Jim Corbett and His Ghosts

In the pantheon of tiger hunters of India, there is no icon greater than Jim Corbett. It was equally true that he was a great lover of tigers and India has named one of its famous tiger sanctuaries after him…

The Corbett National Park. It is interesting to know as to the ghost experiences of such a great tiger hunter, as he had quite a number of occult experiences. A man who was willing to stare down the tigers…....how did he react to ghosts?

For example there was a night he spent in a Rajah’s house in Nainital district, about which he remained enigmatic. A former Indian Civil Service (ICS) officer who was in the house the same night has vouched for this incident. The Second World War was on and the two were on an assignment for the Government and were offered the hospitality of the Rajah’s summer house.

There they were warned that one particular room should be left alone. When Corbett was told of this, he insisted that he would sleep in the room. Neither the Chowkidar’s (watchman) protest nor his friend’s warning had any effect. Midnight came and nothing happened. The ICS officer was asleep and so it seemed, was Corbett. About two a.m. there was some disturbance in Corbett’s room. As the ICS officer opened the connecting door, Corbett rushed in panting for breath. He spent the rest of the night in the officer’s room. Next morning over the breakfast the friend asked Corbett as to what had happened. Corbett left the table abruptly and asked the friend never to remind him of the night again. This mystery remains unexplained.

Jim Corbett had crossed paths with the supernatural in dak bungalows such as the one at Ramgarh and one of the houses at Nainital (which his mother looked after). But the most weird and terrifying of Jim’s contact with the occult came in 1938. It was while he was hunting the Thak man-eater. He was in a machan (platform) twenty yards from a dead buffalo to which he hoped the man-eater would return. In the moonlight a sambhar and a khakar (type of deer) came within fifty yards of the machan and another khakar began barking at the hillside just above the village of Thak, which was deserted at that time because of the fear of the man-eater.

Quite suddenly, there was a piercing scream from the village which Jim described as "AARRH…AARRH….AARRH" fading away on a long note. So surprised was Jim that he stood up in the machan with the immediate intention of going to the village, where he was afraid that one of his men was being taken away by the man-eater. Yet he remembered having counted them all safely down to the path to Chukah, a village where they were staying.

Jim’s own words tell the remainder of the story: "The scream had been the despairing cry of a human being in mortal agony and the question was how such a sound could come from a deserted village? It was not a thing of my imagination for the khakar had heard it and had abruptly stopped barking, and the sambhar had dashed away closely followed by her young one. Two days previously, when I had escorted the men to their village, I had remarked that it was very trustful to leave behind property in the village, as the doors were not even closed or latched. And the headman had answered that even if the village had remained untenanted for years, their property would be quite safe for they were the priests of Poornagiri and no one would dream of robbing them. He added, ‘As long as the tigress lived she was a better guard of their property than any hundred men’."

The scream did not occur again, the tigress called once again and in the morning Jim was happy to see all his men coming to take him from his machan. But that is not end of the tale. "I questioned him, the headman, on the killing of a man by the Thak man-eater on the 12th of the month, when he himself had so narrowly escaped falling victim to the man-eater. Once again he, the headman told me in great detail, how he had gone to his fields to dig ginger with a grandchild with him and how the tigress had killed a man, while he was cutting leaves.

"I now asked him, whether he had actually seen the tigress killing the man. His answer was no. And he added that the tree from which the man had been cutting leaf had not been visible from where he had been standing. I then asked him as to how he knew that the man had been killed, when he said ‘because I had heard him.’ In reply to further questioning he said, that the man had not called out for help but had cried out. When I asked, if the man had cried out once, he said, ‘No… he cried out three times.’ Then at my request he gave an imitation of the man’s cry. It was the same that I had heard at the machan the previous night, three weeks after the man had been killed."

About this incident, Corbett himself says, "Though I claim that I am not superstitious, I can give no explanation for the experience I met with and the scream I heard from the deserted Thak village." Elsewhere he writes, "Superstition, I am convinced, is a mental complaint similar to measles in that it attacks an individual or community while leaving others unaffected."

Even the redoubtable Jim Corbett found that there were man-eater tigers, which he could not get that seemed to be under the protection of the forest deities. He states, "Nor can I give any explanation for my repeated failure while engaged in one of the most interesting tiger hunts I had ever indulged in." The last reference is to the Temple tiger. He had been trying for years to kill this particular tiger, which had turned man-eater in the vicinity of the temple at Devidura, hence known as the Temple tiger. Despite the havoc it had been causing, and the respect the priest of the temple had for Jim, he had told the hunter that it was fated that the tiger would not be killed. To quote the priest of the temple, "I have no objection, Sahib, for your trying to shoot this tiger. But neither you nor anyone else will ever succeed in killing it." Corbett did not succeed and could not but hope, that in the fullness of time, the old tiger like an old warrior just faded away.

(Excerpted from the book British Ghosts and Occult India by K R N Swamy)