The Ghosts Of Lothian Cemetery, Delhi
Graveyards, and I mean all of them, are always a subject of superstitious beliefs. By that I do not mean burying our dead ones but the beliefs related to it being haunted just because people buried their loves ones there. Tell anyone to take a walk through a graveyard in middle of the night and except for a few daring ones, majority of the people would back out. The ones who would agree would only do it for the sole purpose of proving that they are not scared of ghosts. What they do not realize is that even in that thought they prove that they agree to a possible presence of a ghost,
Ghosts in my opinion are creatures of convenience. Sometimes a ghost is created to put blame on something, sometimes to explain something unexplainable and sometimes just for fun. People would not dare to step in a cemetery at night but if you told a homeless person that he can build a house in a graveyard and live there, he would happily do so because it would mean the comfort of a home to him. All the thoughts of ghosts and evil spirits would fade in front of this convenience.
Situated merely at a distance of 5 minutes’ walk from Kashmere Gate in Delhi is one such graveyard, called Lothian Cemetery, which is dreaded as one of the most haunted cemeteries in the world and yet is a target for encroachment, vandalism and is home to several homeless families. Official records state that this cemetery was built by the British in year 1808 which makes it over 200 years old. But then the question is that how can anyone “build” a graveyard? There is nothing that you have to do in order to “build” it, the only thing required is to bring a dead person and bury him or her. Hence there is also an unofficial theory which states that this place was actually an ancient Muslim burial ground, used by the royal ruling families of Delhi. In order to show their supremacy, it was snatched by the British from the hands of the Indian royals and they used it as their own. It is said that in those times, this location was a beautiful one, surrounded by dense trees and covered completely with thick grass. Due to this very fact, the English deem it fit as their burial ground. The old graves were vandalized and dug open because British did not want to be buried next to Indians. It is said that they forced families of the dead people buried here to dig open the graves and move the remains elsewhere. In a short period of time, all the existing graves were removed and it was tagged as an “English Only” graveyard. There is no written proof about where the name came from but a theory suggests that it was named after an Englishman who was either in charge of the whole operation stated above or was the first person to be buried here. After the revolt of 1857, all the English soldiers who died at the hands of Indians were brought to Lothian Cemetery to be buried; there is even an inscription here that reads “In Memoriam MDCCCLVII.” Remembering 1857. “This cross is sacred to the memory of those whose nameless graves lie around.” There are theories that there was a mass burial of Indian soldiers at this cemetery which is actually incorrect. Only the British soldiers, and by that I mean the actual English people not their Indian sepoys, were buried at this cemetery.
Coming to the ghost stories, there are three different hauntings related to Lothian. Third one is my favorite because it almost made me laugh my guts out. The first and most common story is of a Sir Nicholas who fell in love with an Indian woman. The woman however turned out to be happily married and hence she rejected the romantic advances of Sir Nicholas. This broke his heart to the extent that one evening he committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. He was buried at Lothian Cemetery like all other English people living in India at that time and now it is believed that his soul haunts the cemetery every night. He is said to be heard by several people calling out the name of his beloved in the pain of a broken heart. Some people say that he walks here every night holding his own head in hands. How did his entire head come off if he shot himself is definitely beyond my understanding.
Second story is of a boy who has been seen walking in the cemetery in the dark in search of something. People who claim to have encountered this boy say that he asked them of where his parents were.
Third and my favorite story is of ghosts fighting in the cemetery. Yes you read it right. There are stories that after British dug open the old graves in order to claim Lothian burial grounds as their own, they upset the souls of people who were already buried here. Even though the bodies were removed, all these souls were still bound to this graveyard and now every night there are fights between old ghosts and the English ghosts for claim over the graveyard. Every day in our lives we hear about property disputes but this one definitely takes the cake. Ghosts fighting for over 200 years in order to decide who the graveyard belong to is definitely an epic.
“Then why do you live here?” I asked the poor man who has put a small shed of his own in a corner of the cemetery and now uses it as his home. He was actually one of several people living in here.
“I am poor” He replied in Hindi, “I cannot afford to rent a place out in an expensive city like Delhi. If I do that, I won’t be able to send any money back home”
“These ghosts do not scare you”
“They used to earlier but now they have accepted our presence here, they do not harm us”
“So you mean you have actually seen these ghosts?”
“Yes” He replied confidently.
“All of them”
“All of them?”
“And they saw you too?”
“I think they did”
“What is the name of the Indian woman that Sir Nicholas calls out at night?” I took a shot in the dark because he himself had told me a while ago that the ghost of Sir Nicholas calls out the name of the woman he loved.
“Urggghhh” He was completely taken off his feet by the sudden question and replied after a few seconds of thought, “I think it’s Tina”
“Tina?” I thought to myself, “An Indian woman called Tina in 1800s? Interesting ….”
“And you have seen these ghosts fighting too?”
“Yeah” Now he sounded a little defensive.
“What did they look like?”
“You know, as they show it on TV. Mughal soldiers dressed in Indian clothes, English ghosts dressed in all those English clothes”
I wanted to go on as it was really funny watching him give those vague answers but I decided against torturing the poor guy as I knew what he was trying to do. He either decided to just go with the stories or thought it was a good idea to support them in order to keep people from coming in and snatching his little home away. When he said that the ghosts have accepted their presence here, what I think he actually meant was that people should just let them stay there in their own misery rather than trying to push them out on streets.
What Lothian cemetery actually needs is not ghosts but some attention from ASI. Neither Sir Nicholas nor the fighting dead soldiers were able to keep people away from encroaching or vandalizing this graveyard. There are historical monuments in Delhi over half a millennia old but they are still well maintained whereas Lothian cemetery is all but in ruins. It needs to be declared as a Historical tourist site within a secured perimeter and deserves some serious restoration work.