Legends are traditional stories a society tells itself that encode or represent the world-view, beliefs, principles and often fears of that society. These stories are rooted in historical facts, describing adventures of people who once actually lived, but whose adventures have been greatly exaggerated through the passage of time. Legends originated in pre-literate cultures, which did not have the knowledge of “writing” with which they could pass down their beliefs and traditions. In literate cultures, we have all sorts of different forms of explanations for worldly events. For instance, we have advanced disciplines like psychology, theology, history, science etc through which we can ask ourselves questions like “Why does the world work as it does?”, “Why are physical entities as they are?”, “How can human beings get along better together?”, “Why do the two sexes have too much trouble getting along?” etc. Since the pre-literate societies did not have such tools for answering their questions, they resorted to traditional word-of-mouth to preserve their legacy. Thus originated the ‘myth’ and the ‘legend’.
However, there are a string of urban legends that most cultures around the world have created for themselves by reworking events that really happened. They are definitely fabrications of the original event (if there was one in the first place) engendering a legend where fact and fiction cannot be ascertained. What they do help to throw light on however are the complex socio-psychological beliefs, such as attitudes to crime, childcare, fast food, SUVs and other perspectives of the community.
Here is a list of some of the uncanny beliefs that people in the regions share.
I. Bullet Baba
Dedicated to the 350 cc Royal Enfield deity, “Bullet Baba” is a temple located near Jodhpur in Rajasthan. Legend has it that a person named Om Banna died in an accident 20 years ago while driving his bullet at this particular point. People who have come to worship the “Bullet Baba” testify to the fact that when Om’s bike was taken to the local police station after the accident, it kept disappearing from the police station only to be found at another site each time. The news about this strange incident spread like wildfire and the bike is now the idol in the temple. Om Banna is offered beer of the “Bullet” brand to keep him satisfied. It is said that if you do not stop to offer prayers to the “Bullet Baba” while travelling through the Pali-Jodhpur highway, you might not reach your destination alive. The vehicles passing by refrains from honking as an offering to the baba.
II. Malcha Mahal
In the middle of Delhi’s ridge forest lies a 14th century hunting lodge built during the rule of Feroz Shah Tughlaq, the Sultan of Delhi from 1351 to 1388. In the 19th century, the hunting lodge came into the possession of the rulers of Oudh, an independent kingdom located in present-day Uttar Pradesh—India’s largest state. The kingdom was annexed by the British in 1856, and its last king, Wajid Ali Shah, was exiled to the city now called Kolkata. This led to the Shah’s daughter being embroiled in a legal battle with the Indian government several decades later. When she was finally granted custody of the property, she moved there with her two children. She later committed suicide and left her children with a legacy of treasure, some dogs and the property. It is believed that the descendants of Nawab Wajid Ali still live there having secluded themselves from the outside world with no modern amenities. There is a huge sign stating that all trespassers will be gunned down or have hounds set on them. The guards of the nearby Earth Centre and forest officials have reported journalists sneeking into the premises, never to return again.
III. Aarey Milk Colony
Situated in the suburbs of Goregaon, Mumbai, this colony is known for its natural beauty and also boasts of a lake where families often come to picnic and enjoy the view. If you like chasing ghost stories, look no further. A place which has been a hotspot for many Bollywood shoots, has off late, become a place that crews steer clear off. The aversion towards this place can be attributed to the appearance of an uninvited guest lurking about the forest premises in the wee hours of the night. The guards of the colony who are well aware of the ins-and-outs of the place will tell you of their encounters with a lady ghost, who often tries to stop people driving around. In case they do not stop, she goes on to scare the daylights out of them by chasing them at breakneck speed, or so would the legends have you believe!
IV. Lakkidi Gateway
The Wayanad district in Kerala is home to Thamarassery Ghat Pass, which is believed to be haunted by the wandering soul of a local tribesman named Karinthandan. It is said that in colonial times, a British engineer took help from Karinthandan to find the shortest route to cross over the Thamarassery pass to gain access to the beautiful treasure trove of Wayanad. Once the engineer found his way through the Lakkidi Gateway, he killed the innocent man so that he could take the credit of finding the route. Later, many travelers passing through the new route reported seeing the wandering soul of Karinthandan. A priest was called and exorcism was performed to chain the doleful spirit to a tree. Amazingly, the chain has grown with the tree which people believe to be the soul that has not been freed till now.
V. Bhangarh Fort
Built by the Kachwaha ruler of Amber, Raja Bhagwant Singh in 1573 AD, the Bhangarh Fort is the most haunted place in India. The Archaeological Survey of India has forbidden access to the site between sunset and sunrise, and locals have moved their town outside the limits of the fort. The reputation of Bhangarh stems from two old legends.
One mentions the city of Bhangarh to have been cursed by a holy man named Baba Balanath, who had given permission for the construction of the town so long as the height of the buildings did not cast shadow over his retreat. Balnath warned that if this were to occur, he would destroy the entire city. When a descendant prince raised the palace to a height that cast a shadow over Bhangarh’s abode, it is said that he cursed the whole town. Many believe that Balanath is buried there to this day.
A second legend is related to a wizard named Singhiya, who was in love with Ratnavati, the Princess of Bhangarh. According to this tale, Singhiya placed a spell upon a fragrance being purchased by the princess’ maid, so that upon touching it, the princess would fall in love with him. But Ratnavati saw what the wizard was doing and foiled his plan. Feeling bitter, the wizard was said to have placed a curse upon the city, and many believe his ghost haunts the ill-fated city. Some locals believe that princess Ratnavati reincarnated in a new body and that Bhangarh Fort is waiting for her return to put an end to the curse.
VI. The Legend of the Seven Pagodas
The southern Indian town of Mahabalipuram is famous for its stunning bas reliefs and the wonderful Shore Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The legend of Mahabalipuram states that there were six other temples that stood alongside the famous Shore Temple, which was built during the eighth century. The so-called ‘Seven Pagodas’ was so beautiful that even the gods became jealous of it. This caused Lord Indra to instigate a storm that submerged the entire city underwater except for one temple.
During the tsunami of December 2004, century-old sediments were removed from the ocean floor and structures suspected to be remains of the submerged temples were revealed.
About 70% of the total population of Sikkim are Nepalese. Hence many of the state’s local legends have been borrowed from Nepal. One such legend is that of the Ban Jhakri or the “forest shaman”. Ban Jhakri is a powerful shaman who kidnaps young boys to train them to become shamans themselves, thereby carrying on the legacy of the Ban Jhakri. Many children are known to have returned years later as powerful Jhakris or shamans.
VIII. Legend of the Yeti
Commonly known as the “mythical beast”, the Yeti is an enormous, shaggy ape-man with huge feet and aggressive sabre-like teeth. It has its origin in the Himalayan myths and is known to be a creature living in the Himalayas. Many tales and legends have developed around its mysterious sightings among the snow. The author Shiva Dhakal in his collection of short stories about the Yeti talks about it as a figure of danger. The moral of the stories is often a warning to avoid dangerous wild animals and to stay close and safe within the community. In 1921, a journalist named Henry Newman interviewed a group of British explorers who had just returned from a Mount Everest expedition. The explorers told the journalist they had discovered some very large footprints on the mountain to which their guides had attributed to “metoh-kangmi,” essentially meaning “man-bear snow-man.” The Yeti has also been frequently mentioned in the children’s comic book, The Adventures of Tintin.
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