Nestled in the hills of the Aravali range, the Bhangarh fort is believed to be India’s most haunted fort. Once a mighty fort envied around the region, the place now houses only broken columns, whispers of legends past and tales of ruin. Attracting all those who are willing to dip their feet into the world beyond, the Bhangarh Fort is a source where the past still lingers, inviting souls to dance with death herself.
The sun peaks over the horizon to drown out the darkness, and shed light on a village that once was. The dawn chorus of the many birds of the locality is the only sound that fills the open air on this beautiful morning at Bhangarh. This peace and serenity that looms over the Fort are soon to be pierced with the murmurs and screams of herds of tourists on an expedition to visit a fallen village.
Bhangarh looked much bigger when I first saw it. A light breeze swept into the garden, ruffling the only two leaves I had at the time, and thus began my first memory of the area. I awoke to a melange of sounds coming westward from the marketplace – the chatter of buyers and vendors bounced off of the surrounding brick walls and disintegrated into the crisp open air. Vast plains of dense hills towered over the village, almost sheltering it from the outside world. The calmness of the surrounding greenery once complimented the chaos of the village. Now, this same silence mourns the death of an irradiant community.
As time went on, I grew a little bigger, and the world around me got a little smaller. I soon became larger than the villagers, who would often sit in my shadow to escape the day’s heat. One of my fondest visitors was a mischievous young princess. A zestful, witty, and energetic personality bound to a petite stature – the innocence and beauty she exuded were much too deceitful, for it did hardly any justice to the enigma that she was. Since childhood, her free spirit always made itself apparent and often landed her in trouble.
She spent quite a lot of time in this garden, sitting next to me, in hiding from her elders.
They would call out to her while she was in this state of peace – every tree and every blade of grass was a friend to her, for it was in our midst that she felt genuinely unjudged and placid.
They yelped again, hoping she would come back. Each time they said her name, she grew a little more impatient, feeling more distant from her world, and more consumed by ours.
This pattern continued into her adolescence and womanhood. She grew into a beautiful and poised princess, but still true to her independent nature. Young men would flock to her, ambitious to have her hand in marriage; but the Princess was consistently displeased with each of her suitors. “No,” had almost become an automatic response that seamlessly dribbled from her full mahogany lips.
Their lustful gazes were rather harmless, except for one which eventually led to the destruction of the village, and the abandonment of its mighty Fort. The Princess caught the eye of a Tantric, who had been notorious for his ill use of magic. Being incredibly enamoured by the young woman, he too was determined to make the Princess his wife.
The village marketplace was as lively as ever, with customers at every stall, negotiating prices to the last silver coin. Among these buyers was the Princess’s maid, who had been going from vendor to vendor in search of the perfect perfume for the Princess. She approached the Tantric’s stall and picked up a small crystalline bottle containing a transparent peach-hued liquid. The Tantric examined the woman before him, with a sense of familiarity. She had decided to purchase the perfume, and his eyes widened with a sudden realization that dawned upon him. As he packed the bottle away from the woman’s sight, he mumbled and gestured his hand over it, giving the liquid a deep magenta glow. With this, he handed the packaged bottle to the maid, who had smiled and paid her due.
Within moments, the Princess, tightly grasping the bottle, marched down to the Tantric’s stall with a grimace. Silence fell upon the whole of Bhangarh as she flung the bottle at him in a fit of rage. As it flew in his direction, the bottle’s edges began to grow blunt, and its size and weight expanded. The bottle had morphed into a boulder, trampling the tantric under its weight.
That was the moment when havoc wreaked on Bhangarh. The Tantric’s face turned multiple shades of red and purple, as he put a curse on the Princess, her family, and the entire village. In a matter of moments, chaos reigned, causing the whole village to collapse. Every last village dweller was turned to dust, every wall dismantled into its stone and rock constituents, and every trace of inhabitation erased from existence – it was at this moment that Bhangarh was pronounced deceased.
Today after 180 years of the Tantric’s curse, every bit and piece is still afresh in my memory. How I wish the Princess’s maid had never gone to the tantric’s stall. Once a lively and cheerful town, Bhangarh is now just an old, haunted and broken building. A curse destroyed everything – Ratnavati and her smile, the liveliness, the people and the community.
Tourists now visit this place to know about the mystery of the Bhangarh Fort. Afraid and curious, they think that an unsatisfied soul of Princess Ratnavati still lives in her large palace. Ah! Here come another two of those travellers – the brave ones, seeking thrill and adventure. One of them comes and sits under my shade and asks his friend for some water. The both of them settle down in my shade, indulging in idle conversation, as a means to hide their evident nervousness.
The names of the friends are Chandra and Bala, I deduce from their discussion. They ask the security guard about the story of the Fort, but alas, he started working here only from yesterday. No one stays here for more than a month. All the people who previously worked as security guards say that they had heard cries of the Princess at around 12 in the night. Clueless about any story of the Fort, the security asks the two of them to not go inside if they want to reach home alive.
They say that only in your youth do you seek thrill at the risk of your life.
Chandra and Bala picked up their backpacks and walked down the abandoned Fort. They entered the main gate, coughing because of the dust and clearing the cobwebs that had embraced this place as its final destination. As I watched them go, I wonder if Ratnavati ever appears before anyone or actually tries to help her come out of the curse by the tantric.
After an hour and a half, both Chandra and Bala come out. I feel relieved seeing their faces full of pride about completing their journey and emerging out safe. They talk animatedly amongst themselves, dismissing the stories that people have told them as just stories to scare children. Neither did they hear the princess cry and ask for salvation, nor did they see anything unusual inside.
Both of them walk to the security guard’s cabin. Seeing that it was empty, they decided to wait for the fellow’s return. After 10 minutes, the old, disinterested man returned to his post. The security guard asked them what they wanted, and to his utter disbelief, these two were narrating incidents of how nothing unusual happened to them in the Fort.
The guard asked, “Why are you saying these to me?”
“Because you were the one who had demotivated us to go in initially,” Chandra answered, annoyed.
“But I just came here to my cabin after two long hours post taking my lunch at home. And above all I never have in my life met either of you two before this. So why and how would I say something?” the guard made himself clear.
I’m not surprised though – neither at the fact that they hadn’t encountered the Princess nor that the security guard hadn’t met them before. After talking to them in the guise of the old man, she came and sat on her favourite branch. She is still here, do you want to talk to her?
Written by Kalyani Nandagopal and Pallavi Dutta for MTTN
Edited by Siri Rajanahally
Featured Image by Sindhura Lukka