At Midnight on Amavasya every couple of months, several people could be seen turning up at crematoriums in Mumbai, Thane and Palghar with one objective — spotting ghosts. They are, however, left disappointed as volunteers of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti use the eeriness of the setting to bust myths.
“We choose Amavasya because it is strongly connected with sightings of ghosts and other irrational beliefs,” said Thane-based volunteer Vandana Shinde. The 72-year-old retired government employee has been conducting live demonstrations at crematoriums across the state since 2003 and has been associated with the organisation since 1999.
The objective behind inviting school and college students as well as adults inside crematoriums at midnight is to promote scientific thinking. “We start our programme at 12 am and finish around 5 am when the first local trains start. The idea is for those who attend to think ‘I was inside a crematorium all night and nothing happened to me’,” Shinde said.
While the Samiti organises most of these programmes in rural areas and tribal hamlets, it also holds sessions every two months in Mumbai.
In front of an audience ranging between 50 and 200 people, Shinde and her fellow volunteers pick apart miracles performed by godmen and explain tricks achieved through sleight of hand. She also sandwiches herself between two boards the audience believes are fitted with metal spikes. “We get the audience involved and I ask one person to stand on the board. When they see for themselves, people begin to realise that there are no miracles. We present scientific explanations.”
The volunteers also face a lot of questions, most to do with ghost sightings. “Most of those who claim to have seen ghosts describe them as old women or men with their feet facing inwards. Upon further questioning, they admit to only having heard that ghosts look like that,” Shinde said.
The Samiti doesn’t always find it easy to secure permissions from local municipal authorities to hold sessions inside crematoriums. But when they do, they prefer to hold them outside Mumbai. “Crematoriums in Mumbai are well-lit at night and have every facility you would want. By comparison, those in Thane and Palghar districts are not so well-maintained and create the right atmosphere we need for our programmes,” said Nandkishor Talashilkar, a volunteer in Mumbai.
“This is why we prefer taking people out of Mumbai to do these programmes. They are scared when they first enter a crematorium, especially since they have been told all their lives to avoid walking past crematoriums on Amavasya. But the time they leave in the morning, they are a lot less afraid and there at least a few who begin to think differently,” added Talashilkar.