« PreviousContinue »
placed on the ground. The controller of the pickaxe, holding it by the point, then says, “Shall I strike?” The by-standers signifying their assent, he strikes the cocoa-nut with the butt-end of the pickaxe, and breaks it, exclaiming, “All hail, mighty Davy,* great Mother of us all ! " The surrounding spectators respond, "All hail, Davy! and prosper the Thugs!” This is a most interesting and exciting moment ; for, upon the hardness of the nut, the skill of the operator, and the accidental circumstances which may affect the force or direction of the blow, depends the realization of the hopes of the community. If the cocoa-nut be not severed at one blow, all the labor is thrown away; the goddess is understood to be unpropitious; another day must be selected for the repetition of the ceremonies, and all the trouble be incurred again. If, however, the nut is cleft at once, the proof of the approval of the goddess is indisputable. The whole of the shell, and some of the kernel of the nut, is thrown into the fire; the pickaxe is carefully tied up in a clean white cloth, and, being placed on the ground to the west, the assembled spectators, turning in that direction, prostrate themselves in adoration before “ that which their own hands have made;" that which the labor of the smith might have fashioned with equal facility into an object of reverence or of contempt; and which, while it receives divine honors, is destined to assist in a series of acts most horrible and disgusting.
The ceremony of prostration concluded, all present receive a portion of the cocoa-nut. The fragments are then collected, and thrown into the pit which had been previously prepared, lest, if they remained on the ground, the sacred relics might be outraged by the defiling touch of some human foot. These ceremonies, elaborate as they are, suflice only for a single expedition.
When the sacred pickaxe is thus prepared, it must be placed in safe custody: it is not every Thug who can be trusted with it. The person who bears it is selected, principally, for his shrewdness, caution, and sobriety. It is, however, only when on a journey that it is intrusted to human care at all. When in camp, it is deposited in the earth, under the especial protection of the goddess. When buried, it is always placed with the point in the direction in which the party intend to proceed ; and they have the fullest confidence that, if another course is to be preferred, the point will be found to have veered round so as to indicate the better way.
* Davy, Bhowanee, and Kalee, are different names of the same goddess.
When the pickaxe is buried, no foot must touch the earth which covers it; nor must it, at any time, be approached by an anclean animal, or any object which bears contamination. After each time that it has been used for the preparation of a grave, it must be submitted to the purification of the bath.
If the pickaxe falls from the hand of the man who bears it, dismay spreads through the gang. The omen is regarded as of the most fearful description : its horrors are aggravated by uncertainty as to the nature of the approaching evil, and even as to the party upon whom it is to descend. The omen may indicate the death of the individual who had the care of the sacred weapon, and who, through heedlessness or unavoidable fatality, suffered it to drop from his embrace; or it may forebode some dreadful reverse to the fortunes of the gang. Measures are immediately taken to frustrate the evil omen; and the first step is, to deprive the unhappy pickaxe-bearer of his office.
The enterprise in which they are engaged, whatever it be is immediately abandoned ; and the pickaxe must be consecrated anew. Even these precautions are insufficient to restore things to their original state. The misfortune upon the gang is a sentence of excommunication from the society of all faithful Thugs. No other party will ever associate with one whose pickaxe has fallen, lest they should be involved in the evil which is apprehended to the "doomed ones.”
The pickaxe affords the most solemn sanction of an oath among these murderers; and if any sanction can bind their consciences, it is, perhaps, the only one capable of effecting that purpose. Compared with it, neither the water of the Ganges weighs with the Hindoo, nor the Koran with the Mussulman. “If any man swears to a falsehood upon a pickaxe properly consecrated,” said the Thugs, “ we will consent to be hanged if he survive the time appointed. Appoint one, two, or three days, when he swears, and we pledge ourselves that he does not live a moment beyond the time. He will die a horrid death ; his head will turn round, his face towards the back; and he will writhe in torture till he dies.” The pickaxe is, in short, the standard around which all the gloomy family of Thug superstitions rally; it is regarded as the great source of security and prosperity. The instrument of strangulation is held in esteem; but that of burial in infinitely more; the Thugs think of it with enthusiasm. “Do we not,” said one interrogated by Captain Sleeman " do
we not worship it every seventh day? Is it not our standard ? Is its sound ever heard, when digging the grave, by any but a Thug? And can any man ever swear to a falsehood upon it?" “How could we dig graves," asked another, “with any other instrument? This is the one appointed by Davy, and consecrated ; and we should never have survived the attempt to use any other. No man,” it was added, “but a Thug, who has been a strangler, and is remarkable for his cleanliness and decorum, is permitted to carry it."
The Thugs profess to believe that their system of murder and plunder was instituted by Kalee, the goddess whom they serve, and is, consequently, of divine origin. This they attempt to prove by the following legend :
In remote ages, a demon infested the earth, and devoured mankind as soon as created. This devouring monster was so gigantic, that the water did not reach his waist in the unfathomable parts of the ocean ; and he strode over the world unrestrained, rioting in the destruction of the human race. The world was thus kept unpeopled, until the goddess of the Thugs came to the
She attacked the demon, and cut him down; but from every drop of his blood another demon arose ; and though the goddess continued to cut down these rising demons with wonderful alacrity and scientific skill, other demons sprang from their blood, and the diabolical race consequently multiplied with fearful rapidity. The never-ending labor of cutting down demons, whose number was only increased by this operation, at length fatigued and disheartened the goddess. She found it indispensably necessary to make a change in her tactics ; — and here the tale, which is thus far universally received, becomes subject to variations. It is admitted by all Hindoos, that the demons multiplied in the manner described ; but there is a difference of opinion respecting the manner in which they were finally disposed of. The orthodox opinion is that, when the goddess found the drops of blood thus rapidly passing into demons, - a fact which, with all her divine attributes, it seems, she only learned by experience, - she hit upon a very happy expedient to prevent the blood reaching the earth, where the demoniacal transformation took place. Being furnished with a tongue of extraordinary dimensions, she, after every blow, promptly and carefully licked the blood away! A preventive check being thus placed upon the further propagation of demons, the goddess was enabled to destroy, at her leisure, those previ
ously existing. Such is the commonly received account of the goddess's dexterity and address. That of the Thugs is varied, for the purpose of affording a superhuman sanction to their mode of assassination. According to Thug mythology, the goddess, when she became embarrassed by the constant reënforcements of the demon army which accrued from her labors, relinquished all personal efforts for their suppression, and formed two men from the perspiration brushed from her arms. To each of these men she gave a handkerchief ; how fabricated, at a time when reels and looms were not, is a question open to the discussion of the learned. With these handkerchiefs they were commanded to put all the demons to death, without shedding a drop of blood. It does not appear why the goddess might not thus have plied the handkerchief herself: it may be presumed that she was too much exhausted by her previous exertions. Her commands, however, were faithfully executed; and the demons were all strangled without delay.
There is some difficulty in understanding how demons so powerful succumbed thus readily to two agents, who, though sprung from an exudation of the goddess's arms, were, as appears by the sequel of the tale, merely children of mortality. But the difficulty never seems to have occurred to the Thugs, whose faith, like that of the mass of their countrymen, is of a very unscrupulous character. The story is wound up with such poetical justice as might be expected in a Hindoo legend. The champions, having vanquished all the demons, offered, like honest men, to return the handkerchiefs; but their patroness, in the spirit of a grateful goddess, desired that they would retain them, not merely as memorials of their heroism, but as the implements of a lucrative trade in which their descendants were to labor and thrive. They were not only permitted, but commanded, to strangle men, as they had strangled demons. They forbore, indeed, to exercise this privilege for a long period, and several generations passed before Thuggee became practised as a profession. Whether this forbearance was founded on the principle according to which a sportsman suffers game to accumulate, is not stated. The privilege slept; but, though dormant, it was not lost; and in due time it was abundantly exercised. The lapse between the grant of the patent and the use of it might tend to raise a presumption against its having been granted; but Hindoo casuists are not accustomed to scrutinize evidence with the severity which prevails in Westminster Hall.
The conviction of the divine origin of Thuggee is strengthened in the minds of its followers by the belief that its mysteries are exhibited by the numerous
images sculptured on the walls of the cave temples at Ellora. On this subject is the
Interior of a Cave Temple at Ellora. following conversation of Captain Sleeman, in the employment of the East India Company, and some Thugs who had become witnesses for the prosecution instituted against their confederates.
Capt. S. You told Mr. Johnstone, the traveller, while he was at Saugor, that the operations of your trade were to be seen in the caves of Ellora.
Feringeea. All! Every one of the operations is to be seen there. In one place, you see men strangling; in another, burying the bodies; in another, carrying them off to the graves. There is not an operation in Thuggee that is not exhibited in the caves of Ellora.
Dorgha. In those caves are to be seen the operations of every trade in the world.
Chotee. Whenever we passed near, we used to go and see these caves. Every man will there find his trade described, however secret he may think it; and they were all made in one night.
Capt. S. Does any person besides yourselves consider that any of these figures represent Thugs?
Feringeca. Nobody else. But all Thugs know that they do. We never told any body else what we thought about them. Every body there can see the secret operations of his trade; but he does not tell others of them; and no other person can understand what they mean. They are the works of Goc. No human hands were employed upon them; that every body admits.