The folklore of Assamese ghosts and spirits: A brief study

Folklore has, over time, become an indispensable part of a society. These folklores are often passed from one generation to another, and they often inflict a lot of thrills,
The folklore of Assamese ghosts and spirits: A brief study

Bishaldeep Kakati

(Advocate, Gauhati High Court, can be reached


Folklore has, over time, become an indispensable part of a society. These folklores are often passed from one generation to another, and they often inflict a lot of thrills, excitement, and moral values amongst the dwellers in society. The factual relevance of these folklores is often in question, but often they are narrated or portrayed in such a manner that they are believed to be true. Folklore is available in almost every part of the world, and interestingly, these vary according to the geographical location they are part of. In this regard, the mystic land of India is not an exception either. In fact, in the northeastern part of India lies the land of Assam, which holds a unique spot not only in the country but also in the world as a whole when the talk is about folklore. History’s detailing shows that the land of Assam already has a relation to the Mahabharata, and excerpts from Sir Edward Gait’s book ‘A History of Assam’ further strengthen the belief that the land is also related to myth, mystery, magic, and necromancy. Taking into consideration these aspects from the same land, it won’t be a surprise to learn that Assam also hosts numerous tales and accounts on spirits, ghosts, supernaturals, etc., which have become a part of the folk culture and significantly the society.

India’s Vedic literature has references to bhoot, yaksha, rakshasa, pichasa, and other elements. Noted folklorist and scholar Prafulladatta Goswami also highlighted demons that cause harm to children and cattle. Other references on this aspect are dealt with by one of the pioneer researchers and scholars, Benudhar Rajkhowa, in his book ‘Assamese Demonology’. In his book, the scholar talked not only about the list of ghosts and demons but also divided them into different categories. The list of ghosts in the book included aquatic spirits like baak, dote, jakh, datial, jankakharia, jal-sai, jal-narayan, and jal konwar; ghosts related to forests and woods like chamon, burha-dangoriya, alakani, pixach, daini, peret, bhoot, ketor, narkuchia, prasuta, kand, bira, and khabish; and celestial spirits like jam, bih-karam, kalika, deo, lakhimi, apeswari, and bijuli. Interestingly, the facets of all these spirits and demons are believed to be quite different, especially from their appearance to the way they are believed to deceive or hypnotise individuals, as well as the time of their appearance, either during the day, afternoon, or night. Although, in reality, the existence of these spirits is still baffling, with a few accepting their presence and many discarding it. However, the existence of these spirits in the form of folklore has captivated the Assamese audience for a long time. These spirits can be of different types with different names and stories, but a few common ones have been discussed below that occupy an integral part of the Assamese folklore on spirits, demons, ghosts, and supernaturals. Some of these are: Bira, Jokini, Kon Bhoot, Ghorapaak, Puwali Bhoot, Bamboo Ghost, Burha Dangoriya, Pixaas, Baak, Dhon Kuber, Porua, etc.

Assamese folklore on ghosts always finds the tales on ‘Bira’. People in Assam often believe that there are certain individuals who even pet Bira. The Bira’s are fed a lot of food by their master, and in return, the Bira’s create a lot of wealth and opportunities for the masters. It is believed that they often connect with people who are emotionally unsound and going through stress. These super-natural beings are associated with violent activities like beating others, etc.

Another famous supernatural from the Assamese folklore on ghosts is Jokhini. Jokhinis are often believed to be female spirits who have unfulfilled desires and often attack and disturb pregnant women so as to steal the child. The Jokhinis are believed to knock at the doors late at night or sometimes even stand as a scary silhouette.

People residing in remote areas of Assam deliberate on two other spirits, Kon Bhoot and Ghorapaak. While the former is a three-legged creature with eyes on the chest and no neck that can severely attack human beings, the latter is a form of partly horse and partly man that is found near the sides of water bodies. People believe that both supernatural powers have the power to control and manipulate human beings.

‘Puwali’ in Assamese means a kid or a young child. Similarly, ‘Puwali Bhoots’ in the Assamese belief system are believed to be young ghosts who steal food from households, and references to them can also be found in the poem meant for children written by the legendary Jyotiprasad Agarwala.

Bamboo ghosts, as the name suggests, are supernaturals believed to reside in the bamboo groves of Assam. It is believed that these spirits attack human beings who pass through bamboo groves by doing a lot of mischievous tricks. Among the holy spirits, Burha Dangoriya is believed to be the scared spirit that protects the Naamghars of Assam. People who believe they have seen Burha Dangoriya portray him as a tall old man dressed in white riding a horse. On the contrary, Pixaas are believed to be spirits that possess humans and force and manipulate them to commit heinous acts. It is also believed to be associated with violence and destruction. Another interesting spirit in Assamese folklore is Baak. Baak is believed to be an aquatic spirit that loves eating fish and sometimes even troubles fishermen. In fact, a famous film known as ‘Baakor Putek’ has also been produced in Assam on this.

In Assamese folklore, Dhon Kuber is believed to be the spirit that protects areas where buried treasure is found. These spirits are believed to make human beings go astray from the path and ultimately kill them if they trespass on ghost areas or try to dig protected buried treasure. Similarly, popularly known as Porua, these spirits often create confusion and disorientation in the minds of human beings and make them go astray, ultimately killing them. It is believed that if someone falls prey to the spirit of Porua, it lures him, takes him deep into the forest, and ultimately kills him. Thus, the Assamese folklore on ghosts has many tales of supernatural powers.

The validity of these spirits is still a question that is highly debated, but over the years, these spirits have found their place in the stories narrated by grandmothers to their grandchildren so as to make them sleep out of fear, or sometimes, in the past, it has even led to elderly village people sitting for emergency discussions because of these spirits. But one cannot deny the fact that these tales make the Assamese folklore on ghosts more interesting, eerie, and full of thrills. This topic in the current juncture has also become so popular that people have already started doing more research on it, and young directors like Chinmoy Barma of Assam are already using AI technology to entertain the crowd with attractive stories about these spirits. As such, these tales of the spirits will continue to attract more people to the Assamese folklore on ghosts, spirits, and demons.

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