Malajpur is a small but not ordinary village in central India. In fact it is probably the only village in India which has been hosting a ghost fair for the past several years. People from across the country come to this fair to get rid of ‘evil spirits’ that they claim to be possessed by.
As night falls on Paush Purnima (full moon night) the ‘possessed’ are taken to the local shrine to be exorcised. People who bring their relatives here feel the latter’s bodies have been ‘taken over by ghosts of the dead’ and that exorcism is the only release for them. Interestingly, most of those who come here to be exorcised are women. When I asked the priest the reason he said, “They are emotionally weak and hence easy target for spirits.”
On the first day when I went to the temple, it looked to me like any other temple complex. But suddenly from the middle of the crowd I heard a woman scream as she started running around the temple courtyard. According to priests the ghost inside people becomes weak the more they run around the courtyard in an anti-clockwise direction. For those who don’t run voluntarily (which is the case often) relatives or priests make them do so by pushing or kicking.
After a few rounds the possessed person is confronted by the priest on a sacred platform and if the answers are not satisfactory (questions include the name of the ghost and why he/she is hounding the person) the running continues.
Some people suffer “ghost attacks” which means they are fine one minute and the next they start jumping, screaming, crying or even attacking people. The temple becomes really chaotic just before dusk when more and more people are ‘attacked by ghosts’.
As night falls, the final stage of ghost-busting begins when the main priest confronts the possessed in a violent manner. He holds the hair of the person, asks them questions and then beats them with a broom which has a metal handle. Sometimes the possessed attack the priest.
When the priest thinks the ghost is finally in his control he makes it swear that if it returns, it will have to drink water from a lower caste resident’s home. Caste plays a prominent factor in Indian society and is used mostly to discriminate.
As the ghost leaves a body, the until now ‘possessed’ person falls back unconscious for 10-15 seconds. After he/she gets up, the priest offers holy water and the person walks away as if nothing happened.
At the fair, I had my own strange experience with ‘ghosts’ when a possessed woman tried to grab my camera! I don’t believe in ghosts but it is true that people who come to the Malajpur temple feel really satisfied with the treatment. I believe it’s all a matter of faith.