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One Man's Dreams, Another Man's Cosmology



In this article, I examine a series of conversations that I had with a South Indian Ayurvedic practitioner (vaidya) about a dream I had while in the field. The dream provided him an opportunity to engage me as cultural broker and creatively reconstruct his own cosmology. The article at once details the reasoning, diagnosis, explanation, and treatment of traditional Ayurvedic practitioners at large, and one vaidya's idiosyncratic project that has legitimacy within the larger discursive field provided by the register of Ayurveda. Further, the article also provides an example of how ongoing conversations with an anthropologist shape the knowledge produced by informants in context. In this article, I make use of a Boasian model of the elite informant as a creator of ethnographic texts that are inventive and idiosyncratic in the cultural milieu. These texts constitute a form of intellectual creativity (lila) that leads the vaidya to feel renewed in his commitment to his cosmology. As Durkheim pointed out long ago, ecstatic emotions are what generate a conviction of the presence of the transcendent. Durkheim focused on collective rituals. In this article, I provide a case in which such emotions are generated by the thrill of insight.