5 Terrifying South-Asian Paranormal Tales
Stories of ghosts, ghouls and the paranormal are common phenomena found in every culture around the world. Growing up, many of us grew up with a number of tales that have been orally transmitted from one generation to the next across cultures. To top these creepy tales, the South Asian diaspora (especially for those living in the United States and Canada) also grew up with the backdrop of Halloween or “Spooky Szn” as we call it now. Not only is this a time to soak up the westernized celebration and even obsession with the macabre — it also reminds us of the terrifying stories that come out of our own cultures. While we cannot share every lore and myth that comes out of the Indian subcontinent (and beyond), here are some of our favorite stories that are sure to send a chill down your spine.
“Don’t Let Jumbie Hold Yuh”
by Sara-Sati Ramprashad
“The dead walked at night and lurked under trees.
Over a hundred years after their demise, and still,
The hooves of their white fallen horses echo as they make their way home from the plantation.
The right-hand holds the reigns, and in the left is the whip. The Dutchman rides, and still, he lingers.
Beware de silk cotton tree, they say.
Up de road by Mahaicony
Beware de Dutchman tree.”
In Guyanese folklore, jumbie (spirits and ghosts) take many forms, but none are more frightening than the Dutchman jumbie. These are the sinister spirits of the Dutch slave owners who were masters of the plantations and continue to haunt the lands they once roamed in life.
Each village has its own tale. West Demerara remembers the tale of an especially cruel Dutchman who would torment his slaves and hang them in the trees on the plantation as a warning to others. Other villages remember stories of the Dutchman killing and burying slaves with their treasures to act as guards. Still, in death, the Dutchman would roam and haunt the trees where their treasures once laid.
In modern-day Guyana, many trees are still called Dutchman trees, as those who disturbed the tree would find some kind of misfortune. In traditional folklore, it is widely believed that those who have been evil in life are destined to become instruments of evil in death.
Legend has it that the spirits lingering under these trees are so powerful that the infamous silk cotton tree growing in the middle of the road in Perseverance, Mahaicony could not be cut down without harm falling to those who dared to try. The engineers instead split the road in two to avoid the tree. To this day offerings of cigarettes, rum and fruits are left at the base of the tree as gifts and sacrifices to the spirits in the tree."
Spirits of the Peepal Trees
by Annya Pabial
“There's this myth that surrounds peepal trees, or the sacred fig tree (ficus religiosa), that says they're all haunted by negative spirits who are trapped because they weren't cremated after death or just couldn't pass on. The story is meant to keep people away from the trees but the actual reason behind this is because the trees release a large amount of carbon dioxide at night which is obviously harmful to breathe in.
Since a lot of people like to sleep under the trees or just hang out near them at night, it's meant to scare them into staying away from them and it's become common to deem those types of trees as a figure of mysticism because elders say ghosts surround them at night. This is ironic because peepal trees are considered sacred in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism; I've seen people in villages in India holding poojas for the trees and decorating them in banners, lights and painting them as a sign of respect and worship.
My grandma told me she feared these trees when she was a young girl, around seven or eight, living in her village in Punjab because she used to hear what seemed like wailing and singing and loud banging coming from them at night. What she heard was actually just a group of musicians rehearsing near the trees but if you tie the myth about the trees that she had been told with the spooky noises that came from the direction of the trees in the dead of night, it wouldn't be that far of a stretch to think there were ghouls or witches roaming around her village.”
“The Boba will get you if you sleep on your back…”
by Shaiful A.
“Have you ever had sleep paralysis? A numbing experience where you wake up from your slumber and can’t move. All you can do is open your eyes and wait for it to subside. If you’re lucky, you’ll snap out of it. But sometimes… you see things. You even might see her.
When I was growing up my parents always told my siblings and me to not sleep on our backs unless we wanted the Boba to get us. The Boba is Bengali folklore’s explanation for “Old Hag Syndrome”. While modern science tells us that this phenomenon is attributed to sleep paralysis. I have been instilled and conditioned with the fear of sleeping on my back and waking up to the spirit of the Boba laying on my chest.
It is often said that the Boba seeks out men and when she sits on your chest, she strangles you until you lose your breath almost completely. While it has never happened to me before, I always make sure to never sleep on my back just to be safe.”
The Shapeshifting Jinn
by Anonymous contributor
“The story of Jinn is an age-old tale that comes in many forms in South Asia, the Middle East, and beyond. The origin of Jinn predates the modern era and finds its roots in Pre-Islamic Arabia. Tales of Spirits made out of a smokeless flame have been the topic of discussion in the Qur’an and numerous other ancient texts. Stories of these mysterious spirits come with dozens of superstitions and beliefs around them.
The Jinn of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Caribbean are tied to all other beliefs about magic and the occult. One of the more eerie tales about these creatures is the ability they have to shapeshift into animals such as snakes, cats, and even Humans. Part of what's terrifying about these creatures is their ability to take the shape of people you know and even possess humans. I once heard this story about a girl in Bangladesh being possessed by a Jinn every Saturday. At sunset, she would become a vessel for this spirit and throw around men in her village as they tried to stop her from causing harm to herself and others. She’d ask for meat to eat and the Jinn would leave her body soon after.
Stories like this are not uncommon. People are warned to stay away from trees, out of deserted places, and beware of black cats at night. It is believed that Jinn live in their own communities alongside humans in a different realm. So next time you wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom or a Black cat crosses your path after sunset-- make sure that you look over your shoulder because maybe, just maybe there will be a shadowy figure looking back at you.”
“The Girl Who Talked to Ghosts”
by Reddit User: rubberduckeyswim
“There was a family in my neighborhood, they were not very religious. The family had four daughters, the eldest one was named "Janu". She used to be very interested in ghosts and all. So, she used to scare us all by telling ghost stories and used to tell us she can speak to ghosts. We thought she was just joking.
Later, after some days she started talking weirdly like an old man. Then, they looked her up in the house and they started to do pooja. But, she still behaved like that so, they hired an exorcist. We were abstained from going to her house. We heard stories of how things were falling from home and she was flying. We thought it was just a story.
One day, her mother, Preety, hired a famous exorcist from the southern region. He brought his wife, their name rhymed with Warriors, and performed an exorcism. Initially, they thought that the girl was pranking them but later found that Janu was possessed by the old man who previously lived in the house.
On one auspicious evening, they decided to do the final exorcism to send the old man ghost out of the girl. They performed an exorcism but they were surprised to find that the old man ghost was controlled by a demon or devil as we call it. It was raining heavily that day. The day the devil and the old man ghost left loud thunder rumbled through the skies and a bolt of lightning just struck a tree at the end of the street. I still remember seeing the tree burn down. The memories are etched in my brain, but I still didn't know whether to believe it or not.”
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