Culture,  Uttarakhand

Do fairies still live in the mountains of Uttarakhand?

Story by: Bina Nitwal, Fellow Himal Prakriti

Read the original story in Hindi

I grew up listening to stories of fairies and spirits in my village Farsali that is in Bageshwar district of the Kumaon Himalay. My mother would warn me sternly every time I ventured out to wander the forests with my friends- 

“Hey, Bina, behave yourself in the forest and don’t play the fool, else the fairies will get ahold of you! Then we’ll have to do a pooja. You will bring home another unnecessary expense.”

She knew that our group of friends would talk to each other in loud voices, climb trees, sing with abandonment and put-up swings in the forest. Instead of heeding my mother, we would go climb into the palanquin of the fairies that lay in the forests and would eat up the fruit and coconut offerings that lay in it. There was always an edge of anxiety in my heart- would something happen to me? But nothing bad happened.

People in our villages have a deep belief in the presence of fairies and spirits. We call them Aeiries and Ancharies. It is believed that these fairies and spirits live in the forests and if someone passing through stumbles or falls, or gets startled, the Aeiries – Ancharies will seize the opportunity and enter that person and possess her or him.

In my marital village of Sarmoli, an Aeirie is believed to be a male fairy and to propitiate it, offerings of a flute, a gun replica and a staff is to made to please it. This staff is made of timur or the Xanthoxylem tree. Ancharies are the female spirits and like offerings of trinkets, white cloth, flowers, sandalwood, kheel-khaja and food cooked in milk. It is believed that the Aeiries-Ancharies share these offerings amongst their friends and relatives.

To propitiate and pray to these Aeiries-Ancharies and Aan-ban or their attendant spirits, villagers will choose a quiet, clean wooded spot and make a small home for them with three rounded stones. Decorated with the appropriate yellow, white or red cloth, the fairies are invited to make it their home and the propitiation rituals are performed through a pooja and offerings are made. Some people will do long poojas or jagaran every two-three years. On the fulfilment of any wish, jagaran is held in thanksgiving every three, five or seven years. During a jagaran, it is believed that the Aeiri-Anchari will enter the body of someone present, will dance and consume the food and will say- “ My appetite is satiated and I am happy,” and will then depart.

The family of Aieri-Ancharis is considered to be large and include Aan and Baan. Aieri-Ancharis are higher in the hierarchy and the Aan-Baan are their attendants. Of the many types of Aan-Baan, there are the red, yellow, black and white spirits. The offerings made to them include meat, lime, cooked and semi-cooked rice and lentils.

Of all the Aan-Baan, the Red Baan is considered the most powerful. When a person is possessed by this spirit, it is considered to be the hardest to handle as it is believed to be an angry and rebellious spirit. It

has to be propitiated with its desired food offerings and it is said- “if you are able to please this spirit, all the other will also fall in line.”
Aan-Baan consume meat. And to make it leave the person it has possessed, it needs an animal sacrifice. The black and red spirits desire semi- cooked black lentil and rice and meat.

Lula Baan cannot walk and when it possesses someone, that person cannot walk either.
The Twal Baan is male and listens to stories through mime as it cannot hear. When it appears in the body of person during the ritual of propitiation, it has to be please through drumming and through stories.

Even today, in the months of September and October, believers will go into the forests to reach out to the world of fairies and spirits.
Come, listen to what people from my village of Sarmoli have to say in this video about their beliefs regarding the power of Aieri-Ancharis.

Meet the storyteller

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Himalayan Ark
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Himalayan Ark is mountain community owned and run tourism enterprise based in Munsiari, Uttarakhand. They enable and guide deep dives into rural lives and cultures, as well as in natural history and high mountain conservation initiatives and adventures.

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