This story, authored by Murarimohan Beet in Bengali, first appeared in the children’s magazine “Suktara” in the year 1977 (July issue)
Illustrations in this story are photographs from the original piece. Copyright belongs to respective owners. My attempt is to present the story as close to the original as possible
Ajay, Shyamal and Ratan – three of my friends from college had come to visit our village. It was the summer break and I had taken them to the banks of the river in an attempt to beat the heat. The river Mayurakshi flowed about a mile and a half north of our village – the banks of the river was very pleasant during the summers. The sunset was spectacular as the sun dipped creating a magical silhouette of the railway bridge. We had planned to spend a few hours there till dusk and then return back home. Anticipating that it could be dark on the way back, I was carrying a large five-celled flashlight with us
It was about six in the evening. The summer evening still had a fair amount of sunshine. Soothed by the river breeze we were deeply engrossed discussing the wave of Naxalism sweeping the state – so much that we failed to notice the huge dark clouds creeping up the western sky. We realized when the wind picked up and the light suddenly started deteriorating sharply. We hastily got up and started walking – rather a brisk jog – back towards the village. It was a tough ask anyway and within five minutes the elephant like cloud had covered the sky, the wind had picked up to a nasty howl and rain started pelting down in large drops. Our jog had transformed into a run by now. I was well aware that there were no places for us to seek shelter in this one and a half mile stretch of road back home. Except that deserted temple
But no one went anywhere near that temple any longer – not definitely after sundown. Like every other villager, I was aware of the temple’s legend and afraid to be in its vicinity in the night. The rational person in me argued that fear was mostly rooted in an urban legend but even that could not completely alleviate the uneasy feeling. But today we had a strong flashlight with us – besides the light its bulk could also be used as a weapon. The rain was incessant and there was no way we could get back home without falling ill tomorrow. Thus with great reluctance, I led the boys down the turn from the road that led us to the precincts of the deserted temple. We rushed into the portico of the temple and took shelter below the low roof. It was not a very large temple. Devoted to Goddess Kali, it used to belong to a Tantrik who stayed at the temple with a bunch of his followers. The temple was now dilapidated – parts of the structure broken down and in ruins and large parts of the temple compound consumed by wild weeds and trees. Plants had grown from its walls and snaked down from the roof, which was threatening to collapse any day soon. It was just seven in the evening though the constant patter of rain, the wind and constant chirping of crickets made it seem like midnight. If it were not for the rain I would surely not have come to the temple at this hour
“Where have you brought us, Bipin! You sure there are no snakes or scorpions around here?”, Shyamal asked as he nervously looked around, simultaneously drying his hair with his handkerchief
“I won’t rule out the possibility but see, we had no alternative. There was no way we could have run a mile in this rain and storm”, I surveyed the area around with my flashlight
“But it does seem that this was quite a temple at one time, no?”, asked Ratan
“Yes, indeed”, I replied. “This was a Kali temple presided over by a Tantrik. He was more a ruffian than a devoted disciple of the faith. He and a handful of equally dubious followers of his would perform puja and rituals every evening. Such was the type of the puja that far from coming to see the idol, no one ever dared come to witness the rituals”
Shyamal stopped drying his hair and each one of boys stared back at me
“There is a lot of dark history of this temple. I can tell you all if you want to hear – but only that much that I know”, I said, not quite knowing if it was the right thing to do
Ajay looked out at the now ominously reddish sky and said, “It looks like we will be here for a while. So why not make the best of the time. Go on Bipin, tell us the story of this temple”
We cleared the weeds and dust from a small area as much as we could, sat down and I started my narration
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My grandfather was around forty or forty two when this temple was fully functional. Like I said earlier, a Tantrik worshiper used to live here and worship the goddess Kali. A five feet tall idol of the goddess – black in color – used to be perched on this raised platform you see here. No one knew though that this idol was just a decoy and that the real worshiping happened in a small room in the basement of this temple. There is a room towards the rear of the temple from where goes a short flight of stairs down to the basement room. This was accidentally discovered by a group of young boys who were returning home after attending a wedding in the adjacent village. They had taken refuge inside the temple for the same reason as we have today – torrential rains in the month of July. The main door to the sanctum sanctorum – which today is in ruins and exists no more – was closed and locked that night when they got here. The boys however could hear sounds of bells and drums – the type that usually gets played during an offering to the goddess. The sound was indistinct, muffled and seemed to be coming from a distance. The boys were aware that even during those days there were no human habitations anywhere near this temple. Yet the sound of the bells, the drums, however muted, were quite clear – it was apparent that a puja was being performed somewhere within this temple, perhaps in a different room. The boys – six in number – were getting increasingly curious and started going around the temple to locate the origin of the sound. To their disappointment – and increasing bafflement – all the rooms in the temple were locked. The boys came to the rear of the temple where the sound was much clearer than before. They knew the source had to be somewhere close. Then they found a room, the one right at the back of the temple, where a solitary light was burning and the door was ajar. The boys were convinced that the key to this mystery was in this room. They had however heard about the Tantrik and the dubious nature of his followers and wanted to make sure there was no one inside the room. Hiding in the darkness for about ten minutes, they emerged when they did not notice and sign of movement in and around the room. The sound of the bells and drums became much clearer as they entered the room. A small lamp was burning on the floor casting ghostly flickering shadows on the walls. The room was barren save for one cot and a large square piece of metal placed on the floor with handles on two sides. One of boys pushed the metal plate and it was immediately clear that the sound was coming from somewhere down under the room
The plate was quite heavy and it took four of the boys to push it away to reveal a staircase – dark and damp. Flashing their torchlight carefully they could not see the end of the winding stairs but it was beyond doubt that there was a basement below and the bells and drums were being played there. What was happening there? Why was it necessary to perform the ritual in the basement rather than in the main temple? The boys could now smell a whiff of something mysterious happening in the temple. They quickly discussed between themselves and decided it was important to find out what was going on here. They silently began to climb down the stairs, feeling their way through the darkness. Just after the first turn in the staircase, they were able to see what was happening. What they witnessed sent a chill down the spines of each of those six young boys
It was a medium sized room with no ventilation – the only entrance and exit was through the staircase. The room was lit by kerosene lamps and lamps that are lit during religious offerings. Inside the room at one end was a tall black idol of goddess Kali, the red tongue hanging out and shimmering diabolically in the flickering yellow light. A man in bright red robes, long hair and beard was performing the rituals holding a lamp in his right hand, dancing to the sound of the bells and drums like he was in a trance. Around him were seven very well built strong men. Two of these men, thugs more likely, were each holding the arms of a small boy, no more than ten years old. Another man was holding a large shining sword like blade, called Kharga in religious offerings. A small armory of more blades, spears and swords sat against the wall.
It was clear that the real rituals and offerings happened in this basement and human sacrifice was also a normal practice. By then the man performing the rituals – the Tantrik – was done and he nodded his head at the two men holding the child. They dragged the child towards the idol of the goddess and the other man arranged and tightened his grip around the sword blade he was holding
The boys did not stay back to witness the remaining of this inhuman drama though at that point their desire to save the child was quite overwhelming. However difficult it was, they contained their emotions because it was evident that they were out-armed, out-muscled and obviously outnumbered by the thugs present in that basement. They fled through the staircase, careful to replace the metal plate exactly how it was and fled that area immediately. Before entering the village they started discussing their subsequent plan of action. It was clear that the thugs kidnapped sacrificial children from not nearby villages but from distant ones, lest they raised an alarm. This practice had to be stopped permanently. The boys concluded that the thugs had to be killed and reached a plan how they would carry this out. They also decided to not reveal this to anyone in the village and let everyone know only after their mission was successful
Exactly a week after this incident the boys returned to the temple at around ten in the night. This time they were carrying with them two drums of petrol. The boys hid behind bushes for a long while – there were no one except themselves, they were sure. Slowly they started moving towards the rear of the temple and towards the room that had the staircase to the basement. All of a sudden they could hear the sound of bells and drums just like the other day. Relieved that the Tantrik and his thugs were in the basement the boys now hurried towards the room. They entered the room and pushed aside the metal plate. After that they poured the contents of the two drums down the staircase. One of the boys had already lit a long strand of paper using his matchsticks and the burning lead was duly dropped into the dark abyss of the staircase, bursting the crevice into an inferno. The boys were ready and quickly pulled the metal plate shut. They then pulled the bed in that room and placed it on top of the metal plate. By then the death screams and shrieks of the Tantrik and his thugs had started in the basement, their sounds as muffled as the sounds of the bells and drums would be. It was all over in less than an hour and a deathly silence hung over the temple premises. Mission accomplished, the boys went back and narrated the story to the villagers, who from then onwards were doubly scared to come to the temple knowing everything of what had transpired. Except for situations like today when inclement weather forced the four of us to seek refuge in the ruins
“What a story”, said Ajay, first to break the silence as I wound up my narration. Ajay deftly lit a match, shielded the flame from the strong wind with his palms and lit a cigarette. He was about to shake the matchstick to put it off when he froze. We all did and looked at each other, stunned. Ajay’s matchstick almost singed his fingers when he croaked, “what is that sound, Bipin?”. Slightly muffled but it was quite audible – the sound of bells and drums just like it happens during a ritual or an offering
The sound was muffled but very distinct, especially as the wind was blowing it from the source and there was not a single other sound – except a sudden heaviness in our breathing. I had begun to shiver. There was no human presence within a mile of this area. Then? Where was this sound coming from? Had some new Tantrik arrived and had revived the temple? That was impossible. The temple showed no signs of habitation – the dust, the thick carpet of dry leaves, vegetation, weeds everywhere and banyan shoots coming out from every crack in the walls. No, it was not possible that someone was staying here
“You said there used to be no settlements around this area then. How is it now?”, inquired Ajay. Ajay was one of the most daring young boys I have seen. A regular body-builder, he would swim in the Ganges during high tide
“It is the same now”, I said
“Huh! Then has some new Tantrik fellow come down here and has started his own small private practice?”, Ajay had regained his confidence after the initial setback. “But that does not look feasible. Look at the condition of this place. No human being surely has been around this place ever since those six boys dumped petrol and killed the murderers forty years back”
“You said it all was happening at the basement of the room in the rear of the temple. Why don’t we go and check”, Shyamal had got up and was trying to figure out the way towards the rear. It was not very clear given a large part of the temple had totally collapsed
I had no intention of going towards the rear, finding out that infamous room and whatever that lied beyond but at the same time I did not want my city friends to brand me a village coward. I joined the other three as we found our way to the rear. Most of the windows and doors of the rooms had been eaten away by termites and had either fallen off the hinges or were about to. Two inch thick dust greeted us everywhere as did sand and rubble. It was impossible for anyone to be living here. There were no footmarks except ours as we tried to discover that room at the rear of the temple. The sound progressively started getting clearer and it was quite evident that the source of the sound – the bells and drums – was very near as we stood at the door of what had to be that rear room. The door was hanging from the hinge and a thick layer of spider web adorned the dark doorway. No one could have entered this room leaving the spider’s web intact. What on earth was going on here?
We pushed the web aside and carefully entered the room. Right in the center of the room was what once upon a time had been a bed. Two of its legs had fallen away but the other two stood on a rusty and slightly mangled plate of metal with handles at the edges. The sound of the bells and drums were very clear now and without any doubt, coming from the basement. Four of us got on either side of the metal plate and a combination of push and pull revealed the cavernous square hole that was the staircase. I had never seen such solid darkness in my life. The sound of the bells and drums was almost like one could reach out and touch the source. But who were conducting the ritual? There was not even a lamp lit anywhere. Was there someone conducting the rituals in complete darkness?
Ajay, the fearless, took lead. “Come down with me”, he whispered, “don’t light the torch but keep it handy. Everyone hold onto the shirts of the person in front. And keep feeling the wall”. Ajay descended into the darkness. We reached the wide step where the staircase turned into the remaining few steps to the basement. We could see nothing, which was natural but neither could we feel anything. Not a breath, not any movement yet the sound of the bells and drums were just a few feet away. Suddenly Ajay inadvertently did something and the torchlight came to life, bathing the scene in front of us with an eerie beam of white light. And the bells and drums stopped instantaneously. We could see the basement, covered in at least two inches of dust and eight human skeletons scattered across the floor in different places. At one end of the room stood a half burnt idol – clearly the infamous idol of goddess Kali. The spears and swords at the corner of the room were more or less intact – perhaps the petrol did not reach that crevice. One large sword-blade – Kharga – lay at the feet of the idol and a skeleton right next to it. Scattered across the room were other ritual items – lamps, water caskets, large plates – each mangled in the fire such it was impossible to tell if they were made of iron, brass, silver or gold.
“Impossible”, Ajay was the first to break the silence. “Surely, the sound was not coming from this room. We must have made a mistake”, no matter how hard he tried Ajay’s voice was quivering. My state was possibly the worst of the lot – whatever my clothes had dried after the rain, they were drenched once again. This time in my own sweat. “Let’s go up. We will inspect the entire area”, said Ajay as we all turned back to climb up the stairs. I was now leading the queue with Ajay at the end, shining the torch. I had barely reached the wide step where the staircase curved when I heard a blood curdling scream from Ajay. AAAAAAAA …. H-E-L-P, Help, Help me….he was screaming with all the power of his lungs. He had dropped the torch and we were once again engulfed by the solid darkness. We reached Ajay and found he was unconscious and not able to move. We half carried half dragged him up the stairs. I won’t go into the details of how we managed to carry him back to the village that night. The local doctor came around to see Ajay the next morning. He gave him a dose of sedatives and said that it was most likely he had seen something terrible that had scared him out of his senses. Ajay regained his senses by mid morning but he was almost in a daze till noon of the next day. He narrated a strange story when he completely came around. He said that he saw a terrible looking Tantrik, with a large kharga in his hand, come and grab him by his neck. By the time he realized what was happening, the Tantrik had gripped the back of his head and brought the sword blade down on his neck with all force. It was then that he started shouting for help
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Hearing Ajay’s story, a large group – about twenty – of local youths wanted to go and check the mystery of the ruined Kali temple. Most of them were aware of the legend that went with the temple but this recent happening had stirred their interests to no end. I asked them to carry flashlights – it was quite possible that the basement will be dark even during the day. Finally I counted the team carrying at least ten flashlights. We reached the temple and quickly found our way to the room at the rear of the temple. The metal plate was ajar – we had not bothered to place it back that night – and the staircase was visible. We went down with all the ten flashlights guiding us the way. I found at the base of the stairs my flashlight that Ajay has dropped that night. But wait – what was this? My knees felt weak and my head spun as I took the scene in. I was sweating profusely looking at the room, which was now bathed in white light from so many flashlights. Why were there two skeletons at the bottom of the stairs? There were none there the other day, I was sure – they were scattered around the room but all away from the stairs. And how come there were nine skeletons and not eight? How did this kharga come here at the base of the stairs? The room was covered in dust and even now one could clearly make out the distinct outline of the sword blade where it had been lying at the foot of the idol. The same went with the skeleton that was almost next to the blade – it was not there but its imprint was on the dust was.
That same skeleton was now lying at the base of stairs along with a new skeleton, the neck of which was clearly broken and the sword blade lying right next to it