Ghostly Phenomenon in Rural Areas of Bengal: A Scientific Explanation

By Aamarpali Puri

Aleya Lights or Ghost lights are witnesses in the swamps and marshes of West Bengal. Local fisher men often report these mysterious ghost lights. It is said that when the local fisherman see these lights they are confused and they lose their bearing. From time to time several dead bodies are found by the locals in these areas. They attribute it to Aleya Lights. If someone tries to follow these strange lights moving over the marshes, he may be led to drowning in the deep waters. It is also said that whoever sees and follows these lights become insane and never recover. It is said that these lights represent the ghosts of fisher man who died while fishing.

These lights are not really limited to West Bengal or Bangladesh but have been spotted at various places in India like Himachal, Gujarat and abroad like Nepal, UK, Finland, Australia, North America and South America. The other name of the similar lights are will-o’-the-wisp, Jack-o’-lantern, hinkypunk etc. In countries like Estonia and Finland these light mark locations of hidden treasures. In America these light are considered to be the ghosts of railroad tracks and roadside workers who were killed on duty because of an accident. Some says these are the lights of the spirits of stillborn and un baptized children who constantly travel between hell and heaven.

Scientifically[2] it was found that these are caused by burning of Marsh Gas or Methane Gas. Methane gases on oxidation produce such lights. Also some of these flames are fed by underground sources of natural gas. These flames were for obvious reasons, seen as miracles and sign of the divine by ancient people. The normal decomposition of organic matter in open air is called “aerobic decomposition.” Like all organic matter, plants and animals are largely made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. When decaying in the presence of oxygen, the by-products of the decomposition are water, carbon dioxide, and energy, or heat.  In swampy or marshy areas, aerobic decomposition is often unable to take place. Instead, the dead matter is buried beneath water and saturated soil where it continues to decompose in the absence of air. The matter is broken down by anaerobic bacteria, the by-products of which are methane, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, phosphines and other chemicals.

It is believed that, as the gases rise from the soil and water and escape into the atmosphere, the methane mixes with the phosphines and creates the blue lights seen hovering over the swamps. Phosphines are flammable, toxic gasses that can burst into spontaneous flame in the presence of air. As it burns, it produces a dense white cloud, which could give the flame more substance.

Seafarers [3] used to witness a mysterious phenomenon back in the days when sailing ships were the only means of sea travel. After encountering tempests and violent thunderstorms, they sometimes saw a pale fire burning at the tip of the mast. Thinking it was a sign of God’s blessing, they named the phenomenon Saint Elmo’s fire after the patron saint of sailors. It can also be seen on church steeples, mountaintops, the tips of antenna and other such places. We now know that Saint Elmo’s Fire is caused by electric potential differences in the atmosphere.

Similar flames [1] are worshipped in Himachal in India at Jwala ji Kangra. Jwala Ji Shrine is located in the lower Himalayas in Jwalamukhi town of the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh, India. These are the natural caves where eternal flames (Fiery tongue of Goddesses) continue to burn. In the temple four cornered, with a small dome on the top and a square central pit hollowed stone inside where the main flame burns endlessly. These flames represent divine nine sisters or nine Durgas. Scientifically it is a set of flames burning off natural gas, from the fissures this gas seeps by itself.  Similar type of eternal flame is present in Muktinath at Mustang district of Nepal. There is a small amount of natural gas present in the Himalayan spring that emerges near this shrine which gives appearance of the fire burning on the water itself.



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