Sunday, May 30, 2010

Ghoul, Goblin, Succubi and Other Ethereal Preternatural Beings of Kashmir

Mansa Ram lit a laltain and in its flickering yellow glow slowly made his way up the round mud and wood stairs and into the room on the top floor. Nobody lived in the room anymore. It was empty. But no room is ever empty, or so it used to be said - specially about that room and especially in stories about that room. People told many stories about that floor - they said the room doesn't like having people after dark. And Mansa Ram, the good house help from Orissa was going to become part of one such short story about the room. Mansa ram used to work with the family for six months of Summer and in winter used to travel back to his village somewhere in Orissa. He tired hard to keep everyone happy, he really did, everyone liked him, but that night Mansa Ram unknowingly upset a very powerful resident of the house. Just as he set his foot inside the room, laltain blew out and for no reason his face received a loud slap that set his entire body hurling to ground. With a  buzzing sound still in his ears, his mind badly ruffled by the unprovoked violence, Mansa Ram got up from his crouched position, took a few cautious back steps, turned, groped walls in dark, tripped on the sill, crawled out the door, got up again and ran down the stairs screaming, 'Bhoot! Bhoot!'. In this way Mansa Ram became an unwitting victim of Ghardivtas anger and a character in one bedtime 'true' ghost story that I grew up with. The poor fellow was duly admonished for daring to go up to the floor at night. With out doubt everyone thought they knew exactly what had attack Mansa Ram that night. They had no question about it. Old Kashmiri belief in preternatural was strong.

To be rich, at risk to life, you could try to steal the topi of a Yetch, ancient Kashmiri Yeti.

A couple of years later, just after my birth, part of the house, along with that infamous part, was sold off by the extended clan members who moved down to Indian plains for work, better prospects and a better life. A wall separating the two parts was set up. Rooms were parted, divided. Our side. Their side. The new owner of that part of the house was a ghur-e-wol, the one with the horses. He moved the horses into the rooms next to the house. The place began to stink on damp nights. Every night you could hear the horses neighing and beating on the walls. With their each kick, from the walls fell off caked bits of mud. On many nights as I heard the story of Mansa Ram one more time from my grandmother, I imagined maybe it was Ghardivta playing around with the poor horses, giving them bad dreams. In morning, I would walk up to the wall and put my ear against it and try to hear. Something. Anything. I would only hear an occasional wheezing and thumping of hoofs. Then I would inspect the wall, carefully notice the new cracks and gaps in the wall, pick up a lump of wall mud cake from the floor and munch, pick a piece out from the wall and munch, pick out dry yellow straws from lumps, throw them down and munch the walls of the house.  

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Godfrey Thomas Vigne, an Englishman who visited Kashmir in around 1835, in his writing provided an interesting list of preternatural beings that common Kashmiri, Hindu and Muslim. of the time believed in. In a section titled 'Genii of Kashmir' from his book 'Travels in Kashmir, Ladak, Iskardo, the Countries Adjoining the Mountain-Course of the Indus, and the Himalaya, north of the Panjab with Map, Volume 1', here's the list:

The Jins

"The Jins (geni) are of both sexes and all religions : they are very mischievous, and in the exercise of evil would seem to be almost omnipotent and omnipresent."

"The Gins (geni) are the most universally feared, and Samud Shah [ a local noble and Vigne's guide and host on many occasions] assured me that there were many places where a man could not venture after nightfall, for fear of them. There is an old musjid standing alone on a desolate spot, between Shupeyon and Safur Nagur, near, I think, the village of Arihel, where the gins, as he affirmed, were as thick as sheep in a fold. He once, when travelling, repaired thither for the purpose of saying his prayers ; he heard his own name pronounced, and a gin suddenly appeared in the shape of a jackal, and nearly knocked him down by running against him. He was terribly frightened, and having made his escape, narrated his tale to the first peasant he met, who expressed his astonishment at his having ventured into a place which every one knew to be so dangerous."
 
The Deyu

"The Deyu are cannibal giants;[...]"

 Believed to live in the mountains.
 
The Ifrites

"[...]and the Ifrites (elves), who were in attendance once upon Solomon, seem to have been of this nature."

The Yech 

"The Yech is nearly the Satyr of heathen mythology.[...] The Ghor, or Yech, is a feeder upon dead bodies."

Offered fish and rice of a partlucar day.

The Dyut

"The Dyut is the inhabitant of houses ; and to him are attributed all noises, losses, and domestic troubles. They are propitiated with food once a - year; and would appear to resemble the brownie of the Scottish Highlands."

Bram-bram-chuk

"The Bram-bram-chuk is said to be seen in wet and marshy places, at night. From its description, as a rapidly moving light, it may be pronounced to be a will-o'-the-wisp; but if an account of its personal appearance be insisted upon, and the informant finds it necessary to say that he had seen its shape, it was described as an animal covered with hair, with eyes on the top of its head, and a " bisear bud shukl" (very ugly look) altogether. Its size is said to be about that of a badger; and I am inclined to think that it is the animal known as the grave-digger in India."

The Whop

"The Whop, he said, resembled a cat or dog, and resided in old buildings."

The Mushran

"The Mushran appears in the shape of a dirty-looking and very old man, who seizes a person with a parental hug, and produces thenceforth a wasting and dangerous decline."

The Degins and the Degus

"The Degins are the females of the Degus. It is said that they often seek husbands amongst mortals, but that their attachment is productive of fatal consequences, as its object dies in the course of two or three months."

The Dyn
 
"The Dyn, who is the witch of Europe, will sometimes carry her malignant disposition so far as to eat a man's heart out."

The Rantus

"The Rantus is the Aal of Afghanistan, perhaps the same as the Tral, or fairy, of Scandinavia, and the Goul of the Persian and Turkish tales. Her feet are reversed, and her eyes placed perpendicularly and parallel to the nose."

The Rih

"The Rih is a nondescript female, said to be very handsome ; but will entice a man into a snare for the purpose of eating him."

The Peri

"The Peri is a being beautiful enough to compensate for all these horrors. Their bodies are made up of the four elements; but fire is the predominant ingredient without consuming the rest. But their amours with a mortal are followed by death from fire.
The attachment of the females is as fatal as that of the other sex ; but they are said to play all kinds of pranks. Their ladies, like Titania, will occasionally become fond of "a lovely boy stolen from an Indian king." And the young Kashmirian girls modestly accuse the fairies of both sexes of stealing the surma (antimony) from their eyelids whilst they sleep; the one from love, and the other from jealousy of their beauty. The old building of Kutlina, on the green slope that overhangs the city lake, is considered as one of their principal quarters, and is also on that account denominated the Peri Mahal, or the palace of the fairies."

(?)

"There is another kind of hobgoblin (whose name has been accidentally erased from my note-book) to whose agency all the unaccountable noises and hootings in old buildings are ascribed."

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Based on local lore name of some addition beings:

Tasrufdars: Spring elves, guardians of water bodies.


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Previously: A modern phenomena known as Trounz

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