Every year, on a full moon night before the Magh month (21st January - 19th February), the night sky is rent with horrifying screams in a village named Malajpur in Madhya Pradesh. This has been taking place since the past 300 years or so. It's time for the 'ghost fair' or 'bhooton ka mela'.
Evil spirits who had found safe haven inside human bodies are exorcised into the night air as part of a chilling spectacle. People run amok seemingly unaware of what they're doing. A disproportionate number of women flail about wildly, hair scattered, eyes glassy, as their relatives clutch on to them. Some are chained to prevent them from running away. Some go into convulsions caused by some unseen terror—shrieking and rolling on the floor as they go into hysterics.
The priests of the temple in Malajpur start chanting as the temple bell tolls. It is time for the exorcism to begin. A long line of people snakes up to where the ceremony is to take place. Apparently, a lot of people need saving from evil spirits. The priests pull the 'possessed' by the hair, both men and women, and beat them viciously with brooms. According to them, this is an attempt to intimidate the spirit tormenting the person. The priests ask questions such as "Who are you?" and "From where have you come?”
At some point the priest confirms that the person is indeed possessed and proceeds to beat the person until the demon has left the body. The person is now officially cured and chants of “Guru Maharaj Deoji ki jai” resound. The malevolent spirit has meanwhile gone ahead and hung itself upside down on one of the banyan trees there. Most spirits who get exorcised have chosen the haunt to spend the remainder of their bodiless existence.
Some context would help explain this annual event. In the 18th century, a holy man named Deoji Maharaj visited Malajpur where he showed off feats such as turning soil into jaggery and rocks into coconut. Gradually he started using his powers to rid the local villagers of malicious spirits. A temple was built and some priests who claimed to be his ancestors took the tradition forward.
Now even after all these hundreds of years, priests and the villagers of Malajpur have succeeded in keeping this tradition alive. Call it superstitious mumbo-jumbo but thousands of people flock to Malajpur till date, driven by their belief that the village holds power to rid them of evil spirits.
Eye-witnesses swear by what they see—people who seemed possessed, cured almost miraculously. Psychologists put the onus for this miracle on the patient's mind. Human activists have been trying to shut down this practice for a while but have been unable to do so. The fair is wildly popular, superstitions aside, and may just be an experience you will never be able to shake off.