Do Spirits Exist?
Another highly controversial subject but then I am never afraid of picking up such issues. In our childhood ghost stories fascinated us. We also heard friends and relatives narrate encounters. Gradually such narratives have disappeared though in Sikkim we do hear extensively about how the spirit of the Indian soldier Baba Harbhajan Singh (still employed in the Indian Army) helps both Indian and Chinese populations in the border.
Spirits were a story for me till I worked among tribal. For them they were a living presence. Tribal deities exist both at homes and at designated places in the outskirts of the village. I also witnessed tribal medicine men and their vodoo practices which failed to impress me. The tribal huts have low ceilings and I often struck my head on the overhanging wooden supports and fell. The women laughed and said that was because I did not believe in their guardian spirit.
The village I frequented had shifted a few decades earlier from another interior spot because of the fear of wild animals. Their main deity still resided there and a representative totem pole existed in the new village. It was supposed to be a very powerful spirit and I thought of visiting the place. I asked a village youth if he could take me there. He agreed as he was preparing to hunt small game in that area. So one evening we set out.
It was a forested hilly tract and after a few kilometers we were in a slightly level area. The youth pointed to a shrub and indicated that the deity was there. I approached the shrub with caution as it would surely be infested with insects and snakes. As I reached the shrub and was looking for an indicative structure, I fell. It was not an ordinary fall. It was like I was pushed with a great force from behind. Slightly injured I requested the youth to show me the way back to the village.
When the youth narrated the incident back at the village, the senior tribal were very annoyed with me. "You could have lost your life," they said, "never go there again." With this experience I was a bit more attentive towards their spiritual routine. The tribal can enter into trances. It was not difficult to discern that they were not play acting as their countenance and behavior changed as the rituals progressed.
I had another experience before this. I was facing a crisis in the office I managed, and a colleague serving there suggested we visit a person in the Dandamukundapur village near Puri who was into divination. He was called Kathia Baba as he used two sticks. In Odisha we often come across such characters and it is difficult to know who is genuine and who is not. But this person seemed to have a reputation and I agreed to visit him. As I alighted at the Bus Stand, my colleague developed cold feet. He had a personal issue and suddenly he decided that he would not disclose it in a public place. Failing to convince him I proceeded alone.
The previous night I had a vivid dream of visiting a temple infested with wriggling snakes. I saw that the man sat inside a temple like structure which was lined with earthen and metal coiled snake replicas. When a personal wish was fulfilled, people left such replicas on the spot. The collection was vast indicating that the success rate was high. The place was crowded, the person a very humble village man wearing a gumchha on his waist. The two sticks were in his hand. I waited for my turn which came after about two hours. He smiled at me and I narrated my official problem. He started playing with the sticks, knocking them and sometimes touching them on the ground. “Your problem has come very suddenly like a whirling wind,” he said, “and it will vanish like the wind.” That was his solution. I rose to leave. He motioned me to sit. “Please ask your friend to come and meet me,” he said, “Why is he so shy? Family problems are not insignificant and it is foolish not to seek a remedy.” I was really very surprised. How did this man know someone had come with me and that he had a family problem? Anyway, my friend come and the official problem too evaporated like he predicted it would.
Odisha was once a Buddhist stronghold and intense tantric practices were the norm. Practices like these were remnants of the tantric rituals passed down from Guru to disciple. There are some hotspots around Bhubaneswar that locals feared. One was the famous Chousathi Yogini Temple at Hirapur on the outskirts of the town. A centre of aggressive tantra, the practices degenerated and the powers were used to harass and intimidate people. So as Buddhism declined people invaded the structure broke the images of the 64 yoginis (still fearful to look at even today) and drove out the tantrics. Another spot was Chakeisiani or Chakraseni where group tantra was practiced. It later became a colony but it was difficult for people to live there for a long time because strange apparitions appeared in the houses scaring the people, particularly women and children. Now such happenings have subsided and it is a thriving residential area. The Vaital Temple in Old Town area is another spot I often visited. It was in a cremation ground and the wooden pole in front of the temple was used for sacrifices, sometime human too it is alleged. Here too strange things happened. Particularly young children playing in the temple premises tended to disappear. The local people sought the services of a renowned tantric. He “chained” the deity using tantric rituals. The temple deities within the dark internal garbha griha are hideous and ominous. I had tried meditating there but the priest did not allow me. There are four such Devi temples in four corners of the Bindusagar lake near which it is situated.
Next I heard about spirits was when I was desperate to meet MahaSambhuti Chakradhar after I came to know of Him. I was often very curious about how he had managed to have such a huge following despite leading such a low key and secretive profile. I came to know that spirits had declared His arrival even before He was born and it was such spirits that appeared in people in various states across India and declared his coming. I was sceptical about the whole thing though I was shown videos of some episodes. I was more interested in Chakradhar than on such spirits. Chakradhar Himself seemed very sceptical of them and made fun of it when people broached the subject in front of him. So I was of the opinion that such episodes were reflective of the inner urges of people rather than anything of importance. I was soon to be proven wrong.
One evening at Mayurbhanj when we had gone to attend a family function of MahaSambhuti, I was proven wrong. Seated in a large gathering in a tent, Chakradhar suddenly broached the subject on his own. There were some people in the gathering in whose bodies the spirits appeared. So He jokingly asked them about it. Then a lady appeared to go into a trance and started talking on some subjects. Chakradhar minutely observed her. Scarcely as she came out of her trance, another went into it, and then another. Chakradhar started joking about it. The gathering too started laughing. Then what happened was very scary and I have never experienced anything like it before.
One by one people started getting affected; some being flung across the place by some kind of a force. Even those who were laughing were thrown around. I was scared shit at what was happening and looked at Chakradhar. He had turned into stone and with a steely expression on his face was observing what was going on around Him. I have never seen Him so fiercely intense. I remembered he was Lord Shiva and that all the spirits of the world were under Him. I slowly got up and locked myself in a room afraid of what was going on and scared if the same would happen to me. Outside the shrieks and screams, the cries, the weeping, the uncontrolled laughter and the sound of people being thrown about seemed like a veritable demonic war going on.
After a long time when things appeared to have subsided I emerged from the room. People were trying to control themselves, exhausted and heaving from the efforts. The seniors sat still in their positions. MahaSambhuti sat in the same pose and expression. I wanted to leave and picking up courage, approached Him for permission. He looked at me, his eyes still burning and said, “Why do you want to go? Stay and watch this drama of life.”
But I left. It was too much for me.
Who are these spirits who seemed so real? Who can tell? What is their role? How can they control people and handle them physically like I witnessed with my own eyes? Later, I was told, they were very minor spirits. I cannot conceive what the major ones could do. When later Chittesh bhai asked MahaSambhuti if the spirits could invade one and all, He had said, “Yes, except for Jagannath and Souren.” Well that is a great relief. I would not want to be anywhere near them when they became active.