ADOLESCENTS IMAGE OF GHOSTS M A N D A K I N I K H A N D E K A R A N D ...
ADOLESCENTS IMAGE OF GHOSTS
M A N D A K I N I K H A N D E K A R A N D
B. C. B A R A H
Is there life after death? The question does an adolescent who is approaching
has both troubled and fascinated the "the culmination of his physical and men-
human mind since the ancient times the tal growth" view ghosts? T h e word 'ghost'
world over. Life hereafter has been an im-
is so surcharged with different ideas, be-
portant ingredient of religious folklore liefs and emotions that it is sufficient to
and has taken many forms. Religion has spur the imaginative faculties of anybody
concerned itself with many things — origin
— more so of youngsters in whom imagi-
of life in general and human life in parti-
nation and fantasy find their maximum
cular; its aims and goals, indeed its very and unfettered expression. And they are
destination; the relationship not only also at an age when they have already
between man and his Creator but also imbibed — directly as well as indirectly —
between human and non-human life and the influence of their religion and are
between man and Nature. Then, coming familiar with folktales about ghosts.
to the relationship between man and man,
religion has played an overwhelmingly
T H E PROJECT
important role in structuring this relation-
The students of the Department of
ship — multi-faceted in its manifestation —
Medical and Psychiatric Social Work of
resulting in a human society.
the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bom-
All the ethical ideas about human acti-
bay, decided to study adolescents' images
vities, mode of conduct etc. have a strong of ghosts. Eleven students undertook to
mooring in religion, which has taken diffe-
gather data on the topic. Since they wish-
rent forms for and in different sections of ed to keep the religious overtones sepa-
human society. And it is not surprising rate, each approached 40 adolescents
that these ideas should have influenced between 11 and 14 years of age in different
people's notions about ghosts and spirits communities and each submitted a sepa-
which symbolize superhuman existence.
rate report. Data were collected in 1967-68,
Another factor which has an important and all the respondents were school-going
bearing on people's notions about ghosts, adolescents. Dr. G. R. Banerjee, Head of
is imagination. Human understanding has the Department of Medical and Psychiat-
not been circumscribed by the human sen-
ric Social Work, guided all these eleven
sory organs or even by the ingenuous students right from the stage of formula-
mechanical aids made possible by an ad-
tion of the problem to the final stage of
vancing technology. Imagination too, has report writing. All the reports, written in
been an important instrument in the ser-
part fulfilment of the requirements for the
vice of man. It has invested human life master's degree in social work, were sub-
with a richness far beyond the capabilities mitted to the Acadmic Council of the
of man's senses — aided as well as unaided.
Tata Institute. T h e following students had
Imagination, we are told, is particularly taken part in this group research project
strong in the earlier stages of life. How which had utilised one common schedule:

280
MANDAKINI KHANDEKAR AND B. C. BARAH
Student
Community Studied
Place
Miss Marie Lobo
Catholic Christian
Poona
Miss S. M. Misra
Brahma
Calcutta
Miss Panna K. Rege
Saraswat
Bombay
Miss Jayashree M. Jambhekar
Chitpavan
Bombay
Miss Shobhana Vyavaharkar
Pathare Prabhu
Bombay
Miss Bhadra Shah
Gujarati Vaishnav
Bombay
Miss Jayshree Samant
Neo-Buddhist
Bombay
Miss Nalini Mehta
Jain
Bombay
Miss Renuka Sekhri
Sikh
Bombay
Miss Freny Bharucha
Parsee
Bombay
Miss Y. N. Shaikh
Muslim
Bombay
The main purpose of the present paper Obviously, the interpretation of these pic-
is to summarize the findings of these torial representations of ghosts has to be
studies. What it seeks to provide is an idea
taken up independently and along alto-
about the adolescents' image of ghosts. As gether different lines.
a good many communities were studied,
As this was a group project, only one
the fare is rich. Although it is possible to partly structured schedule was used. This
draw a comparative picture bringing out had its own advantages, but as a large
similarities and differences, no conclusions number of students had participated in
have been drawn in terms of different reli-
the project, it was inevitable that
gions and communities as the topic was the different aspects of ghosts should have
not studied in depth. Nor was any effort received different treatment from different
made to look up existing documentary students. A great deal naturally depended
evidence about beliefs and ideas about on the degree of verbalization of ideas by
ghosts.
the respondents themselves. However, it
One more point needs to be noted. Some may be pointed out that the students'
of the studies have pointed out that the training in casework and interviewing
adolescents' images of ghosts not merely techniques stood them in good stead.
reflect the different religious-cultural ideas
This paper summarizes adolescents'
and influences imbibed by them but ideas about the following aspects of ghosts:
these images also give an insight into the their origin, physical appearance, habitat,
psychological make-up of their personali-
diet, locomotion and action. What does one
ties. The studies themselves have very little do when confronted with a ghost? Adole-
to say in this connection and this paper scents' reactions in such a hypothetical
too does not cover this aspect.
contingency have also been recorded.
The students had asked their respon-
ORIGIN OF GHOSTS
dents to draw pictures of ghosts according
What is the origin of ghosts? Where do
to the latters' ideas and imagination. they come from and why? Who becomes a

ADOLESCENTS' IMAGE OF GHOSTS
281
ghost? These were some of the questions pig's flesh. Others believed that persons
asked to the respondents in connection who were of aggressive spirit and disposi-
with the origin of ghosts. All the adole-
tion became ghosts even though their cor-
scents were familiar with the idea of ghosts
poreal existence might come to an end. T h e
and of life after death. The notion that Sikhs too generally shared the above be-
ghosts were human beings at one time, was liefs. Some Chitpavans said that ghosts were
common to all the groups representing those who had failed to attain Moksha or
different communities. It pointed to the salvation. Some of the Neo-Buddhists had
concept of life hereafter; to "life being curious beliefs. Apart from the usual re-
changed, not taken away"; to the "soul plies about unnatural death and unfulfilled
passing from one level of existence to desires, some said that only women would
another which is not basically different but
become ghosts though they could not say
is in a new spiritual form."
why.
Further, almost all the respondent
T h e Muslim respondents manifested the
groups believed that either persons with influence of their religion when asked
unfulfilled desires or persons who had com-
about the origin of ghosts. Twenty of the
mitted some sin or crime in their lives 40 respondents said that persons whose
would become ghosts in order to fulfil dead bodies did not receive the Muslim
their desires or to accomplish the things funeral rites and were burnt became
they could not do while living. A large ghosts. So too would those who committed
number of Muslim respondents expressed suicide or disobeyed God or did not have
the belief that persons who did not receive faith in God.
proper Muslim funeral rites became ghosts.
Despite differences in the stress on the
Some Parsees also said as much about the details in some cases, there seems to be
Parsee rites. From among the Hindus, the general agreement in the respondents'
Brahma adolescents mentioned that a ideas about the origin of ghosts. The
ghost would visit his relatives or enemies answer are mainly of two types. One refers
to take revenge. The Catholics said that to a life of sin, crime and cruelty. The
those who died in sin or had debt to pay underlying belief is that God punishes
became ghosts. Persons who had been mur-
those who lead such a life. Persons who
-ered would also become ghosts. One indulge in these undesirable activities pay
Catholic respondent believed that he the price only after their death. Salvation
would become a ghost whom God wanted
is denied to them according to the theory
to be so. Gujarati Vaishnava, Jain and of Karma.
Parsee adolescents too referred to un-
natural, sudden, premature, suicidal or
The other causative factors i.e. un-
accidental deaths. Persons who met with natural death and unfulfilled desires are
such deaths would tend to become ghost. difficult to explain by any religious theory.
"Being suddenly torn from the body, the These are things which happen to people.
soul became restless and resentful" and Perhaps these factors can be looked at
therefore wandered about unhappily. Some from another point of view: happiness and
of the Parsee respondents held the belief contentment in life are highly prized
that the same fate befell a person who ate values and their denial or lack in life on

282
MANDAKINI KHANDEKAR AND B. C. BARAH
earth appears to be the springboard for by feet and hands turned backwards. T h e
ideas about the origin of ghosts. Restless-
Jain respondents were not clear in their
ness of soul goads the ghosts in their description but were of the opinion that
wanderings. These factors point to the whatever might be the form of the ghosts,
influence of the negative factors in human
they were gruesome and frightening crea-
life on ideas and beliefs concerning life tures with fearful appearance. T h e answers
after death.
of the Sikh adolescents were in no way
different from those of the Jains. The Neo-
PHYSICAL APPEARANCE
Buddhists too could not give a clear pic-
Details about the typical physical ture of a ghost but believed that it was a
appearance of the ghosts were sought by white skeleton-like figure in both human
the students conducting the project. Ques-
and non-human forms. In contrast the pic-
tions were asked about the forms the ghosts ture depicted by the Parsee respondents
took, their characteristic features, com-
was more vivid if horrifying. They had a
plexion, size, sex and the dress worn by general impression that a ghost would be
them. Ideas about the origin are based "ubiquitous, oscillating between visibility
more on certain values and concepts about
and invisibility at will. It is a tall, hazy
life and death as such. But imagination and nebulous figure with long limbs and
can have a free rein when it comes to with hawk-like tallons, a flowing robe cas-
details about the physical appearance of cading the entire figure." However, there
the ghosts.
is one instance of a girl (a Pathare Prabhu)
who imagined that a ghost would be "more
The descriptions of ghosts given by the
pleasant than frightening or ugly" and got
different respondent groups depict a pic-
its food from Heaven.
ture of a horrible, terrifying creature
which is the embodiment of evil. According
The Muslim adolecents' generalized
to the Catholic adolescents a ghost is a image of the ghosts was that the ghosts
"bony, skinny skeleton looking figure mov-
could be either males or females. A male
ing on to something even more diabolical ghost would be dressed in a black gown
strange form with horns like a devil to an and a female one in a green sari with a
almost ethereal object."
matching blouse. The female ghosts appear
All the Hindu respondent groups describ-
to be fond of green bangles and anklets
ed a ghost as a horrifying, frightening, with bells. The ghosts, whether male or
ugly looking creature with one or the other
female would mostly be dark-complexioned
gross physical abnormality. Dark and black
and have their feet turned backwards. The
were the complexions mentioned. A general belief was that though the ghosts
Brahma respondent said that, in form, a could assume the human form, their feet
ghost would be half human and half betrayed them. The direction in which the
animal. Some of the Chitpavans thought toes of the feet pointed, could easily be
that ghosts would have as ornaments, gold taken to be the criterion for distinguishing
bangles, chains of bones or necklace of a ghost from a human being. Generally
skulls. The common belief among the the ghosts were thought to be frightening
Pathare Prabhu was that ghosts would in appearance. Some adolescents imagined
have the form of a skeleton characterized ghosts to be handsome but nonetheless

ADOLESCENTS' IMAGE OF G H O S T S
283
dangerous, because their good looks served
Nose: Holes in place of nose; flat nose;
as traps " t o attract p e o p l e a n d deceive
l o n g nose; h o r n on nose.
t h e m . " Similarly it is also interesting to Teeth: T w o log and pointed white
note t h a t t h e three respondents w h o
teeth; gumless teeth; no teeth; big
t h o u g h t t h a t ghosts h a d a very fair com-
teeth.
p l e x i o n also believed t h a t this fair com-
H a n d s : L o n g h a n d s ; h a n d s like paws;
plexion "was used as a w e a p o n to frighten
h a n d s with crooked fingers; h a n d s
p e o p l e . "
t u r n e d backwards; h a n d s with long
As regards the sex of the ghosts, the
a n d t h i n fingers; p a l m s w i t h o u t der-
general o p i n i o n in most of the r e s p o n d e n t
m a l lines.
groups was t h a t ghosts could be of either
Nails: L o n g shining nails; sharp nails.
sex. T h e B r a h m a a n d G u j a r a t i Vaishnava
respondents provided some n o t a b l e excep-
Legs and Feet : Feet t u r n e d backwards;
tions. Nearly half the respondents a m o n g
long legs; t h i n legs, flatfooted.
the Vaishnavas said t h a t ghosts were sex-
Complexion : Black; d a r k ; white; yellow-
less since they were spiritual a n d n o t
ish white; yellow; b l u e ; wheatish; red.
h u m a n beings. A couple of respondents Overall : Hairy; tall; skeletal; invisible;
a m o n g the Catholics a n d the P a t h a r e
no colour; no weight; every organ
P r a b h u s too shared this view. On the other
crooked; stern face; covered w i t h
h a n d , a good m a n y B r a h m a adolescents
gown; d i s p r o p o r t i o n a t e body; fleshless;
believed t h a t ghosts were only males. A few
casting a l o n g shadow; shapeless;
respondents in other H i n d u groups said
white figure; capable of h o l d i n g a m a n
the same thing. On the other h a n d n o t
in its p a l m .
more t h a n 3-4 respondents a m o n g all the
groups said t h a t there were only female
It is clear t h a t the image of the ghosts is
ghosts.
characterized by a distortion of the h u m a n
organs a n d features. T h i s is in k e e p i n g
In an inventory of the different char-
with the general impression t h a t ghosts
acteristics of the physical a p p e a r a n c e were
are h o r r i b l e a n d terrifying creatures.
to be m a d e , it w o u l d read as follows:
W h a t is the form of the ghosts? T h r e e
Head: H o r n on head; no head; h e a d types' of answers were received: h u m a n
t u r n e d back; h e a d with Shendi i.e. form only; n o n - h u m a n form only a n d b o t h
tuft of h a i r ; hairless head.
h u m a n a n d n o n - h u m a n forms. T h e fol-
lowing table provides some statistical d a t a
Hair : Long; u n k e m p t ; m a t t e d a n d thick;
for all the communities except the Chit-
plaited h a i r ; long black hair; hairless. pavans:
Back : H o l l o w back (i.e.. back with bones
Nearly 65 per cent of the respondents
only) ; no back.
h a d m e n t i o n e d only h u m a n form. T h e
Ears: L o n g ears; no ears; big ears.
n o n - h u m a n forms m e n t i o n e d were as
follows:
Eyes : H o l l o w sockets in place of eyes; no
eyes; eyes at the back; very big eyes;
Catholics :
eyes e m i t t i n g fire; big black eyes; eyes
A black dog; a pig; a pair of shoes; a
big as a bullock's.
white cloud.

284
MANDAKINI KHANDEKAR AND B. C. BARAH
No. OF RESPONDENTS BY THE FORM OF GHOSTS MENTIONED.
Community
Human
Non-human
Both
Total
Catholics
23
6
11
40
Brahma
33
—.
7
40
Pathare Prabhu
25
15

40
Gujarat
37

3
40
Saraswat
19
1
20
40
Jain
15
1
24
40
Neo-Buddhist
25

15
40
Parsee
33
1
6
40
Sikh
18
6
16
40
Muslim
34
6
' —
40
Total
262
36
102
400
Sikhs :
have been done, say the Catholics), grave-
Crows; cats; dogs; cows; lions; frogs; yards, dark and quiet places, haunted and
insects.
deserted houses, tall trees ('Vad' and
peepul trees were mentioned by the Chit-
Pathare Prabhus :
pavans and Saraswats), small bushes, hilly
Skeleton of any animal.
areas, forests, deserts, etc. Some of the
Gujarati Vaishnavas :
Brahma adolescents struck a different note
Any animal or bird.
when they said that some ghosts would
Muslims :
live near Heaven but would not be able to
Black cat; black dog; black goat.
enter it because of their sinful past life.
Some of the other places indicated by the
However, most of the respondents were different respondent groups were as
not able to give any description of a non-
follows:
human ghost. The ability to assume non-
human form is associated with the super-
Saraswats:
Tamarind trees, tunnels
human faculties of the ghosts.
lonely villages, hiding plac-
es, caves, scenes of murder.
HABITAT
Pathare
Hills, wells, corners, sea,
If ghosts have an existence, where do
Prabhus:
caves.
they live and where are they usually to be
Jains:
Tree-tops, places in ruins,
found? What are their favourite haunts?
in the air.
There seems to be a good deal of agree-
ment on this point too. The adolescents Neo-
from all the religions and communities
Buddhists:
Toilets, 'chawls'.
tell us that ghosts are to be found in lonely
Parsees:
Rivers, wells, holes, hill
places (lonely places where wicked deeds
stations, Heaven and Hell.

ADOLESCENTS' IMAGE OF GHOSTS
285
Muslims: Trees, deep dry wells, lanes,
membered that the Parsee children had
dustbins, latrines, river said that among the ghosts there were two
banks.
varieties — the black and the white. It
seems that the black ones appear at night
The common factor in almost all the and the white ones during daytime.
places mentioned above is their relative
remoteness from the ordinary places of
D I E T
human habitation. Toilets, dark corners,
etc. are the additions made by timid and
In keeping with the trend of answers so
aprehensive minds to the already long list far, the diet of the ghosts is imagined to
of the places supposed to be favoured and
be horrifying. On what do the ghosts sur-
frequented by the ghosts. As ghosts, they vive and subsist? Broadly speaking, there
obviously cannot mingle freely with the are three groups of respondents. One be-
human beings nor have they com-
lieved that since ghosts are spirits or were
pletely discarded the scenes of normal like skeletons, they did not need any food.
human activities. Some of the places men-
Most of the Catholics and a few Chit-
tioned could be and are very near those pavans belonged to this group. The second,
where the human beings ordinarily live.
consisting of a few Chitpavans, most of
the Brahmas, a few Jains and Parsees, said
Do ghosts live alone or in groups? De-
that the ghosts would eat whatever the
pends on the ghosts themselves, say the humans ate — be it vegetarian or non-
Chitpavan boys and girls. Some live alone,
vegetarian food. It is interesting to note
others with friends. Some go further and that some Chitpavans said that the ghosts
said that if all the members of a family liked rice and buttermilk — things that
met with death at the same time, say in an
traditionally form part of their own diet.
accident, then, all of them would stay to-
One Chitpavan also said that "the ghost
gether as ghosts also. The Neo-Buddhists asked the people who were influenced by
shared this view of the Chitpavans.
chetuk or black magic to bring food to
The majority among the Parsee and the them."
Muslim respondents believed that ghosts
Both the above groups are compara-
lived alone but a few were of the opinion tively small and make for a variety in
that they lived in groups and at times had
answers. The largest group comprising of
well organized gangs.
adolescents of different communities was
As in the case of physical appearance, of those who believed that since ghosts
imagination has been an important factor were evil beings they ate foods abhorred
in determining beliefs about places fre-
by human beings. They are pictured as
quented by the ghosts. And fear too. flesheaters and bloodsuckers. Most of the
Ghosts have been associated with places adolescents believed that the ghosts relish-
of which people, especially children, are ed human flesh — the few Catholics who
usually afraid and scared — the dark lonely
said that ghosts ate flesh said that they
places so frequently associated with dark had a special liking for heart, liver and
and mysterious things. A large number of
kidneys. Human blood was what quenched
the child respondents said that ghosts their thirst. And in order to get their eats,
could be seen only at night. It will be re-
the ghosts would kill their victims. So the

286
MANDARINI KHANDEKAR AND B. C. BARAH
ghosts killed human beings not only to these Muslim girls thought, would eat this
take revenge but also to satisfy their 'Sadka'.
hunger. That is another reason why ghosts
Some respondents were of the opinion
are to be found in graveyards and ceme-
that the diet of the ghosts depend on their
teries, say the Vaishnavas.
form. If the form was non-human then they
The ghosts' ways of getting food are ate non-vegetarian food. But if the form
varied and the ghosts seem to fall in two was human then they ate whatever the
groups — vegetarians and non-vegetarians. human beings ate. Similarly, there were
The latter of course kill their victims. T h e ghosts who drank only water, some who
former adopt many ways. T h e Vaishnavas drank only blood and of course others,
said that the ghosts got their food from who would satisfy their thirst with what-
hostels and gardens. Some Neo-Budhists ever they could get.
said that the ghosts would eat anything
It seems that in most of the cases the
that human beings used in driving them answers regarding the diet of the ghosts
away. T h e list of things used for the pur-
were based on imagination of the adole-
pose of scaring or propitiating the ghosts scents rather than on beliefs current in any
is as follows: curds, rice, mutton, animals, particular community. There are, of
chicken, gur (jaggery), eggs, coconuts and
course, exceptions. For example, the belief
sour lime. Some Sikh adolescents said that among the Neo-Buddhists that a ghost
ghosts would "get inside a person, eat his would eat what is offered to it to either
heart or liver, suck his blood and leave him
drive it away or to propitiate it. This is
sick and unconscious." Some said that true not only of diets but of other aspects
ghosts would, when hungry, go to peoples' , of ghosts as well. There is no pattern of
houses and demand food. "If the request replies concerning diet except in a few
was not paid heed to, it meant courting the
cases.
wrath of the ghost."
ACTIVITIES AND LOCOMOTION
A couple of Saraswat respondents said
The ghosts are supposed to be quite
that ghosts ate the Pinda (a ball of rice active creatures and they move from place
offered at one of funeral rites), but could to place. They have versatile faculties
not say whether they ate anything else or and are not hampered in their movements
ate at any other time. Similar, but a suit-
as are the human beings. They make
ably modified — modified in line with the light of the impediments which the
religious belief — opinion was expressed by
humans find almost insurmountable. For
a couple Muslim girls. They said that the example, the Catholics believe that ghosts
ghosts ate the 'Sadka'. This calls for a little can walk underground with as much ease
explanation. "There is a Muslim belief as when they are overground. They can fly
that if a man voluntarily gives back to in the air or float around. Some adolescents
Allah (God) a part of his possessions, by say that ghosts can float because they have
this act he purifies what he retains. What no weight. And of course, they can crawl.
he gives to God is called 'Sadka." Some-
On top of all this, they can appear and
times this 'Sadka' consists of eggs, green disappear at will. These superhuman facul-
chillies and lemons and then the ghosts, so ties have been attributed to them by the

ADOLESCENTS' IMAGE OF GHOSTS
287
Chitpavans, the Pathare Prabhus, the people by making sudden and loud noises
Saraswats, the Gujarati Vaislmavas and the and in troubling people without rhyme
Sikhs also. The Catholics made it clear, or reason. Some of the Chitpavans
however, that although ghosts can go any-
said that the ghosts were bent upon taking
where and can get over any difficulty in revenge on people, who had, according to
their way, they are afraid of two things —
them, harmed them in their human life.
fire and holy places — and would not ven-
As they lived up in the trees, ghosts could
ture anywhere near them. The Muslims easily harass the passers-by down below by
too said that ghosts were afraid of holy throwing stones at them! T h e majority
places.
among the Christian and the Sikh adole-
Some of the Neo-Buddhists shared the scents believed that ghosts were male-
above beliefs but said that "as ghosts pos-
volent creatures and would do no good. In
sessed human beings and stayed in their contrast, the majority among the Neo-
bodies, naturally they moved with the Buddhists thought that ghosts would be
human beings."
both good and bad.
According to the Muslim respondents
The majority among the Brahmas be-
ghosts' activities were wandering here and
lieved that the ghosts floated in the air there and killing, misguiding and frighten-
rather than flew. Only a few amongst them ing people. The following table gives an
said that the ghosts flew or walked. Only idea about adolescents' evaluation of the
two Jain respondents confessed their ghosts' activities:
ignorance and said that they did not know
how the ghosts moved about. A large
The respondents are thus lined up in
number of other Jain respondents could two groups: one consisting of those who
think of only walking but not flying or believe that ghosts are invariably male-
floating ghosts.
volent. Most of the Christians, Muslims,
Sikhs, Saraswats, Jains, Vaishnavas and
According to the Catholics, much of Parsees belong to this group. The others
ghosts' wandering would be aimless but believe that ghosts are like human beings —
at times they would turn aggressive and kind to those whom they like and bad to
vent up their feelings by choking, strang-
those whom they dislike. Not all the ghosts
ling or robbing people. Or they might are bad and malevolent in nature and
harass people by eating up their food. character. Most of the Neo-Buddhists,
Ghosts also appear to their friends or rela-
Chitpavans and the Pathare Prabhus take
tives to let them know about their own this charitable viewpoint. They are also
whereabouts and to instruct them to do capable of performing kind and benevo-
the work they themselves had failed to do lent deeds though these may not be as
or to complete. Unaccomplished tasks and numerous as the bad ones. They would,
unfulfilled desires continue to goad them however, be kind to only those whom they
in their activities in their existence as had loved in their past life. The types of
ghosts after their death as human beings. good deeds were specified in a few cases.
The Saraswats, for example, mentioned
According to the Chitpavans, ghosts can that the ghosts would help their relatives
move about anywhere and everywhere in times of distress or would show them
they desired. They revel in frightening

288
MANDAKINI K.HANDEKAR AND B. C. BARAH
N O . OF RESPONDENTS BY THE TYPE OF GHOST's ACTIVITIES.
hidden treasures. At the same time, it was
3. To kith and kin: (Chitpavans,
also said that bad ghosts would poison and
Saraswats, Brahmas, Parsees and
kill their enemies. A ghost would harass
Catholics).
persons it disliked by sitting on their necks
4. To Mantrik: (Chitpavans, Saraswats
and troubling them. The Saraswats, like
and Neo-Buddhists).
the Christians, believed that ghosts move
about in places where God is not wor-
5. To persons who all ghosts:
shipped. The Jains think that bad ghosts
(Catholics) .
are capable of harming the health of
6. To those who do not wear the sacred
persons they disliked.
'Kada' and/or perform Paat: (Sikhs) .
From the above, it is clear that the
7. To those who don't pray: (Muslims).
general belief is that ghosts appear to
8. To blue-eyed persons: (Muslims).
human beings. But who are these human
9. To persons with a black dot in the
beings? To whom does a ghost appear? A
eye: (Muslims).
large number of answers were forthcoming
to the above questions. The types of per-
10. To those who urinated under a
sons mentioned by the different groups are
'pepal' tree (Sikhs).
listed below:
11. To persons belonging to Manava
Gana (Chitpavans, Pathare Prabhus
1. To persons who have harmed others
and Saraswats).
or committed crimes or sins (Chit-
pavans, Saraswats, Jains, Brahmas,
12. To persons belonging to Rakshasa
Gujarati Vaishnavas, Parsees and
Gana (Chitpavans, Pathare Prabhus
Catholics).
and Saraswats).
2. To persons who have helped others
13. To persons belonging to Dev Gana
(Chitpavans and Brahmas).
(Pathare Prabhus and Saraswats).

ADOLESCENTS' IMAGE OF GHOSTS
289
14. To villagers (Chitpavans).
the Rakshasha Gana or the superhuman
15. To wealthy persons (Parsees).
but evil category and finally, the Dev Gana
16. To persons passing through lonely or the superhuman but good category. We
places (Vaishnavas).
need not go into the details about the
17. To anybody (Jains, Brahmas, Neo-
criteria on the bases of which this classi-
Buddhists, Parsees and Sikhs).
fication is made or about the characteris-
tics of persons falling under the three
18. To nobody (Neo-Buddhists, Mus-
categories. It seems that ghosts appear to
lims) .
the first two categories of persons in order
19. To adults (Pathare Prabhus and to bother them. But as persons belonging
Sikhs).
to the Deva Gana are on good terms with
20. To weak-minded persons (Chit-
all their follow human beings, the ghosts
pavans, Saraswats, Jains, Brahmas too are kind to them and appear to them
and Parsees).
only to do them good.
21. To those who are scared of them
Similarly, the Chitpavans, Saraswats and
(Pathare Prabhus, Neo-Buddhists, the Neo-Buddhists believed that a Man-
Sikhs and Catholics) .
trik i.e. a person who can summon up dif-
ferent spirits by reciting certain secret but
22. To persons who believe in ghosts magical Mantra or words, can call upon
(Saraswats and Brahmas).
a ghost to appear and that the latter
23. To sick children (Pathare Prabhus would obey the call. The Neo-Buddhists
and Jains).
styled these Mantriks as Bhagats or
Bhaktas i.e. the devoted ones. But on their
24. To small children (Chitpavans, own, the ghosts would appear to their
Vaishnavas and Sikhs).
friends and relatives or to their enemies
25. To those who are possessed (Neo-
and others who had committed sins.
Buddhists) .
26. To the mentally ill persons (Parsees
COMMUNICATION
and Catholics).
Although the ghosts lead a separate life
It is interesting to read the answers. from the human beings, they are in touch
Some of them follow the pattern of with the human beings. How? What
answers given to other questions. Not so means of communication do they employ
the others. Answers numbers 20 to 26 indi-
to convey their feelings and intentions to
those whom they contact? There are a
cate that the respondents believed that number of beliefs in this respect also.
certain personality factors are also invol-
ved and that at times it's all a question of
Some of the Catholics believed that the
faith and belief. For example, ghosts ghosts could use all the human means of
would appear to small children because communications such as words and lan-
the latter possess excessive imagination. A guage, signs and gestures. Their dances
few answers call for a little explanation. were quite expressive and conveyed their
According to Hindu astrology, human be-
intentions. The Chitpavans too shared
ings are divided into three categories —
these beliefs though they stressed gestures
the Manava Gana or the human category, and dances. Some of the Chitpavans said

290
MANDAKINI KHANDEKAR AND B. C. SARAH
that although ghosts could communicate said that ghosts communicated with one
with human beings, they could not share another in an invisible manner. And
their feelings and thoughts among them-
others said that they shout at one other
selves. Obviously, these would be the and that they also fight amongst them-
ghosts who live alone and do not belong selves.
to any group or family. The Gujarati
To some of the Neo-Buddhists, ghosts
Vaishnava, the Pathare Prabhus, the Sikhs, were versatile in their proficiency in lan-
the Neo-Buddhists and the Muslims said guages. "Thus, if they took the form of a
that the ghosts used code language to com-
Gujarati gentleman, they would speak
municate among themselves. They always Gujarati. If they took the form of a Chris-
talked in whispers. Nevertheless, they em-
tian gentleman, they would speak English,
ploy gestures of eyes and hands to make and so on."
themselves understood by others. T h e
Pathare Prabhu respondents also indicated
Some of the Jain respondents too gave
dances as one of the means of communi-
similar answers. And of course, there were
cations.
respondents who could not imagine ghosts
speaking anything except their own (i.e.
To the above, the Parsee respondents the respondents') mother-tongue! Such
have added shouts, screams and whistling. respondents belonged to the following
Some also mentioned communication groups: Parsee, Neo-Buddhists, Chitpavans.
through dreams and telepathy. Telepathy
was also mentioned by the Christians and
On the question of language we get the
Sikhs. Some of the Saraswat respondents following distribution for seven groups.
N O . OF RESPONDENTS BY THEIR IDEA ABOUT GHOST'S LANGUAGE
Ghosts have
They do not have
Group
some lanugage
any language
Don't know
Total
Parsee
14
26

40
Vaishnava
33
7

40
Brahma
38
2

40
Sarswat
17
16
7
40
Pathare Pradhu
13
27

40
Chitpavan
28
9
3
40
Jain
19
20
1
40
Total
162
107
11
280
REACTIONS ON SEEING A GHOST
if they happened to have an encounter
Our account was, so far, concerned with
with a ghost. The hypothetical question
posed was: "What would you do on seeing
the adolescents' beliefs about the different a ghost?" The following Table will give
aspects of ghosts' existence. Towards the an idea of the type of answers received
end of the interviews, they were asked to even though all the communities have not
tell the interviewers about their reactions been included.

ADOLESCENTS' IMAGE OF GHOSTS
291
NO. OF RESPONDENTS AMONG
Reaction
Jains
Chitpavans
Vaishnavas Neo-
Catholics
Parsees
Muslims
on seeing
Buddhists
a ghost
Run away
12
13
7
28
27
14
10
Shout, scream
5
1
5
6
9
10
5
Pray
17
12


14
7
18
Get frightened
2
6

23


1
Shut eyes
3



6


Wait and see

5
8
1
6
4

Beat it or
fight with it
.
2
8
5

2
Put on light


3


1

Although the reactions of the respon-
sleep with someone so that they could
dents belonging to the other communities
feel secure after seeing a ghost.
have not been given in the above table,
Talk to the ghost: The Chitpavans
these would be more or less similar in
think that if a conversation on God is
nature. Similarly, a good many respon-
started then the ghost would get scared
dents belonging to different communities
and run away. The Gujarati Vaish-
gave a variety of answers, each valid in
navas too favoured talking to the ghost
only a few cases. These are given below:
in order to drive it away.
Throw things at the ghost: For the
Take another path: A Chitpavan and
Jains anything of iron would do, while
Parsee said that they would quietly take
the Chitpavans would rely on chappals
another path in order to avoid a ghost.
i.e. a kind of footwear.
Run to parents: T h e reaction of a
Show sacred things to the ghost: Chit-
couple of Parsee children would be to
pavans mentioned Brahmagath, i.e. the
run to their parents.
knot of the sacred thread. T h e Chris-
Show big eyes or fist: On the other
tians would wear religious articles.
hand, a couple of Parsee children were
Kada i.e. an iron bangle would serve
bold enough to say that they would try
the same purpose for the Sikhs.
to scare away the ghosts by showing
Show other things disliked by ghosts:
them fists or big eyes.
The Chitpavans believed that the
Faint: Some Neo-Buddhists and Mus-
ghosts did not like things such as match
lims said that in all likelihood they
box, a leather belt and a red cloth. would faint, were they so unlucky as to
Hence, they would show these things to have an encounter with a ghost.
a ghost, should they meet one.
No reaction: A Brahma adolescent said
Sleep with someone: Some of the
that as he did not believe in ghosts the
Catholic children said that they would
question of his having any reaction in

292
MANDAKINI KHANDEKAR AND B. C. B A R A H
such a hypothetical contingency, did age would scream. T h i s shows t h a t they
n o t arise at all.
were considering themselves b e t t e r t h a n
their peer g r o u p . " Similar conclusion h a s
T h e children were also asked to give been drawn by the students who had taken
t h e i r impressions a b o u t the likely reactions
their samples from the Sikh a n d the
of o t h e r children a b o u t their own ages. Parsee communities. The students who
T h i s question was an indirect a t t e m p t at had studied the other seven communities
gaining an insight i n t o the reactions of observed very little, if any, variation bet-
the respondents to a hypothetical en-
ween the reactions of their r e s p o n d e n t s
counter with a ghost. An overall summary
a n d what the latter t h o u g h t would be t h e
by the student studying t h e J a i n adoles-
reactions of boys a n d girls of their own
cents was: " T h o u g h only 13 adolescents
h a d revealed t h a t they w o u l d r u n away, age.
24 adolescents t h o u g h t t h a t boys a n d girls
A n o t h e r question closely l i n k e d with
of their age w o u l d r u n away on seeing a the earlier one concerns the ways and
ghost, whereas 19 respondents said t h a t means of driving away the ghosts. It is also
they w o u l d pray, only one adolescent girl here that the religious beliefs of each com-
h a d expressed (the opinion) t h a t the girls
m u n i t y a r e reflected in the respondents'
or boys of h e r age would pray. T e n answers. It is possible here to give a dis-
adolescents h a d stated t h a t they would tribution of respondents belonging to
scream while 21 adolescents h a d expressed
seven communities, by their answers to
(the o p i n i o n ) t h a t boys a n d girls of their
this question.
WAYS OF DRIVING AWAY A GHOST
No. of respondents in Different Communities
Ways of
Catho-
Neo-
Vaish-
Chit-
Sara-
Jains
Brah-
Muslims
driving away a
lics
Buddhists navas
pavans
swats
mas
ghost
Religious remedy
25
5
6
13
9
34
3
36
Do as the
ghost says
2
2
2
4
3
—.
—.

Make big noise,
collect people
2

4


3

Call
Mantriks
20
18
14
.—
Put on light, fire


15


3
19

Beat the ghost

1
11





Do nothing
12

6


1
19

Other ways
2
23
1
13
_ —
2
1
4
Don't know



2


3


ADOLESCENTS' IMAGE OF GHOSTS
293
Non-inclusion of Sikhs, Pathare Prabhus is considered to be an agent of purifica-
and Parsees in the above table does not tion. The Parsees too hold the same belief
mean that the respondents belonging to and a good many Parsee adolescents have
these communities have not indicated the indicated the same remedy.
ways and means of driving away the
Showing sacred things to a ghost is
ghosts. Their answers have been sum-
another possible way of scaring it away.
marized differently and are mostly religi-
For the Christians it would be a cross or
ous in nature. T h e religious remedies in-
a rosary; for the Brahmins and Kshatriyas,
dicated in the above table differ from it would be the knot of their sacred
religion to religion and usually take the thread; for a Parsee his 'Kasti and Sadra'
form of reciting prayers. The Muslims (i.e. his sacred garments) or a piece of
also believed that a holy thread tied to iron for some Parsees and Jains. The
the arm can dispel the ghosts. A good 'Kada' (i.e. an iron bangle) would serve
many Christians and Brahmas were of the the same purpose in the case of a Sikh.
opinion that it is best to leave a ghost
alone and that nothing need be done
Incidentally, it may be observed that
because a ghost would go away on its own. this listing of the adolescents' beliefs in
On the other hand, a large number of the this respect is obviously not meant to be
Neo-Buddhists, Chitpavans and the Saras-
a description of the various beliefs
wats pin their hopes on a Mantrikas to prevalent in their respective communities.
drive away a ghost. Some Muslims would Such was not the intention of the present
call in their priests who are similar to exercise, although the students did set out
Mantriks. The Neo-Buddhists and the to "see how much common religious in-
Chitpavans come out with a large number fluence was reflected in responses and how
of sundry superstitious beliefs about the much personal imagination was added."
best means of driving away a ghost. All
We will give two instances of such indi-
these remedies need not be recounted —
vidualized answers. There are a few
the list would be too long — but a speci-
revealing answers which appear to have a
men could be given. One Neo-Buddhist religious tinge but are, in fact, the results
remedy reads as follows: "Take a black of some logical thinking. Here we could
cloth and put four pieces of sour lime, be grateful to the young researchers for
black and red kumkum and a coconut in it
and place it where the ghost was supposed some skilful probing. One Neo-Buddhist
to have possessed the person." The other respondent said that only Muslims and
remedies are mostly variations of the same Christians would become ghosts. The
theme. Such rituals are known among the student-researcher wondered if any poli-
Muslims as well and four of the Muslims tical or religious issues were involved. Her
respondents have indicated them.
probing, however, revealed a simple pro-
cess of reasoning instead: the respondent
A large number of Brahmas and the held the view that the ghosts were skeletal
Gujarati Vaishnavas would take recourse in appearance. "Now, only people who
to fire and light because the ghosts like were buried left back skeletons. And
dark places and are afraid of fire. Fire has burials are practised among the Muslims
special significance for the Brahmas and and the Christians and not among the

294
MANDAKINI KHANDEKAR AND B. C. BARAH
Hindus." Ergo, only Muslims and Chris-
older children were a little condescending
tians can become ghosts!
in their attitude.
The other example is that of a Parsee
On the whole, the respondents were very
respondent who associated ghosts with the co-operative. The students themselves were
sea. This is explained as an individualized somewhat apprehensive about the respon-
extension of the central theme that ghosts siveness of the children. But as one stu-
arise out of the dead. But instead of dent put it, "her own experience was
thinking of the Parsee funeral well, this happily very different. T h e youngsters, on
the whole, were lively, open and acces-
respondent had the Hindu burning 'ghats' sible." Similarly, the reactions of the
near the sea in mind.
children can best be summarized in the
In the end, it would not be out of place words of another student: "Various types
to record the students' impressions about of reactions were observed when the res-
the respondents' reactions to an investiga-
pondents were told what the topic was.
tion of this type. 'Ghosts' certainly is an Some were amused, some were surprised
unusual subject on which to question and a few were scared to talk about the
children. Fortunately, most of the students ghosts and said that their parents won't
have noted their impressions which pro-
like them to talk about ghosts. But quite
vide some interesting information. There a few showed their interest to talk about
was a reason why children between 11-14 ghosts and a few were eager to know more
years (but mostly between 12-14 years) about ghosts from the writer."
were chosen. They would, it was hoped,
The questions which generally evoked
be capable of giving expression to their ready response were about the appearance
ideas, images, impressions, beliefs etc., and description of ghosts. An exception
concerning ghosts and yet retain their was in the case of the Chitpavan children
spontaneity in giving responses. They who were somewhat confused in describ-
would not feel the necessity of showing a ing a ghost. But questions on the habitat,
spirit of bravado or "feel ashamed to diet, occupations and communication
express their genuine feelings (such as required a good bit of patience and prob-
fear) about ghosts." In fact the student ing. Most of the students have recorded
studying the Saraswat adolescents noticed that collecting data on the subject of the
that the 13-year-olds had a stronger adolescents' image of ghosts was an
interest in the subject of ghosts, while the interesting task.
The Indian Journal of Social Work, Volume XXXII, No. 4, (October 1971).