In normal, natural deaths, even those which occur after a period of great pain, as in many cases of cancer, the atma or soul is usually able to leave earth and start its astral journey, helped by spirit guides and the souls of deceased relatives or friends. But in the case of a violent or unnatural death, physical deformity, disability, or marks or wounds, such as those caused by a bullet or snake bite, incurred at the time of death and which was the actual cause of death remain even after a person’s demise. Because of the great intensity of the last moments in unnatural, especially violent deaths, even the sights and sounds—sometimes one or the other and sometimes both—get imprinted or recorded on time. That imprinting or recording is repeatedly replayed, usually at the site where the incident occurred, and a supernatural phenomenon is thus created.

Sometimes, both a victim who has been killed and the sound of the weapon that kills him or her get imprinted on time. For example, Salim was beheaded by his rival in love, and both the sight and screeching sound of the crucial axe—the weapon of death—got imprinted on time. It has been seen that the ghosts of people who have been killed unjustly or have died in a violent manner resort to revenge in their spirit state and often kill living beings. Sometimes this is out of a consuming desire for revenge, and sometimes because the dead person is provoked in some way. Despite his tragic, violent death, Salim lay peacefully in his grave, located at the periphery of a cluster of lime kilns for many years. Then suddenly, on a cloudy day workers at the kilns and in the vicinity were frightened out of their wits by a headless ghost who lunged at them with what appeared to be an axe.

They ran for dear life with the headless ghost in hot pursuit. The headless ghost with the axe disappeared as suddenly and mysteriously as it had appeared. Those who had been chased began wondering. It had been cloudy all day and that combined with the lime kiln haze may have played tricks with their senses. Did they actually see the terrifying sight? But if their senses and imagination had been affected, how come they all saw the same apparition with an axe? Events in the next few days followed by enquiries established beyond doubt that it was Salim’s ghost. Salim’s axe wielding ghost was intent on killing people because his already severed head had got separated from the rest of his skeleton. Locals putting up a fence had accidentally, unknowingly dug up Salim’s skull and separated it from the rest of his skeleton. This outraged Salim and his headless ghost began rushing at people.

A couple of my own experiences of imprinting: at a mazar in a forest in New Delhi, close to two well known five star hotels, a headless man—known as Baba Farid—can sometimes be seen walking in the distance when its twilight or dusk. I’ve seen his headless figure clearly many times and so have others. It is said that centuries ago Baba Farid was meditating in this forest under a tree when soldiers came to take him to Muhammad bin Tughluq, the Sultan of Delhi from 1325 to 1351, who had heard of his powers. When Baba Farid, who was lost in meditation, didn’t respond, the ignorant soldiers beheaded him and despite the fact that he was an evolved soul, a fakir, a baba, his headless ghost can still be seen.

Similarly, in another forested area near Mehrauli in Delhi, a funeral procession can be heard passing on the same route at midnight. No figures can be seen, but chants of “Ram Nam Sat Hai” can be heard clearly. I have heard them several times. Is there a solution to prevent such supernatural occurrences, especially imprinting? Yes. Several solutions. It is important, for example, to ensure that all the dead body parts are cremated or buried or disposed off in some other traditionally acceptable, respectable manner. Salim’s soul is shaant or at peace as long as his body and head lie buried together, but he takes to vengeance and violence once the body and the head are separated. It is most important to regularly keep aside a special day for performing peace imparting ceremonies for the departed soul. It is equally important not to disturb a grave or desecrate a photograph or the last place where someone, especially someone who met a violent or painful death, was kept for some time.

But what about practices where a dead body is subjected to certain seemingly disturbing rituals as, for example, in Tibetan sky burials? Describing such sky buria ls, Rosy Edwards wrote in the UK Metro, “Every culture has a different perception of what happens when we die: Eternal salvation, reincarnation, nothingness. For those that conceive of an afterlife, the next question is how do you get there? For Tibetans, this dilemma is resolved in the ancient practice of ‘sky burial’. Also referred to as celestial burial, the term is oxymoronic: corpses aren’t in fact buried, they’re left on mountainsides and exposed to the elements where they are consumed by vultures or Dakinis (angels). The custom is known as jhator or ‘giving alms to the birds’. It derives from Vajrayana Buddhism, a tenet of Buddhism that teaches the transmigration of spirits.”

For Tibetan Buddhists, death, wrote Edwards, “is perceived as a journey from this earth bound life to the next, with huge importance placed on ritual to ensure the soul can navigate what Tibetans refer to as bardo: a dreamlike space that lies somewhere between death and rebirth. When it comes times for burial, the spine is broken and the body is maneuvered into the foetal position and bundled up ready for transport… Today, sky burial is an officially recognised and protected practice but it has its detractors…We may not commit ourselves to the skies like the Tibetan Buddhists, but there is something relatable—even desirable—about returning our bodies to the earth. As for what happens next… that’s up to you…” In supernatural lore, however, what happens next, particularly in cases that involve imprinting, is not always upto one. More on this in another column.

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