Once there lived in Kishtwar, a district in the province of Jammu and Kashmir, a dayan. There are few words in English that capture the meaning of this word, commonly used across nations in the subcontinent (and perhaps beyond) but the closest word would be–demoness or sorceress.
The dayan of Kishtwar is believed to have amazing powers and is on the lookout for men who fail to do the right thing or protect themselves from her. Her dazzling and mesmerising appearance hides an evil and powerful being whose victims are consumed by death in a slow and excruciating manner.
Vijaya Dar, a gifted story teller, who lived in Kashmir for 20 years but has now settled in Coonoor in Tamil Nadu, remembers that, as a child, he and his cousins would be warned: ‘Don’t do that or the dayan of Kishtwar will catch you’. He says he had an uncle who worked with the state government and was posted to Kishtwar for a few years where he began to waste away. He was brought back by his family who were convinced that the dayan had got to him. But his uncle, even though he was treated by the best doctors in Srinagar, failed to survive. It was noticed that ever since he had come back from Kishtwar, a crow would perch itself on the window in the room where he lay. The family was convinced that the dayan had taken the form of a crow and followed him to Srinagar, eating away at his core till the pain and agony consumed his life.
The dayan’s powers are legendary. It is believed that Maharaja Pratap Singh, the Dogra ruler of Kashmir, who was believed to be an enlightened king sought to dispel the myth about her abilities. He summoned the dayan to his Durbar, where he ordered her to demonstrate her powers. She asked him to keep an apple on a table in the middle of the hall. Apparently, after a few moments when the apple was picked up it was found to have been consumed from within leaving the peel intact. There is no record of the event, except in the oral folklore of Kashmir.
As he tells this story Vijaya Dar says that it may have been entirely possible the victims of the dayan died from tubercular consumption or from a cancer but why the creatures were linked only to Kishtwar is not clear.
Story collected by Arundhuti Dasgupta
Story told by: Vijaya Dar
Source: Vijaya Dar who has heard it from family elders