Boo! Did we scare you? We’ve all grown up watching and listening to ghost stories that sent shivers down our spine. Some of them still do. Some of us even go to the extent of doing poojas to ward off ghosts. So, we thought we’d do a piece about ghosts we’ve all heard of.
Bhargavi, The First Filmy Ghost
Have you ever heard this phrase, “bhargavi nilayam pole oru veedu” and wondered what exactly is a “Bhargavi Nilayam”? If you did, your answer is the 1964 movie Bhargavi Nilayam. Bhargavi was the restless spirit of a lovelorn young woman whose lover was killed by a jealous suitor. Nowadays, Bhargavi Nilayam stands for a big eerie house, much like Dorothy madama’s ‘Vijrimbicha’ bungalow in In Ghost House Inn. Among the other prethams in this list, Bhargavi is the most harmless one, as her only offences are haunting and taunting. Why is Bhargavi so high up on the list then, you may ask? It is because Bhargavi inaugurated the genre of horror films in the Malayalam film industry and the tradition of the white saree clad pretty ghosts we so love to hate.
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Kaliyenkattu Neeli, One of Kerala’s Most Iconic Ghosts
Moving on to the next ghost in our list, Kaliyenkattu Neeli is no stranger to an average Malayali. She is perhaps the single most famous ghost in Malayalam folklore and is at the tip of everyone’s tongue when you ask them about ghosts from Kerala. Fans of Neeli chechi may not have forgotten the iconic serial Kadamattathu Kathanar, where the Kathanar goes one-on-one against Neeli. In one version of Kaliyenkattu Neeli’s story, she was killed by her greedy husband. Then she took rebirth as the child of a king and queen who promptly abandoned the demonic child. She grew up to be a bloodthirsty monster who killed and ate the villagers near Kaliyenkad. It was only when she killed her husband from the previous birth that she could rest peace. Phew, talk about an ex who just doesn’t move on! There is also a 1979 Malayalam movie with the same name.
Vedalam, Vikramaditya’s Ghost Companion
Vedalam is not, particularly from Kerala. A Vedalam, in Hindu mythology, was a reanimated corpse that was possessed by a spirit. They are most certainly ghosts, as they are known to drive people mad, even kill children and cattle. Yet some regard them as guardians and keepers of the intermediary between life and death. The most famous Vedalam in Kerala is the Vedalam from the Vikramaditya and Betal story. It goes like this: the illustrious King Vikramaditya was tasked by a sorcerer to bring a particular Vedalam. The Vedalam agrees to go with the King on one condition – he must not speak. Nevertheless, each time the King hauls the Vedalam away, it would trick him into talking and fly back to its tree. Why is Vetalam on this list? Some of you may remember the Vikramadityan serial that aired on Asianet from 2005 to 2006. Just listen to Vetalam’s iconic laugh once again and tell me you don’t like him already.
Ottamulachi, The Human Spectre
Ottamulachi is one of the more serious myths in this list, particularly because unlike the other beings in this list, Ottamulachi was not really dead. She was a human woman, whose experiences transcended the logic of reality and turned her story into a legend of gore, and very surprisingly, blessings.
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Ottamulachi was supposedly born to a black magic practitioner and an unwed tribal woman ostracised for her pregnancy, and as her name suggests, she had just one breast. She had a rough life that turned her into a monster lusting after the blood of young men. Legend has it that wherever she killed, the people prospered. Hence, the land she dwelt in, Wayanad prospered. However, the people of Wayanad weren’t overly fond of their murderous blessing in disguise and had her exorcised by a child tantric brought from Travancore. She cursed Wayanad just before she died – that the people would die of diseases and the land would go to foreigners. Why does Ottamulachi deserve our sympathy despite being a cannibal? Today, we can recognise Ottamulachi’s condition as Poland syndrome, a rare genetic anomaly. One can only shudder thinking about the ostracization a woman like Ottamulachi might have faced back then. Can her cannibalistic transformation be totally blamed?
Vada Yakshi, The Misunderstood Ghost
As a child, I often thought of Vada Yakshis as ghosts that demanded vadas from lonely travellers. Imagine my disappointment when I found out that she does no such thing. Apparently, a Vada Yakshi is a yakshi that lives in a vada vriksham, that is, the banyan tree. She is regarded by some to be a form of the mythical demoness Dhumavati. Vada yakshi first became popular following Mohanlal’s 1984 movie Sreekrishna Parunthu. After a period of hibernation, vada yakshi is back in vogue due to Neeraj Madhav’s hilarious take on her in his song titled, Panipalli.
Malayala Brahma, Ghost Turned Deity
If you are ever travelling by the Malayala Brahma Kshethram at Sringeri and hear a disembodied ghost asking, “Malayali aano?”, do not be frightened. The ashareeri would be from the Malayala Brahma, a former brahmarakshas who now lives as a deity at Sringeri. A Brahmarakshas is a different species of ghosts. It is a name given to brahmins who died without fulfilling their purpose in life, i.e. disseminating knowledge. They take on a demonic appearance and torment people until they are exorcised by a muni. Malayala Brahma Kshethram is a part of the famous Sharadamba Temple in Sringeri.
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Nagavalli, The Non-ghost
Nagavalli needs no introduction. If you feel like you do, then your inner Malayali needs an instant recharge. Nagavalli is a cult phenomenon and perhaps one of the most famous ghosts of all time in Kerala. Made famous by the exemplary movie Manichitrathazhu, Nagavalli is not even a true ghost, she is just the product of Ganga’s imagination and local myths. Hence, Nagavalli isn’t a particularly harmful ghost, except maybe in the opinion of that Karanavar dummy that she totally wrecked. What is the real legend behind Manichithrathazhu? It is alleged that Manichithrathazhe is the story of a tragedy that happened in the Alummoottil Tharavadu in Travancore. The Nagavalli of that story was the nephew of the antagonist karanavar, C.K. Channar. The movie tweaked these details to ensure popular appeal.
Abraham Ezra, Ghost or Victim?
Abraham Ezra, the antagonist of the 2017 movie Ezra is perhaps the youngest ghost on this list. He is also the one with the most exotic origin. Ezra is a dybbuk, a Jewish spirit of vengeance. Ezra is a filmy ghost, whose story gets over in just one movie, yet the evil that surrounds Ezra is just incredible. Unlike other pathetic ghosts, he wasn’t much interested in one-on-one encounters and bloodsucking. Rather, he was a dybbuk with a plan: to destroy Malabar with a nuclear disaster. He sure was a savvy ghost. Yet, maybe we should just stop to wonder who the real evil was here. Was it Ezra, an innocent boy who became a victim or his father, the stubborn black magician?
Kuttichathan, Malayali’s Casper The Friendly Ghost
Kuttichathan is the nicest ghost on this list, and this one-dimensional nicety is acceptable because he was the hero of an uncomplicated movie for children. My Dear Kuttichathan is a special movie in all aspects, especially due to the fact that it was India’s first 3D film. The movie is loosely based on legends surrounding Chatan, a temperamental deity who gives blessings to those who appease him and can also be invoked to bring evil on people you hate. Anyone thinking about siccing him on that irritating roommate? If you are, please don’t choose Kuttichathan, he is simply too nice.
Gandharvans, The Players of The Spirit World
It is debatable if Gandharvas can truly be called ghosts. The word Gandharvan might promptly bring up Nitish Bharadvaj’s Devan from the movie Njan Gandharvan to your mind. Gandharvas are celestial musicians according to Hindu mythology. By some accounts, they are also servers in devloka and the husbands of apsaras. When they violate any laws of their realm, they are banished to Earth as spirits who are doomed to seduce young women. They are the non-violent counterparts of the yakshis in Hindu mythology.
That was my list. Did I miss out on mentioning your favourite ghost?
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