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BOOK IX

ANTI-SOCIAL SOCIETIES

I

THE THUGS

294. Introductory. - Accounts of several anti-social societies have been given in Book IV., such as the Assassins, Dervishes, and others. They were introduced there because they owed their origin to the religious systems described in that Book, and therefore I deemed it advisabie not to sever the connection existing between the religious and the social sects by describing them in different Books. And thus much I thought it necessary to explain, an apparent irregularity, before commencing the history of the Thugs.

295. Name and Origin.-Shortly after the conquest of Seringapatam in 1799, about a hundred robbers, called Phansigars, were apprehended in that province; but it was not known then that they belonged to a distinct class of hereditary murderers and plunderers, settled in various parts of India. In 1807, between Chittoor and Arcot, several Phansigars were apprehended, and information was then obtained which ultimately led to a full knowledge of the association infamous under the name of Thugs, though the name by which they were known to one another, and also to others, was “Phansigars,” that is, “men of the noose.” The name Thug is said to be derived from thaga, to deceive, because the Thugs get hold of their victims by luring them into false security. They were particularly numerous in Mysore, the Carnatic, in the Balaghat Districts, and in the Poliums of Chittoor. As to their origin, General Sleeman. considers them descended from remnants of the army of Xerxes, which invaded Greece; but more probably their origin is more recent. The date assigned by themselves to their first establishment in India coincides with the destruction of the Assassins of Alamut. It is not improbable, in fact, that some of the fugitives who fled from the swords of the Moguls made their way to India ; and the existence of

Ishmaelites in India, under the name of Borahs, was known before the existence of the Thugs as an organised sect had been detected. Now the Thugs in the Ramasee, or cant of the Thugs, always call themselves Borahs, which they do probably for the purpose of disguising their real pursuit ; for there is a sect, numerous in Hindustan, known by the name of Bohras, and whose members are chiefly peaceful traders. Some sect of Thugs call themselves Aulo.

296. Practices and Worship of Thugs. -- One common mode of decoying young men having valuables upon them is to place a young and handsome woman by the wayside, and apparently in great grief, who by some pretended tale of misfortune draws him into the jungle, where the gang are lying in ambush, and on his appearance strangle him. The gang consists of from ten to fifty members; and they will follow or accompany the marked-out victim for days, nor attempt his murder until an opportunity offering every chance of success presents itself. After every murder they perform a religious ceremony called tupounee ; and the division of the spoil is regulated by old-established lawsthe man that threw the handkerchief, or roomal, gets the largest share; the man that held the hands, called the shumseea, the next largest proportion, and so on. gangs their property is held in common. Their crimes are committed in honour of Káli, who hates our race, and to whom the death of man is a pleasing sacrifice.

Káli (derived from Kala=Time), or Bhowany—for she is equally well known by both names—was, according to the Indian legend, born of the burning eye which Shiva, one of the persons of the Brahmin trinity, has on his forehead, whence she issued, like the Greek Minerva out of the skull of Jupiter, a perfect and full-grown being. She represents the Evil Spirit, delights in human blood, presides over plague and pestilence, and directs the storm and hurricane, and ever aims at destruction. She is represented under the most frightful effigy the Indian mind could conceive; her face is azure, streaked with yellow; her glance is ferocious; she wears her dishevelled and bristly hair displayed like the peacock's tail, and braided with green serpents. Round her neck she wears a collar, descending almost to her knees, composed of golden skulls. Her purple lips seem streaming with blood; her tusk-like teeth descend over her lower lip; she has eight or ten arms, each hand holding some murderous weapon, and sometimes a human head dripping with gore. With one foot she stands on a human corpse. She has her

In some

temples, in which the people sacrifice cocks and bullocks to her; but her priests are the Thugs, the “Sons of Death, who quench the never-ending thirst of this divine vampire. An engraving, slightly differing in some of the above details, may be seen in the first volume of the “Asiatic Researches,

p. 265.

297. Traditions.—Like all similar societies, the Thugs have their traditions. According to them, Káli in the beginning determined to destroy the whole human race, with the exception, however, of her faithful adorers and followers. These, taught by her, slew all men that fell into their power. The victims at first were killed by the sword, and so great was the destruction her worshippers wrought, that the whole human race would have been extinguished, had not Vishnu, the Preserver, interfered, by causing the blood thus shed to bring forth new living beings, so that the destructive action of Káli was counteracted. It was then this goddess, to nullify the good intention of Vishnu, forbade her followers to kill any more with the sword, but commanded them to resort to strangulation. With her own hands she made a human figure of clay, and animated it with her breath. She then taught her worshippers how to kill without shedding blood. She also promised them that she would always bury the bodies of their victims, and destroy all traces of them. She further endowed her chosen disciples with superior courage and cunning, so as always to ensure them the victory over those they should attack. And she kept her promise. But in the course of time corrupt manners crept in even among the Thugs, and one of them, being curious to see what Káli did with the dead bodies, watched her as she was about to remove the corpse of a traveller he had slain. Goddesses, however, cannot thus be watched on the sly. Bhowany saw the peeper, and stepping forth, thus addressed him: “ Thou hast now beheld the awful countenance of a goddess, which none can behold and live. But I shall spare thy days, though as a punishment of thy crime shall not protect thee as I have done hitherto, and the punishment will extend to all thy brethren. The

corpses of those you kill will no longer be buried or concealed by me; you yourselves will be obliged to take the necessary measures for that purpose, nor will you always be successful, though I leave you the kussee, or sacred pickaxe, to dig the graves; sometimes you will fall under the profane laws of the world, which will be your eternal punishment. Nothing will remain to you but the superior intelligence and skill I have given

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