The Shamans of the night
Under the quilt, the night crawls on your skin. Footsteps crunch on the gravel around midnight. The house has paper thin walls of whitewashed pine, loosely overlapping. Even in deep dreams, you can’t ignore the chilling sound of the Jogi’s pipe. Hollow and terrifying.
It comes from somewhere deep inside the shaman, just like the mantras he mumbles in a frenzy. He calls on gods, goddesses and spirits for protection to repel ghosts and demons back to the underworld.
I can still hear that haunting sound in my head yet I can’t quite describe it. It sounds like a conch but not quite.It sounds so much more blood-chilling as the Jogi blows four times. Deep howls, once for every corner of the house as he chants audibly.When the walls are paper thin and you sleep close to the pine wood wall, you hear the Jogi and his companion coughing in the cold night and their footsteps as they walk around the house to cover the four directions.Inside the cover of the quilt, you hold your breath, tightly close your eyes and ears and fervently wait for them to go away.
Once I asked my father what the pipes were made of. Nonchalant he said, “Nalli khutta ko haddi.” It’s made up of a dead person’s shin bone.
Sometimes, the Jogi comes alone and other times he has an apprentice with him. They come twice a year during Spring and Autumn when it is believed that the spirits are most active. They usually roam from village to village in the cover of the night exorcising demons and tying houses with invisible protective threads. My father says, if they sense any home being afflicted with spells and bad spirits, they wake up the owners and help ward them off with mantras, prayers and spells. He tells me that if the Jogi’s pipe didn’t blow in front of a house at night, they would know that the house was under attack by bad spirits. I fervently wished it would never be ours.
In the morning mother teaches me to prepare the Navadan. A plate with nine items -
oil in a bowl,
dry red chili peppers,
onions and salt.
It’s a wonder that I still remember all this. The Jogi will come again in the afternoon and shout Jai Gorakhnath! from the gate, another name for Lord Shiva, the destroyer. They wait with their linen cloth bags to collect alms for the work they have done at night. They don’t seem scary at all during the day, just ordinary people following age old traditions to keep us protected from evil spirits. They are our vigilantes.