1. bhoot or bhut
is a supernatural creature, usually the ghost of a deceased person, in the popular culture, literature and some ancient texts of the Indian subcontinent. Interpretations of how bhoots come into existence vary by region and community, but they are usually considered to be perturbed and restless due to some factor that prevents them from moving on (to transmigration, non-being, nirvana, or heaven or hell, depending on tradition). This could be a violent death, unsettled matters in their lives, or simply the failure of their survivors to perform proper funerals.
Bhūta is a Sanskrit term that carries the connotations of "past" and "being" and, because it is descended from "one of the most wide-spread roots in Indo-European — namely, *bheu/*bhu-", has similar-sounding cognates in virtually every branch of that language family, e.g., Irish (bha), English (be), Latvian (but) and Persian (budan).
In Urdu/Hindi, Punjabi, Kashmiri, Bengali, Sindhi and other languages of the northern subcontinent, the concept of bhoots is extensively used in idiom. To be "ridden by the bhoot of something" (bhoot sawaar hona) means to take an obsessive interest in that thing or work unrelentingly towards that goal. Conversely, to "dismount a bhoot" (bhoot utaarna) means to break through an obsession or see through a false belief that was previously dearly held. "To look like a bhoot" (bhoot lagna) means to look disheveled and unkempt or to dress ridiculously. A house or building that is untidy, unmaintained or deserted when it should not be is sometimes pejoratively called a bhoot bangla.
Bhoots are able to alter and assume forms of various animals at will, but are usually seen in human form. However, their feet often reveal them to be ghosts, as they are backwards facing. As the earth is regarded as sacred or semi-sacred in many traditions of the Indian subcontinent, bhoots go to lengths to avoid contact with it, often floating above it, either imperceptibly or up to a foot above. Bhoots cast no shadows, and speak with a nasal twang. They often lurk on specific trees and prefer to appear in white clothing. Sometimes bhoots haunt specific houses (the so-called bhoot banglas, i.e. bhootbungalows), which are typically places where they were killed or which have some other significance to the bhoot.
Many ghost stories in the region combine these elements. For instance, they might involve a protagonist who fails to flee or take countermeasures when they run across a bhoot. Instead, they unwittingly accept the bhoot's companionship (e.g., makes the ghost a companion as he/she walks through a forest, picks up the ghost in his car because it looks like an attractive woman waiting by the roadside at night). They become progressively aware that their companion is dressed entirely in white and has a funnily nasal voice, before the horrifying realization dawns on them that their companion's feet are turned backwards, or he/she is not casting a shadow in the moonlight, or is walking without actually touching the ground. Bhoots are said to seek out milk and immerse themselves in it. Consuming bhoot-contaminated milk is considered a typical route for bhoot-possession of humans, which has also been a frequent plot element in bhoot stories.
A particular kind of bhoot, that of a woman that died during pregnancy or childbirth, is known as a churail (dakini in Nepal and eastern India). Churails look like human women, but their feet are turned backwards or other features are turned upside down. They can change their forms at any time. Churails often try to lure young men at road crossings and fields or similar places. If a man is enamored of achurail, it is believed that she will cause his death. There are, however, stories of people living with a churail, or even marrying one.
2. Ghosts in Bengali culture
Ghosts are an important part of folklore in Bengal. Fairy tales, both old and new often use the concept of ghosts. In modern day Bengali literature as well, references to ghosts may be often found. It is believed that the spirits of those who cannot find peace in the afterlife or die unnatural deaths remain on Earth. The common word for ghosts in Bengali is bhut or bhoot (Bengali: ভূত). This word has an alternative meaning: 'Past' in Bengali. Also the word Pret (Sanskrit) is used in Bengali to mean ghost.
In Bengal, ghosts are believed to be the spirit after death of an unsatisfied human being or a soul of a person who dies in unnatural or abnormal circumstances (like murder, suicide or accident). Even it is believed that other animals and creatures can also be turned into ghost after their death.
Usually after the death there are some Hindu rituals that are used to follow in Bengal which ends with a holy food offerings (called ‘Pindodaan’) to the spirit of the dead person. This final ritual is done at Pret Pahar (Mountain of Spirits) in Gaya, Bihar. It is believed that if this final ritual remains incomplete the spirit cannot leave this mortal world for heaven and haunts their relatives to complete it.
Types of ghosts
There are many kinds of ghost believed in Bengali Culture. Few are referred here:
- Petni: Petni are basically female ghosts who have some unsatisfied desires such as dying unmarried. This word originated from the Sanskrit word Pretini (feminine gender of Pret). They can take any appearance even as male. It is a ghost of usually those who committed crimes in life and are cursed to walk the Earth as ghosts. The Petni can be very vicious, and apparently can appear to be almost completely human until they attack. The only distinguishing characteristic of the ghost is the feet – the feet of Petni are backwards.
- Shankhchunni: The word "Shankhchunni" comes from the Sanksrit word Shankhachurni. It is a ghost of a married woman who usually wears a special kind of bangles made of Shell (called ‘Shankha’ in Bengali) in their hands which is a sign of married woman in Bengal. Shankhchunni usually haunts the rich married women so that they can enjoy a married life and can satisfy all their desires just like a married woman. People say that they live in mango trees.
- Chorachunni: thief ghost, very mischievous and usually the souls of dead thieves.
- Penchapechi: An unusual form of ghost. The Penchapechi take the form of owls and hunt in the forests of Bengal. It follows hapless travelers through the woods until they are completely alone, and then it strikes. Unlike other ghosts, the Penchapechi actually consumes its victims, feeding on their body in an almost vampiric way.
- Mechho Bhoot: This is a kind of ghost who likes to eat fish. The word Mechho comes from Machh that means fish in Bengali. Mechho Bhoot usually lives near to the village ponds or lakes which are full of fish. Sometimes they steal fish from kitchens in village households or from the boats of fishermen.
- Maal: This is a mermaid like creature which dwells in the rivers and lakes of Bangladesh. It drags unsuspecting people into the water, drowning them.
- Nishi: One of the most cruel of ghosts, the Nishi lures its victim to a secluded area by calling to the person with the voice of a loved one. The Nishi only strike at night, and their victims are never seen again, so it is unknown what happens to them. They may become Nishi themselves. According to folklore, the Nishi cannot call out more than twice, and so no one should answer a voice at night until it has called three times.
- Mamdo bhut: Ghosts of Muslims
- Gechho Bhoot: It is a kind of ghosts lives in trees. The word "Gechho" comes from "Gaachh" which means tree in Bengali language.
- Bramhadaitya: These are one of the most popular and less harmful categories of ghosts in Bengal. It is the ghost of holy Brahmin. Usually they appear wearing a traditional Dhoti (Bengali dress for men) and the holy thread on their body. They are very kind and helpful to human being as depicted in many Bengali stories and movies.
- Aleya: Marsh gas apparitions that confuse fishermen, make them lose their bearings and eventually drown
- Begho Bhoot: This is a ghost of those person who are killed or eaten by the tigers in jungle. Mainly in Sundarban area (in West Bengal, India) which is a Royal Bengal Tiger Sanctuary, the villagers believe in this kind of ghost. These ghosts use to frighten persons who entered the jungle in search of honey or woods and try to put them in front of tigers. Sometimes they do the mimicry of tigers to terrify the villagers.
- Skondhokata or Kondhokata: It is a headless ghost. Usually the spirit of those persons who died by cutting their heads in train accident or else. This kind of ghost always searches their missing heads and pleads others to help them to search it. Sometimes they attack the humans and make them slaves to search their lost heads.
- Kanabhulo: This is a ghost which hypnotize one person and takes him to some unknown places. The victim instead of going into his house or the destination goes to another place which is silent and eerie. After going to that place the ghost kills the person. The victim in this case looses his sense. Generally these types of ghost strikes in night in villages. The victims were generally single person or separated from group.
- Dainee: This is what we called witch in English language. Dainee are not actually soul or spirit rather living beings. Usually in villages of Bengal old suspicious women who know mumbo-jumbo and other witchcrafts or black magic are considered as Dainee. It is believed that the Dainee kidnaps children and kills them and sucks their blood to survive 100 of years.
- Betaal: This is a fictional ghostly character found in a series of 25 stories named "Betaal Panchvimshati". The hero of this series is king Vikramaditya, the legendary emperor of Ujjain, India. He tries to capture and hold on to Betaal that tells a puzzling tale and ends it with a question for the king. But the condition is the kind should walk without uttering a word, otherwise Betaal would fly back to its place. The king can be quiet only if he does not know the answer, else his head would burst into pieces. Unfortunately, the king discovers that he knows the answer to every question; therefore the cycle of catching Betaal and letting it escape continues for twenty-four times till the last question puzzles the king.
3. Preta, प्रेत (Sanskrit), Peta (Pāli) or Yidak (ཡི་དྭགས་) in Tibetan ) is the name for a type of (arguably supernatural) being described in Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, and Jain texts that undergoes more than human suffering, particularly an extreme degree of hunger and thirst. They are often translated into English as "hungry ghosts", from the Chinese, which in turn is derived from later Indian sources generally followed in Mahayana Buddhism. In early sources such as thePetavatthu, they are much more varied. The descriptions below apply mainly in this narrower context.
Pretas are believed to have been jealous or greedy people in a previous life. As a result of their karma, they are afflicted with an insatiable hunger for a particular substance or object. Traditionally, this is something repugnant or humiliating, such as human corpses or feces, though in more recent stories, it can be anything, however bizarre.
The Sanskrit term preta means "departed, deceased, a dead person", from pra-ita, literally "gone forth, departed". In Classical Sanskrit, the term refers to the spirit of any dead person, but especially before the obsequial rites are performed, but also more narrowly to a ghost or evil being.  The Sanskrit term was taken up in Buddhism to describe one of six possible states of rebirth. The Chinese term egui (餓鬼), literally "starving ghost", is thus not a literal translation of the Sanskrit term.Names
A Burmese depiction of hungry ghosts (pyetta)
Pretas are invisible to the human eye, but some believe they can be discerned by humans in certain mental states. They are described as human-like, but with sunken, mummified skin, narrow limbs, enormously distended bellies and long, thin necks. This appearance is a metaphor for their mental situation: they have enormous appetites, signified by their gigantic bellies, but a very limited ability to satisfy those appetites, symbolized by their slender necks.
Pretas are often depicted in Japanese art (particularly that from the Heian period) as emaciated human beings with bulging stomachs and inhumanly small mouths and throats. They are frequently shown licking up spilled water in temples or accompanied by demons representing their personal agony. Otherwise they may be shown as balls of smoke or fire.
Pretas dwell in the waste and desert places of the earth, and vary in situation according to their past karma. Some of them can eat a little, but find it very difficult to find food or drink. Others can find food and drink, but find it very difficult to swallow. Others find that the food they eat seems to burst into flames as they swallow it. Others see something edible or drinkable and desire it but it withers or dries up before their eyes. As a result, they are always hungry.
In addition to hunger, pretas suffer from immoderate heat and cold; they find that even the moon scorches them in the summer, while the sun freezes them in the winter.
The sufferings of the pretas often resemble those of the dwellers in hell, and the two types of being are easily confused. The simplest distinction is that beings in hell are confined to their subterranean world, while pretas are free to move about.
A vetala (Sanskrit vetāla or वेताळ) is a ghost-like being from Hindu mythology. The vetala are defined as spirits inhabiting corpses and charnel grounds. These corpses may be used as vehicles for movement (as they no longer decay while so inhabited); but a vetala may also leave the body at will.
Gray (undated: c2009) provides a survey of chthonic charnel ground accoutrement motif such as skull imagery in the textual tradition of the Yogini tantras and discusses 'vetala' (Sanskrit).
In Hindu folklore, the vetala is an evil spirit who haunts cemeteries and takes demonic possession of corpses. They make their displeasure known by troubling humans. They can drive people mad, kill children, and cause miscarriages, but also guard villages.
They are hostile spirits of the dead trapped in the 'twilight zone' between life and afterlife. These creatures can be repelled by the chanting of mantras. One can free them from their ghostly existence by performing their funerary rites. Being unaffected by the laws of space and time, they have an uncanny knowledge about the past, present, and future and a deep insight into human nature. Therefore many sorcerers seek to capture them and turn them into slaves.
A sorcerer once asked King Vikramaditya to capture a vetala who lived in a tree that stood in the middle of a cremation ground. The only way to do that was by keeping silent. Every time Vikramaditya caught the vetala, the vetala would enchant the king with a story that would end with a question. No matter how hard he tried, Vikramaditya would not be able to resist answering the question. This would enable the vetala to escape and return to his tree. The stories of the vetala have been compiled in the book Baital Pachisi.
There is also a strong Vetala cult in the Konkan region, under the names of Betal, Vetal, etc. Since Shri Betal is said to be the brother of Shri Shantadurga. Therefore, wherever a temple of Shantadurga is, there will be a temple dedicated in honour of Shri Betal either within the temple complex of Shri Shantadurga or somewhere in the sylvan surroundings.. It seems, however, that the relation between the literary Vetala and this demigod's is feeble at best. There is a Shri Betal temple in Amona, Goa. Vetál is the worshipper (or sevak) of Kala Bhairava and is the head of all spirits and ghouls and vampires and all kinds of pisachas. He has another form which is a more potent and fiery form, that of Agni Vetal who is the sevak of none other than Kalika. Lord Agnivetal has flames on his head and controls fire. He is also known as Agya Vetal. Agnivetal is used by Tantriks to perform evil black magic on people. But it isn't Lord Agnivetal's fault because the Tantriks misuse the powers given to them on propitiating Agnivetal(rather his Daityas which are at his feet-they are the ones who accept the blood sacrifices).
Per the 1886 Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency:
His features and his body are like those of a man except that his hands and feet are turned back. His eyes are a tawny green, his hair stands on end, and he holds a cane in his right and a conch shell in his left hand. Vetál lives on air. When he goes his rounds he is dressed in green and either sits in a litter or rides a horse. Some of his spirits walk before and others walk after him, holding lighted torches and shouting.
Pishachas (Devanāgarīपिशाच, IASTPiśāca) are flesh eating demons, according to Hindu mythology. Their origin is obscure, although some believe that they were created by Brahma. Another legend describes them as the sons of either Krodha (a Sanskrit word meaning anger) or of Dakṣa’s daughter Piśāca. They have been described to have a dark complexion with bulging veins and protruding, red eyes. They are believed to have their own language, which is called Paiśāci.
They like darkness and traditionally are depicted as haunting cremation grounds along with other demons like Bhut (meaning ghosts) and Vetālas. Piśācas have the power to assume different forms at will, and may also become invisible. They feed on human energies. Sometimes, they possess human beings and alter their thoughts, and the victims are afflicted with a variety of maladies and abnormalities like insanity. Certain mantras are supposed to cure such afflicted persons, and drive away the Piśāca which may be possessing that particular human being. In order to keep the Piśāca away, they are given their share of offerings during certain religious functions and festivals.
The origin of Piśāca is unknown. It is probably the personification of ignis fatuus. It is also maybe the demonization of some Indian tribes by Aryans who lived in the Piśāca Kingdom. Pāṇini, in hisAṣṭādhyāyi, told us that the Piśāca were a "warrior clan". In Mahābhārata, the "Piśāca people" (equivalent to the modern day Nuristani people) are said to live in northwest India, and they are descendants ofPrajāpati Kaśyapa. And there are some Piśāca languages in north India.