Even as far as reincarnation stories go, this is an unusual one.
In the 1970s, famed reincarnation researcher Ian Stevenson encountered a woman who could fluently speak a form of Bengali spoken some 150 years earlier. Modern Bengali contains about 20 percent English loan words, Bengali Professor P. Pal told Stevenson. But this woman had long conversations with Professor Pal without using a single one. On the other hand, she used more Sanskrit words, just as Bengalis did around 1810 to 1830, the hypothesized time period of her past life.
She spoke completely fluently as though she were raised in Western Bengal, a region she had many memories of, though she had never been there in this life. She was born and raised in Nagpur, India, speaking Marathi, as well as a bit of Hindi and English.
When this woman, Uttara Huddar, was 32 years old, a new personality emerged calling itself Sharada. Huddar had not talked about remembering a past life before this point. She had a double M.A. degree in English and public administration and she was a part-time lecturer at Nagpur University until she started sharing her body with what could be called a discarnate woman.
Sharada, this new personality, could not speak or understand any of the languages Huddar could. Sharada didn’t recognize Huddar’s family or friends, and she was baffled by the many instruments invented after the Industrial Revolution. Huddar’s family didn’t know any Bengali and they were unfamiliar with the ethnic foods and other things Sharada desired.
Stevenson and his fellow researchers spent a couple of weeks investigating her story over the course of a couple years. They checked up on places she remembered in Bengal (some of them in modern-day Bangladesh). Her descriptions were accurate in terms of distance between places, geographical layout, et cetera.
She gave the full names of her family members, including her father’s name, Brajanath Chattopaydhaya. When Stevenson found a genaeology of a Chattopaydhaya family living in the region Sharada described as home, he discovered Sharada had correctly named and described her relationship with five of her family members, including her father and grandfather. These family members lived during the 19th century time frame Sharada’s accounts seemed to describe.
“The genealogy is exclusively a male one. Since no women’s names appear in it, we cannot say that we have proved that a person corresponding to Sharada’s statements existed. But the correspondence between the genealogy and her statements about the relationships of the male members of the family seems beyond coincidence,” Stevenson wrote in a paper published in The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research in July 1980 titled “A Preliminary Report on an Unusual Case of the Reincarnation Type With Xenoglossy.” Xenoglossy refers to the ability to speak or write in a language unfamiliar to the speaker or writer.
As a child, Huddar had a strong phobia of snakes. Her mother said that, while pregnant with Huddar, she had dreamed repeatedly of being bitten on the foot by a snake.
Sharada recalled that she was seven months pregnant and was picking flowers when a snake bit her toe. She said she became unconscious, though she did not explicitly say she remembered dying. At the time, she was 22, and “she seemed to have no awareness that any time had elapsed,” Stevenson said.
Sharada would take over Huddar’s body for days or weeks at a time, and Huddar’s family started to notice that these periods corresponded to certain phases of the moon. Neither would remember the actions of the other, leading Stevenson to say it was perhaps more a case of possession than of reincarnation.
“The amnesia each personality appears to have had for events occurring to the other, even though it was not total, suggests the possession syndrome more than a case of the reincarnation type,” he wrote. “This implies that Sharada is a discarnate personality—that is, that she consists of surviving aspects of a real person who lived and died in the early years of the 19th century, and who, almost 150 years later, came to dominate and control Uttara’s body.”
He continued: “Other details, however, are consistent with the interpretation of the case as one of reincarnation. First, Uttara had a phobia of snakes when she was a small child, and later, she showed a liking for Bengal and Bengalis.”
Her father was a Bengali enthusiast, because he felt the Bengalis did a better job protecting themselves from British forces and he was involved in the Indian nationalist movement. She may have inherited this interest in Bengal from him. She learned a few words of Bengali in a high school class (taught by someone who didn’t speak Bengali and who used the Marathi pronunciations). But, said Stevenson, there were no indications that she could have spent nearly enough time exposed to the Bengali language to become proficient in the language, let alone speak with the intonation and fluidity of a native speaker. The fact that the version of Bengali she spoke was also 150 years outdated provided compelling evidence, he said, along with her intimate knowledge of the food and culture.