Although I’d read numerous things about tantriks, practitioners of black magic, in India I’d never actually seen one in real life. My recent visit to the Sonepur Fair in Bihar changed that though.
At 4.30 a.m. on Kartik Purnima, an auspicious full moon occasion, I stumbled bleary eyed out of bed at my tourist hut at the Fair to make my way down to the river to witness the holy dip. Pilgrims believe that an early morning bath, where the Ganges and Gandak rivers meet, will wash away their all sins and problems. This is a focal event of the Fair and not to be missed.
I had one issue though. I was traveling alone and didn’t know how best to see it. The local journalist who’d offered to take me there had had an accident in the night and cancelled our plans. I thought if I got up early, I might be able to go along with other tourists. Yet, the only group that I found to be departing for the bathing was a huge group of Japanese.
As I was wondering what to do, I noticed a lone gentleman sitting and talking in Hindi to one of the tourist accommodation staff. “Is anyone else going to the river?” I asked. It turned out that the guy was a respected Indian photographer from Patna and he was indeed going to the river. What’s more, he’d been to the Sonepur Fair around 15 times.
“Wonderful. I’m coming with you then!”, I invited myself along in the Indian way. I was very blessed that day, as I spent six hours following my new friend around, seeing the Fair through photographer’s eyes in ways that I never expected.
Before the sun had even started to rise, the photographer and I were already in a boat in the river. The area was alive with thousands of pilgrims, snack stalls, and sellers of trinkets and religious items.
For some reason, I’d gotten it into my head that the holy bathing would be a somber affair. The first inkling that this might not be the case came when the photographer remarked that there were “ghost hunters” present. It seemed a bit surreal to me and my mind was eager to dismiss it.
As the sun came up, the riverbank was blanket of bright coloured saris, incense, and chanting. Some pilgrims plunged gleefully into the water, while others stepped slowly in the cold. I was mesmerised by the experience — something that I’d never been a part of in India before. It was powerful. The last time I’d felt like that was at the Ganga Aarti at Haridwar.
And then I saw my first tantrik. Actually, the slow, incessant deep rhythmic drumming announced his presence before I set eyes on him. He wore a yellow lungi on the lower half of his body, while his upper body remained naked. His hair was wild and fell almost to his neck, and in between each of his fingers was a hand rolled bedi. They looked like long, menacing claws. He was dancing intently while he smoked up and took his mind to another world — the spirit world.
Pilgrims having bad luck in their lives came to the tantrik to get it resolved. He dragged them into the water, and with his eyes rolling back in his head, performed rituals to remove the evil energies.
At one stage, he looked straight at me. I was only meters away. I’d already been feeling uneasy but this really made me disturbed. I felt like I’d seen personal things that I shouldn’t.
“He’s doing a good job if he’s acting,” my photographer friend remarked to me. Was he for real? Who knows! But for me it was an intoxicating encounter that I’ll never forget.
There were female tantriks there as well!
Bleary eyed on a boat early in the morning.
© 2012, Diary of a White Indian Housewife. All rights reserved. Do not copy and reproduce text or images without permission.
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