Indian Ghost Stories by S. Mukerji
THE MESSENGER OF DEATH.
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We have often been told how some of us receive in an unlooked-for manner an intimation of death some time before that incident does actually occur.
The late Mr. W.T. Stead, for instance, before he sailed for America in the Titanic had made his will and given his friends clearly to understand that he would see England no more.
Others have also had such occult premonitions, so to say, a few days, and sometimes weeks, before their death.
We also know a number of cases in which people have received similar intimation of the approaching death of a near relation or a dear friend who, in most cases, lives at a distance.
There is a well-known family in England (one of the peers of the realm) in whose case previous intimation of death comes in a peculiar form. Generally when the family is at dinner a carriage is heard to drive up to the portico. Everybody thinks it is some absent guest who has arrived late and my lord or my lady gets up to see who it is. Then when the hall door is opened it is seen that there is no carriage at all. This is a sure indication of an impending death in the family.
I know another very peculiar instance. A certain gentleman in Bengal died leaving four sons and a widow. The youngest was about 5 years old. These children used to live with their mother in the family residence under the guardianship of their uncle.
One night the widow had a peculiar dream. It seemed to her that her husband had returned from a long journey for an hour or so and was going away again. Of course, in her dream the lady forgot all about her widowhood.
Before his departure the husband proposed that she should allow him to take one of the sons with him and she might keep the rest.
The widow readily agreed and it was settled that the youngest but one should go with the husband. The boy was called, and he very willingly agreed to go with his father. The mother gave him a last hug and kiss and passed him on to the father who carried him away.
The next moment the widow woke. She remembered every particular of the dream. A cold sweat stood on her forehead when she comprehended what she had done.
The boy died the next morning. When she told me the story she said that the only consolation that she had was that the child was safe with his father. A very poor consolation indeed!
Now this is a peculiar story told in a peculiar fashion; but I know one or two wonderful stories which are more peculiar still.
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It is a custom in certain families in Bengal that in connection with the _Durga pooja_ black-male goats are offered as a sacrifice.
In certain other families strictly vegetarian offerings are made.
The mode of sacrificing the goat is well known to some readers, and will not interest those who do not know the custom. The fact remains that millions of goats are sacrificed all over Bengal during the three days of the _Durga pooja_ and on the _Shyama pooja_ night, (_i.e._ _Diwali or Dipavali_).
There is however nothing ominous in all this, except when the "sacrificial sword" fails to sever the head of the goat from the trunk at one deadly stroke. As this bodes ill the householder to appease the deity, to whose wrath such failure is imputed, sacrifices another goat then and there and further offers to do penance by sacrificing double the number of goats next year.
But what is more pertinent to the subject I am dealing with is the sacrificing of goats under peculiar circumstances. Thus when an epidemic (such as cholera, small pox and now probably plague) breaks out in a village in Bengal all the principal residents of the place in order to propitiate the deity to whose curse or ire the visitation is supposed to be due, raise a sufficient amount by subscription for worshipping the irate Goddess. The black he-goat that is offered as a sacrifice on such an occasion is not actually slain, but being besmeared with "_Sindur_" (red oxide of mercury) and generally having one of the ears cropped or bored is let loose, _i.e._ allowed to roam about until clandestinely passed on to some neighbouring village to which, the goat is credited with the virtue of transferring the epidemic from the village originally infected. The goats thus marked are not looked upon with particular favour in the villages. They are generally not ill-treated by the villagers, and when they eat up the cabbages, etc. all that the poor villagers can do is to curse them and drive them away--but they return as soon as the poor owner of the garden has moved away. Such goats become, in consequence, very bold and give a lot of trouble.