Anklets & Apparitions: The Backstory And Local Sightings Of The Lovelorn, Vengeful ‘Mohini’

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As Halloween draws closer, we recount the abundant folklore and ghostly tales that reflect our rich and diverse Malaysian culture. From the ever-popular pontianak, mischievous toyol, and even the infamous hantu tetek, it seems that our locals have seen it all.

Among these, though, one haunting tale stands out: the story of Mohini, a spirit born from the depths of unrequited love.

Mohini’s Sinister Symphony

source: Scoop Whoop

More specifically, it is said that she was once a mortal woman consumed by the bitter sting of love unrequited. Most versions of her narrative state that her partner had been unfaithful to her, driving her to suicide.

Betrayed and broken-hearted, her spirit twisted into one of vengeful bitterness, targeting joyful couples, determined to shatter their happiness and curse their lives – While others believe that she harbours a grievance towards women specifically and attempts to come between couples so she can have the man for herself.

Originally portrayed as an evil forest fairy, Mohini’s legend has transformed over the ages. She’s also been known to haunt solitary men at night, and not necessarily couples; her presence always heralded by the soft, ominous jingle of her kolusu, anklets often donned in traditional Indian dances.

Though her story originates from South India and Sri Lanka, it has also apparently made its way to Malaysian grounds… At least according to my parents.

Rom-Com Dreams & Haunting Themes

Image AI-generated via Dall-e

The story goes that my mother, seven months pregnant, had gone out with my father for a post-dinner stroll around their neighbourhood in Subang. He brought his guitar, full rom-com style, and was strumming it along the way.

Yet, their harmonious evening was shattered by the dogs around the area who barked intently at them as they walked by. This was strange, as they were usually quiet, but ultimately my father decided to keep the instrument away, deciding that the dogs were just extra irritable that night or perhaps his guitar skills weren’t as polished as he thought.

However, in the near-silence that then filled the air, a faint rhythmic chime of anklets followed, soft at first but growing louder and clearer with every step they took, as if someone was walking behind them, edging closer by the minute. They looked around, only to find themselves seemingly alone. A shared glance between my parents confirmed their shared terror, and they hurried home, the chilling echo of the anklet bells thankfully fading into the distance.

Image AI-generated via Dall-e

It was the next day, when they shared the tale of their enigmatic encounter with my grandmother, that they learned the folklore of Mohini, who she claims usually appears as a strikingly beautiful apparition, and later begins sowing discord, jealousy and misunderstandings between the happy pair of her choice.

This is also where the word ‘Mohini’, which is used as a slang term in Indian cultures to describe an attractive woman, is derived from.

Image AI-generated via Dall-e

Another popular version of this folklore portrays Mohini as a woman who simply passed away without ever having experienced love, and therefore was left with an exaggerated thirst for romance and intimacy.

While the specifics of the Mohini legend can vary across different regions and communities in South India, the core theme of a vengeful ghost targeting happy couples remains consistent, making her one of the most enduring and chilling figures in Indian folklore.

Love Lost & Found in Film

source: Telugu360

Unsurprisingly, this prominent backstory and theme of unfulfilled love has earned the legend of Mohini a place onto the silver screen. From Tamil to Telugu and Malayalam cinema, filmmakers have embraced this eerie tale, weaving it into compelling narratives that blend elements of horror, romance, and suspense. One notable film is Yaaradi Nee Mohini (Who are you, Mohini?), in which a man named Vasu instantly falls for Keerthi, but she rejects him and tells him she’s going to marry her uncle’s son, who also happens to Vasu’s best friend.

A more recent example is the 2018 Tamil supernatural thriller, Mohini, starring Trisha Krishnan, where a man finds his lover possessed by an angry, shapeshifting spirit.

Fiction or Fright?

source: Facebook

A quick web search also reveals that tourists visiting Genting Highlands have allegedly encountered the spirit of Mohini at hotels and apartments. Besides the feeling of someone watching them, couples have also claimed to have heard an eerie howling that sounded “part girl part wolf” in the middle of an empty hallway. Zafigo also states that Mohini has a preference for coconut trees and often fills the air with a sweet, compelling fragrance to make her presence known.

While mostly linked to the supernatural, in other communities, Mohini’s story is more of a fictional parable, reminding us to treat others with kindness and respect as the importance of loyalty and fidelity in relationships – the return of her enraged spirit symbolising the consequences of our actions that come back to ‘haunt’ us.

Either way, as you celebrate this Halloween and every day after, let this be a reminder that fidelity is always a good idea.

Cover image AI-generated via Dall-e

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