As chilly winds howl through lands and daylight recedes meekly, long nights creep in to cloak the world in darkness. The season of chills is here. Humans of yore would gather by fires to escape the icy fingers of winter and to spend the long hours of the night swapping stories about life and what the darkness hides. The lore about those that wait in the darkness is passed down from generation to generation, chilling and full of ominous foreboding.
Our country is full of stories of Indian mythical creatures that exist outside the realms of man and reason. We may well laugh off these stories, comfortable in our rooms with bright electric lights but once the lights go off and the shadows shift; the irrational seems believable, fear strokes our spine and our eyes strain to see what lies hidden in the dark. Let the bounds of your imagination stretch and come live these stories for a few restless, sleepless nights.
Bengal is home to a wide variety of spectral sightings and inexplicable Indian mythical creatures that lurk in search of prey. Let’s step into the story of one such creature.
It’s a windy night and the wind whispers through the trees. Through the indiscernible rustling, a voice calls your name faintly—the voice of a loved one. Before you turn around to answer on reflex, think again.
In Bengal and parts of Bihar and Jharkhand, when darkness falls the Nishi Dak comes out to play. Nishi meaning dark and dak meaning call, are the tactics employed by the spirit to lure victims out into the night. The Nishi Dak will take on the voice and a hazy silhouette, in some cases akin to the familiar person, and call out your name, once, then twice. The Nishi Dak cannot call out a third time so people in Bengal wait for people sometimes to call a third time. If you slip up and answer the call of a Nishi Dak, you’ll be entranced and walk to the creature who stands calling at a distance, beckoning you to meet your end. It may be the last time you answer someone’s call.
The forested areas of North East India provide sanctuary to all those who cannot dwell in the harsh light of the human world. The folklore of the region abounds with legends of those that lurk in the shadows of the forests to chance upon humans. One such exists in the dappled forests of Mizoram.
It’s been a long day hunting in the forest to no avail. You have found no game yet. Twilight has begun to fall with a sudden turn that is almost alarming and the rustling of the leaves beneath your feet is getting eerily louder. Something moves between the trees with startling speed. A dark figure streaks in the gloom, impossibly fast. You can’t outrun it. She looks beautiful but her eyes are vertical instead of horizontal and her feet are turned around.
The Lasi is recognised as a demon by some and as a fairy by others. She seduces hunters and guides them in their hunt so that they always find prey. But you can’t be free of her, now or ever. Keep your silence, don’t tell anyone about the Lasi or you might end up dead.
In Dehradun, the days are sultry but the nights come alive with icy winds and all manners of creatures out of which the Chalawa is one. Chalawa translates to jo chhal kare in Hindi or the one who pranks or tricks.
You step outside to see flowerpots overturned or things messed up and chalk it down to an errant monkey. At night when you wind down for the day you hear something akin to knocking but it couldn’t possibly be anything other than the wind, since the door to your balcony is on the second floor. Don’t feel too complacent as the rational part of your mind tries to dismiss these occurrences as ordinary, the Chalawa is out to play.
The Chalawa is supposed to be the spirit of a boy who died young and who was very mischievous in life, a facet of his personality that spilled over into life after death. The astonishing part is that the Chalawa can take on any form – man, woman, child, or animal and loves tricking people, especially those who stop to ask for directions on highways or lonely roads. It likes creating a mess or jumping as high as the second or third storey and knocking on doors that cannot be easily opened.
If you ever come face to face with a Chalawa, you’ll probably escape with your life but not your sanity. You see, the Chalawa’s face is strange because its eyes rotate constantly in different directions, something a mere human can hardly forget in a lifetime.
That moment when you awake from sleep but lie paralysed and can see the shadows inching closer can easily be explained by the scientific phenomenon of sleep paralysis. But are the things you see, when in such a helpless state, mere hallucinations of an active mind as the body lies asleep or something more?
Boba translates to ‘dumb’ or ‘unable to speak’ and indeed this entity is blamed for silently taking many victims as they lie awake terrified. The next time you lie on your back, remember this story. The Boba straddles the chest of its victims as they sleep on their back and watches amused as they strangle the victim, who looks back at the creature in speechless horror.
On a dark night if you find yourself walking through a forest or a field in Karnataka or Tamil Nadu and spot a flaming torch in the desolate wilderness, don’t stop for a chat or call out. The Kolli Devva which means torch ghost in Kannada, may well be out to get you. This Indian mythical creature may appear naked or swathed in cloth and shift from the corporeal to the spectral.
Try to sneak by without it noticing you, once it does it may decide to haunt you, invade your body and possess you or simply, kill you. No, don’t light that beedi, a hand may sneak up and light it for you as you fumble for your matches. The Kolli Devva, the restless spirit of a man who died an unnatural death also amuses itself by asking for a light. Ignore him if you can, if you oblige, be ready to watch the terrible sight of his face disappearing into nothing.
The rich folklore of the North-Eastern states is woven around its topography. They say some of the deep gorges, valleys, and hills were created by colossal monsters who would thrash violently as they died, defeated by heroes from the tribe.
Deep in the tangled wilderness of rainy Cherrapunjee is Dainthlen falls, where the river plunges into a deep gorge with roaring violence. They say these roars mingled with those of a gigantic serpent named Thlen, who lived in a cave with an insatiable appetite for blood and flesh. It would pick off half of those passing by the forest so that people feared to venture into the forest alone.
A brave young man from Law Suidnoh, named U Suidnoh decided to end the terror by killing the serpent. He took along a herd of goats and fed the snake their meat for a while until the snake started trusting him. The snake would slide up to the mouth of the cave with its jaws wide open for his offerings until one day, U Suidnoh put in a piece of burning hot iron into its mouth. The Thlen died writhing in pain and the natives of Sohra came to chop up the snake into pieces. The river bed even now, has rocks that resemble the chopped pieces of the Thlen. A great feast was held where everyone ate the chunks of snake meat, all but one piece, carried home by an old woman for her son. The piece of Thlen regenerated, thirstier than ever for Khasi blood. The Thlen would live in the old woman’s house and the caretakers of the Thlen would either have to satiate it with offerings of Khasi blood and earn immense good fortune or ignore the Thlen and suffer misfortune or illness.
Thus were born the Thlen keepers who in turn would employ a nongshnoh or ‘beater’ to bring them blood from victims. The nongshnoh would gather courage through strong liquor and arm himself with a ritual-prepared mixture of turmeric and rice. They would then stalk victims and beat them to death with a club. The victim’s lips, eyebrows, earlobes, nails would be cut off and their blood collected in a bamboo tube by piercing their nostril with a lancet. The nongshnoh are still feared in the high-altitude town of Cherrapunjee.
An excerpt written by Lt, Henry Yule of the Bengal Engineers, notes,
“A very curious superstition regards the boa or some other large snake. It is believed, that, if he takes up his abode with any man, great wealth will accrue to the household; and that there are evil-minded men who go about in search of whom they may slay, cutting off the nose, lips, ears, and hair of their victims, with these propitiate the serpent, and prevail on him to be their guest. And it is difficult to persuade a Kasia to go into the jungle alone, generally for fear of meeting with one of these villains, who are supposed to hide in all solitary spots looking out for prey. The way in which the serpent is believed to bring wealth to his votary, is after the manner of the prophet’s blessing on the widow. Whatever he may sell from “basket to store, kail or potatoes,” his stock diminishes not. One would hope to find his ill-gotten treasure turning to “slate stones”, as wizard’s gold wont but we hear nothing of this.“
– ‘Notes on the Kasia Hills, and People’
You’re driving down a dark and desolate road on which mists dance and shift beguilingly. Suddenly up ahead, you see a woman with long dark hair, draped in a white sari and looking considerably distressed. She signals at you to stop. Will you stop despite the pit of unease in your gut?
If you do, it might be the last thing you do. Mohini is a vindictive female ghost who has been spotted in the southern parts of India and Sri Lanka and as such, different hearsay has added to her attributes making her more fearsome than ever. In some cases, she seems to target couples since this Indian mythical creature is born out of rage and bitterness after a young woman kills herself without having known love. She unleashes her vengeance on men, seeking love and slowly driving her victims to madness and death. She bewitches men—body and soul—by taking on an alluring form. The men she claims eventually waste away, lose interest in life and succumb to death.
Her description indeed seems like her physical form was created to lure prey—with a beautiful fragrance, lush dark long hair, draped in a sari who whispers sweet nothings in their victims’ ears and leads them on by the musical tinkling of bracelets and anklets. In reality, people who claim to have looked closer, have seen a dark void instead of a face. They say she has fiery red eyes and a lot many claim that her legs are always on fire.
There are many female forms of Indian mythical creatures who being restricted or oppressed in their mortal lives go on to exact vengeance and horrific sexual gratification from the living after they are dead.
So as you go to bed tonight, don’t be too sure that you’re safe. Indeed, check under the bed, check that shadow that moves every night, and remember these stories of Indian mythical creatures if they ever cross your path. You might just live to tell the tale.