My mother was speaking to our neighbour Shivamma. I was laying down there with my head gently placed in her lap. Playing with my hair, quite worried about my health, mother said, ‘I don’t know why, but my son keeps falling ill very often these days. He doesn’t even sleep in the night. He groans all night. No matter how many temples I visit and pray for his quick relief, he continues to suffer.’ Shivamma, on hearing this said, ‘Look Savitri, no temple or god would help you in this regard. I would check as to what is wrong with him. Get him along with you as dusk settles.’
I was very young when this happened. I was a student in the sixth grade. I could hardly talk and when I spoke no one took me seriously; But I was aware of what was happening- they were trying to establish that my ill health was due to spirits.
As instructed by that neighbor we visited her place along with some neem leaves, turmeric – vermilion, two pots of water and many other things. As soon as we reached her home, I was made to sit facing north in front of her house. She held a mug of water in her hand and had closed the opening of it and was murmuring something with her eyes closed. It seemed like she was scolding someone. I was not sure if she was scolding me or the spirit. After the first round of scoldings, she placed the mug on the floor and took neem leaves and closed her eyes yet again. However unlike the first time, she was quite loud now and I could hear what she was saying. I had my eyes closed. ‘Who are you? Who is possessing this innocent boy? If you don’t answer me, you will have to face my wrath.’
For the next thirty minutes she continued doing such random things, and then applied turmeric-vermilion to my forehead, forearms, and legs and asked me to close my eyes. I closed. It felt like someone was hitting me with a broom. Then came a quick splash of water in my face. It was only on opening eyes that I realised, what hit me with such a rapid force was water. Even before I could come to terms with the pain caused by all that water splashing, there came beetings from the bundle of neem leaves. In Kannada we have a famous phrase, ‘neeru haaki hodeyodu,’ whose transliteration would be, ‘beating up after putting water.’ Though the phrase is used metaphorically to indicate the intensity of the pain, my situation was quite literally that. I was being beaten up upon being put water on.
This was not the end of it. Again came splashes of water and beetings. This ritual continued. Two pots of water were emptied on me; the neem stems lost all their leaves. I was scared to resist. I thought she would increase her beating. I kept quiet. My tears did not cooperate with me; I didn’t know if that was tears on my face or water. Shivamma called my mother and told her, ‘this is the handiwork of black magic. I know just the right place for treating this. Take him there.’ I understood that all of this was done just to confirm if I had been possessed; I also realised that we are in the last stages of this exercise. By now it was dark and we returned home for our dinner.
The next day we had to arrange for the money required to visit the place that Shivamma suggested. We were enroute to Naatanahalli which is on the Mirle road between KR Road and Saligrama. I was quite unsure about the things awaiting me there, I was scared thinking about things that could happen. Since Shivamma had guided us rightly and the person in Naatanahalli was an acquaintance of Shivamma, it wasn’t difficult to locate the place.
We were welcomed and asked to sit. We waited for a long time. Then came a man in his fifties who spoke to a few people who had reached there before us. I was loitering in my own world of fears and anxieties. I was breathlessly waiting to find out if ghosts and spirits existed. Seeing this man imparting advice to those people I was sure of the existence of these supernatural powers. I was now really scared thinking of whatever was in store for me. He did not look like a pontiff or any black magician. This came as a relief. I could at least be sure of my life not being in danger.
Now, it was our turn. As the convention dictates we first offered ten rupees with betel leaves and betel nuts. He did not even ask me what the problem was. Just like the famous actor Avinash who played the role of a priest in a Kannada horror thriller Aptamitra, he looked at me with a frown on his face and said, ‘there for sure is a problem.’ To his stating of the obvious my mother said, ‘isn’t it why we have come to you?’ To this, the modern swamiji said, ‘you have come at the right time. If you had delayed even a bit, the consequences would have been grave.’ Saying this, he filled up a tumbler with water and lit an incense over this. He then moved a lemon on the smoke and then started to squeeze it like one does to make lemonade. He then opened his eyes and stared at me for sometime and called for my mother; he said, ‘three months ago, your son had a fall from his bicycle near a garden. A spirit of a girl roaming around there had rescued him. I don’t know why, but the spirit seems to have really liked him and now is following him.’ He hadn’t even finished saying this and my mother started, ‘oh! Swamiji, how do we get rid of this spirit?’ and the swamiji said, ‘there is a way. Wait, I will tell you.’
I was sitting there completely clueless. He then said, ‘look, that spirit still hasn’t completely possessed this boy. So it is not a problem as such. You just have to follow my instructions. There is a Teak plantation in your backyard and there is a banyan tree to the south of this plantation. Let him take some curd rice with him and go there on an evening of a no moon day. Ask him to place the curd rice there and return without turning back. The spirit would eat the curd rice and leave him alone.’ Listening to all of this, my mother had resolved to follow his instructions. We were ready to leave from there. That is when the swamiji said, ‘I think he is hungry.’ He made me sit there and gave me some rice with bean and shrimp curry. Till then I was quite relieved thinking about everything coming to an end. I wasn’t prepared for this disaster.
He said it was not me who was hungry but the spirit that had possessed me. I was supposed to eat till the spirit was satisfied. The food wasn’t even that tasty; I couldn’t take even two morsels of it. He did not seem to be willing to let go of me. I told myself, ‘Shivamma tried to kill me by beating me up and this man is trying to kill me by feeding me.’ Along with all of this I, who was scared to step out alone even to take a leak, was now expected to go alone on a no moon evening and serve dinner to a ghost. I was terrified, angry and felt like crying all at once. Swamiji looked at my face and said, ‘Now I understand. You throw this food in the backyard.’ Relieved by this I went into the backyard and kept my plate there and returned. By then Swamiji had said something to my mother. We then took our leave.
I did what swamiji had instructed me to do. Fifteen days had passed by. I had not recovered. My nails were turning yellow. I had intermittent fever. Listening to someone’s suggestion it was concluded that the reason for my problem was not any ghost but was the most terrible black magic. It was decided that the only possible solution for this is to pay a visit to the temple of Ajjayya of Ukkadagatri near Ranebennur. This time around we were accompanied by a group of people like us.
There was no direct train from Mysuru to Ranebennur. We had to deboard at Arsikere and catch another train. At Arsikere we were joined by hundreds of people like us. Even to this day people visit this temple every no moon day. Most of these visitors are there because they have been possessed by a spirit. Even we were there because of this.
The place was overflowing with ghosts and spirits from everywhere. There hardly was anyplace to breathe there. One has to bathe in the river next to the temple before entering the shrine. Following the convention I decided to get into the river. What came next was a disaster. Just like the ghosts even the gods visit this temple. The gods have an assigned duty of beating up the ghosts who get into the river to take a bath and chase them away. When I was getting into the river, hundreds of gods were beating up thousands of ghosts black and blue. I was stunned by this sight. I was not very sure if I wanted to take a bath there or not. Even before I could decide, overcame by the devotion my mother got me down into the river. It was 1 am in the mid night and was the month of December. Peak winters.
I was lucky. No god touched me. My mother wouldn’t give up easily. There was an aunty who was possessed by a god standing there. It seemed like this particular god had not come across any ghost to chase it away. My mother wanted to help this god I guess, she got me in front of her. That god placed her hand over my head, closed her eyes and thought for a bit and said, ‘He isn’t been fully possessed yet. He has to place nine lemons on the steps of this river and squeeze them out using his heels, barefooted and he should go up to the temple premise. He must perform three rounds of uraluseve (rotating the whole body on the floor and revolving round the temple) around the temple. He then should collect the stone that is near the tower in the east and place it over his head and sit with his eyes closed. He would then be fully possessed.’ I was relieved thinking that I was spared of all the beatings. I did not waste any time and started doing exactly what I was asked to do.
I squeezed out lemons, performed uruluseve on the floor full of sand and I sat there with a stone over my head. It was dark, cold and I was wearing just shorts. As the surroundings of the temple was not very clean, the place was infested with mosquitoes. All of them were hybrid mosquitoes. Sitting there almost naked, I was a feast to these mosquitoes. I could not even scratch myself because of that stone over my head. It was unbearable but I had no choice.
Watching all of this my mother was cheering on and kept saying, ‘you are finally getting possessed, let the spirit possess you.’ Horrible, my body and mind were both under attack. I was sitting there completely clueless. A priest came to me then and said, ‘he is not possessed, take him away.’ Hearing this I got up and went to the river to clean myself up. Another god got hold of me and said the same thing that the first one had said. I repeated it all, lemon, rotating and revolving, stone and mosquitoes. I did this for fifteen to twenty times. My mother finally realised I was in pain and she asked me to stop it. We offered our prayers and started towards our village.
The fever never subsided. Seeing this, someone suggested that we visit a certain doctor called Anandrao in Hunsur. My mother was not interested in the prospect. Unwilling she accompanied me to visit the doctor. Upon examination, he gave me an injection and prescribed me medicines for about three months. This treatment finally cured me.
After many days I learnt, I wasn’t possessed by any spirit or ghost but by jaundice.
First published in Nyayapatha a Kannada Weekly and a concern of gaurilankeshnews.com. Translated by Yogesh S