8 May 2021

Bhangarh – India’s Haunted City

It has lain abandoned for the best part of 400 years and is said to be the most haunted place in India. Situated between the cities of Delhi and Jaipur in the state of Rajasthan the true reason for its abandonment has been lost to history, though there are several legends surrounding its fate. Even today no-one is allowed to enter the ghost city of Bhangarh after twilight – it is said that if they do they will never return.

Within the grounds there are still majestic temples to major Hindu deities: Shiva, Lavina Devi and Gopinath are represented among others but the throngs of worshipers who clamoured for entrance to the temple are long gone. The town was first built in the reign of Bhagwant Das, a powerful maharaja, in 1573. It is said that a local guru was asked for permission to build the city.

The guru, Balu Nath, allowed the city to be built but made a single condition. His own dwelling place was close by and he demanded that it should, at all time, be out of the shadow of Bhangarh. Should his retreat ever come under the shadow of the royal residences the city and its inhabitants would be doomed.

Soon, the city was home to a population of over 10,000. Many of its non-religious buildings were also built from stone – a sign of the prosperity that the place must have enjoyed, let alone the expectation of the population that they were there for a very long time.

Bhangarh gained the reputation for ostentatious displays of wealth in its architecture and its people for their decadence. They were supposedly commanded by the maharajah to wear their finery at all times, paid for out of his own unimaginable wealth. Their thoughts turned to living life as profligately and dissolutely as possible. Cultures all over the world have tales of cities descending in to this kind of lifestyle, so you have probably guessed what comes next.

Yet it is said that Balu Nath’s command was forgotten within a generation and that the son of the maharaja, Chhatr Singh, decided to extend his palace, building several new floors and increasing its height considerably. Shortly after, a still unspecified calamity overcame the city.

Historians believed the town’s decline was at first due to conquest. Yet the buildings remain remarkably intact for their age and show no sign of warfare having been conducted in or around the city. The fort and almost complete walls are still surprisingly intact. It is now thought that the city’s desertion was most probably down to a natural disaster in the area and that contributed to the decline.

Another myth concerns a beautiful princess, Ratnavati. A young magician fell in love with her but knew that his feelings would never be reciprocated. So, he made a magic oil which would hypnotise the princess in to giving herself to him. However the wily princess was versed in the dark arts herself and knowing the potion was enchanted, threw it upon the ground.

There, the potion transformed in to a rock and crushed the hapless magician. His final words were a curse on the princess and the palace. Within the year there was a great battle and the princess became one of its many victims. Whether or not you believe in legends it is a compelling story, culturally familiar to most.

Whatever caused the situation the city was no longer a center of local administration after 1630. A tiny population eked a living among the remains of the buildings. Those who survived the previous catastrophe left Bhangarh never to return after a terrible famine in 1783.

They left the stone buildings intact behind them. Unusually, the stones were never reused for other building projects, which only added to the reputation of the place as haunted.

Today the city is a popular tourist attraction. To facilitate the visitors a small village of around 1000 souls has sprung up at its periphery. The villagers will tell you stories of the town coming alive at night, that you can hear the sound of music and laughter coming from within. Yet none will dare enter to investigate.

First Image Credit Flickr User Tuashar Pokle