heard of a ghost fair? It's here in Madhya Pradesh
By Sanjay Sharma
Malajpur (Madhya Pradesh), Jan 28 (IANS) A sari clad woman
with her hair wild scrambles on the floor as if trying to
run away from some invisible enemy. There is a look of terror
on her face as she sinks to her knees, sobbing loudly.
A man also seems to be desperately trying to escape from some
invisible terror, running around, screaming at the top of
They are the "possessed". They have come to Malajpur,
a village among the hills of the Satpura ranges in Madhya
Pradesh's Betul district, 350 km from state capital Bhopal,
for being exorcised at a shrine of Guru Maharaj Deoji, a Hindu
holy man who lived in the 18th century and, devotees believe,
had the power to exorcise ghosts and evil spirits.
No one knows how all this began but head priest Chandra Singh
says: "Deoji passed on the 'art of exorcism' to his successors
(the priests here), and since then the month-long fair is
being observed annually for about 250 years here at Malajpur
during the ongoing Magh month (the Hindi month which usually
falls in January-February)."
As the night of Paush Purnima (full moon preceding Magh month)
falls, the 'possessed' are taken to the shrine for being exorcised.
The people who bring their relatives here feel that their
bodies have been "taken over by the ghosts of the dead"
and that exorcism is the only release for them.
As the temple gong sounds, priests (ghost busters) chant mantras
and the posessed are brought before them, one by one, for
the ritual of severe beating with brooms. In this it is the
ghost that is been threatened with the beating, and not the
possessed person. After being beaten by the ghost buster amid
the chanting of mantras, the so-called 'ghost' leaves the
The temple has two banyan trees that the priest says are home
to thousands of ghosts and evil spirits that have been "expelled"
from human bodies. After being "rid" of the ghost,
the person encircles the temple and is declared "cured"
and leaves the place with or without paying the fees.
Some people pay as per their capacity, while others offer
donations of jaggery - unrefined sugar made from palm juice
- at the temple.
This year about 10,000 people are estimated to have arrived
in Malajpur for the exorcism.
Some of the people being treated become frenzied. Women savagely
toss their hair or roll on the ground.
Some run wild or shriek and shout when their relatives bring
them before the exorcists, who speak in loud, authoritative
voices and the patients respond to their commands.
Psychiatrists say exorcists have some success because they
are usually people in positions of authority and people suffering
from hysteria respond to authority.
Pradeep Meher, who comes to the fair regularly, claims, "No
one returns disappointed. Everyone's wish is fulfilled. When
your wish is fulfilled you may come here and offer only a
kilogram of jaggery. Also, you are required to encircle the
temple once again but in the opposite direction."
The custom is that those who come for treatment circle the
temple in one direction while those who come to offer obeisance
circle it in the opposite direction.
The psychologists, however, describe the ghost fair as nothing
more than superstition. The fair, which started Jan 10, will
continue till Basant Panchmi, Jan 30.
(Sanjay Sharma can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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