During one of my field visits to a remote village, I decided to go out for a stroll after having dinner. As I was about to make my exit through the main door of the guest house, the unit manager who was living there exclaimed: “Sir abhi mat jao bahar, danger hai bahut” (do not go outside, it is very dangerous). I thought he had stopped me because of the possible movement of wild dogs and reptiles in the fields, so I politely obliged by shutting the door. Instead of remaining satisfied with my perception, I curiously enquired him as to what the reason was behind stopping me from going for a stroll when it was just about 20:30 pm in the evening. He told me “abhi kuch din pehle chamunda ka havan kia tha chanmunda devi ke mandir mai, kyunki gaav mai har jageh chorri ho rahi thi. Log kehte hai ki raat ko chamunda devi ghumti hai gaanv barr aur koi uske saamne aaya tho thapad lagaati hai zordar jisse insaan utt nai paata kai dino ke liye” (A few days back a ritual for chamunda devi was performed because of the rise in the events of the robbery around the village. People now say that Chamunda Devi moves about the entire village in the night and slaps the person who comes in front of her and thereafter that person lays bedridden for days together). I thought to myself that such an arrangement was indeed perfect if it could curb crimes like robbery, extortion, assaults and other petty crimes, but it made me wonder as to how the people of the village were so convinced that the ever powerful deity wouldn’t be able to differentiate between a culprit and a simple man like me who wanted to just go out to get some fresh air after an intensely stressful day at work!
This is just one of the many such interesting anecdotes during my stay in these villages. Another such event which aroused my attention was when I had made a visit to Badwani in Madhya Pradesh. During one of my visits there to a borrowers house in ‘Anjad’, a remote village nearby Badwani, there were handprints on the walls of all the houses that were located in that village. This made me very curious and I began to speculate if it could be a local festival of the village, or if it was a custom the local villagers followed to draw good luck and things like that. I realized I would go nuts if I didn’t know what it was and decided to ask one of the borrowers there as to why there were handprints on the walls outside their houses? One of the borrowers named Sumitraben told me that there was a flu spreading in their village and both the people and their cattle succumbed to it and fell ill. In order to prevent the disease from affecting the people in their families, they performed a ritual to appease their local deity and made a mixture out of mud, turmeric, cow dung and holy water. After the mixture was blessed by their deity, each one of the members living in the family had to dip their hands in it and place it on the wall outside their house in such a way that their handprints were visible. This, the villagers living there believed that it prevents evil energy and the spread of disease from entering their houses and protects their family.
These sorts of stories are aplenty and each and every village has a unique narrative of its own. While thinking about these stories, another such narrative which comes to my mind is the interaction I had with a few local traders selling junk jewelry in a town called ‘Dahod’ in Gujarat. They had put up decorative accessories made of peacock’s feather for sale and these accessories were not meant for people but for cows and cattle. The tribal’s living in a forest nearby came to purchase them to decorate their cows on the eve of their tribal festival called “Gaay-Gori”. From one of the tradesmen, I learned that during this festival the men belonging to this tribe lay nude on the ground and let their cows numbering in hundreds to run over them as a mark of respect to their cattle for providing them with milk as nourishment throughout the year. The very thought of how it could be to have hundreds of cows run over somebody, made me feel giddy and stumped!
There are much more narratives like this which I came across while I was touring places in rural Gujarat and rural Madhya Pradesh. From all of these narratives, one thing was evident to me, and that was all of them had a mystical and superstitious element to it which was associated with a power beyond us and this is the power we refer to as ‘Supernatural’. My understanding is that even if there may be a supernatural element surmounting us, the activities which we as humans perform to attract it for the better of us has a lot to do with convincing ourselves psychologically to feel a sense of hope and confidence. In many cases, it may also factor as a deterrent to prevent one from doing wrong, fearing the wrath of the supernatural upon the one committing a mistake. Be it whatever these narratives are what that spurs an element of amazement over many of the unsolved mysteries which happens across rural India and this even acts as a force of hope during the times of hopelessness and solitude from the world outside.