A churel, also spelled chuṛail, cuḍail or cuḍel (Urdu: چڑیل, Hindi: चुडैल, Marathi: चुडेल) is a female ghost of South Asian folklore and well known in North India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The word "churel" is also used colloquially for a witch. Women who die in childbirth or pregnancy due to the negligence of her relatives are often described turning into churels, who return to seek their vendetta and suck the blood of their male relatives.
The churel is described to have a hideous and terrible appearance, however she appears in the devious disguise of a youthful, beautiful maiden to lure young men. She drains their blood, semen, and virility, transforming them into aged men. She dwells and prowls in places associated with death and filth.
Various precautions are advised to avoid a churel. The best solution is to prevent the creation of a churel. Special rites and rituals are performed in the burial of any woman who is likely to become a churel. The corpse may be bound or protective nails or structures used to restrict the would-be churel to her burial grounds. Measures are undertaken so that at least the churel does not find her way back to her house to torment her family.
Creation and classes
The spirit is said to be of a woman who died either in childbirth, in pregnancy or during her menstruation, in a state of ritual impurity. Churels are created especially when the pregnant woman dies in the five-day Hindu festival of lights, Diwali. In western India especially Gujarat, any woman who dies an unnatural death is believed to turn into a churel, also known as jakihn, jakhai, mukai, nagulai and alvantin. Originally, it was believed that only a low-caste woman turns to a churel.
Three types of churels are mentioned. Poshi churels are those who did not enjoy sexual pleasures, so they "fondle" children, but serve their husbands. Soshi churels, the most commonly described churels, are neglected and harassed by their relatives in life so they return after death to drain the blood of the men of their family. Toshi churels are still bonded to their loving husbands, and bring him joy.
The true form of a churel is described as a hideous creature with long sagging breasts and unkempt hair. Often, her feet are backward; her toes in the back and heel in the front. Sometimes, she is described roaming naked. She may have a pot belly, claw-like hands, and scruffy and long pubic hair. She has an unnaturally long and thick black tongue and thick, rough lips; though sometimes she is reported as having no mouth at all. Sometimes, churels are described to have pig faces with large fangs or human-like faces with sharp tusks. However, a churel may be a shape-shifter. She assumes the form of a beautiful young woman, with her head covered and carrying a lantern to charm any man.
Churels are most often reported in and around graveyards, cemeteries, tombs, abandoned battlefields, thresholds of houses, crossroads, toilets and squalid places. A woman ill-treated by her family or who died in childbirth as she was not cared well by her relatives, returns as a churel to haunt the family and sucks dry the blood of the male members. Filled with vengeance and fury, she starts with the youngest male in the family, enticing him and sapping his life force and youth by draining his blood, turning him into an old man. Once her vendetta is fulfilled, she moves on to other men.
The churel also targets young families, young men and other surrogates for her relatives and her loss. In the guise of the enchantress, this femme fatale hunts for young men on highways and seduces a lone traveller to accompany her. Sometimes, she imprisons him in her lair in the graveyard, sucking his blood a little at a time. Sometimes, she is described as feeding on his semen. Legend says that a churel will hold a young man captive until he is elderly, or else uses him sexually until he withers, dies, and joins the spirit. Another tale narrates that a young man who is seduced by the churel and eats the food given to him, returns at dawn to the village, turned into an aged man.
Prevention and remedies
The best solution prescribed to avoid a churel is to prevent her creation. This means taking good care of the pregnant woman. However, if the woman dies, the creation of a churel can be still prevented. The forming of a churel is prevented by burying the corpse of any woman who is likely to become one, instead of the usual Hindu cremation. Rites and rituals of her burial should be performed with utmost care. The woman should be remembered in songs and prayers. Sometimes, she may be buried face down.
Precautionary measures are taken even if the woman transforms into a churel. The corpse may be carried out of the house from the side door, rather than the front door so that the deceased does not find her way back in the house. Some families would sprinkle mustard or millet seeds on the grave to ensure that the churel does not visit the old family house. The churel is believed to spend her time counting the seeds, so she does not come back to avenge her death. Mustard seeds and/or cotton wool may be scattered through the funeral procession to the burial grounds, which are generally outside the village boundaries. The churel is believed to return to her house only if she manages to collect all of the scattered seeds or wool.
Measures were taken to restrain the churel to her burial grounds. Four nails are fixed at the four corners of the burial site and red flowers are planted on it. Iron nails were also driven on the house's threshold or at the end of the street in the village boundary, that the funeral precession travels. The corpse may also be bound to restrict the churel's movement. In Punjab, a woman who died during childbirth had her hands and feet nailed, her feet shackled in chains and red pepper smeared in her eyes. Some would may even break her legs and turn her feet backwards, chain the big toes together or tie the feet in iron rings. Sometimes, instead of the corpse, the legs on the cot on which the death happened are bound under the bier.
However, in some cases an exorcism has been needed over the burial site. Hindu priests use prayers, incense and offerings to ward her off, but this is not a permanent solution. The churel may return months or years later. "Stonehenge-like structures" are built at the entrances of villages in the south, to prevent churels entering the village.
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