DEMYSTIFYING THE BANJHAKRI TALES

“Coo… coo… coo…That’s the best way I can mimic the sound, grandpa. It was eerie, sounded like a call or a code. I’m still shaken by the sound of it.”

I described, to my grandfather, the sound which woke me up all night.

Grandpa gave me a bemused look. His old eyes seemed to travel back in time and recollect all the memories and information he had in him about the input I had fed him with.

With extreme judiciousness, he blurted out a word- “Banjhakri.”
Further intricacies paved in when he started narrating me a story- absurd but putative.

Nani, I was eight and was staying at Chalamthang with my grandparents. The altitude is not too high, I think it is about a 1000 metre and the weather too is very pleasant. One could and still can hear streams of water hit huge rocks. I have in mind, the picture of two big streams with water as white as milk when viewed from a distance and as clear as a mirror when close. The nocturnal birds hoot when the Sun sets to rest. There used to be a hill just a few kilometers from my grandparents’ place, which I was told to be wary of.
One day, I believe it was 2 hours after noon when I had sneaked out of my grandparents’ house to walk the forbidden hill. My grandparents were taking the dose of their regular afternoon slumber when I decided to take the step- which I, then, thought was brave and adventurous. Now, I take it to be refining. “BANJHAKRI-FALLS-Giridhar-Appaji-Nag-Y-Flickr-Creative-commonsmaxresdefault (2)
“After having walked for about forty-five minutes, I lost my already-poor sense of direction. I started crying for I was afraid and alone.”
“The next thing I felt, was a tight grip at my wrist. A pull came next. I saw my tears float in air and that is when I realized that I was being carried by a huge (I was eight and little) beast, hairy and swift. It felt as though I was flying midair. ”

I laughed, of course.

“I too would have laughed had I not been at the receiving end of what had happened.”

Anta, after having experienced a cyclonic flight in the beast’s arms, I was taken to a cave. It was high enough to accommodate a 3-5 foot human, it stood as housing for a golden “dhyangro” and “gajo“, a few sticks scattered hither and thither, some peacock feathers and animal skin. The cave had been blackened with smoke.3726384

“I hadn’t taken a good look at the beast until I was laid in the cave and stripped naked.
While he observed my body, I observed him. He was a hairy beast, but his face was discernible to the eyes. He had a conical head and had large ears. I also noticed that his hands were bare. When he sat down to inquire me better, I saw that its body hair blanketed him completely.”

“Just when he was reaching out to my neck for his last bit of inspection, the cave turned dark and cold. When the beast and I turned around, at the grotto’s opening, I saw a humongous creature hunching towards me and the beast. The beast, suddenly, clad me under its arms. The very little detail I gathered of the humongous creature was that it possessed legs that were turned inward and pointed backwards. It had breasts that started at the sternum and seemed to end at the pelvic area.”

I adulterated grandpa’s narration by glaring at him with shrewd, judgmental eyes.
I sniffed a gentle warning when he looked at me, avowing that the tale was true and not based on falsity.

He continued.
“The creature was drooling over the sight of me. The beast who had taken me captive started to feel like a resort. I could feel that it was trying to protect me. By the way, I took him for being male after having taken a glance at the long breasted creature, which had to be female. Haha.”

I gave grandpa a laugh to comply with the witty claim.

“The two alien creatures gazed at one another and exchanged looks which made them look like they were consumed in an intense conversation. I now realize that they had been conversing in a clairvoyant medium. Next, they started conversing verbally, in a tone and language unknown and impenetrable to my little self.

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“I was petrified at the happenstance and it appeared to me as dreamy and unreal. I wanted to pinch myself awake to reality and drink away the horrifying scenes forth me. The female was getting furious and hit the male with a sickle. The male then attacked the female back and started to chant a mantra in a discreet fad. He was poised while she was agitated. She gave the look of an infant being tamed and taught mannerisms, all the while behaving like the one snatched off its favourite fruit or toy. Her eyes were glowing with rage and despair. The female finally succumbed to the male’s enchantments.”

“The male beast then took me with him and ran at the same pace with which he had brought me to the grotto.”

Chhora, I had never seen any human run uphill at such pace with such uniform velocity. He took me to a jungle and sat me down on a cliff, to resume what he had left incomplete in the cave. Before that, he let out a fremd sound which sounded less like a whistle and more like an owl hooting. I was afraid. He then, reached my neck and at the sight of a small scar, gave me a noxious push. The next moment, i was flying in thin air only to hit the ground with a lethal thud.
I still thank the jungle deities for having saved me from the hands of the female and the push that could have been fatal.”

“When I opened my eyes, I found myself in a hospital back in Gangtok. My limbs were intact but I was told that I had been uttering words like “bhoot” “bhaloo“, et cetera. I did not say a word while I was at the hospital since I knew the aftermath of revealing what I had witnessed. When I was discharged and taken home, I remember my grandparents and I having a conversation, similar to the one we’re having, at present.”

“I learnt from Bajey that the mystical beast who had taken me captive was a Banjhakri and the female I had seen was a Lyamlyamey. I was also told that I was one of the very few kids who sruvived after having seen a Lyamlyamey since it fed on innocent kids.”

“The Banjhakri, as I was told, was some kind of a teacher who abducted people aged five to twenty and taught them the art of shamanism. They are not humans but possess human-like attributes and live near human establishments. However, they remain aloof of the locals and choose to live in the wilderness without any material support. The numbered material a Banjhakri owns is a tiara of pwakh and a skirt made of animal skin.”

Baffled because of what my ears were taking in, I enquired, “Aakhey, why did the Banjhakri take you, anyway? What was the motive and was it met?”

Aakhey smiled, and started with the remaining glut of information sharing:

Sunn, Banjhakris are the deities of the forest and possess ineffable powers for healing and destroying. They can shape shift and even do telepathy. They are also believed to have powers that influence the weather of a region and even make a calamity occur, naturally.”

“When a Banjhakri abducts a child, he teaches the little one all that he knows and makes him survive in the wilderness. There are reported cases like mine, where little boys have been forcibly made to eat red worms with the back of their hands and practice the beating of the dhyangro with the gajo. Some have even claimed that their hands had been dipped in boiling oil to deem suitable for the training and have been made to sleep on burning coal. The ones who survived such dreadful tests were taught mystical chants and mantras and told of the deeper secrets of the kind.”

“The reason as to why the powers are passed on to the newer generation, that is, the abducted kids are still unfounded. ”

“Nani, you should also know that I was rejected by the Banjhakri.”

“What?” I exclaim.

Hajur, I was rejected by the Banjhakri since I had an imperfection on me and that is this little scar on my neck I got while playing in the fields. I did not know it back then, but my Bajey told me all about it and it made me feel lucky.”

“If I had clear skin and no imperfection- physical and spiritual, I’d have been a Jhakri myself and lived to treat people and tell fortunes, maybe.”

“Imagine such a case. Haha.”

I fall into the deep sheets of imagination where my grandfather wears a skirt made of animal skin and decks his hair with feathers. I am amused at the thought of it.

Ajhai chha.
Aren’t you curious about their origin?”

“Of course, I am. Bhannu hos na.

“Well, listen. The Banjhakris are said to be the descendants of the Sun and are ardent worshippers of the Shiva. The sun is the symbol for the highest realized consciousness in Hinduism. They are also considered as the Lord of Animals, Yogis and the Bestower of Wisdom. Some claim that they are the hybrid progeny of a human female and a large ape, just like the yetis. In fact, research shows that the Banjhakris are one of the different kinds of Yetis- these, being the fastest and the tiniest.”

“They are also seen as guardian spirits by some ethnic groups of Nepal and Sikkim and in the Buddhist lore, they are given the position of the protectors of the Dharma. Strangely, the Banjhakris are also considered as the Gods of Mercy and Compassion.”

“Most people of today do not believe in the stories of our past. How do you feel about it?”

Aakhey, I don’t know. I use the Internet for doing any research and I play games on and offline. I have heard stories of ghosts and aliens but I haven’t really seen one. Some of my friends claim to have seen ghosts when they were younger but all I saw and watched were movies and documentaries that made me curious, undoubtedly. But, it also made me skeptical about all the information since it did not appear superfluous and what’s not superfluous is usually not real to the kind of us. You know?
I don’t know how I feel about it all. I really do not.”

Aakhey. Tell me some more about the Lyamlyamey.”

“Oh, yes.
Lyamlyamey are females with large breasts that hang below their abdomens. They are the Banjhakris‘ partners. They sling their breasts over their neck when they rest, and hold and carry them in their hands while running. That is one reason why a person is advised to run downhill on the sight of a Lyamlyamey or a Banjhakri. The Banjhakri’s hair covers their face while running downhill which hinders their vision and hence, they too cannot run downhill.”

“Their bodies reek strongly of garlic, I’ve been told. I do not recollect anything as such from my abduction, though.
The Lyamlyamey attacks humans on sight and torture them to death and consume the human, henceforth. ”

Horah?”

Hola.”

“While most Banjhakris are vegetarians, some hunt wild animals and muphalas. There are tales that tell that the meat of the Banjhakri can cure diseases like gallstones, jaundice and mental illness. It is uncanny how the sight of their partners is considered as an omen.”

“They are sacred beings, Nani. Just like the Shiva, they can be dangerous but when good, they are the best of all the living creatures and can live harmoniously with and in nature.”

“This confuses me Aakhey.”

“It confuses me too.”

Aakhey, what do you think about it all?”

“Nani, I experienced some of what the tale holds. However, there are instances in the tales that appear as make-believe and institutional.
The difficulty is further complicated by the existence of these creatures in today’s world. We hardly hear the people of today sharing experiences of having an encounter with a Banjhakri and a Lyamlyamey. We cannot connect with your generation. All we have left is the memories of the yester-generations. The memories of our experiences we had and the stories we were told. All these seem to be in a distant land now. However, when I, sometimes watch the Television and hear of the stories about alien abductions, yetis, the big foot, humanoid creatures, I succumb to my past and believe it all. Even though it is all only in my head now, it is real there. In my head, I have the picture of the hairy beasts and the sound of the whistle, which you, by the way, heard.
Tell me now. How would you like to take it?”

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Dear Reader,
I am certain to quite an extent that a lot of skepticism hit you when you read the story above. There are a lot of loopholes in the extract above like, “Why pass on the powers?” “Why abduct a child?”

A lot of attempts have been taken to answer such questions, all of which are satisfying and yet, full of ambiguity. I present my theory of why the powers are passed on to the newer generations.

The powers the Jhakri possess are usually all pertaining to nature and are used for protection and healing. It could be possible that the Jhakris are only healers who have the sole motive of saving more lives and making the world a better place to live in. It has been mentioned that the Jhakris lived in grottos near human dwellings. One possible explanation could be that they invested their time and energy on analyzing the human population and nature and studying the humans, discreetly. On the basis of the case studies the Jhakris did, it could also be possible that their power of segregation and assessment helped them in selecting the best of people. The scars in the human body should resemble the various blameworthy acts and deeds a human being commits in their lifetime. The fact that the Jhakris select only the ones who are pure in body and soul are chosen for the training probably implies that these people empathize, are illuminant creatures and are amiable beings. The fact that they are trained to heal, proves that they are better humans than the major sect. It should also mean that the Jhakris, though referred to as ban manchey, are creatures that could live in agreement and peace with the Homo sapiens.

It is oft interred that knowledge never dies at the hands of communication and maybe, that is one reason we still hear of stories about the Jhakri teachers if not the Banjhakri junglees.

For the storytellers, the Banjhakri teachers- who are believed to be the abducted children- and the Banjhakri junglee- the ones described in the story- share similarities in body and mind, so much so, they are easily interchanged. While some announce that the Banjhakris are humans, some like to believe that they are creatures that resemble a human but aren’t truly one.

The backward pointing feet is a physical attribute of both the Banjhakri and the Lyamlyamey. They are both bare. The former is a little, male vegetarian who is a teacher and is associated with healing and protection. The latter, humongous and malignant and are associated with illness and danger.

They are contrasting and yet collide.
They communicate and thrive in the presence of each other. They are opposites and possess the light and the dark.

They reflect the paradox of the world and appear as the two sides of the same coin.
In a world full of confusion and ambiguity, the Banjhakris and the Banjhakrinis stand as a parallel analogy of the engagement of the good and the bad in the same space.

Just like Yin and Yang, the Banjhakri and the Lyamlyamey exemplify the state of the world since times immemorial.

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GLOSSARY
⦁ Banjhakri- shamanic deity in the Tamang tradition
⦁ Nani- Child
⦁ Anta- translates to “And then…”
⦁ Dhyangro- A percussion instrument made out of goat skin
⦁ Gajo- wooden stick used for beating the dhyangro
⦁ Chhora- Son (often used by parents and grandparents referring to the male child of the house)
⦁ Bhoot- a ghost or an apparition
⦁ Bhaloo- bear
⦁ Bajey- Grandfather
⦁ Lyamlyamey- A mystical creature believed to be like a yeti with backward pointing feet and long breasts
⦁ Shamanism- the practice which involves the practitioner embracing a belief in the power of the spirits for attainment of higher conscience and enlightenment.
⦁ Pwakh- bird feathers
⦁ Aakhey- Grandfather
⦁ Hajur- Literally, “Yes”
⦁ Ajhai chha- phrase, “There’s more.”
⦁ Bhannu hos na- “Please say some more.”
⦁ Shiva- one of the greatest deities in Hinduism
⦁ Horah? – “Is it?”
⦁ Hola- “Maybe”
⦁ Muphalas- Frog-like creatures found on hills
⦁ Ban manchey- wild men
⦁ Junglees- wild men.