Himachal Pradesh is a mountainous state in northern India. It has no railways and the connection between distant villages is only by roads or mountain paths. My father tells me that when he used to visit his village which was on the border with Himachal Pradesh he would often venture for a walk into the wild mountains.
He told me that one day he and a friend of his decided to go for a long trek in the mountains. After walking a mile or so my father and his friend saw a black cat sitting on their path. As they moved closer the cat continued to purr and refused to give way. So my father’s friend who carried a lathe (wooden rod) had swiped at the cat. But before the rod could descend on the cat it vanished. My father and his friend laughed and thought it to be an illusion. They continued further and this episode was repeated. A faint alarm now rang in their mind.
As they continued further they saw child standing on the road and he was crying. My father thought his mother must be nearby. So he lifted the child and shouted for the mother. But says my father the child then started laughing and slowly his weight started increasing. Alarmed my father dropped the child and ran back to the village loudly reciting the Jap the prayer of Guru Nanak.
He told me no uncertain terms that what he had accosted was a chaleda. This was a term I heard for the first time. Though the tale was narrated by my father I initially took it with a pinch of salt. But some study in this field and a visit to Himachal confirmed to me that a chaleda is very much a spirit that is in existence and has the power to appear before a human in different forms. It could take the shape of a beautiful woman or an animal. It is an evil spirit and plays with the victim by taking different forms and then may either maim or even kill him.
The chaleda as per popular belief is a spirit of a man who has died a premature or violent death. Such spirits are doomed to roam the earth till their day of salvation when they can gain entry into the gates of the spirit world.
There is big debate whether there is anything like spirits or an after life. But the phenomenon that I have narrated is difficult to explain. Yes, the chaleda is not heard of anywhere else in the world or for that matter in any other part of India. This spirit appears to be peculiar to Himachal Pradesh. Thus there is a possibility that a legend may have been built up by the people there from some different episodes. But this is a simplistic argument. I for one have no rational explanation of what or who is a chaleda.
Times are changing and scientific thought has permeated the world over. But a lot many mysteries are still to be explained. Bizarre happenings and events like appearance of a Chaleda need further study.