Of Djinns, Chudails and other such para(normal)phernalia!

“The dark dangerous forest is still there, my friends. Beyond the space of the astronauts and the astronomers, beyond the dark, tangled regions of Freudian and Jungian psychiatry, beyond the dubious psi-realms of Dr. Rhine, beyond the areas policed by the commissars and priests and motivations-research men, far, far beyond the mad, beat, half-hysterical laughter… the utterly unknown still is and the eerie and ghostly lurk, as much wrapped in mystery as ever.” – Fritz Leiber

In recent times, I attempted to pep-up my non-existent social life and decided to join a heritage walk. With a great sense of déjà vu, I experienced some unbelievably insufferable creatures at this event and, “bloody chudails” was what I felt like yelling out.

But being a fraidy-cat and not wanting to create a scene, I did not and quietly slinked away.


The very next day I read in the newspaper that some people, in Bardawan district of Bengal, were selling a djinn trapped in a bottle and of course, there were customers!


Djinns and chudails and those of similar ilk – dead or alive – set me thinking.

I am not a religious person but religion has always fascinated me.

Religion brings out and exposes the darkest side of humanity.

It has been one of the most vicious tools of annihilation in the history of mankind.

I am not suspicious or allergic to other peoples’ religious beliefs but totally befuddled, and at times, alarmed by their blind allegiance to the ‘word’.

Religion propagates superstitions.


The American actor Kenneth “Ken” Leung, once said, “I have an awareness of a spiritual realm, and I see signs that I feel speak to me – I don’t know if that fall into superstition.”

I am not superstitious but have experienced events and moments that have only nonplussed me; forced me to question the scientific and still left me scared –  The Village of Wails

Maybe, this is one of the many blemishes within me. But I was reading Patrick Overton’s Leaning Tree and was struck by the following lines:

“When you walk to the edge of all the light you have and take that first step into the darkness of the unknown, you must believe that one of two things will happen. There will be something solid for you to stand upon or you will be taught to fly.”


My travels have led to much travail when I have been totally boggled by the inexplicable aberrations that rule the minds of even the best of intelligentsias. But, religion and its connecting umbilical coils of misconceptions are a prodigious business venture. The more you feed the supplicative and selfish innards of humans – the more the scheme grows and increases the flock!

Select a large rock or stone (preferably smooth); paint it with the relevant supporting/suggestive colour; place it strategically near a road or path that has a large tree (read Banyan); light an oil lamp; put some flowers around the stone and if possible leave some coins, and hey presto! There will soon be a business venture.

Faith when rabid becomes the fuel that feeds the zealot’s fire.


But coming back to Chudails.

Jim Corbett couldn’t have been more elusive when he wrote in ‘Jungle Lore’ that only thrice in his lifetime did he hear the scream of the chudail (banshee) –  always at night – and only once caught a glimpse of it. Corbett, India’s most famous wildlife hunter-turned-conservationist, said the sound could “curdle one’s blood and arrest one’s heartbeat”.

Having spent his entire life in Kumaon, and hundreds of nights alone in the forest among man-eating tigers, leopards and other beasts, he not only had infinite wisdom on the laws of the jungle, but he could identify every bird call in the region. He could even tell if a tiger was closing in by sensing the distress in the chirp of the birds. While his stories of the wild are well-known, tales of his experiences with the afterlife are equally gripping, more terrifying, and relatively unknown.

One evening while having dinner with his sister Maggie, Corbett stepped out to the veranda of his home in Kaladhungi after hearing the call of the chudail. The sound was coming from a Haldu (Haldina cordifolia) tree, and with his binoculars, Corbett discovered that it was a bird no smaller than a golden eagle. Though it was out of shooting range, and much too dark to take aim, he claimed he had never seen such a bird or an owl before. The next time he heard “the scream of a human being in mortal agony” was on a machan waiting for the Thak man-eater. This time the piercing shriek came only once, which he described as a long ‘Arr-Ar-Ar’, from a village he knew was deserted.

Chudail, Corbett wrote, is one of the most feared evil spirits found in lower reaches of the Himalayas. It appears in the form of a woman. Having cast her eyes on a human, this woman whose feet are overturned the wrong way, mesmerises her victims, as a snake does a bird, and walking backward lures them to their doom. When danger of seeing the woman threatens, the only defence against her attack is to shield the eyes with the hands, any piece of cloth that is handy, or, if indoors, to pull a blanket over the head.


Another scary episode took place when Corbett was on the hunt for the Champawat man-eater — the first documented one in Kumaon in the 20th century. He reached a rest house close to the village following the suggestions of the tehsildar who claimed the tigress had returned to kill in the area. After a day spent in a wild goose chase, Corbett returned to the bungalow to find the tehsildar waiting for him. They spent the evening discussing his future course of action, but at night the tehsildar began to insist on returning home through an area infested with leopards and tigers, along with the infamous man-eater on prowl.

Corbett was taken aback by the man’s strange commitment to undertake such a dangerous route; little did he know of the horrors in store for him later that night.

Corbett wrote about that night in Man-eaters of Kumaon: “I have a tale of that bungalow but I will not tell here, for this is a book of jungle stories, and tales ‘beyond the laws of nature’ do not consort well with such stories.” But according to the legend, the next morning he woke up outside the bungalow in the forest shivering in fear and cold. Martin Booth, his biographer, describes it as an eerie experience: “Quite what happened was something about which Jim was forever reticent. That he had a night-long brush with the supernatural is without doubt for…”


While Corbett was not known as a superstitious man, he would often term such experiences as mental aberrations. But in life, he came to have many such brushes with the supernatural during his stays at dak bungalows while pursuing the hunt of tigers and leopards that had turned into man-eaters after getting injured, or slowed by age. He also had similar experiences in the notorious dak bungalows of Ramgarh and Nainital. Many of these rest houses were built across India during the British Raj, and used by civil servants, forest and police officials while travelling, and public as well. Most of them are still functional today, keeping their past well hidden within its walls. As Booth records: “Many of the old Indian houses in the foothills are haunted by spirits both friendly and antagonistic. Most seem to be varieties of poltergeist which are capable of moving objects, including men.”

While most of these stories find brief mention in Corbett’s beautifully chronicled tales of hunting, much remains unclear as to why he chose not to delve in them, or whether he was asked to refrain. Perhaps it has to do with a warning a local poacher gave to a young Corbett: “When in the jungles, never speak of a tiger by its name, for if you do, the tiger is sure to appear.” For the same reason, he would say, the villagers never talk about the chudail. Neither would he.


And, believe you me; such fears of the unknown and the darkness are still prevalent today as it were then. Anyone who has travelled in the mountains or grown up in its embrace, will have either heard of it, or know someone who has either had a hairy encounter, or been victimised by the chudail. The locals consider it as much part of life as death.


Tales of the Punjab: Told by the People (1894) by Flora Annie Steel, has some great accounts with sketches.

‘Indian Witchcraft’ by Rajaram Narayan Saletore [page 121, Nomenclatures of Witches], states that in Gujarat itself the chudail/witch is known by 46 different names.

Wikipedia has some interesting data on Churels.


However, you will be surprised to know that there are many ‘chudail temples’ tucked away in various parts of India! The most famous of course, is the Chudail Mata Temple in Patan, Gujarat. And, not to forget the village of Kuldhara in Rajasthan,


I once travelled to Khambat (Cambay) via the Borsad-Dhuvaran road. As we approached Zarola, we saw hundreds of sarees – all hanging from trees – on both sides of the road for nearly a kilometre.

A sight that would make even the most disinterested person to stop and take a note. We decided to find out more about the place but there weren’t too many people around. There was a man selling fruits and vegetables and another cart with no body in sight.

Nearby, was the temple with two surly looking individuals who turned out to be the care-takers of the place.

This was the shrine of Chudail Maa and not crowded as the chudail is technically worshipped on Fridays, with hundreds of people visiting the place. All come with a wish/desire, seeking the blessings of the deity  for a child (preferably a son); marriage;  success and prosperity; good monsoon and crops and even vengeance. People believe that if you come to this deity and make a wish – it will be fulfilled.  You have to offer a saree or chuneri along with a coconut. The saree will be hung-up there till it rots away.

The consequences of not offering a saree are supposed to be serious and could lead to death and destruction. Going by the number of sarees hanging there, it appears to be a serious business. By the way, you need not go there with a saree, they are available with the caretaker – for a price, of course!


As we drove away, I found myself thinking about the fact that there are, at times, moments in the dead of night when I can’t sleep and I wonder if I will ever be able to truly rest again until I know that those certain individuals have paid for what they took from me. And, then there are other moments when I wonder if it would please me to know that they are dead. To know that the scale has been evened.


I guess there is a little bit of a Chudail and djinn within all of us!



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