Thursday, February 6, 2020

HGB Ep. 326 - Legends of India

Moment in Oddity - Coga the Sheep
Suggested by: John Michaels

Blood transfusions have saved countless lives. It was surprising to us to find out that this risky procedure started back in the 1600s, given the fact that blood couldn't be typed back then. The first successful one was in 1665. Unbelievably, transfusions of animal blood to humans was begun shortly thereafter. After ten years, these were deemed illegal because of the bad reactions people would have. There would also be the use of milk before it was figured out that saline would be safer to help with the transfusions. But let's get back to that animal to human transfusion thing. There were people who actually believed that such a thing would give humans animal powers. Remember Samuel Pepys Diary that we talked about in the last episode? Well, he wrote in it, "may, if it takes, be of mighty use man’s health, for the mending of bad blood by borrowing from a better body." Sheep and calves were used a couple of times and two people managed to survive the transfusions before a third died and made the practice illegal. Despite this, another experiment was carried out on a mentally ill man named Arthur Coga. A lamb was used and the process was called a xenotransfusion and it took place before the prestigious Royal Society on November 23, 1667. Coga lived and actually had a second xenotransfusion. After this, he started claiming he was half-sheep and signed his letters "Coga the Sheep." He complained about the "loss of his own wool." When he was offered a third transfusion, he refused saying he had already been transformed into another species and that, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - G.I. Joe Action Figures Launch

In the month of February, on the 2nd, in 1964, Hasbro introduces the G. I. Joe action figure. Many of the listeners to HGB probably considered themselves nerds. Both of your hosts are nerds. Lots of nerds dig action figures and G.I. Joe would be the first. There would be a whole line of them that represented the four branches of the military: Action Soldier for Army, Action Sailor for Navy, Action Pilot for Air Force and Action Marine for the Marine Corps. An Action Nurse would come later. These figures were 12-inches tall originally and were designed by Stan Weston. He sold the design to Hasbro for $100,000 and the rest is history. The figures would continue to be made for decades and downsized to 3.75 inches. The smaller models would have the same multiple areas of articulation as their bigger counterparts and this made them both superior to figures like Barbie or Kenner's Star Wars figures. And today, many of those earlier models are worth quite a bit of money.

Legends of India

The country of India is a place with beautiful structures and gorgeous mountain settings, but also caste systems and abject poverty. India is an ancient city that has been ruled and controlled by many other countries and still finds some of its areas in political upheaval and struggles with its neighbors, Pakistan and China, continue today. This is a place of mystique and enlightened religious beliefs and many people living here harbor superstitions and beliefs about possession and spirits. The Himalayas are as rife with magical beliefs as our Appalachian Mountains in America. In this episode, we will touch on a brief history of India and then delve into her many ghost stories and legends!

Covering the history of India is best done by measuring the country along a timeline. There is so much to unwrap politically and culturally. Most of what we know about India comes from movies or technology. We've all experienced spending hours on the phone with some tech in India. The country has become quite known in the fields of technology and medicine. But in many other ways, the country is very backwards in its thinking about certain classes of people. I remember watching the Patrick Swayze movie "City of Joy" and seeing how people of different caste systems were treated. It's not one of his better known movies, but it is one of his best and I wish it would've gotten more attention.

The first known man-made structures in India are the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka that date to 9000 BC and are found on the southern edge of the central Indian plateau and the neat thing about these are they are decorated with paintings. The Mehrgarh Culture showed up in 7000 BC and lasted until 3300 BC. Archaeologists have found signs of farming and herding in the ruins. The Indus Valley Civilization would follow and they would make use of writing using Harappan script. This group would grow and expand to 2500 cities, some of which were very large. They made use of drainage and sewage systems. The Vedic Age started in 1700 BC and went through 500 BC. This was a time of the Vedic Sanskrit texts and Hinduism would come out of this. Families would become patriarchal, which makes us think they were matriarchal up to this point. The caste system would take hold at this time. At the beginning, Hinduism split people into four groups: the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas and the Shudras. This developed into the system that still exists today even though India has made rules to make it illegal to discriminate according to caste rank. This more modern system is a social structure that divides different groups into higher castes and lower castes and is judged based on family, color, wealth and other such things. Karma is to blame for where somebody ends up. There are 3,000 castes with sub-castes also. The Dalits are considered untouchable. These would be people suffering from leprosy and other such diseases. Imagine deeming humans as untouchable.

Starting in 500 BC Buddhism and Jainism would rise. This time period is considered Ancient India and this is when King Darius would grow an empire and then his son would later be defeated by Alexander the Great. The Macedonian Empire started then and would be followed by many different empires. A timeline makes it appear that kingdoms switched out as often as every 70 years, so nearly every couple of generations. The Medieval Period ran from 550 AD to 1526 AD. Marco Polo would visit India during this time. Post-Medieval Era lasted until 1818 AD. The Taj Mahal would be built during this time in 1658. During the 1700s, there would be many wars. The British would take over control of India in 1818 and this began the Colonial Era that lasted until 1947. India would become a free country then.

Jayne Dyson writing for the BBC in 2013, spent some time in an Himalayan village and she wrote of the beliefs of the people there when it came to spirit possession and they clearly think it is a common occurrence. Dyson wrote, "Spirit possession is a big issue in Bemni. There are times when villagers expect to be possessed, at weddings, or specially organised pujas, religious ceremonies. Then the spirit of an ancestor may enter the body of a person, usually in moments of extreme emotion - say when a daughter is being prepared to be given away in a marriage ceremony. The possessed person might cry, shake uncontrollably, fling their arms around, beat their chest. This is part of village culture and it never arouses anxiety. The possessed person quickly recovers to carry on with the rest of the ritual. Possession is also blamed if a child is playing up or a teenager is unusually moody. The parent might call on an elder or a Hindu priest to remove the bad spirit from the body. This possession can be quite low-level and continue for some time. Some young people seem to use possession as an excuse: 'I used to be a hard worker at school, but then... I was possessed.' But what worries villagers more is to be possessed by a evil spirit, by the ghosts that dwell in the forest. These spirits can make them ill, or even kill them." The Indians who live in villages often build multiple temples to help keep away evil spirits. Many of them believe that the woods are full of evil spirits. They probably think Americans and Europeans touring there and going on hikes are crazy.

The Indian people have a particular term they use for a ghost and that is bhoot or bhuta. As is the case in all countries, the region defines how a bhoot is interpreted. Generally, a spirit is said to be hanging around because something is keeping it from transmigrating or moving on to the next place, whether that be Heaven, Hell, Nirvana or non-being. And just as a violent death or unfinished business might lead to a haunting here in America, it is the same in India. That's what of the interesting things about ghosts. They really are uniters in the fact that we all internationally share the same beliefs about them. Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist communities all share cultural beliefs about supernatural entities. Sikhs also have similar beliefs about ghosts, but they make up a very small portion of the Indian population. There is also a female version of the bhoot that is called a chudail that is the spirit of a woman who died during pregnancy or childbirth. They like to lure young men at crossroads and lead them away to their death.

Bhoots generally appear in human form, but can sometimes alter their forms into those of animals. The key thing for identifying a bhoot is by looking at its feet. A bhoot will have feet that are backwards. They also rarely will have those backward feet on the ground as they are loath to touch the earth because it is considered sacred. One description we find hilarious is that they talk with a nasal twang. And another key identifier is that they cast no shadow, which makes sense since they are a spirit. Many bhoots are described as wearing white as well. Things that protect against bhoots are very similar to other places. Water, steel and iron are all used to keep spirits at bay. Burnt turmeric is also supposed to repel bhoots. Spirits can be cast out of places, but they cannot be destroyed, especially in Hindu beliefs. Hindu exorcists perform rituals that will help a bhoot to move on to its next life or the next realm, so it will stop haunting the person of family being tormented.

We are going to start off talking about a couple of haunted locations in West Bengal. The Hindu Bengal culture celebrates Bhoot Chaturdashi during the waning phase of the moon which normally occurs on the 14th day of Krishna Paksha. The Bengalis light 14 earthen-lamps on that night to appease the spirits of their past 14 generations of ancestors. That is a lot of generations! And if you think you aren't real hip to having a bunch of family descend on your home during the holidays, imagine 14 generations crashing on your house. And it's all your fault because you lit those lamps to guide the way. So maybe decide that blackout is the way to go on that evening. During this time there is also a fearsome aspect of the Hindu goddess Kali that can present itself known as Chamunda. Chamunda is the goddess of war and disease and is said to haunt cremation grounds or fig trees. She usually shows up during this festival with 14 other spirits and they ward off evil spirits. Bengalis will light those 14 lamps at different entrances to their homes and in dark corners of rooms to help with keeping the evil spirits at bay and also they might eat a dish of 14 types of leafy vegetable, so they won't be possessed. Clearly, the number 14 is significant to them.

The Bengal culture has about 25 different forms of spirits they recognize. A Petni is a female ghost who died unmarried or has some unsatisfied desires. Mamdo Bhoot is the ghost of a Muslim and is said to kill people by twisting their necks. A Penchapechi is a vampire-like spirit that takes on the form of an owl and haunts the forests of Bengal. Damori are a group of supernatural beings that are not human spirits and come from unseen realms and they can be controlled by people who practice Tantric ways and black magic. They are similar to faeries. A Besho Bhoot is a ghost that lives in a bamboo garden. There is a spirit that can hypnotize a person and take him to an unknown location called a Kanabhula and so people are warned to not walk around alone, especially at night. A Mechho Bhoot is a ghost that likes to eat fish and will demand that fishermen give them their fish, in a nasily voice of course, and if they don't they will harm the fishermen. A Dhan Kudra is a house spirit that helps the owner of the house make money and brings them good luck. A Gechho Bhoot is a ghost that lives in trees. The Atoshi Bhoot is what Bengalis call a ghost light or Will-o'-the-wisp. A Begho Bhoot is the spirit of a person who was killed by a tiger. They get very specific in India. A headless ghost is called a Skondhokata.

They have witches in the Bengali culture and they are called Dainee. They are similar to our witches in folklore as they are said to kidnap children, kill them and suck their blood. The Old Hag that goes with our sleep paralysis happens here too and is known as Boba. Women who commit suicide by drowning or were murdered with water become Sheekol Buri and are spirits that dwell in water. The Nishi are night spirits who call people out to secluded areas by hypnotizing them and those people are never seen again. Benevolent spirits are known as Brahmodaittyo, but in sharp contrast to them are the Rakkhosh, which are demonic creatures that appear with sharp claws, pointy fangs and superhuman strength. Another demonic creature is the Pishach and these are said to be flesh-eating and haunt graveyards. The female version is called a Pishachini and she has a terrible appearance and drains men of their virility and blood. Little spirits that are dwarf-like are Khokkosh and giant spirits are Daittyo. The Betaal is almost like a zombie in that it inhabits a cadaver and uses it for getting around. The Jokkho is a warrior-type entity that is benevolent and usually protects the wealth of whoever worships it. And finally, the Bengali also believe in the Djinn of the Muslims.

Morgan House

Kalimpong is a town in the Indian state of West Bengal, which is on the far western side of India. This area is called Chandralok, which means "the land of the moon." This town had once been the gateway for trade between Tibet and India before China annexed Tibet. Fur, wool and grains would pass between the two on passes that were offshoots of the ancient Silk Road. Indigenous tribes had lived here for centuries before the area would be ruled by the Sikkimese Kingdom followed by the Bhutanese Kingdom. In 1865, a treaty ceded the territory to the British East India Company. The town started as a small hamlet, but flourished and grew under British control and soon became known for its schools. India gained its independence in 1947 and Kalimpong became part of West Bengal. Buddhist monks fleeing Tibet established monasteries in the town and many important Buddhist scriptures are housed here in the Phodang Monastery and Zang Dhok Palri Monastery. It would be nice to finish off this brief history with a statement like the town continues to prosper in peace, but it is anything but peaceful here. For several decades, factions have fought to establish separate states along ethnic lines and despite the government forming a special council for governing in the area, the fights continue and the city has been under siege more than once.

It was here in Kalimpong, that a jute baron named George Morgan would build his big, beautiful home during British colonial rule. The home is named Morgan House for him and is described as a scenic hill station. Certain locations in Asia and Africa were given the name hill station by the British to refer to a town that was higher in elevation that was used as a refuge from summer heat. There are literally hundreds of hill stations in India. A jute baron was a man who had made his money in the jute industry and jute is a long, shiny vegetable fiber that can be spun into coarse, strong threads. This fiber is one of the most affordable natural fibers and is second only to cotton in how it is used and how much can be produced. Some of those uses are in the making of burlap and gunny cloth. So Morgan had plenty of money to build his home. He also married a woman who was an indigo plantation owner. They built Morgan House on sixteen acres atop the mountain of Durpindara, overlooking the majestic Kanchenjunga mountain range. The area is absolutely gorgeous.

Morgan House was built in the 1930s in the colonial Victorian style. The house was built from brick and wood and features lots of large, multi-paned rectangular windows. And when I say lots, I mean there are practically more windows than brick. The front porch is flanked by pillars and there are several large stone chimneys. I counted at least five. The house is two stories and has seven rooms. The landscaping is lush with gardens all around and much of the house is covered in ivy. This is reflective of the fact that Kalimpong is described as a city of flowers. The fireplaces were made from brick. I'm not sure how much has changed through the years, but the interior is not real fancy. Reviews describe rooms as large with antique wooden furniture.

The Morgans lived here for many years before Mrs. Morgan died a premature death. And this death would be a mystery. Some claimed that she had been taken with a serious illness while others blamed something nefarious for her death. There were people who claimed that George had abused and tortured his wife and that she finally died because of that. I had read both that George Morgan had abandoned the house shortly after his wife died and I also read in a 2004 newspaper article that both Morgans had died without an heir so the house was taken over by a Trustee Board and then eventually the government took ownership of the house. It was then turned into a boutique hotel that is still open today. It is a favorite of Bollywood actors. Sunil and Nargis Dutt, Kishore Kumar, Leena Chandavarkar, Om Prakash and Bengali actor Utpal Dutt, who has starred in comedy films like "Golmal" and "Hamari Bahu Alka." Many have left behind testimonials that are framed on the walls. The house is now being run by the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation.

And there are people who have stayed here that have claimed to have had unexplained experiences. It is believed that the spirit of Mrs. Morgan is here. Supposedly there have been no sightings of Mrs. Morgan's apparition specifically, but people have heard tapping of high-heeled footwear in the corridors of the lodge. People have claimed to hear a creepy female voice too. Some tourists after spending a night in the house have said that they had seen the shadowy figure of a lady in the mirror of the bathroom. Others have claimed to hear the voice of a female whispering.

Victoria Boy’s High School and Dow Hill Girl’s Boarding School

Darjeeling is another town in West Bengal. It followed much of the same path as Kalimpong in the dynasties and countries that ruled it. And there have been power struggles in the region as well. The British East India Company decided this area was perfect for a sanatorium for British soldiers. The Victoria Boy’s High School and Dow Hill Girl’s Boarding School is found here in Kurseong, Darjeeling. The school was started in 1879 by Sir Ashley Eden who was a diplomat in British India and also the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal. Initially, the school was named Dow Hill School. The school was a necessity for the children of railway workers and government servants. Rather than building a new structure, a house was bought and converted. This house had been known as "Constantia." The first group of children numbered sixteen. Eventually, the school needed to expand and it moved into the former Railway Offices. The Boy's School would break away and move to another building not far away. The schools do very well academically and are still open.

The schools have seen  much history and just happen to be part of the Dow Hill Station. The stories connected to Dow Hill are creepy! First, let's start with the Victoria Boy's School. It is closed during the Winter vacation from December to March and people claim that although the school is closed the sounds of footsteps and disembodied voices are heard. We're not sure if these occurrences are related to things that happened in the school or to the haunted forest that surrounds the school.

Between Dow Hill Road and the Forest office, there is a road that has been called "Death Road."  People traveling this road claim to feel as though they are being followed and watched. Some are even luckier to spot the apparition that is seen here often: a headless young boy. He is seen walking and then disappearing into the forest. There is also a Grey Lady seen in this forest. Legends claim that many murdered bodies have been found in these woods. Could that be why these woods are considered so haunted?

Lambi Dehar Mines

The mystery and creepiness of the Lambi Dehar Mines has made this location a favorite setting for horror movies and spooky TV programs. This had once been a fully operational lime mine that employed thousands of workers in Mussoorie, which is a colonial hill station known as the "Queen of the Hills." This is in the state of Uttarakhand that is north of West Bengal and is adjacent to Tibet and Nepal. There are 44 hill stations here and everything is so beautiful. The mine had employed thousands of workers in conditions that left hundreds of them dead. The mines soon earned the nickname "Mines of Death." Most of these workers were killed by something called the choking blood death. I imagine it was similar to black lung in that it affected the lungs. There is no record of when the mines opened, but they remained open until the 1990s, but after the deaths of 50,000 workers, they were finally deemed unsafe and abandoned. And now they are said to be one of the most haunted sites in India. Most of the spirits are said to belong to miners who died in the tunnels from accidents. Their disembodied screams are heard as are strange voices.There have been many fatal car accidents near the mines that are blamed on the spirits and a helicopter even crashed here once. A bit of legend claims that a witch has taken over the mines and there are people who claim to see her roaming about.

Savoy Hotel

The Savoy Hotel is found in Mussoorie as well. There is a ghost here named Lady Garnet Orme and she roams the hotel looking for whomever murdered her using rat poison. Her doctor found her dead and believed it was suspicious.Locals don't like the hotel and won't stay here because it is haunted. ITC Limited owns the hotel toady and they refurbished it and no ghost sightings have been reported.

South Park Street Cemetery

Kolkata is known as the City of Joy and is the capital of the state of West Bengal. The city is known for its grand colonial architecture and Mother Teresa's charity and tomb are here. This was formerly Calcutta, but changed to its Bengali spelling and pronunciation. The city has a few haunts. The first we'll venture into is the South Park Street Cemetery, which is a Christian burial ground. The cemetery was founded in 1767 and is the oldest burial ground in Kolkata. And oh my, is this necropolis wonderful! The front gate is bordered by a Gothic styled building that is painted pink. Well maintained concrete pathways guide people along. The crypts and mausoleums are plentiful, mossed and fern covered and eclectic. This cemetery is a jumble of styles from classical antiquity to Indo-Gothic to European Gothic. The cemetery covers eight acres and is surrounded by a high brick wall. The tallest structure in the cemetery is an obelisk that marks the burial of Sir William Jones who was the founder of the Asiatic Society. Similar to the Colonial Park Cemetery in Savannah, this cemetery has several headstones mounted in the eastern wall that used to be at the North Park Street Cemetery that was closed and bodies were moved. The South Park Cemetery continued burials until the 1840s.

Many tourists come here and some have claimed to see and even capture on film, shadow figures. That is, if their cameras work. There are people who have had issues with cameras malfunctioning. Superstitious people who live near the cemetery keep their windows shut at all times. Perhaps that is because people complain of feeling dizzy in the graveyard and some fall ill after leaving. Is there some kind of curse that follows them home?

Wipro Technologies

And speaking of cemeteries, the Wipro Technologies building in Kolkata is said to be haunted because it was built over a former cemetery. People outside of the building see figures moving about inside the building at night when no one is supposed to be in the building. The most haunted floor is the third floor of Tower 3. People working at night, mostly security guards, claim to see apparitions in the hallways and stepping out of the lifts.

Rabindra Sarovar Metro Station

Nearly 80% of the suicides in Kolkata take place at the Rabindra Sarovar Metro Station. It has garnered the nickname "Paradise of Suicide" and is one of the busiest metro stations. People claim the last train is haunted. Eerie shadows are seen and attendants say they see apparitions that seem to be walking around aimlessly. Sometimes when the last train pulls out, riders will still see several people crowding the platform, but they aren't there because they had been running to catch the train. These people already had the last ride they'll ever take.

Sanjay Van

The Sanjay Van is in India's capital of Delhi. As we pointed out, forests are places that Indians are a bit superstitious about and the Sanjay Van is a forest. People enjoy the beautiful greenery during the day, but when night falls, no one wants to be in the forest because this one is said to definitely be haunted. There are graves here, some of them are majaars, which are mausoleums, to Sufi saints and there are also ruins of the Qila Rai Pithora fort. People in the Sanjay Van at night hear cries and laughter. They also see a Woman in White, a lady wearing a white sari, who disappears into the forest.


Golkonda is a fort and was an early capital city. The fortress was built on a granite hill in the early 1500s for the Qutb Shahi dynasty. It fell into ruin in 1687 after a seige. The area then became known for the diamonds found there, the Golconda Diamonds. Visitors to the ruins claim to have seen the spirits of soldiers who died in the battles. There is also the spirit of a dancer here that was named "Taramati." She was the most famous courtesans of the Qutb Shahi dynasty. The sound of her ghungroo can be heard sometimes. For those who don't know, a ghungroo is the anklet with little bells that Indian dancers wear.

The Bombay High Court

The Bombay High Court is a beautiful structure done in the Gothic style that was built in 1862. It is one of the oldest high courts in India and that has led to a lot of history of firsts from the first Attorney General to the first Chief Justice and first Solicitor General after India gained its independence. The court is haunted by a spirit that people claim is either that of a lawyer or a murder convict. The targets of this vengeful spirit are usually those accused of murder and the spirit curses them in a hoarse voice and blocks the doors to a courtroom. The stories of this apparition have been told for over 30 years.

Three Kings Church in Goa

Three Kings Church in Goa is believed to be one of the most haunted places in India. It's officially known as Our Lady of Remedios Chapel. The church is found in the village of  Cansaulim, which is just south of Gao on the southwestern coast of India. It was built in 1599 and has has Spanish influences in the architecture. It reminds us of a mission and its painted white as well. People walking around the church say they get eerie feelings. The spirits here are said to belong to three kings. The only one with a known name is King Holger Alvunger. He desired to rule alone and two other kings challenged him. King Holger decided to poison the other two kings. When the people who supported the other kings heard what he had done, they became enraged. Holger knew they were going to kill him, so he decided to take the same poison he gave to the other kings. The three kings were buried in the church, thus the name. A team of paranormal investigators came to the church and caught evidence of several spirits.

India has many interesting legends and stories about ghosts. There also seem to be many haunted locations. Are these places in India haunted? That is for you to decide!

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