The question is seemingly simple and very brief : why do souls — “atmas” — “bhatko”? But the answer is very profound and centers round the link between life and death and the soul’s progress. Souls or atmas bhatko — linger on in a state of unrest — because they are unable or in some cases, unwilling, to leave earth after death and travel as souls normally do to the astral world or sometimes to the spirit world.
In most cases souls or atmas remain confined to earth because of some major happening which “holds” them down. Unnatural, untimely deaths are one of the most common cause for this “bhatakna” and results in “haunting”. When extreme anger, extreme pain or a strong desire to seek revenge for its death motivates an atma, the consequences can be extremely dangerous for those still alive and for other atmas too.
Sometimes one, sometimes more atmas make another atma or atmas prisoners (“bandis”). Such painful, usually violent cycles of great negativity and often evil continues till the atmas can be released from it.
In some cases, however, the atma or atmas refuse to repent or leave earth. For many years now, I have allotted a small room upstairs to the atma of a woman who was a terror in her lifetime and for some time after her death troubled all her relatives, but has reformed now. However, she is unwilling to leave. It is possible to forcibly “evict” such atmas, but it causes a lot of suffering and is too complicated to discuss here.
Nowadays more and more cases are coming to me where, just like wild animals are losing their natural habitat with the ingress of humans, atmas are being “de-homed” from areas which they had frequented undisturbed for many decades. Some of these atmas move on without retaliating to other lonely areas. But several of them, upset and angry at the prospect of being “evicted”, begin creating very serious problems, sometimes even culminating in death, for the living beings who are intruding into their domain. Dealing with such predicaments is not easy largely because a solution must be found which will bring peace to both the affected ghost and living beings.
There was the case of Maaji. When Maaji died at the ripe old age of ninety nine, she was accorded a ceremonious cremation. Elaborate rituals were also carried out by learned priests. But Maaji’s attachment to the large home she once ruled proved to be stronger and just a fortnight after death, her figure, dressed in white, could be seen walking in the verandahs or entering the spacious kitchen and sitting on her favourite wooden stool.
With the wheel of time continuing to move, Maaji’s family members decided to sell their sprawling house. Five businessmen pooled in and bought it, with the idea of turning it into a shopping complex. Without touching the main buildings, the new owners built a row of shops along the boundary. But curiously, there were few takers. The reason: the shops, it was said, were haunted, by a frail lady in white. It was Maaji.
The unoccupied shops soon became moss grown and seemed as old as the main buildings. But then things changed. Dehra Dun, where the house is situated, became the capital of a newly carved state— Uttarakhand —and land values soared. The old house was knocked down and shops were erected on every available bit of land. For Maaji’s ghost, this was a blow. Reports of having seen Maaji in their house started coming in from relatives and everybody said she seemed troubled. The family priest was asked to investigate and they discovered that Maaji had been rendered homeless once the old buildings were pulled down and a totally new environment, so alien to Maaji was created.
The shop owners were lucky that Maaji’s was a good, gentle spirit and did not seek revenge or try to block the construction. There have been many cases where long time resident ghosts have either seen to it that the new construction didn’t take place by inflicting a series of misfortunes on people who wanted to change the geography of the area, or if the changes did take place, by haunting it so persistently that no one wanted to stay there.
As a priest who is a Ma Kali devotee said: “Wouldn’t you fight back if you were being made homeless?” I know of several families who have been ruined because they uprooted ghosts who had been staying at the spot for long ages. What then, is the answer to this strange problem? After all, times change and development is an integral part of change. Not all old buildings are “heritage” buildings, for instance, and must at some point be reconstructed or perhaps replaced by something else.
Wise people, those who are sensitive to the other world, those who have had or heard about supernatural experiences or displacement incidents and the consequences generally try and make their peace with the ghost or ghosts to move out peacefully. Many even arrange for the alternative or alternatives suggested by the ghost. In one particular case, a ghost who had been occupying a building for fifty two years wanted to be left at Gaya once the demolition of the building started.
Some request a small bit of undisturbed space, even a tiny room in the new building. Curiously, very few want to leave earth. In the case of a majority of ghosts who are thoughtlessly evicted, they make sure that the new residents cannot flourish in the new building while continuing to hang around the area. And if the evicted ghost happens to be of a “low variety”, after wrecking the dreams and health of those who have occupied the new building, it takes to wandering around, staying for short periods as and where it desires but always taking misfortune where it goes.
Obviously, homelessness amongst ghosts is a major problem, growing steadily as development takes a toll on their abodes. In earlier times, there were certain prescribed rituals which ensured that a ghost or ghosts who were about to become homeless were compensated in some way and naturally, that way had to be mutually agreed upon. Today too, it would be worth taking earlier practices into account instead of “de-homing” a ghost in a callous manner and harming oneself and a lot else in the process.