Every year, many people come from across India to the village of Malajpur to attend its ‘ghost fair’ – an event that is supposed to cleanse the possessed of evil spirits.
Participants like this woman go through exorcism rituals that are intense and sometimes violent, involving being made to run around a temple and getting beaten with a broom.
1 / 16
"I don’t believe in ghosts, but it is true that people who come to the Malajpur temple feel really satisfied with the treatment."
Malajpur is no ordinary small settlement in central India. On the contrary, it is probably the only village in the country to host an annual ‘ghost fair’. People come to this fair from across the country to get rid of evil spirits, which they believe possess their bodies.
As night falls on Paush Purnima (full moon night) the ‘possessed’ are taken to a local shrine to be exorcised. The people who bring their relatives here feel their relations’ 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 for this, he said: “They are emotionally weak and hence easy target(s) for spirits.”
On the first day that I went to the temple, it looked to me like it could be any other temple complex. But suddenly from the middle of the crowd I heard a woman scream as she started running around the courtyard.
According to priests, the ghost possessing a person becomes weak the more they run around the yard in an anti-clockwise direction. For those who don’t run voluntarily (which is often the case) relatives or priests make them do so by pushing or kicking them.
After a few rounds, the possessed person is confronted by a priest on a sacred platform. The priest asks questions, such as the name of the ghost and why he or she is hounding the person. If the answers are not satisfactory, the running continues.
Some people suffer ‘ghost attacks’ which means they are fine one minute and they start jumping, screaming, crying or even attacking people the next. The temple becomes really chaotic just before dusk when more and more people are ‘attacked by ghosts’.
As night falls, the final stage of the ghost-busting begins when the main priest confronts the possessed people in a violent way. He holds the hair of the person in question, asks them questions and then beats them with a broom with 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 person’s home. Caste plays a prominent part in Indian society and is mostly used to discriminate.
When a ghost is thought to leave someone’s body, the previously ‘possessed’ person falls unconscious for 10 to 15 seconds. After he or she gets up, the priest offers holy water and the person walks away as if nothing had 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.