A Bhangarh gallery. Image Source: My Travels Private Limited.
Perched in India's ancient northwestern hills between Jaipur and Delhi, Bhangarh (भानगढ़) is a ruin of a fortified palatial town near the Sariska Tiger Reserve. Bhangarh is also reputed to be one of the most haunted places in the world. It is seen as a terrifying, cursed place where the living will not survive to see daybreak if they are unfortunate enough to get trapped there after sunset. Those who enter until recently encountered a sign ordering them not to remain after dark.
Bhangarh warning, no longer posted. Image Source: My Travels Private Limited.
Translation for the above: The Government of India
The Archeological Survey of India, BhangarhImportant Notice: 1) It is strictly prohibited to the borders of Bhangarh before sunrise and after sunset.
2) Shepherds are not allowed inside Bhangarh area, violators will face legal action.
3. The Kewda or Pandanus trees belong to the Archaelogy Survey of India. It is forbidden to cause any kind of harm.
Note: Anyone violating the rules mentioned above will face legal action.
By order: Supervisor, Archaelogical Survey
Here are two accounts of twilight in Bhangarh:
Paritosh Kumar Singh (Ranjay) – New Delhi Director Info-tech Company.
“I went to Bhangarh with my friends last December. We somehow tricked the watchmen and entered the premises of haunted ruins. The ruins were looking like a set of horror films as I have seen in many horror movies since my childhood. It was dark and silent. There was no one till the far end of the area. We were three people and we tried to brave our fears that night. We were walking to the old temple and then we felt that someone is following us. We heard crazy sounds and then we were too afraid so we immediately ran out to our vehicles.”
Rannvijay Singha – Mumbai MTV VJ & Actor.
“My Friends and I visited Bhangarh a few years back. There was nothing scary in the day but we were late to come out of the gate at the given time. It was evening and was going to get dark any moment. We were heading to the gate and one of my friends heard a loud voice. He freaked out as he thought there was big cat in front of him which growled. I did not care much to believe him but throughout the way back he was shivering.”
Remains of a Bhangarh street. Image Source: Unexplained Mysteries.
The city was originally constructed starting in the 16th and 17th centuries, but the location has been a site of human settlement since pre-historic times. You can see a 360-degree panoramic photo of part of the ruins here.
Image Source: Panoramio.
Bhangarh was built starting in 1573 by Raja Madho Singh, younger son of the Raja Bhagwant Das, a late 16th century princely ruler of the Rajput House of Kachwaha. They were members of the founding royal family of the city of Jaipur. After outside attacks and a famine 2-3 centuries later (details are hazy), Bhangarh was abruptly abandoned. But in its heyday, the palatial fort town had a population of 10,000 people and featured two major temples, with more in the surrounding hills.
Temple in Bhangarh. Image Source: Panoramio.
Image Source: Sariska Palace.
Images from: India Forums.
Two legends explain the sudden abandonment of Bhangarh in terms of a curse. The stories go as follows:
While the town was being built, the resident guru, Baba Balu Nath, warned the king against the construction getting too elaborate, stating: "The moment the shadows of your palaces touch me, the city shall be no more!" When the court was later expanded upon by one of the king's descendants, Ajab Singh, the shadow of the palace fell upon Balu Nath's nearby forbidden retreat. Ruin visited the town, forcing everyone to flee overnight.
The other curse derives from the story of an evil tantrik sorcerer by the name of Singhia Sevra. He fell in love with Bhangarh's 18-year-old princess Ratnavati, the most beautiful girl in Rajasthan (in some versions, she is the Queen Ratnavali, also a mistress of tantrik arts). Singhia spied the royal maid buying scented oil for her mistress in the town market, and cast a spell on it so that when the princess touched the oil, she would surrender herself to him. The princess, seeing him do this, later threw the oil away on a large stone (in some versions, the oil became a stone when it hit the ground). The moment the oil touched the stone, it dislodged and rolled down onto Singhia, killing him. With his last breath, he cursed the palace with death and all who lived there: "I die! But thou too, thou Ratnavali shall not live here anymore. Neither thou, nor thine kin, nor these walls of the city. None shall see the morning sun!" In some versions, the princess died the following year when Bhangarh was attacked by forces from the neighbouring younger city of Ajabgarh. In other versions, the night after the wizard's death was spent by the inhabitants frantically moving the contents of Bhangarh to Ajabgarh, and a tempest swallowed the city at dawn, completely destroying it.
The legends stem for the fact that the ruins look like they were suddenly destroyed. Perhaps it was an earthquake? Add to this stories of attacks, famine and pestilence, and it's at least clear that the city was abandoned very quickly due to disaster. But there's another aspect to that disaster: weaving through this legend are stories of black magic, superstitions, omens, spells - and some kind of political crisis around religion.
A British account from 1878 by Percy William Powlett, The Gazetteer of Ulwur, which you can read online here and here, modifies Bhangarh's oral history and places the famine and abandonment of the royal town in the 19th century. Powlett commented that Bhangarh's fortunes coincidentally turned with its rulers' conversion to Islam in order to attain favour from the advancing British, which sparked internal conflict between the related royal powers of the region; he began by listing Bhangarh's last rulers:
Chajti Singh. Nathti Singh. Dakhani Singh. Daulat Singh.Powlett made no mention of hauntings or curses, but he did stress the religious character of the town, and that the temples bore funereal markings. Up to the arrival of the British, the area seems to have been a pocket that avoided the Muslim conquest of the subcontinent, which occurred from the 7th to 16th centuries. You can see comment on the history of conversion of Hindu sites into Islamic centres of worship here.
The last three obtained Bhangarh from Chajii Singh by becoming Musalmans, and so getting imperial help. They were driven out by Siwai Jai Singh, chief of Jaipur, and Jeswant Singh of Ajabgarh, who was in alliance with his cousins, was killed. After this Bhangarh diminished in population and importance, and when the famine of ... 1840 fell on the land the town was abandoned, and has remained a ruin ever since. ... Bhangarh situated twenty miles south of Thana Ghazi, the headquarters of the Tahsil, was the capital of this part of the country. It is now in ruins, and it is melancholy to pass up its main street deserted and roofless as the old houses and shops are. The extent of the ruins indicate that the town was as large as the present city of Ulwur. Like the latter, Bhangarh is situated under a hill, on the lower slope of which was the Raja's palace. A clear stream falls into a pool overhung by trees lying under the palace, and hard by are two temples known as Hanumanji's and Mahadeoji's. These temples have much beauty and elegance, and ought to be preserved from decay by the State. The Jhirri marble, much of which was used on them, has been a good deal defaced by whitewash. Their style is more that usually adopted for cenotaphs than common in temples. Outside the old city of Bhangarh is a fine Musalman domed tomb of marble, presumably to the memory of one of those sons of Hari Singh who turned Musalman.
Bhangarh, as the stories of the curses suggest, originally had leaders who practised tantric spiritual arts. It was also a pre-Hindu and Hindu religious centre, whose temples were fed by streams flowing, signficantly, from surrounding forests, home to animist spirits. One account casually yet cryptically mentions this angle while describing how the town's central thoroughfare ends at a Hindu temple, strangely decked on its outer facade with black magic symbols (?):
Perhaps this casual mention of black magic overlapping old Hinduism, the divisive arrival of Islam among local leaders, and the pervasive belief in animist spirits in the surrounding countryside created a perfect storm of conflicting faith-based fears and superstitions. Add in the neighbouring tiger reserve and we come full circle to paranormal investigations of this abandoned royal fortress.The main lane ends at the Shaiva temple with a water tank fed with a perennial stream of water that originates in the magical snake-infested sandal woods, that is what the country folk still affirm. The other temple has some fine segments. While on the outer surface, the figures of Mahishasuramardini and Varaha avatara of Vishnu are distinctly carved, the more unusual figures are on the door jambs and the lintel of the garbha-griha that include Shiva-Parvati on the camel-back—a typical Rajasthani variant. But it is in the demon faces that run on the outer surface of this temple in a band-formation that the mystery becomes lively and concentrated.
Bhangarh's reputation is such that when the military attempted to mount a nighttime investigation of the ruin's phantoms, the soldiers are rumoured to have refused. But the Ghost Research and Investigators of the Paranormal (G.R.I.P.), the Indian Paranormal Society, founded in 2009 by Gaurav Tiwari in New Delhi, was not so fearful. G.R.I.P. "is a professional association of dedicated Researchers, UFOlogists, Parapsychologists and enthusiasts focused on researching and understanding the human condition through the scientific study of aerial, anomalous and psychical phenomena, its reality and its [e]ffect on humanity."
In December 2010, G.R.I.P. researchers decided to get to the bottom of Bhangarh legends by getting permission to spend the night there with a pile of high tech ghost detection equipment. You can see the results in an Aaj Tak television report, repeated in an English transcript, below.
Bhangarh Investigation by G.R.I.P. Part 1. Video Source: Youtube.
Bhangarh Investigation by G.R.I.P. Part 2. Video Source: Youtube.
The English language version of the G.R.I.P. report is here. The author, Tiwari, points to the Hindu aspects of this region. He describes the "shadow of a once beautiful kingdom ... banyans and temples dot the landscape and one chhatri can be seen up on the hill. The most remarkable are the temples of Gopinath, Shiva (Someshwar), Mangla Devi and Keshava Rai."
Tiwari debunks the sign forbidding people to stay after dark: "When I asked ... [the local authority] about the sign board which says that visitors are not permitted after 6 PM ... [h]e replied that the rule which was formed in 1870 by which A.S.I. stopped visitors to enter historical monuments after sunset has not yet been changed. This rule also [ap]plies at Taj Mahal and many other historical places. Even though A.S.I. has removed the board which stated the visiting hours recently, no one is allowed to enter Bhangarh premises after 6 o clock without official authorization. It is not because of the ghosts."
While on the Bhangarh grounds at night, the G.R.I.P. team did hear 'voices' but attributed these to jackals. They saw a tree shaking in the dark - but this was due to disturbances caused by monkeys. Here are the key parts of their report:
The G.R.I.P. team concluded that any strange sounds could be attributed to wild animals, including tigers, whose proximity (even if unseen) would inspire extreme fear. Strange sights could be due to 'matrixing' where the brain sees a shape in the dark that is actually several things together - such as tree branches. After one night of investigations, they decided Bhangarh was not haunted. They did reiterate, however, that no one knows why the town was suddenly and swiftly abandoned.Before investigating the ruins, we decided to visit the village nearby. We headed to a village and asked the villagers about the story of Bhangarh. We were surprised to know that every individual had similar or different stories about the place. We accounted at least 10 different stories about the very place.
We also got to know how the complete village was very superstitious. If a person falls sick, they take him to a witch doctor and tantriks despite the availability of Govt. Doctors. Recently, a person got bitten by snake and lost his life as his family members took him to a local Ojha (Witchcraft doctor) instead of hospital.
Surprisingly, every one of them believed that the place is haunted as they hear different weird voices from the ruins. Even though they believe the place is haunted but not everyone has witnessed any paranormal activity. Those who witnessed it either had impossible stories or had no suggestion to any paranormal event. ...
We also investigated and spent good time in the forts, tombs, galleries, basements, ruins, woods, temples and small tunnels. We did not find any suggestive paranormal activity. Forts and tunnels were full of Bats and bad smell. Lot of Birds, snakes and rodents have made these abandoned monuments their homes. We also found empty liquor bottles, condoms and cigarette butts thrown at different places which made us think that this place is also used for anti-social deeds.
In the forts and ruins, we found lot of Tantrik materials like Sindoor, coconut, incense sticks, candles, fruits and skull etc. The watchmen told us that during day, many tantriks and pundits visit there to perform their rituals and they don’t listen to any authority.
In 2011, the show India's Most Haunted (promo above) also investigated Bhangarh. The hosts, Rocky Singh and Mayur Sharma, are less skeptical than the Indian Paranormal Society. See part of the show below; their commentary is in English.
India's Most Haunted: Bhangarh, Part 1. Video Source: Youtube.
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