Sorcery and Murder Dark spell of black magic in Karnatakas ChamarajnagarImage for representation only
news Sunday, June 21, 2015 - 05:30

That black magic is practised in Chamarajnagar district of southern Karnataka is an open secret but one that is well guarded – no one knows where and when a spell will be cast. It may have been a harmless – but rather expensive – superstitious belief, except for the fact that human blood is known to have been used, sometimes leaving dead bodies behind.

In March, a suspected case of human sacrifice emerged. Two Dalit agricultural labourers had been beheaded by their employer, seemingly in a fit of rage, in Santhemarahalli village of the district. Some days later, after conducting a fact finding study, a Dalit rights group alleged that the men had been “sacrificed”, Hindustan Times reported.

However, villagers say that cases where human “ingredients” are used in sacrifice rarely come to light, and that they more prevalent than is believed.

Farmer and resident of Amachavadi village in the district, Mahesh says that the black magic aspect of those deaths only came to light because the two men were beheaded. “There are other cases too, but they are registered only as murders or unnatural deaths” he claims.

The district is not only said to be a hub of black magic and witchcraft, but is also supposedly cursed – but for chief ministers only. Siddaramaiah became the first Chief Minister in around two decades to visit the district as it was believed (and coincidentally borne out by events) that an incumbent CM will lose his post. It has been some months since Siddaramaiah’s visit.

Chamarajnagar was carved out of Mysuru district in southern Karnataka in 1998 because the government felt that it was lagging behind on social indicators hinged on old inequalities and therefore deserved special attention.

It is still a backward district, but along with this, the district is also known as the hub of black magic or “vashikarana” in Kannada, meaning “to take control of”.

Therein lies the crux of the practice – it supposedly has the potential to do good or bad, depending on the intentions of the practitioner. Whether it works or not – its practitioners claim they can guarantee results – the practice nonetheless has a hold on many people here.

Mahesh (37), who is also a social activist, says no one really knows when or how the practice began in the area, but he has always known of it having grown up in the village. He himself does not believe in it, and neither has he ever attempted to get it done.

Most sorcerers are from Kerala

According to Mahesh, most practitioners or today's "mantravaadis" came from Kerala penniless and settled in Kollegal – which is reputed to have the lion’s share of black magic, Amachavadi and Yanagalli villages, and are now very rich.

People from across India, as well as the locals, seek these practitioners to get things done – good marks in exams are relatively cheap, while a murder can cost several lakhs.

All a magician needs is a lemon

And it can all be done rather simply. “All one needs is a lemon. One can wreak havoc with it,” Mahesh says.

Any material for instance belonging to or used by the person who is being targeted – such as hair or a piece of cloth – is handed over to the “mantravaadi”. The wizard then performs certain rituals, praying to Goddesses Kalikadevi, Chamundeshwari or Maramma.

A black rooster is normally sacrificed for every ritual, but for major tasks, the wizards offer a dead pre-pubescent girl to appease the goddess. The death of a young child in Davangere some months ago was suspected to be such a sacrifice.

“The goddess expects food in return for the favour. If not offered, the spell backfires on the wizard,” Mahesh says.

Well-known writer and one of the members of the committee which drafted Karnataka’s anti-superstition bill Dr. Aravind Malagatti says that the focus is more on the blood than the body per se.

On completion of the process, the practitioner hands over a betel leaf containing a black paste to be applied on the forehead of the “client”, just like a bindi. This indicates the commencement of “vashikarana” of the person who has been targeted.

According to a 48-year-old resident who had once sought the help of a sorcerer, the effects of the ritual are supposed to last 48 days during which the “bewitcher” can control certain aspects of his target’s life.

Often, the target is unaware that s/he has been bewitched until someone notices a change in behaviour and consults a priest or a witch doctor who specialises in removing black magic spells.

Although black magic rituals can be carried out on any night, it is believe that “amavaasye” or a new moon night is better for bigger tasks.

Eighty-year old Shivappa, a resident of Chamarajanagara, says that people of certain communities pass on knowledge of black magic from generation to generation.

Black magic for everything

Practitioners apparently have their own fees for different types of tasks - seeking a promotion at work, transfer of property, separation of lovers, resolution of family feuds, bearing a child. Good results in exams reportedly cost Rs. 8,000 to Rs. 10,000, and a murder Rs. 5-10 lakh.

Mahesh claims that several candidates in the recently held gram panchayat elections had used black magic to win seats. But those who spent Rs. 500 on bribing each villager lost the elections.

Although many are convinced of the powers of black magic, there are skeptics too. Lakshmamma, a flower vendor in the town is one of them. “I believe in my gods and approach them if I am in distress. I don’t believe in black magic and supernatural powers, she says.

However, some contest that black magic does not automatically mean evil. It is based on intent of the bewitcher, says Shivappa. He gave several examples of this including that of a couple who did not see eye to eye for three years had a child within a year of black magic performed on them. They are happy now, he says, adding, “It is about people’s perception and intent.”

So how does black magic survive as an alternative sphere of spiritual-cum-social influence when most people believe that prayers and poojas to God are sufficient to grant one’s wishes? “Those who do black magic are assured of 90% success rate,” says Mahesh.

According to Malagatti, backwardness in the region, and a lack of education and health facilities have a role to play. “People who have lost a sense of reasoning and have succumbed to weaknesses due to various personal problems, drift towards unscientific beliefs like black magic,” he says. 

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