Chaitra Navratras,  the festival of nine nights observed in honor of the divine feminine Devi in different forms are underway in India right now, it will end on 5 April and so is an upsurge of Devi induced trances. Navratras symbolise the victory of positivity over negativity and it is believed that the power of the Devi is at its peak during this period. In northern India  Durga Mata and Kali Ma seem to be the favourite Devis both for worshipping and during trances. There are many other Devi forms too which ‘possess’ young girls, older women and young boys and men too. In the mountains of Garwhal, I saw a young boy possessed by a Devi, and when he spoke, his voice had become very feminine indeed.
Disbelievers often dismiss these trances and “possessions” as hallucinations or a clever means to exploit people’s gullibility or credulity or simply as nonsense. Religion, they point out, has been used since times immemorial as a potent weapon to gain control over people’s minds and emotions. The cynical remind you how playing on the Ayodhya issue brought a certain political party to power. But when you’ve watched a large number of trances where the Devi takes control, you wonder whether explanations—religious or otherwise — are so facile or indeed, logical. There are charlatans, true. Devi worship has a strong hold on the popular imagination, true. The faithful far outnumber those who raise questions, true. But there are also an overwhelming number of cases which don’t —at face value anyway, qualify for the “dismissed” category. For instance, take the following case.

In Dehra Dun there lives a man who has surrendered himself and his life to the Devi — Goddess Kali in his case, and through her, to serving people. He’s an ex-army man, and very realistic and rational, but for approximately six hours three times a week, this man who once dedicated his life to the nation dedicated himself to a practice which rationalists would decry. His fingers are rough and pock marked and well they might be, pricked as they have been countless times with needles, because every morning, Panditji as he is called, offers a drop of his blood to Goddess Kali.

He then loses himself in mystic veneration of the Devi.  He has been doing so for many decades now. In return, he has been granted a boon —a boon that draws a long line of people holding a handful of rice to his home. He has no charges, though a paltry Rs 1 or 2 must accompany the rice as an offering for the Devi. The people themselves don’t have to queue up. It’s the handkerchiefs containing the handful of rice which has remained under their pillows overnight which are put in queue, with the people seeking an audience sitting on the floor in a circle around a medium sized black stone idol of Kali.

Panditjee goes into a trance and correctly divines what is in the mind of the person to whom the handerkerchief and rice belong, and provides him or her with the answers. Then he moves onto the next handkerchief and so it continues till late in the afternoon, when he calls a halt and comes out of his trance. “The source of my power”, he explained, “lies in tapping esoteric, divine forces. It’s far more complex but I’ll try and put it simply for you. 

“You must be familiar with the mysticism surrounding “OM’” In the vastness of the unknown, there are energy fields. In our own brain and body, there are energy fields we’re not consciously aware of. I’ve been able, through energy generated by strict discipline to identify some of these and harness them to divine some of the things you witnessed yesterday. As for the drop of blood, it has two purposes. Firstly, it is part of the discipline I have to put myself through. Secondly, each form of energy has its own affinities. In the case of Goddess Kali and the energy she represents, its blood which forms the affinity”.

Gaining control over mystic powers, especially those conferred by a Devi, is easier than sustaining it, Panditjee disclosed. “Obviously esoteric forces are very strong. Once you’re linked to them through a trance and you’re out of your body, you can’t afford to make a mistake, otherwise you often have to pay with your life. It’s a bit like going to the moon in your specially devised space suit. Take it off, and you won’t be able to survive in that atmosphere.

“Chances are that I’ll make a mistake one day and not be able to come out of a trance or suffer in some other way, but then this is my way of contributing towards improving the lives of fellow beings. In any case, having been a soldier once, I’ve made my peace with what you call death long ago. When death comes, not even my special relationship with Goddess Kali will be able to save me”. Panditjee did make a mistake and death came but ironically, instead of striking him it struck his son who was in the prime of youth.

“I can’t put into words what losing my son because of no fault of his but my own mistake did to me. The soldier in me just snapped and it is something I will regret foreever”, Panditjee confided in a choked voice. He argued with Goddess Kali who appeared before him. “Why did you take my son when I had made a mistake?” and heartbroken, he stopped worshipping Goddess Kali. Naturally, his trance sessions stopped too and he remained unmoved despite pleadings from countless people.

Then the Goddess appeared before him again. “You are gaining nothing from doing nothing. Neither is anybody else gaining anything from you. You made one mistake and lost your son. Now you are making another mistake by turning your face away from your duty. Do you think your beloved son is at peace knowing that you’re not helping people you could help because you’re grieving for him like an ordinary person?”

This set Panditjee thinking. It took a long while and a tremendous effort of will but he resumed his Devi worship and his trance sessions much to the relief of people. All over India, it is the combination of the powers of the Devi and her revelations during a trance which seem to be an irresistible draw. 

 

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