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Hindu Mediumship in Singapore 1

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It is'a commonplace to ethnographers of Singapore that the island has provided a fertile environment for the flourishing of Chinese spirit mediumship. This pheonomenon has been well-described elsewhere (see Elliot). It is perhaps less well known that medium- . ship constitutes an extremely important element in the religious life of Singapore's Indian minority. It is with Hindu mediumship in Singapore that the present essay is concerned. My aims are two: to describe some of the most salient features of the institution, and to show how it fits into broader patterns of Hindu religious belief and practice as seen in Singapore.. ! I hope to show that Hindu mediumship is an important component of a more inclusive religious system, a component which functions to mediate between the highly particularized religious interests of individuals and the abstract conceptions of divine power which seem to underlie the religious system as a whole. The data upon which the study is based were drawn from formal and casual interviews with many informants, and from focussed investigations of the activities of five different Hindu mediums. This sample is not random. Hindu mediums operate in relative obscurity and there seems to be no way to search out a sample in a systematic way. I heard of each medium from a friend or acquaintance who thought I might be interested. and in this respect my initial encounters with them were not unlike their initial encounters with their normal clients. In most cases my relationship with the medium became a dual one. I identified myself as a researcher interested in Hinduism, and I interviewed mediums, clients and hangers-on in this spirit. But at the same time there was often what seemed to be an inevitable drift from the role of investigator to that of client, the latter being the only legitimate niche which the situation seemed to be able to provide for my presence. Accordingly, I participated in ceremonies and, with other clients, sought the counsel of the gods through their human representatives.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Anthropology Amherst College


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