Maya, the Dancing Ghost

The Interviewer will be referred to as ‘I’, and the informant as ‘V’. Translations for Hindi words, if any, will be italicised and in parentheses. The Informant is a 13-year-old Punjabi girl, born and raised in North India, attending a boarding school in North India.

I: So, you mentioned you played some pranks on your friends based on a ghost story they tell at your school. Could you tell me about it?

V: Yeah, sure, so basically, I’m in this old boarding school and this is a really old story that basically every student who ever came here knows. Maya was a dancer for the Nawabs (this refers to the royal families that would rule South Asian states, primarily during the period of Islamic rule), so she used to dance for the king and queen. She was beautiful and she used to dance really well, and slowly the king fell in love with her. And when the queen found out, she sent her guards to kill Maya, and they killed her on the thirteenth, and cut her into thirteen pieces, and she’s buried all around the school, because this is the same place where they were then. So, what we are always told is that on the thirteenth, if Maya can get all her body-pieces back in the same place at 12:00AM, like, at that exact time, then she can come back, and she will haunt our whole school. It’s kind of scary and fun because, basically, we prank all our classmates because of this, like, we scare people on purpose on the thirteenth, in the dorms, especially on any Friday the Thirteenth because everybody thinks that’s scary now. 


This is a particularly interesting iteration of a ghost story, because it visibly and obviously has both older, and newer elements. The idea of her being a royal dancer seems older, like a part of the story that has been preserved over the generations it has been told, especially since the location of this school in North India tracks. However, the idea of ‘thirteen’, the thirteen pieces and the thirteenth, points to a newer iteration, because thirteen, historically, is not a particularly unlucky number for Indians the way it is in other cultures. With the increasing prominence of globalisation and digital media, including social media, the homogenisation of information across cultures, and even multimedia such as horror movies and franchises, the idea of “Friday the Thirteenth”, and thirteen in general as a number that inspires bad luck and fear, has been propagated even to India. Therefore, I would hypothesize that the ‘thirteen’ portion of the story is newer, a modification, especially considering my informant here is very young and part of an especially globalised generation. There is a certain plausibility to this story, since it is rooted in a real time and place in India, even though it concerns ghosts and is largely believed by the student body of the school (or, alternatively, used as an excuse to play pranks), making it essentially a legend amongst this particular community, however niche it may be.