Exchanging pain for money: The Pheri

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Citizen Picture by CJ Ashish Kohli

Pheri (1)
A Pheriwala in Raghunath Bazaar

When asked why you do this to yourself, he looked at me and said, “I am going to reduce their Sins,” and showed his hand to me asking for money.

Is getting relieved of your sins that easy? All you need to do is offer some money and you can get rid of the sum total of your iniquitous attainments. STRANGE!

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Pheriwale, that’s what these people are called in Jammu. A Pheri is a sight not very common in India and yet prevalent but is also an emerging trend here in Jammu. It is almost as if the sins in Jammu were on the rise. I saw this man and his family at the Raghunath Bazaar Area. For information, you can gather very little from the pheriwalas.

From the very Iittle conversation, I got to know that these people worship Maa Kali. A reason why they are more visible during the Navratri days. They work in a group. While one whips himself or herself with a self-made hunter, the other beats a drum with a scary rub-and-thump. A few others may be seen walking with the drummer. The whole process is considered a worship of Goddess Kali.

Sadly, this is their only occupation. They ask for money and in return you get a promise that their whipping themselves will reduce your sins. Pain for money, Money for Pain!

If you do an internet search, the concept of ‘Self-flagellation’ is actually a well known practice in other religions like Islam and Christianity. The trend started around thirteenth century but of course the google dates are always debatable.

The Christians do this with the idea to take on some of the pain that Jesus felt while being scourged for mankind, to have a better understanding of what it was he actually felt.

The Shi’a communities of Islam worldwide march in massive parades every year on the Day of Ashura to commemorate the Battle of Karbala and the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, while flogging themselves on the chest. You may have heard of this as Muharram.

The concept may not be so widely spread in the hindu religion but surprisingly in every sect, inflicting pain on self is symbolic of renunciation of worldly pleasures. To a practitioner, pain purifies! It atones for sin and cleanses the soul.

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