Ever heard of a ghost fair? It’s here in Madhya Pradesh

By Sanjay Sharma, IANS,

Malajpur (Madhya Pradesh) : 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.

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A man also seems to be desperately trying to escape from some invisible terror, running around, screaming at the top of his voice.

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 body.

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 [email protected])