Sep 24, 2013

"The Gambling Ghosts" from Sermons in the Stroms

Temples dedicated to the worship of Lord Shiva in the villages and towns are usually situated far off from habitation. During the Course of my wanderings in Saurashtra, I happened to come one night in one such temple in a village of Halar District.
The shrine was quite big, attractive and of massive built. Around it were some dilapidated huts, a fine well, a vacant shed and the remains of what must have at one time been a fine little garden. The inside portion of the temple was full of dust and dirt. Apparently, it was one of the numerous neglected and abandoned temples of our country.
As it was winter, to keep myself warm, I cleaned a little portion of the inside, spread my bed-sheets there, closed the half-broken door and went to sleep.
When I was a wakened by some buzzing noise outside, from the then position of the moon, which I could see through an open window, I felt that it must have been well past 2 a.m. I got up and looked out; there were six men in the adjacent shed seated round on a carpet and playing cards. The place was lit by a small size petromax. Some distance away from them were two women frying something in a large pan over a stove. It was one of those night gambling parties not uncommon in these days of ethical emptiness.
I quietly went back and lay down. After some time, the buzzing noise of the burning stove stopped and clinks of cups and saucers were heard. They were taking tea and refreshments and arguing over the disputation of stakes. All at once, however, it flared up into free fisty fight and heated exchange of terms unfit for print. Only after the incessant intervention by the women did they cool down. Thereafter, there were all preparing to leave.

Of aIl the time, just then, my metal mug which I had placed over a shelf inside was pushed down by the rats which were wriggling over there. The jingling noise made by its fall made one of the men outside to remark “It appears someone is inside." 'Let's go and see' said someone else and two of them came inside the temple stealthily. I closed my eyes and pretended to be asleep. They lighted matchsticks and saw me; and going out told their companions ‘one sadhu is there sleeping'. One of the women thereupon ejaculating said 'my! my ! frighten him-- so that, he may forget coming over here again."
In obedience to that suggestion they began throwing water and slinging moist mud through the window. They then jointly made peculiar and frightful cries generally resorted to by the forest dwellers while wading their way through thick woods infested by dangerous animals. But for my prior knowledge of their scheming, I would have, like anyone else in my place, been very much terrified by the odd chorus of their cries. It all lasted for about 5/7 minutes only 2nd they were all gone.
I then recalled an, incident where, in a similar situation, an old sadhu was gagged and belabored by a group of gamblers in an abandoned temple of Cutch. I thanked my stars for having escaped that sort of treatment in the hands of those dangerous batch of libertines.
When it became dawn, after ablutions, etc., I proceeded towards the village. On the way I met some peasants who were going to the bus-stand which was about five furlongs away from the temple. On their enquiring, I told them that I had reached there the previous evening from a distant village and that I had spent the night in the temple. At the outset they wouldn't believe me ; but, as I was not in their village the night before and as the next nearest village was as far as twelve miles, away from there, my Immediate presence in the vicinity of the temple early that morning convinced them of the fact that I had really passed the night there. They all looked at me in wonderment. Then, one of them told me that since about four or five years that temple had become a permanent abode of ghosts who slept there during the day and at night worshipped in their own way dancing and singing the glory of Lord shiva ; and that, apart from many previous shockful happenings there, that place had registered the death of a brahmin youth and a shepherd couple who were believed to have been strangulated by the ghosts when they passed that side some three years back. From that time, I was told, none dared to pass that side alone even during the day-time and that from night-fall to dawn, however, no one not even armed police-ventured going there. I was also told that at times they in the village used to hear strange cries coming from that direction, see bon-fire and radiant light near the temple.
Later, they wanted to know my experiences of that dangerous place. I told them all that i had seen and added that their fears were only fanciful and that some unscrupulous men of their own village spread such false rumors of ghosts and their horrid doings with a view to shielding their shady and criminal activities.
Immediately, one in the crowd asked me if I could recognize any of those whom I had seen gambling there the night before. As I had only a passing glimpse at the so-called ghosts, I would not have recognized any of them, if I had met them again. And hence, I replied to him in me negative. Seconded by others, another thereupon said "Maharaj, due to the powerful merits of your past lives, you escaped from the clutches of those ghosts. The bold and the fearless even shudder with coldness with the cry mention of this place's name."
They went their way and I reached the 'Village which was about a mile away. This affair of the gamblers and their demoniacal tactics had taken such strong roots in the minds of one and all in that village, that I was laughed out when I had to tell them about my personal experience of the temple. Who can convince those simpletons?
It was with delight that I learnt some years back that, that temple is now under the care and charge of few Marwari brahmins and that they have generated new life and look to that temple by their continued stay there.
For want of proper care and management, many of our places of worship are degenerating and falling into the hands of vile people who make use of them for the furtherance of their nefarious activities. IT IS A SHAMEFUL BLOT ON OUR RELIGIOUS AND CULTURAL SUPREMACY.
Another very common feature of our places of pilgrimage is that a vast majority of the visitors to those sanctifying places, particularly the EDUCATED and the ARISTOCRATS frequent them solely with the code ‘We shall play there rummy-cook and fill our tummy," Such indulgences amount to misuse of the sacred spots and they defile and pollute the holy atmosphere there.
Will we ever learn from other sects not to build too many temples and abandon them: to venerably care for and preserve the existing shrines and to honor all the places of pilgrimage by never making use of them for disruptive puerile pleasures???