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The depiction of a Rakkhoshi queen at the king's palace, an illustration from the classic Bengali folk-lore collection Thakurmar Jhuli (1907) by Dakshinaranjan Mitra Majumder.

Ghosts are an important and integral part of the folklore of the socio-cultural fabric of the geographical and ethno-linguistic region of Bengal which presently consists of Bangladesh and the Indian states of West Bengal and Tripura. Bengali folktales and Bengali cultural identity are intertwined in such a way that ghosts depicted reflect the culture it sets in.[1] Fairy tales, both old and new, often use the concept of ghosts. References to ghosts are often found in modern-day Bengali literature, cinema, radio and television media. There are also alleged haunted sites in the region. The common word for ghosts in Bengali is bhoot or bhut (Bengali: ভূত). This word has an alternative meaning: 'past' in Bengali. Also, the word Pret (derived from Sanskrit 'Preta') is used in Bengali to mean ghost. In Bengal, ghosts are believed to be the unsatisfied spirits of human beings who cannot find peace after death or the souls of people who died in unnatural or abnormal circumstances like murders, suicides or accidents. Non-human animals can also turn into ghosts after their death. But they are often associated with good luck and wealth in Bangladesh.

Types of ghosts and other supernatural entities

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There are many kinds of ghosts and supernatural entities that frequently come up in Bengali culture and folklore. Ghosts have been important in the socio-cultural beliefs, superstitions and popular entertainment of the Bengali people. A few of these supernatural entities are mentioned here.[2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9]

Depiction of a Shakchunni spreading cow dung mixed with water, an illustration from Gaddalika, a collection of short-stories by Rajshekhar Basu
A benevolent Brahmadaitya saving a poor Brahmin man from a group of Bhoot (ghosts), while the man was cutting a branch from the yonder banyan tree or Ashwattha tree. An illustration by Warwick Goble (1912). Taken from the 1912 illustrated edition of Folk-Tales of Bengal by Lal Behari Dey.

In festivals

Ashura

See also: Ashura, Muharram, and Mourning of Muharram

Ashura The tenth of muharram, the first month of the Muslim or Hijri year. The day, which was traditionally observed as a Jewish holy day, continued to be observed by the Prophet muhammad (Sm) as a day of fasting with some modifications. It continues to be observed by sunnis because it is ordained by the Holy Prophet. The day is observed by shiahs as the anniversary of the death of Imam Husain, the Prophet's grandson, at Karbala. It is the culmination of the ten days of ritual mourning. On the day, mourning processions known as tazia are taken out, with male mourners publicly beating their chest with their open palms or with knives or chains in a show of grief.[18]

Ashura in Manikganj

Bhoot Chaturdashi

Main article: Bhoot Chaturdashi

The 14th day of the Krishna Paksha (waning phase of the moon) which is also the night before Kali Puja and the second day of Dipaboli is celebrated as Bhoot Chaturdashi (translation, the fourteenth of ghosts) by Bengali Hindus. On this night, 14 earthen-lamps (choddo prodip) are lit at homes to appease the spirits of the past 14 generations of ancestors. It is believed that on the night before Kali Puja, the spirits of these ancestors descend upon the earth, and these lamps help them find their way home.[19][20][21] Another popular belief is that Chamunda (a fearsome aspect of Kali) along with 14 other ghostly forms ward off the evil spirits from the house as 14 earthen-lamps are lit at different entrances and in the dark corners of the rooms. It is customary to consume a dish of 14 types of leafy vegetables (choddo shaak) during Bhoot Chaturdashi so that evil spirits are unable to possess the body.[22][23][24]

Alleged haunted places

Bangladesh

Lalbagh Fort in 2016.

According to legend, Lalbagh Fort, Golf Heights Banani, Airport Road; Chalan Beel in Sirajganj, Pakri Beach, Mirsarai Highway Crossing in Chittagong and many other places in Bangladesh are claimed to be haunted.[25][26]

West Bengal, India

Nimtala Burning Ghat, Calcutta, 1945

In popular culture

Ghosts, other similar supernatural entities, as well as tales of paranormal powers (such as clairvoyance, psychic phenomenon etc.) are plots for many short stories and novels in modern-day Bengali literature. Some classic literature and folk-lore are also based on such plots. The number of Bengali films of this genre are small in number compared to the western world. Multiple radio and TV programs also feature stories of people's paranormal experiences. Common people of both Bangladesh and West Bengal love the supernatural thrills, and the personal stories of people's paranormal experiences are hot topics for gossip, rumours and hangout discussions among friends and family.

Literature

Literary works involving ghostly/demonic beings is one of the most popular genres in Bengali literature. In the early days, ghosts were the only ingredients of Bengali folk-tales and fairy-tales. Lal Behari Dey collected many folk-tales of Bengal, and translated them in English. His book called Folk-Tales of Bengal, first published in 1883, features many amazing folk-tales associated with ghostly and supernatural beings.[36]

Thakurmar Jhuli is the most classic collection of Bengali children's folk-tales and fairy-tales, which was compiled by Dakshinaranjan Mitra Majumder in 1907.[37] There we can find many different categories of supernatural entities (such as Rakkhosh) featuring in different stories. Other such story collection from the same author are Thakurdadar Jhuli (1909), Thandidir Tholay (1909) and, Dadamoshayer Tholay (1913).

Many Bengali writers have practiced the genre of supernatural/horror in their short stories, novels, and others forms of literary works. Some are mentioned below:

Depiction of Betaal hanging by a tree and King Vikramaditya in the background. (from Betaal Panchabinsati)

Other than the writers mentioned above, other prominent writers of Bengal have also written short stories involving ghosts and the supernatural, such as Provatkumar Mukhopadhyay,[48] Achintya Kumar Sengupta, Satinath Bhaduri, Buddhadeb Bosu and so on. However, at the present day, some young Bengali horror story writers are being somewhat influenced by the western horror literature, and their writings thus lack the originality of the classic Bengali horror literature and ghost stories.

Cinema

Classic Bengali films with horror/supernatural plot are only a handful. Kankal (1950),[49] Hanabari (1952),[50] Monihara of the Teen Kanya movie anthology (1961)[51] Kuheli (1971),[52] were quite popular horror/supernatural thriller flick in the era of Bengali black and white movies.

There are only a few modern Bangladeshi horror movies and most of these movies can be typically categorized as low-budget horror-comedy. Few such examples are Rokto Pipasha (2007),[53][54] Daini Buri (2008)[55] and, Sedin Brishti Chilo (2014).[56] Some Bangladeshi movies involving supernatural theme are stories about shapeshifting snakes or Ichchhadhari Nag that can take human form. Examples of such movies are Kal Naginir Prem,[57] Bishakto Nagin,[58] Bishe Bhora Nagin (1999),[59] Sathi Hara Nagin (2011) etc.

In many Bengali films, ghosts are depicted in a lightly comical mood and sometimes in a friendly way. One of the examples is Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (1969) as mentioned earlier is adopted from the story of Upendra Kishore Roychowdhury and directed by Satyajit Ray. In this film the King of Ghosts gives three boons to 'Goopy' and 'Bagha', the two poor village boys who aspired to become a singer and drummer respectively. With the help of those boons they had amazing adventures. The film is the first film of the Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne series, followed by a couple of sequels - Hirak Rajar Deshe was released in 1980; and Goopy Bagha Phire Elo, written by Ray, but directed by his son Sandip Ray, was released in 1992.

Nishi Trishna (1989), directed by Parimal Bhattacharya was the first Bengali vampire movie, starring Shekhar Chatterjee, Prasenjit Chatterjee and Moon Moon Sen.[60] In this movie, some friends plan to visit the infamous Garchampa Palace which had a bad reputation for demonic blood-sucking beings that were terrorising the locality. They ultimately solve the mystery, and kill the vampire and his mentor.

Putuler Protisodh (1998), directed by Rabi Kinagi, was also based on the supernatural. The movie's story revolves around a girl named Bini who was married to Avinash. She falls prey in the hands of her in-laws who ultimately murdered her. The soul of Bini enters her doll to take revenge. She kills her mother-in-law, father-in-law and her maternal uncle one by one, and finally wants to kill her husband. But Avinash's second wife Laxmi was able to free Bini's soul from the doll.

Jekhane Bhooter Bhoy (2012), directed by Sandip Ray, is a movie based on three classic Bengali ghost stories. The stories are Satyajit Ray's Anath Babur Bhoy, Brown Saheber Bari and, Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay's Bhoot Bhabishyat.[61]

Probably the most well-known film of horror genre in recent times is Bhooter Bhabishyat (2012), directed by Anik Dutta. It tells the story of a haunted mansion 'Choudhury Palace', where ghosts from different ethnic backgrounds and eras reside (a Bengali zamindar of 18th century, an actress of the 1930s, a modern rockstar, a soldier of Indian Army who died in Kargil, etc.). The film with its simple but humorous story went on to become a massive blockbuster of 2012.

Goynar Baksho (2013) is another popular film involving the supernatural. The film, directed by Aparna Sen, is an adaptation of Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay's famous tale of 3 generations of women & their changing position in society as seen in relation to a box of jewels, handed down from one generation to the next.

Chhayamoy (2013) is another notable horror movie based on Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay's novel of the same name. The story is about Indrajit, a UK based scholar. While working to preserve historical documents he find a parchment from which he learns about treasures hidden in an old palace in Simulgarh, a village of West Bengal. Indrajit comes to the village, finds out the treasure, but, a local goon Gagan Sapui accuses him of robbery, beats him up and expels him out of the village. Sapui wants to melt those coins to make new jewellery. After being beaten up, Indrajit goes to forest near the village where he meets Chhayamoy, a benevolent ghost. After listening the incidence from Indrajit, Chhayamoy decides to teach Gagan a lesson.

Radio, television and online streaming platforms

A live radio program called Bhoot FM is being aired by Bangladeshi radio channel Radio Foorti 88.0 FM at 12:00 am, every Friday night.[7] The program is being aired since 13 August 2010; and is hosted by RJ Russell. In this program, people from all over Bangladesh come and share their real-life experiences associated with ghosts, demons, jinns and the paranormal/supernatural. The Bengali community from all over the world also share their supernatural experiences by sending audio clips and email that is played/read in this program. Other such radio program was Dor, aired by ABC Radio 89.2 FM. Dor was recorded from different haunted places of Bangladesh, and is hosted by RJ Kebria along with RJ Suman and tarot card reader Radbi Reza. Similar kind of programs were also aired on TV channels, such as Moddhorater Train (meaning 'Midnight Train') by Maasranga Television.

There are some radio programs which feature recitation of horror stories written by acclaimed writers. Such radio program is Sunday Suspense by Radio Mirchi, aired from Kolkata, which features recitation of horror stories, as well as stories of other genres such as detective fiction, fantasy, and Sci-fi, etc. Similar such radio program is Kuasha, aired by ABC Radio 89.2 FM from Bangladesh, which features horror stories written by famous writers, and also stories sent by listeners of the program.

Pett Kata Shaw, a 2021 anthology series released on Chorki (OTT), features the modern revival of the mysterious and lurid folklores of Mechho Bhoot, Jinn, Kanabhulo and Nishi.[62]

See also

References

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