[On Bhuts or Pisachas in India]
Theosophist, February, 1882
Article Selections by S. Ramaswamier | Notes by H.P.B.
Some questions have arisen in The Theosophist as to the views of the Hindus in general upon the possibility and desireability of holding communion with the dead. I beg to state the following facts:—
. . . a town by the name of Sankar-Nainar-Kovil . . . is famed far and wide in Southern India, as a locality for casting out evil spirits, usually called “Bhuts” or “Pisachas.” The town pagoda is a very great and imposing edifice . . . It is not rare to find in its vicinity young girls and grown-up women, some of whom are already mothers, obsessed by “Pisachas.” Victims are also found among boys of weak intellect; but this is more rare. This obsession, I believe, is what the call in Europe and America “mediumship”? If so, then far from elevating the medium in the sight of his fellow-creatures, the appearance of the disorder is regarded as the greatest misfortune that can befall a Hindu family, and no time is lost in trying to cure the party so attacked. . . . In this, our country, no one—whether initiated or uninitiated, learned or ignorant—believes in Spiritualism in the sense of communion with the departed human spirits. On the contrary, we are taught to believe that the pure spirits of our dead ones, as soon as they have shuffle off their mortal coil, either enter the “pitri-lokas”1 or upon a different stage of existence altogether, in a subsequent re-birth, from which states they cannot return on earth as spirits.
1. Abode of Spirits.—Ed. [H.P.B.]
It is but the third condition which affords them such a possibility, whenever, in consequence of an evil course of life, or a too strong, sinful desire of living at the moment of death, their animal Self chains himself to the earth, so to say, and becomes an earth-bound bhut or “pisacha”—an accursed devil.2
2. Our Brother S. Ramaswamier is a high-caste Brahmin, of good Sanskrit and English scholarship, whose strictly orthodox family is closely connected with the High Priest of Travancore. His opinion, therefore, upon the subject is entitled to the consideration of our Western readers.—Ed. [H.P.B.]
It is true that after a person’s death, his children or kindred offer sacrifice in the shape of pinda (rice-balls) calling upon the name of the departed spirit. But it is no less true that it is an article of faith based upon quite a different reason than the one assigned. No educated person would for a moment think that the spirit of the deceased hears him, or—less than all—can taste the food so offered. it is done simply as a duty to the memory of the dead,3 and rather on behalf of the survivors; an act believed to absolve them before the world from the debt of obligation to the departed. . . .
3. In Christian Russia the same custom of offering rice to the dead prevails throughout the Empire. For six weeks after the death of a person, dishes full of rice with a wax taper stuck in the middle of it are sent at regular periods to the parish church or laid on the tomb of the defunct. There, with the rice placed near, a mass is said for the rest of the departed soul in order that it should not become a bhût, a restless wandering soul in the earth-region—the latter being considered the greatest misfortune. In Roman Catholic countries it is the same thought or fear of the soul’s torments at being earth-bound that underlies the ceremony of the Feast of the Dead held throughout Christendom on the 2nd of November.—Ed. [H.P.B.]
. . . No one has ever dreamt that he enfranchised spirit is in any way benefited by such ceremonies. Its karma (merit) alone moulds after death its future existence, in its new stage of cyclic progression. . . . The annual Ani festival held in June brings hundreds of persons afflicted with obsession—some actually, others only suspected of it—to the town of Sankar-Nainar-Kovil. They throng the place, coming from every direction. As a rule, the victims belong to the lower classes. Ignorance is the mother of Superstition. The “Pisachpitittaval”4 or “Badha-allaval”5 (obsessed persons) are without the slightest education, belonging at best to the agricultural class. . . .
4. Literally, “devil-seized,” one taken possession of by a fiend.—Ed. [H.P.B.]
5. Having an evil spirit.—Ed. [H.P.B.]