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In the beginning of the year 1830, a group of men were assembled in one of the groves that intersect every part of India, whose appearance and occupation made them appear to belong to some remote age rather than to the present century. They were engaged in Pagan ceremonies, still followed by the Hindoos; and if any one had witnessed them they would have been filled with horror, for the rites they observed were those practised by the Thugs. One of the party was seated on a blanket spread for him, his face turned towards the west. The rest were seated on each side, looking in the same direction that he did, excepting one young man, whose air of surprise and curiosity proved that he was only a novice.
“My son," exclaimed the leader of the band, "you will be invited into the sacrifice of the Tipoonee, and you must, therefore, pay the most profound attention to what we perform."
“Pray do not doubt my zeal, O my gooroo,* for it has long been my ardent wish to become perfect in these ceremonies.”
“ The Tipoonee is of the utmost solemnity; and when you have taken your part in it, you will be prepared for the important work." “ To-night I am to taste the consecrated
young man, " for the first time, according to your promise.'
“ You shall do so; and listen to our invocation while we address the
The leader of the band then made a small hole in the ground near the blanket, upon
which was placed the sacred pickaxe, one especially consecrated to the service of the Thugs, a pile of sugar, and a piece of silver, as an offering ; a little sugar was then put into the hole, and one of the assembly, raising his hands to heaven, said in a supplicatory tone,
“ Powerful and mighty goddess, who hast for ages vouchsafed thy protection to thy votaries, we beseech thee to fulfil our desires—to him thy protection.”
He then presented him with a piece of consecrated sugar, and his inauguration was complete.
The leader of the band then addressed the novice in the following words :
"You have eaten the consecrated sugar, and are now a Thug! Were you to desire to forsake us you could not, such is the power it has, when consecrated as you have seen it, over the hearts of men.”.
“Do not suppose, my gooroo," replied the novice, “that it would be possible for me ever to change; though the youngest of the party, you will not find me the least zealous."
“ I have no doubt of it, my son; for youth is ever eager, and men find apathy comes only with old age. My admonition did not proceed from want of confidence in you, but it was to strengthen your convictions. Be kind to those around you, affectionate to your relations, commiserate the poor, give alms to the needy; but remember that you have vowed destruction to all whom the goddess may throw in your way.”
• Spiritual teacher.
“ Your words have sunk into my heart,” replied the novice; shall you have to complain of my flinching from my duty."
It might naturally be supposed that the horrible career of the Thugs would render them stony-hearted, insensible to compassion, and, in fact, more like malignant demons than human beings; but they have been found patterns of every domestic virtue--good sons, husbands, and fathers, and exhibiting so much generosity towards their kindred, that they often endure great privations to assist them. If the Hindoos exhibit so many good qualities under a system which prompts wicked deeds of the blackest dye, what virtues may we not expect from them if converted to Christianity ?
The ceremonies were continued the next day; the leader of the band repeated incantations over the novice, who was not allowed to take meat, nor any nourishment but milk, while numerous sacrifices were made to the sacred pickaxe; every omen was observed, and as they sat under the trees, scarcely a bird alighted but there was a conclusion drawn from it, and the appearance of different animals was particularly observed. He was inquisitive respecting the meaning of these omens, and inquired of the gooroo, who replied,
“My son, when I was at your age these ceremonies were performed over me to make me fearless and cunning, valiant and active ; able to ensnare all who came within my reach, and to avoid my enemies; to make me fortunate, and cause me to win fame.”
“ In all these you have succeeded ?"
“ Thanksgiving to the goddess, I never failed; and we may all entertain great hopes of you ; everything is going on to my complete satisfaction, for I have not observed one unfavourable omen.
We shall soon admit you to the most important business of our holy profession.”
66 What will that be?”
" I shall place the handkerchief in your hands, to give you some instructions in the art of strangling."
The next day the novice was requested to bathe with peculiar care, and was anointed with fragrant oil. They next made a mark on his forehead with vermilion, and declared him to be a votary of Bowanee.
The gooroo then gave him a handkerchief, having tied a large knot at one end, with a piece of silver inserted in it; this he held in his left hand, the plain end being in his right, and about as much space between them as would nearly compass a man's neck; the closed hands had the palms uppermost.
“Now," said he, “mark this ; and when you throw the cloth from behind, and have got it tight, suddenly turn your knuckles into the neck, giving a sharp wrench to either side that may be most convenient. If done with precision, instant death ensues."
When at Hydrabad, the superintendent of Thuggee mentioned to me that a noted Thug had been sent to him as an approver, and that he could bring him to me if I felt inclined to see him. Wishing to see this monster, on the same principle that we desire to behold a shark, I availed myself of this opportunity, expecting to witness a man of hideous appearance, and representing in his outward aspect the reflex of a life of murder.
My surprise was great to see a benevolent and venerable-looking person enter the apartment, whose snow-white beard corresponded with
his air of benignity and placid demeanour. His manners were gentle and polite ; in fact, he had every outward sign of a particularly amiable character. He wore a green turban and a rosary round his neck, which showed that he had become a faqueer; even Lavater must have acknowledged that his system of physiognomy would not hold good in India, where men do not act in conformity with their natural disposition, but from the dictates of a dark system of idolatry. The Thug in question informed me, with a bland smile, that he had killed a hundred men; and on seeing me shrink from him with horror, he added that since becoming a faqueer he had quitted his former profession, but did not speak of it with the least confusion or remorse. He showed me the manner in which the fatal knot was tied, and how the handkerchief was used in strangling, precisely in the manner described above.
We must return to the novice. He required some practice before he could attain dexterity in his new profession; but in a short time he soon satisfied the rest of the band that he was competent to perform his task. The next thing was to learn to be a sotha, as those Thugs were denominated who were employed to decoy travellers into situations where they could be easily strangled. “ It does not appear to me,” observed the young man,
(6 that there can be much difficulty in the character of a sotha.”
“That is not the general opinion ; men are proud of excelling in it, for they require the greatest tact and powers of dissimulation, ability to support characters and disguises, a smooth tongue and polite demeanour. All men have not these qualities ; indeed, we may even consider them
“I am afraid, O my gooroo,” replied the young man,
" that it will require a great deal of experience before I can become a sotha.”
* Do not be afraid, my son; your manners are pleasing, and your juvenile appearance will produce the idea of a simple and artless being. It is my intention to send you this evening to a rich merchant, who is established at the neighbouring village for a day or two to rest on his journey."
" What am I to do ?”
“ You must entice him to join our party, that we may be enabled to strangle him.”
“ But how ?"
you must do the same. We hear the merchant is immensely rich, and greatly alarmed at the idea of robbers.”
“ Well, you must work upon his fears, and state that having heard he is passing by, we are anxious to proceed on our journey with him, to ensure our mutual protection. He will be immediately caught by this pretext, and when he has joined our party we can strangle him this very evening, by practising the gan-kurna.”
“ I never heard you speak of that ceremony."
“ It is performed in the following way,” replied the gooroo :-"One of the party feigns sickness ; the others say a charm will restore him, and beg the stranger to join in counting a certain number of stars : while thus engaged, it is easy to find an opportunity of strangling the newlyarrived guest."
These horrible instructions were obeyed; the Thug went to seek the
Hindoo merchant, and accosted him in so pleasing a manner that he was completely deceived, and thought himself fortunate in meeting with protection on the road. On joining the rest of the party they invited him to share their supper, and he repaid this attention by relating so many stories about the manner in which bis gold and jewels were secreted, that they thought the time would never come for them to get possession of them. Midnight had arrived - the beautiful midnight of a tropic clime ; the stars shone refulgently, as if to raise men's minds to heaven, and realised Alfred Tennyson's description of the East -
Larger constellations burning, mellow moons and happy skies,
Breaths of tropic shade, and palms in cluster, knots of paradise. Suddenly the youngest Thug, according to the preconcerted plan, began to feign illness, and threw himself on the ground, as if attacked by violent convulsions.
“I fear," exclaimed the benevolent merchant, “that he has got cholera." “ Indeed, we must hope not."
Well, at all events,” continued the merchant, “it would be better for me to unpack my camphor."
“Oh, pray do not trouble yourself,” replied the gooroo ; "it is only a fit to which he is subject, and his friends are able to relieve him by a charm of great virtue, which always proves highly efficacious.”
“ What charm is that ?"
“A very simple one. We all count a certain number of stars, according to agreement, and soon after our companion becomes composed, and then in a short time perfectly well.”
“ That is wonderful.”
" We will now attempt it,” said the gooroo, “ and perhaps you will kindly join us in counting the stars."
“ By all means,” replied the merchant: “How many have you fixed
“ As the attack is violent to-night, we will count a hundred.”
While thus employed, the unhappy merchant found a handkerchief thrown round his neck with the rapidity of lightning—the knot was fastened with a firm grasp-he struggled violently, but in vain; the agonies of death were soon over, and he fell upon the ground never to rise again. They hurried him to a grave already prepared by his inhuman murderers-å grave unknown, unhonoured, and unwept—his fate resembling that of thousands.
The crimes committed by Thugs on a vast scale would appear incredible in England, were it not for the official reports presented to government, and the circumstance of having discovered many of the victims, by opening the graves where the approvers declared them to be interred.
The peculiar construction of oriental society has, however, given great facilities for these murders, which never could have been perpetrated in any other land.
In a vast continent like India, which from the earliest periods has been portioned out into territories, the possessions of many princes and chieftains—each with supreme and irresponsible power in his own dominions, having a lax and most inefficient government, and at enmity with or jealous of all his neighbours-it may be conceived that no security could exist for the traveller upon the principal roads throughout the continent; no general league was ever entered into for his security; nor could any
government, however vigorous, or system of policy, however vigilant it might be in one state, possibly extend to all
. When it is also considered that no public conveyances have ever existed in India (the want of roads, and the habits and customs of the natives, beng alike opposed to their use)—that journeys, however long, have to be, undertaken on foot or on horseback-that parties, previously unknown to each other, associate together for mutual security and companionshipthat even the principal roads (except those constructed for military purposes by the Company's government) are only tracks made by the constant passage of people over them, often intersecting forests, jungles, and mountainous and uncultivated tracts, where there are but few villages, and a scanty population—and that there are never any habitations between the villages, which are often some miles apart-it will readily be allowed, that every temptation and opportunity exists for plunderers of all descriptions to make travellers their prey. Accordingly, freebooters have always existed, under many denominations, employing various modes of operation to attain their ends ; some effecting them by open and violent attacks with weapons, others by petty thefts and by means of disguises. Beyond all, however, the Thugs have of late years been discovered to be most numerous, the most united, the most secret in their horrible work, and, consequently, the most dangerous and destructive.
Travellers seldom hold any communication with the towns through which they pass, more than for the purchase of the day's provisions ; they sometimes enter them, but pitch their tents or lie under the trees which surround them: to gain any intelligence of a person's progress from village to village is therefore almost impossible. The greatest facilities of disguise among thieves and Thugs exist in the endless divisions of the people into tribes, caste, and professions; and remittances to an immense amount are known to be constantly made from one part of the country to another in gold and silver, to save the rate of exchange; jewels, also, and precious stones are often sent to distant parts, under the charge of persons who purposely assume a mean and wretched appearance; and obliged to carry money upon his person for the daily expenses of travelling. It is also next to impossible to conceal anything carried, from the unlimited power of search possessed by the officers of customs in the territories of native princes; or to guard against the information their subordiDates may supply to Thugs, or robbers of any description.
It has been ascertained, by recent investigation, that in every part of India many of the hereditary landholders, and the chief officers of villages, have had connexion with Thugs for generations, affording them facilities for murder by allowing their atrocious acts to pass with impunity, and sheltering the offenders when in danger; whilst in return for these services they received portions of their gains, or laid a tax upon their houses, which the Thugs cheerfully paid. To almost every village (and in towns they are in a greater proportion) several hermits, fakeers, and religious mendicants have attached themselves. The huts and houses of these people, which are outside the walls, and always surrounded by a grove or garden, have afforded the Thugs places of rendezvous or concealment; while the fakeers, under their sanctimonious garb, have enticed travellers to their gardens by the apparently disinterested offers of shade and good water If England has many crimes to answer for during her sway over India, she has proved a blessing at least on one account, the suppression of Thuggee.
Oct. --VOL. LXXXVII. NO. CCCXLVI.
every one is