The non-priestly Tradition of India’s Northeast encourages us to think, say or do nothing to our detriment or the detriment of others.
However, this one, seemingly straightforward principle can prove remarkably challenging.
A wide range of tools is therefore offered to help keepers of the Tradition recognise, understand and unravel their harmful habits. Perhaps one of the most surprising of these tools is the Jīvita Putalī or Living Doll.
The sadhaka (practitioner) first mindfully sets his/her bhavana (intention). A figure is then carved from wood. This will represent the detrimental quality the sadhaka intends to challenge.
In the still of the night, specific mantras are repeated as the figure is dipped into water heated over an open fire. A drop of blood is then taken from the sadhaka’s navel with a porcupine quill and dropped into the figure’s mouth to give it ‘life’. The Jīvita Putalī (Living Doll) is now the physical expression of the unhelpful quality that is to be ‘de-energised’ and dissipated.
The iconography of a chosen deity is next visualised in every detail, as though placed directly onto the sadhaka’s own body. He/She then uses yogic techniques to raise heat, visualising a brilliant light that moves up from the pelvis to flood the torso “with the force of Kalagni”, the fire of the Final Dissolution.
The Jīvita Putalī is now dismembered, the legs pulled apart to rent the body in two. It is then thrown into the fire to symbolise the sadhaka’s determination to overcome his/her detrimental habits of thought, word and action.
The heat raised through the practice is finally visualised releasing through the crown of the head “to fulfil its end”.
In conclusion, time is taken seated beside the fire as its embers die for quiet contemplation on the meaning and deeper significance of the ritual, and on the lasting inner change to which the sadhaka is now dedicated.