Some time ago, a former bureaucrat sought me out with a strange question: after death can a priest become a ghost? Why not, was my response, due to the play of circumstances anyone can become a ghost. That’s what I thought too, he concurred but my wife is not convinced and is adamant that a person like a Brahmin priest who is learned and has been in the service of god all his life cannot possibly become a ghost. Pandit Vishnu, one of the priests at a neighbourhood temple had also officiated as the former bureaucrat’s family priest till he died suddenly through accidental electrocution.
A month or so after they heard about his death, the former bureaucrat and his wife were startled by nightly visits of an apparition. While the former bureaucrat recognised Pandit Vishnu even in a somewhat hazy form his wife remained unconvinced. But both agreed they had to do something urgently about the extremely disquieting supernatural nightly visits which robbed them of both sleep and peace. Spooked night after night by a figure materialising by our bedside and staring intently at us has sent our stress levels soaring they confessed.
However, the former bureaucrat’s wife disagreed when I pointed out, without intending to cast aspersions that by itself a priest’s ritualistic service of god, never mind whether the priest is a Brahmin or otherwise, doesn’t always add upto to qualify as real service unless backed by good actions overall. There’s a temple near my house, I told her, where the priests are in attendance from five in the morning to nine at night and dutifully perform all the rituals. However if, for example, a devotee offers a ten or twenty rupee note to a deity, quite apart from what they give to the priest as his dakshina, the priest dutifully inserts it into the donation box.
But eight times out of ten, a fifty or hundred rupee note not meant for them ends up nevertheless in the pocket of their spotless white kurta. Other offerings from devotees are also often diverted. Besides, and more important, there is discrimination between rich and poorer devotees and much else that is disturbing. Maybe, countered the former bureaucrat’s wife, but the apparition which is spooking us can’t be Pandit Vishnu. The former bureaucrat’s wife refused to budge from her staunch belief that someone from the traditionally learned Brahmin community, especially a priest, can never ever manifest as a ghost.\Actually and surprisingly, there are many stories of the Munja or Brahma-daitya—Brahmin’s ghost—from ancient days upto the present times and I’ve written on this subject earlier. Why surprising? Because Brahma-daityas originate from the Brahmin community, well known for their learning. One would therefore have expected that in case a death occurs under unusual circumstances in their community —electrocution in Pandit Vishnu’s case, they would ensure that the soul gets shaanti peace—and doesn’t become a troubled ghost that disturbs living beings. But there are often reasons, such as extreme suffering, uncontrollable grief, unfinished work, a violent unjust death which prove to be overwhelming and either cause flaws in the necessary rituals or reduce their effect.
The kind of death and the age of death play an important role in the supernatural creation of Munjas or Brahma-daityas. The thread ceremony or Yajnopavita, also called “Poite”, is a very important ceremony in Brahmin households, and marks the admission of a Brahmin boy into Brahminhood i.e. he is eligible to recite the Gayatri Mantra, another special mantra given only to the boy who is “initiated”, and some other “permissions”. The ceremony usually takes place between the age of 8-13 and in many families is accompanied by a “munda”—shaving of the head—rituals and ritualistic offerings to the fire.
However, it is believed that if a boy dies within 10 days after the thread ceremony, or if the thread ceremony remains incomplete and the boy dies, he becomes a ghost called a Munja or a Brahma-daitya. Almost invariably, Munjas are troublesome, angry destructive ghosts. There have been cases where they have haunted people to death. They possess people till they become so ill that they die. They have also been known to scratch people, beat them with sticks, burn them with fire and so on. A Nepalese maid who once worked for us had scars from thorns which a Munja had used to torture her. Munjas can also change form.
These ghosts are clearly, specifically mentioned in considerable detail in ancient texts. For example, in the Śrī Caitanya Caritāmṛta, Chapter 18, it is written: “kibā brahma-daitya, kibā bhūta, kahane nā yāyaa drśana-mātre manuṣyera paiśe sei kāya”, meaning “I do not know whether the corpse I found was the ghost of a dead brāhmaṇa or an ordinary man, but as soon as one looks upon it, the ghost enters the body.” Because a Munja or Brahma-daitya is so powerful and can be vindictive, even today many families assign a small room or a puja place to the Brahma-daitya and please him with offerings on full moon nights to keep him from harassing anyone in the family.
Incidentally, in July last year, the UK Express reported that the spirit of a 3,000 year old ancient Egyptian priest was “caught on camera walking into his tomb”. Sean Martin wrote: “Ghost hunting couple Sean Reynolds and Rebecca Palmer were filming at the Leeds City Museum, home to the tomb of ancient Egyptian priest Nesyamun, when they filmed the ‘hooded shadowy figure’ walk across the room. As the alleged spirit, who has been dead for 3,000 years, appeared, the electronic equipment in the room can be heard beeping frantically…The top of the shadow was in the shape of a pointed hood and it walked straight into the tomb. It’s the tomb of a priest called Nesyamun… the museum is… quite active with reports of Nesyamun being seen….”
Now, compared to these visitations by a 3000 year old mummified priest, the case of Pandit Vishnu was not even three years old. But was it his apparition? On my part, I needed to zero in on some clues and establish or eliminate the possibility of the apparition being that of Pandit Vishnu. Had there been anything unfinished between the the former bureaucrat’s family and Pandit Vishnu? Nothing, the former bureaucrat answered, except that we had promised to a give a certain sum of money when his daughter got married but that stage never arrived. I had got my clue, a clue that led to the unfolding of yet another fascinating glimpse into ghosts and the afterlife. Read about in the next column.