Do ghosts really exist?

Murari Sharma

Do Ghosts Exist?

I encountered a bizarre incident when I was a teenager. One late evening, during the days of festivities, I was walking home from the playground with a couple of friends. When we reached a small forest that divides two villages, one above and another below, we heard someone thumping his/her wet clothes with a wooden bat. First we thought someone must be doing last minute laundry for the festival. But no one of right mind would wash clothes well after 10 PM in that dark cavity, in the middle of a forest.

People claimed that they had seen ghosts or heard them make funny sounds at night in the area, on several occasions. When one of us shared this recollection, the thumping sound felt like it was coming closer to us. So we ran up the hill with all our strength, crossed the forest and reached the foot of the village above. We collapsed at the resting platform, away from the ghosts, before walking home. Even today, after 4 decades, I wonder whether ghosts exist and whether they wanted to frighten us late evening.

Ghosts have intrigued human beings, at all times, in all faiths. The Garud Purana – the Hindu epic about after-life, written some 5,000 years ago – says people who die unnaturally or who do not get proper after-death ritual become troubled spirits and ghosts. A Chinese legend has it that Tu Po’s spirit killed King Hsuan (827-783 BC), as the king had killed Tu Po on false charges. Greeks, Jews, Christians all have stories tell about ghosts.

In modern times, people have used the latest cameras to capture the pictures of ghosts. When you Google, you come across several websites on ghosts. and other websites have posted their photographs. Such pictures are collected from all over the world, including the United States and the United Kingdom. We rejoice at Vampire and other creepy stories.

My father, an Ayurvedic doctor who died 10 years ago, used to tell us that he had seen ghosts many times and that they harm you only if you fear them. My two sisters, who are still alive, claim to have encountered the walking ghost of our dead neighbor at around 7 in an autumn evening, when you could still recognize faces well. Our cowherd once told me that ghosts tagged him along whenever he had to walk in the middle of night between our house and barn, a half an hour’s distance. My wife has her own ghost stories to share.

Most intriguing of all, though, is the incident narrated by a man who worked for us for some 4 decades. In his 20s,

he and other youngsters used to enact dramas at night from house to house to raise money. One night, he and another member of the cultural troupe were left behind. As they were walking to catch up with their group, they saw a tall headless figure in white robes riding a white horse coming their way. The man who worked for us gave way to the rider by stepping to the trail’s edge. But the other stood blocking the trail. The headless rider vanished a few feet from the man standing on its way and reappeared a few feet behind him. The rider continued on his journey at an incredible speed. Within three days, the young man died.

Scientists have tried to offer explanations for ghost sightings. Prof. Michael Persinger of Laurentian University of Canada, has said changes in geomagnetic field can stimulate the brain’s temporal lobes and produce bizarre experiences. Richard Wiseman has tried to explain that infrasound may cause humans to experience bizarre feelings in a room, such as anxiety, extreme sorrow, a feeling of being watched, etc. Carbon monoxide poisoning has been cited as a possible explanation for haunted houses. Wiseman says, although ghosts do not exist, hauntings do.

In this day and age, we would all like to believe in scientific explanation of things. But the trouble is neither the ghost sightings nor the scientific explanations have been credibly and incontrovertibly proved. So the ghosts and spirits remain as much an enigma today as they were 5,000 years ago. I am still trying to figure out who made the thumping sound I heard in eastern hills of Nepal. Until we have full and reliable explanation of ghosts and spirits, let us enjoy hearing, reading and watching ghosts stories.

November 23, 2009


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