamanism refers to beliefs and practices regarding communication with the spiritual world. Practitioners of shamanism, known as shamans, or dhaami/ jhaankri in Nepalese local dialect, engage in alleviating traumas affecting the soul/spirit and In treatment of ailments/illness of humans or domesticated animals supposedly caused by evil spirits. Shamanism believes that the individual as well as the community itself is subject to invisible forces or spirits intending to do good or bad and that the dhaami / jhaankri can heal such illness induced by the evil spirits.

Shamanism is practiced by a large number of Nepal’s ethnic and linguistic tribal groups. Shamans function as spiritual leaders of the community and therapeutic healers. Even today when modern medical treatment is comparatively available in most of rural Nepal, illness over a prolonged period of time often prompts the patient’s family to seek out spiritual guidance and remedy from the dhaami or jhaankris (shamanic healers). The shamans try to heal the patient by entering the spirit world into an ecstatic trance, chanting and quivering, being possessed by the spirits which apparently gives them healing powers to drive out the infectious spirit. Most dhaami/ jhaankris are said to possess experienced knowledge of medicinal plants native to their area, and as such also administer herbal treatment for illnesses.

Shamanism practiced during kool pooja by Nepal's Magars of Western Nepal.

Shamanism practiced during kool pooja by Nepal’s Magars of Western Nepal. PC: Padam Budda

Besides personal illnesses or diseases affecting the community, rural people visit the dhaami / jhaankris for advice in the event of natural calamities such as floods and droughts, crop failure, unexplained death of domestic animals, even extending to cases relating to infertility in women, and family and community disputes. People believe them to possess the power to appease and calm angry deities and evil spirits and even help liberate the souls of deceased people from the dead body which has for some reason been deprived of certain religious rituals that were to be performed on death.

On Janai Purnima (Full Moon) day which normally falls in the month of August devout Hindu pilgrims make the arduous mountain trek to the solitary and serene Gosainkunda Lake, situated at an altitude of 4312 m.amidst the high mountains of Rasuwa district. On this full-moon occasion, the shores of the icy Gosaikunda Lake, the rocky shrine of Risheswar Mahadev in Daman Simbhaniyang, the rugged Kalinchok peak and the mountain of Thulo Sailung pulsate to the sounds of the jhaankri drums into the night.
These religious places of pilgrimage are visited by jhaankris in their full attire, dressed in long white robes, feather head-dress, body and waist festooned with small round bells tinkling as they dance in a trance to the beat of the dhyangro (drum), and often armed with a sword and some holding a black rooster.
Hindu religious myth has it that Lord Shiva had wandered to the desolate high mountains in agony to cool his burning throat caused by consuming the Kalakoot venom that spewed out in the course of the churning of the celestial ocean (Samudra Manthan). Lord Shiva then pierced the mountain cliff with his trident from where burst three streams of ice cold water to form the holy Gosainkunda Lake where he rested to cool his throat. Lord Shiva thereafter has been referred to as also Neelkantha (One with the blue throat).