A Nepali Ghost

Do people in Nepal believe in Ghosts?

भूत [bhuut] – ghost
गोरी [gorii] – white, pale (female); this adjective used to describe a beautiful woman, since paleness is regarded as beautiful in Nepal
अँध्यारो [a~dhyaaro] – darkness; also the adjective ‘dark’
शवहरु [shaw(haru)] – corpse(s)

It seems fair to claim: Nepali believe in ghosts – much more so than I have ever encountered the belief in European societies. Yes, we have this whole horror genre and people like to play with the idea of the existence of monsters, ghosts and the like. But then again we only enjoy playing with that thought, since we are sure they don’t “really” exist. This certainty of ghosts not being really real, is much weaker throughout Nepal.

The widespread fear of अँध्यारो [a~dhyaaro] in Nepal is greatly nurtured by that fear of ghosts, while admittedly other more natural dangers that are associated with the dark, do play their role as well.

My own (almost) encounter with some local mountain भूत [bhuut]

The last time someone warned me not to go out at night for the danger of running into ghosts – or rather actually begged me to accompany him – was during my latest trip in Manang district: He was a man in his mid-twenties maybe: A majduri – a day labourer – who was not originally from Manang, but from some hill district to the east. He lived in Manang Gau with his wife and little daughter. I met him in some small dal bhat restaurant in the settlement 1km to the east of Manang Gau, where I had walked myself from Manang Gau to treat myself to an affordable dinner. The ghost fearing man had been working during the day further to the east, cutting trees and had stopped at the dal bhat hotel for a brief chat with the shop owner on his way home. When he heard that I was also going to walk back to Manang Gau later, he said that he was going to wait for me as the dusk had already turned to night.

Manang at night

At first he claimed that he wanted to accompany me for my own protection – maybe a bear was out hunting for single गोरी [gorii] ladies. When I told him that I was not scared and that he should just go ahead, he kept refusing. After insisting from my side since I could see him getting restless, he eventually admitted that he was scared himself and that much more of the ghosts out there, than of any bears and that he would just feel better, having company when walking home. Only after he realized that I was really taking my time, he actually chose to get going by himself in the last light of the evening dusk, since his wife would worry otherwise (and maybe he was doubting that even the two of us together would survive the short walk home through the darkness). Later – walking home in a silvery full moon landscape by myself, embraced by the black peaks of the Annapurna – I admit I felt a bit anxious myself after all this ghost and bear talk. I was staring at the shadows and listening into the silence around me, while walking at a fast pace – I was mostly worried about encountering another human being with bad intentions, though. But as I had hoped: No bear, no man and no ghost crossed my path – just me and this magical black-silvery landscape.

Ghosts are everywhere in Nepal

People can be pretty inventive when it comes to integrating Ghost beliefs with actual events: In 2007, just after the civil war between Maoists and Army had ended, I was in some village in Doti (Far-West), where I met an elder Lady, who told us a lengthy story in her Doteli dialect, about some Maoist Ghosts, who lived in the woods nearby, who kept harassing her whenever she went to collect firewood. They would whisper to her, or touch her from behind. Apparently during the civil war someone (probably the army) had dropped the शवहरु [shawharu] of a few Maoists in the forest where she usually went to collect wood and the poor woman had discovered them one day. Since then their ghost spirits had started harrassing her.

Also I have been warned several times over the years in various locations, that I really should not whistle at night (or preferably any time at all) inside the house, as I would be attracting ghosts. During my whole time I have never encountered one single ghost, but a Nepali friend of mine told me how once a ghost had possessed his own mother, whom I have had the pleasure to meet long after the ghost was gone.

Ghosts and Shamanism

The concept of ghosts is something that comes from the indigenous Shamanistic religions, that are still widespread throughout Nepal, even though they have long taken a backseat against the more public faces of Hinduism and Buddhism. People are devote Hindus, but still would recommend you seeing the witch doctor if your stomach ache is not successfully treated by modern medicine (or if the treatment turns out to be too expensive).

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