Blog Robert Bosnak Series

Part 2.2: Ghost-Riders


The second installment of Part 2 in the blog series Grey Global Nomad

By Robert Bosnak

As we’re sitting around the fire in my Sixties haze, cradling my tiny steady-cam video recorder on my lap, contemplating how different the world is now and how some things remain on a permanent loop, Butha Nath starts to cover himself with body paint made of grey ash. Before my eyes he changes into a denizen of another world. He completes his transformation with streaks of red across his eyes. We’re not in Kansas anymore.

Then he gets up with remarkable grace, a ghost at a ball, and indicates to Jodie to follow him. It is time to record his exploits. I’ve never seen a true yogi in action before. All his bones are made of rubber bending in the most gruesome ways to the tune of a secret contortionist melody. He is hearing something I don’t and his body responds in perfect mimicry. I’m shocked out of my complacency. Ghosts of an in-between realm come to life with the ease of a plaintive instrument. Jodie makes a million pictures, her experienced eye framing this skeleton dance in sumptuous stills. After some time I stop my video and just stare, taken along the trails of his embodiments wishing I could talk to him.

It turns out that his English is perfect. Until ten years ago he had been a bank manager, son to a pious Christian rocket scientist (literally) military father and a cultivated Hindu mother he visits during the monsoon months when the Ganges overflows and the Aghori camp vanishes. He tells me that he realized one day that money doesn’t matter because we are all corpses but we don’t realize it. That’s why he likes to hang out by the ancient burning ghats and see leftovers go up in flames turning to the ashes in which he is now covered as the ghost of his former banking self.

“We are the ghost-riders,” he tells me with hot passion in his eyes. “We protect Varanasi from demons. Our prime minister is Kaal Bhairav. He is the most powerful in the worlds of ghosts. He rides with us as we find the demons and neutralize them.”

Photo credit: Jodie Taylor-Bosnak

Wikipedia tells me later on that his name Kaal means King who is an emanation of Lord Shiva the beheader of Brahma. Brahma’s raging head stuck to Kaal Bhairav’s hand until he came to Varanasi. There the head of Brahma fell off and Kaal Bhairav will forever be in Varanasi in order to remove raging terror and harmful karma from his disciples. His bright red temple lies at the heart of the old city. His mustachioed face is surrounded by a sun with rays so sharp that his metal likeness was removed from my hand luggage together with forgotten nail scissors when I went through airport security.

When we went to his temple a person frozen with illness (or terror) was lifted into the holiest part of Kaal Bhairav’s sanctum. Then I knew that he was the real thing and had myself blessed by his priest and given his black-yellow-red braided armband to wear. Dealing with traumatizing terror and rage is my day job, so Kaal Bhairav is my prime minister too. I tell Butha Nath that I’m a mind doctor too, but he isn’t interested. In all this momentary transcendence I feel a bit peeved as a testament to my ego etched in stone.

Manoj had visited with the Aghori yesterday night and told me that these people intuitively wake up when there are bodies floating whole down the Ganges. Three categories of people are not burned I was told, but I only remember children and those who have been bitten by a cobra because they might be in a coma. I ask Butha Nath about this. What about eating corpses after all.

At first he seems evasive; he must get it a lot this ‘by the way, why do you eat corpses’ kind of thing. I look at the human skulls that grace the camp. He follows my gaze and smiles.

“I take in the karma of the dead and undo bad karma. I fight their demons and in the end I get the power of the person who died. So I become more powerful.” Sounds like a fair exchange. I eat your sins and you give me your spirit force. Maybe on some level the bank manager is still in the background taking interest on our spiritual debts. I imagine this Ghost-Rider on his Pegasus moving through the Invisible battling demons.

“We keep Varanasi safe from the demons. It’s important because of all the burning of bodies happening here. There are a lot of demons that need to be turned into energy.”

“Neutralized,” I say. He nods, his dark eyes large as coffee cups. Passion radiates from him.

“Feel my power,” he says as he makes a quick chiropractic move on my arm and spine which I hope will eliminate my cold. There is a strange shaking in his body, like the hum of a high voltage power line. Or maybe he’s just shivering. It’s kind of freezing out here.