Indians love fairs and fairs and festivals, and all the fanfare that accompanies them.
But a fair held exclusively for ghosts!!
Yes, you heard it right.
Betul, a small nondescript village in the Malajpur district of Madhya Pradesh holds an annual fair where people come from far and wide to get rid of the evil spirits possessing them.
This fair which begins on the Paush Purnima every year continues till Basant Panchmi. This annual ritual, which has been going on for nearly 250 years now, is meant to be a tribute to Sant Guru Deoji. The aforesaid saint was supposedly a man with mysterious superpowers who lived in that area in the early 18th century and could turn sand to sugar or clay to gur(jaggery) merely by looking at it, restore blind men’s eyesight and even produce tons of grain out of nowhere during times of drought. A memorial was built to immortalize this great man after he died and an annual fair has been held ever since in the month of February.
A priest at this temple told the Times of India team that the devotees come from as far as Andhra Pradesh to seek the saint’s blessing to get better. He also disclosed that a greater percentage of those coming to pay obeisance at the shrine are women. Probably an indicator of the fact that mental disorders, particularly among the women folk, in our country are usually ignored by their family members, as a result of which they are not left with many options except running from one such shrine to another in the hope of getting cured miraculously.
The Procedure of Getting Rid of The Evil Spirits
An ‘aarti’ or a prayer is offered to the presiding deity every evening. As the prayers are offered, the ‘normal’ people perform a ‘parikrama’ around the sanctum sanctorum in the clockwise direction while those who are possessed by evil spirits walk in the opposite direction.
The possessed people are made to appear in front of the deity amidst frantic and loud cries hailing the late Sant Guru Deoji while the priests sprinkle holy water over them and chant hymns to invoke the blessings of the almighty.
Amidst much hysteria, shrieking and melodrama, hundreds (if not thousands) of people claim to have got rid of the evil spirits that had entered their bodies during the fair. Thereafter, they offer jaggery to the local deity to appease him.
The educated people among the local population and the leading Parliamentarians of the area have been trying to create an awareness among the people to shun such practices and to seek medical help to redress their mental disorders. Several awareness camps are organized in the vicinity of the temple every year.
How long the normal people will take to realize the futility behind such centuries old customs and rituals is any one’s guess!