Excerpts

Photo by Maximillian Cabinet.

Fiendish Folklore: The A to Z of Indian Horror

Ghosts, Monsters, and Demons of India (2020) by J. Furcifer Bhairav and Rakesh Khanna is the encyclopaedia that we didn’t know we needed—a comprehensive (and alphabetic) collection of the most terrifying entities and creatures from across India. The book is as expansive as the country, with bone-chilling entries and folktales from Ladakh to Lakshadweep, Maharashtra to Manipur, and Yamalok to Tuchenkwaka.

Also featured are stunning illustrations by Indian artists Appupen, Shyam, Samita Chatterjee, Rashmi Ruth Devadasan, Misha Michael, Pankaj Thapa, Vidyun Sabhaney, Osheen Siva, and Priya Kuriyan.

The following excerpt is from a chapter about the deadly Muhnochwa, and has been shared with permission from the publisher, Blaft Publications. Read on for more about the legend of the Muhnochwa, which hails from Uttar Pradesh, and has been theorised to be everything from an overgrown carnivorous bug to a Pakistani bio-weapon.

A glimpse of the cover of Ghosts, Monsters, and Demons of India.

Muhnochwa

from Ghosts, Monsters, and Demons of India by J. Furcifer Bhairav and Rakesh Khanna.

Muhnochwa, which means “face scratcher” in Hindi, was the name given to a mysterious object or creature reported from villages and towns around Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, in 2002. Police received a rash of reports of late-night home invasions. Several people were assaulted in the dark by something that left bloody claw marks on the victims’ faces, necks, and arms. One man was rumored to have died after his stomach was clawed open by the Muhnochwa.

The thing was said to be roughly spherical in shape, about ten inches long. Some said it had wings like a bat, and emitted bright red and blue lights from both front and behind; however, it always flew away too quickly for anyone to get a good look at it. Some people claimed that it gave a powerful electric shock.

The Muhnochwa, drawn by Rashmi Ruth Devadasan.

A wave of paranoia and panic gripped the region for several weeks. One Barabanki housewife woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of what she believed was the Muhnochwa breaking into her house. She had thrashed it within an inch of its life before the lights came on and she realized she had been beating her hapless husband, who had returned home late. Another man shot his dog to death after it licked his face in his sleep.

At one point, a 10,000-strong mob formed and demanded that the authorities take action against the Muhnochwa. The protesters dispersed only when the police began firing gunshots in the air.

Various theories for the true identity of the Muhnochwa were put forward. Some people thought they were tiny alien spaceships. Others blamed evil spirits. Scientists ascribed the sightings to ball lightning, an unexplained phenomenon usually reported during thunderstorms. The police claimed the creatures were giant metallic insects—possibly related to the nocturnal, carnivorous cricket Schizodactylus monstrosus. Deputy Inspector General went on record with speculation that genetically modified bugs had been released in the area by Pakistani infiltrators with the aim of destabilizing the country.

After a few months, the attacks stopped.