Photo couresty: Pranav Rathod

As I sit down to pen the first in a long series of columns on mysticism, I realise the inscrutable nature of the subject. Although I have crafted an entire novel in the backdrop of this rather esoteric domain I still find it hard to arrive at definite interpretations of its myriad aspects. 

I realise that for the ones among you who are uninitiated, I must attempt an understanding of the essence of mysticism. Therefore I take you to a time when I was grappling to understand this essence.  

Well, my preoccupation with mysticism began much before my resolve to craft The Mystic Sinners. In the autumn of 2014, on a trip to Banaras, I had met a clairvoyant who predicted my future by focusing his energies on the sun rays. With a mere nod in my direction (he had not even bothered to ask my name after I had entered his hut) this elderly man had meditated for precisely 30 minutes to tell me everything about my past and present with surprising precision. Nevertheless, I was apprehensive about his future predictions. Today I get goosebumps when I realise that his predictions did manifest in the coming months. 

On the same trip, a local guide had apprised me of an Aghori adept at black magic. He worships Goddess Dhumavati and can perform the Maran Kriya. Many people in Lahori Tola have killed their enemies through him –these words from the guide somehow dissuaded me from questioning further.   

Almost a year later, my mind had been contending with questions on the sanctity of tantra, which is a part of the universe of mysticism and is inextricably connected to Eastern mystic traditions. A girlfriend of mine was going through a painful separation from her husband and her astrologer had lured her to a tantric saying that the latter could cause a breakup between her husband and his mistress. My hapless friend told me that she had already spent astronomical amounts as ritual fees only to discover that this tantric was an imposter who had duped several people. 

It dawned on me that even in this day and age, educated urban people take refuge in primitive beliefs in the face of adversity. And to my surprise, I discovered there are a substantial number of such people for nothing else could explain the sheer audacity with which tantric, black magicians and vashikaran specialists advertise their mystic powers on the internet and even billboards of shady and inconspicuous locations of a metro city.      

It was then that I embarked on my journey of writing The Mystic Sinners for I strongly believed that these con mystics who thrive by making fortunes out of peoples misfortunes need to be exposed. The story blossomed at the cusp of sheer unbridled imagination and some realistic research on the occult realm. 

At this point, I must say that the insights on the occult realm were an outcome of research and common sense inference. And needless to say, researching on a subject that is shrouded in secrecy did translate to an exciting challenge.

I actually made a series of calls to these self-proclaimed mystics and solicited their help in resolving issues that I had cleverly fabricated. My ploy was successful and at the end of a fortnight, I was conversant with their psychological tactics and lingo. I discovered the names of all the specific rituals that these imposters prescribed for different problems. Interestingly, in their attempts to convince me of their authenticity, many of them narrated horrific accounts of how other tantriks had deceived unsuspecting clients. These accounts that had my blood boiling would invariably end with- Ye gande log hamare kaum ko baadnam karte hai. Lekin aap sachhe sadhak ke paas aye ho! (These dirty people earn our community a bad name. But you have come to a true saint!) 

However, my insider peek into the world of unscrupulous tantriks conflicted with an unforgettable chat on tantra that I had with an erudite Sanskrit scholar from Rome who I had interviewed a year ago while writing a feature article on Sanskrit education for a national daily. The scholar had revealed that he visits Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati every year owing to his keen interest in learning about tantra shastra and the tantric mahavidyas. Every imitation follows the original and tantra is not an exception. Tantra is very real and powerful –he had countered my reasoning about tantra being an illusion of the mind. His informed perspectives on the tantric mahavidyas had been resonating in my mind and I realised that the rituals prescribed by the imposters could well qualify as distortions (of varying degrees) of these mahavidyas.

I wanted to know the truth about tantra and emailed him a series of questions on tantra. He replied with a phone call saying my questions had slightly rattled him. Luckily after I explained why I wanted to know the answers he was more than helpful. Apart from sending detailed responses he was available for discussions on every random and informed thought about the occult realm that crossed my mind. 

And there indeed were a flurry of thoughts as I had started reading and researching on tantra. I bought books on sadhus and aghoris to understand the philosophy and truth behind the mystical traditions. 

I also had the privilege of approaching Professor Bharadwaj who heads the department of Sanskrit at Delhi University for a couple of discussions on the history and origin of tantra. Since he commands authority on the academic aspects of tantra, I could corroborate several of my inferences and insights in the course of these discussions. Professor Bharadwaj had also lent me extensive reading material on the subject.  

No research is complete without consulting the actual practitioners of the craft and this was the most challenging bit for me as genuine tantriks are extremely cagey about talking to people. Moreover, they are difficult to access. Therefore while doing my manuscript revisions, I travelled to Banaras again in the hope of meeting a tantric. 

My eureka moment came after a few days of casual ambling on the Ghats and congested alleys in the marketplace. A man with unusually red eyes was jostling for space behind me at a shop where I was buying some rudraksh beads. The shopkeeper seemed to know him and they started talking. I was instantly alert when he mentioned that he was just back from Tarapith and would need all the ritual paraphernalia that he had specially ordered before his next visit during Amavasya. I followed him to a tea stall and after ordering my cup of tea actually went over to him and introduced myself and the reason behind my interest in him. I strongly believe that this was a moment of divine intervention for the man readily complied to talk with me. Ishwar Das was a kali sadhak and in the hour and a half conversation that ensured I got some incredibly valuable insights on Shav Sadhana and Chakra Sadhana- two very misunderstood (now tarnished) and ostracized forms of tantra. 

At a personal level, I believe that every research assignment brings one insight that has the potential to create something new and meaningful for the world. For me this insight happened when I asked Ishwar Das about the biggest secret of tantra. He did not answer and honestly, I had not expected him to. However, his eyes twinkled as he hastily blurted –Maybe it lies undiscovered!  

Consequently, this insight became the focal point of my novel and I fervently envisaged that The Mystic Sinners will illuminate some hidden aspects of tantra and encourage conversations, debates and inquiry into our long-forgotten but very powerful mystic traditions. Although mysticism is the force that unifies the universe it translates to very personal and subjective experiences. 

A freelance content writer, Proyashi has worked for 15 years in the media and communications industry of  Delhi.  She has authored The Mystic Sinners, a  rare work of fiction on mysticism and tantra. 

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