Omens and superstitions of southern India. Magic and Magicians.

Mehndi, Maggy Pilania,  body art,
Mehndi by Maggy Pilania. India body art.

Omens and superstitions of southern India by Edgar Thurston.



IT has been stated 1) that sorcerers usually unite together to form a society, which may attain great influence among backward races. In Southern India there are certain castes which are summed up in the “Madras Census Report,” 1901, as “exorcists and devil – dancers,” whose most important avocation is the practice of magic. Such, for example, are the Nalkes, Paravas, and Pompadas of South Canara 2), who are called in whenever a bhūtha (demon) is to be propitiated, and the Pānans and Malayans of Malabar, whose magical rites are described by me in detail elsewhere 3).

1) A. C. Haddon, “Magic and Fetishism” (Religions, ancient and modern), 1906, 51.
2) Dakshina Kannada is a district in the state of Karnataka in India.
3) See the articles devoted to these castes in my “Castes and Tribes of Southern India,” 1909.

Malayan, Exorcist, India, Kerala
Malayan Exorcist with fowl in his mouth.

Concerning sorcery on the west coast, the Travancore Census Commissioner, 1901, writes as follows:- .
“The, forms of sorcery familiar to the people of Malabar are of three kinds: – (I) kaivisham, or poisoning food by incantations; (2) the employment of Kuttichāttan, a mysteriously – working mischievous imp; (3) setting up spirits to haunt men and their houses, and cause illness of all kinds. The most mischievous imp in Malabar demonology is an annoying quip -loving little spirit, as black as night, and about the size of a well-nourished twelve-year-old boy.

Some people say that they have seen him vis-à-vis, having a forelock. There are Nambūtiris (Brāhmans) in Malabar to whom these are so many missiles, which they may throw at anybody they choose. They are, like Shakespeare’s Ariel, little active bodies, and most willing slaves of the master under whom they happen to be placed. Their victims suffer from unbearable agony. Their clothes take fire; their food turns to ordure; their beverages become urine; stones fall in showers on all sides of them, but curiously not on them; and their bed becomes a bed of thorns. With all this annoying mischief, Kuttichāttan or Boy Satan does no serious harm. He oppresses and harasses, but never injures.

Dhanya, Spiritual, Sign, Tamil Nadu, Helmi Komarek, Photographer,
Spiritual Sign on a tree in Tamil Nadu. Photography © Dhanya Komarek.

A celebrated Brāhman of Changanacheri is said to own more than a hundred of these Chāttans. Household articles and jewelry of value may be left in the premises of homes guarded by Chāttan, and no thief dares to lay his hand on them. The invisible sentry keeps diligent watch over his master’s property, and has unchecked powers of movement in any medium. As remuneration for all these services, the Chāttan demands nothing but food, but that in a large measure. If starved, the Chāttans would not hesitate to remind the master of their power, but, if ordinarily cared for, they would be his most willing drudges. As a safeguard against the infinite power secured for the master by Kuttichāttan, it is laid down that malign acts committed through his instrumentality recoil on the prompter, who dies either childless or after frightful physical and mental agony.

Another method of oppressing humanity, believed to be in the power of sorcerers, is to make men and women possessed with spirits. Here, too, women are more subject to their evil influence than men. Delayed puberty, permanent sterility, and still-births, are not uncommon ills of a devil-possessed woman. Sometimes the spirits sought to be exorcised refuse to leave the victim, unless the sorcerer promises them a habitation in his own compound (grounds), and arranges for daily offerings being given.

This is agreed to as a matter of unavoidable necessity, and-money and lands are conferred upon the mantravādi Nambūtiri to enable him to fulfill his promise.”

Dhanya Komarek, footprint, lord, vishnu, custom, India, Hindu, Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, Arunachala
Footprint of Lord Vishnu. Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, Arunachala. Photography © Dhanya Komarek.

Reference has been made to the falling of stones round those attacked by Chāttans. Hysteria, epilepsy, and other disorders, are, in Malabar, ascribed to possession by devils, who can also cause cattle disease, accidents, and misfortunes of any kind. Throwing stones on houses, and setting fire to the thatch, are supposed to be their ordinary recreations. The mere mention of the name of a certain Nambūtiri family is said to be enough to drive them away. 1) A few years ago, an old Brahman woman, in the Bellary district 2), complained to the police that a Sūdra woman living in her neighborhood, and formerly employed by her as sweeper; had been throwing stones into her house for some nights. The woman admitted that she had done so, because she was advised by a Lingāyat priest that the remedy for intermittent fever, from which she was suffering, was to throw stones at an old woman, and extract some blood from her body on a new or full-moon day.

Some demons are believed to have human mistresses and concubines, and it is narrated 3) that a Chetti (merchant) in the Tamil country purchased a Malabar demon from a magician for ninety rupees. But hardly a day had passed before the undutiful spirit fell in love with its new owner’s wife, and succeeded in its nefarious purpose.
Quite recently a woman, in order to win the affection of her husband, gave him a love-charm composed of datura in chutney. The dose proved fatal, and she was sentenced to two years’ rigorous imprisonment. 4)

1) B. Govinda Nambiar, Indian Review, May, 1900.
2) M. J. Walhouse, “Ind. Ant.,” 1876, v. 22.
3) Ballari is a major district in Karnataka state, India. It is located at north-eastern part of Karnataka. This district belongs to Hyderabad-Karnataka. This district is of the biggest districts in Karnataka.
4) “Report of the Chemical Examiner, Madras,” 1908, 5.

Lingam, snake-stone, Ganēsa, India, Praying
Praying for offspring before lingam, snake-stone, and figure of Ganēsa.

A love-philtre, said to be composed of the charred remains of a mouse and spider, was once sent to the chemical examiner to Government for analysis in a suspected case of poisoning. In connection with the dugong (Halicore dugong), which is caught in the Gulf of Mannar, Dr Annandale writes as follows 1):-
“The presence of large glands in connection with the eye afford some justification for the Malay’s belief that the dugong weeps when captured. They regard the tears of the īkan dugong (dugong fish) as a powerful love-charm. Mohammedan fishermen of the Gulf of Mannar appeared to be ignorant of this usage, but told me that a ‘doctor’ once went out with them to collect the tears of a dugong, should they capture one.”

Native physicians in the Tamil country are said to prepare an unguent, into the composition of which the eye of the slender Loris (Loris gracilis, Type of lemur), the brain of the dead offspring of a primipara, and the catamenial blood of a young virgin 2), enter, as an effective preparation in necromancy. The eye of the Loris is also used for making a preparation, which is believed to enable the possessor to kidnap and seduce women. The tail of a chamæleon, secured on a Sunday, is also believed to be an excellent love-charm.

A young married student at a college in Madras attributed his illness to the administration by his wife of a love-philtre containing the brains of a baby which had been exhumed after burial. Among the Tamil Paraiyans and some other classes, a first-born child, if it is a male, is buried near or even within the house, so that its corpse may not be carried away by a sorcerer, to be used in magical rites 3).

If a first-born child dies, a finger is sometimes cut off, lest a sorcerer should dig up the body, and extract an essence (karuvu) from the brain, wherewith to harm his enemies. 4) The Rev. J. Castets informs me that he once saw a man being initiated into the mysteries of the magician’s art. The apparatus included the top of the skull of a first-born male child inscribed with Tamil characters.

1) Journ. and Proc. Asiat. Soc., Bengal, 1905, i. No. 9.
2) Catamenial refers to menstruation.
3) Rev. A. C. Clayton, Madras Museum Bull., 1906, v., No. 2,82.
4) Cf. odi cult, 228-9.

A station-house police officer informed Mr S. G. Roberts that first-born children, dying in infancy, are buried near the house, lest their heads should be used in sorcery, a sort of ink or decoction (mai) being distilled from them. This ink is used for killing people at a distance, or for winning a woman’s love, or the confidence of those from whom some favor is required. In the last two cases, the ink is smeared over the eyebrows. It is believed that, if an infant’s head is used for this purpose, the mother will never have a living child. When Mr Roberts was at Salem, he had to try a case of this practice, and the Public Prosecutor informed him that it is believed that, if a hole is made in the top of the head of the infant when it is buried, it cannot be effectively used in sorcery.

In the Trichinopoly district, the police brought to Mr Roberts *) notice a sorcerer’s outfit, which had been seized. There were the most frightful Tamil curses invoking devils, written backwards in “looking-glass characters” on an olai (strip of palm leaf), and a looking-glass to read them by. Spells written backwards are said to be very potent. There was also a small round tin, containing a black treacly paste with a sort of shine on it, which was said to have been obtained from the head of a dead child. There is a Tamil proverb “Kuzhi pillai, madi pillai,” meaning grave child, lap child, in reference to a belief that, the quicker a first-born child is buried, the quicker is the next child conceived.

*) “Ind. Ant,” 1876, v. 22.

The following form of sorcery in Malabar is described by Mr Walhouse.*
“Let a sorcerer obtain the corpse of a maiden, and on a Saturday night place it at the foot of a bhuta-haunted tree on an altar, and repeat a hundred times: Om! Hrim! Hrom! O goddess of Malayāla who possessest us in a moment! Come! Come! The corpse will then be inspired by a demon, and rise up; and, if the demon be appeased with flesh and arrack (liquor), it will answer all questions put to it.”

Sacred, Vultures, Tirukazhukunram, Tirukalukundram, Tamilnadu
Sacred Vultures at Tirukazhukunram, (Tirukalukundram) Tamilnadu.

A human bone from a burial ground, over which powerful mantras have been recited, if thrown into an enemy’s house, will cause his ruin. Ashes from the burial ground on which an ass has been rolling on a Saturday or Sunday, if thrown into the house of an enemy, are said to produce severe illness, if the house is not vacated.

From Malabar, a correspondent writes as follows:-
“I came across a funny thing in an embankment in a rice-field. The tender part of a young cocoanut branch had been cut into three strips, and the strips fastened one into the other in the form of a triangle. At the apex a reed was stuck, and along the base and sides small flowers, so that the thing looked like a ship in full sail. My inspector informed me, with many blushes, that it contained a devil, which the sorcerer of a neighboring village had cut out of a young girl. Mrs Bishop, in her book on Korea, mentions that the Koreans do exactly the same thing, but, in Korea, the devil’s prison is laid by the wayside, and is carefully stepped over by every passer-by, whereas the one I saw was carefully avoided by my peons (orderlies) and others.”

In the Godavari district, Mr H. Tyler came across the burning funeral pyre of a Koyi girl, who had died of syphilis. Across a neighboring path leading to the Koyi village was a basket fish-trap containing grass, and on each side thorny twigs, which were intended to catch the malign spirit of the dead girl, and prevent it from entering the village. The twigs and trap containing the spirit were to be burnt on the following day. By the Dōmbs of Vizagapatam, the souls of the dead are believed to roam about, so as to cause all possible harm to mankind, and also to protect them against the attacks of witches. A place is prepared for the Duma in the door-hinge, or a fishing-net, wherein he lives, is placed over the door. The witches must count all the knots of the net, before they can enter the house. 1)

At cross-roads in the Bellary district, geometric patterns are sometimes made at night by people suffering from disease, in the belief that the affliction will pass to the person who first treads on the charm. 2)
“At cross-roads in the South Arcot district l!1ay be sometimes seen pieces of broken pot, saffron (turmeric), etc. These are traces of the following method of getting rid of an obstinate disease. A new pot is washed clean, and filled with a number of objects (the prescription differs in different localities), such as turmeric, colored grains of rice, chillies, cotton-seed, and so forth, and sometimes a light made of a few threads dipped in a little dish of oil, and taken at dead of night to the cross-roads, and broken there. The disease will then disappear. In some places it is believed that it passes to the first person who sees the debris of the ceremony the next morning, and the performer has to be careful to carry it out unknown to his neighbors, or the consequences are unpleasant for him.” 3)

1) Gloyer, Jeypore, Breklum, 1901.
2) “Gazetteer of the Bellary District,” 1904, i, 60.
3) “Gazetteer of the South Arcot District,” 1906, i. 93.

Some Valaiyans, Paraiyans, and Kallans, on the occasion of a death in the family, place a pot filled with dung or water, a broomstick, and a firebrand, at some place where three roads meet, or in front of the house, to prevent the ghost from returning. 1) When a Paraiyan man dies, camphor is burnt, not at the house, but at the junction of three lanes.

In the Godāvari district, a sorcerer known as the Ejjugadu (male physician) is believed, out of spite or in return for payment, to kill another by invoking the gods. He goes to a green tree, and there spreads muggu or chunam (lime) powder, and places an effigy of the intended victim thereon. He also places a bow and arrow there, recites certain spells, and calls on the gods. The victim is said to die in a couple of days. But, if he understands that the Ejjugadu has thus invoked the gods, he may inform another Ejjugadu, who will carry out similar operations under another tree. His bow and arrow will go to those of the first Ejjugadu, and the two bows and arrows will fight as long as the spell remains. The man will then be safe.

Writing concerning the nomad Yerukalas, Mr F. Fawcett says 2) that “the warlock takes the possessed one by night to the outskirts of the village, and makes a figure on the ground with powdered rice, powders of various colors, and powdered charcoal. Balls of the powders, half cocoanut shells, betel, four-anna pieces, and oil lamps, are placed on the hands, legs, and abdomen. A little heap of boiled rice is placed near the feet, and curds and vegetables are set on the top of it, with limes placed here and there. The subject of the incantation sits near the head, while the magician mutters mantrams.

1) “Gazetteer of the Tanjore District,” 1906, i. 76.
2) Journ. Anthrop. Soc., Bombay, ii. 1890,282-5.

A he – goat is then sacrificed. Its head is placed near the foot of the figure, and benzoin and camphor are waved. A little grain is scattered about the figure to appease the evil spirits. Some arrack is poured into a cup, which is placed on the body of the figure, and the bottle which contained it is left on the head. The limes are cut in two, and two cocoanuts are broken. The patient then walks by the left side of the figure to its legs, takes one step to the right towards the head, and one step to the left towards the feet, and walks straight home without looking back.”

In Malabar, Mr Govinda Nambiar writes, 1) “when a village doctor attending a sick person finds that the malady is unknown to him, or will not yield to his remedies, he calls in the astrologer, and subsequently the exorcist, to expel the demon or demons which have possessed the sick man. If the devils will not yield to ordinary remedies administered by his disciples, the mantravādi himself comes, and a devil dance is appointed to be held on a certain day. Thereat various figures of mystic device are traced on the ground, and in their midst a huge and frightful form representing the demon. Sometimes an effigy is constructed out of cooked and coloured rice. The patient is seated near the head of the figure, and opposite sits the magician adorned with bundles of sticks tied over the joints of his body, tails, and skins of animals, etc. Verses are chanted, and sometimes cocks are sacrificed, and the blood is sprinkled on the demon’s effigy. Amidst the beating of drums and blowing of pipes, the magician enters upon his diabolical dance, and, in the midst of his paroxysm, may even bite live cocks, and suck with ferocity the hot blood.”

1) Indian Review, May, 19OO.

When a Malayan exorcist is engaged in propitiating a demon, a fowl is sometimes waved before him, and decapitated. He puts the neck in his mouth, and sucks the blood. By the Tiyans of Malabar (Thiyya (Malayalam: തിയ്യര്‍) or Theeyar is a caste in South India.) a number of evil spirits are supposed to devote their attention to a pregnant woman, and to suck the blood of the child in utero, and of the mother. In the process of expelling them, the woman lies on the ground and kicks. A cock is thrust into her hand, and she bites it, and drinks its blood.

Evil, Eye, Figures, Malabar, India,
Evil Eye Figures, Malabar.

It is noted by Mr L. K. Anantha Krishna Iyer that by the Thanda Pulayans of the west coast “a ceremony called urasikotukkuka is performed with the object of getting rid of a devil, with which a person is possessed. At a place far distant from the hut, a leaf, on which the blood of a fowl has been made to fall, is spread on the ground. On a smaller leaf, chunam and turmeric are placed. The person who first sets eyes on these becomes possessed by the devil, and sets free the individual who was previously under its influence. The Thanda Pulayans also practice maranakriyas, or sacrifices to demons, to bring about the death of an enemy. Sometimes affliction is supposed to be brought about by the enmity of those who have got incantations written on a palm leaf, and buried in the ground near a house by the side of a well. A sorcerer is called in to counteract the evil charm, which he digs up and destroys.”

In a note on the Paraiyas of Travancore, 1) the Rev. S. Mateer writes that Sūdras and Shānars 2) frequently employ the Paraiya devil-dancers and sorcerers to search for and dig out magical charms buried in the earth by enemies, and counteract their enchantments.

1) Journ. Royal Asiat. Soc., 1884, xvi. 185-6.
2) For a detailed account of demonolatry among the Shānans, I would refer the reader to the Rev. R. (afterwards Bishop) Caldwell’s now scarce “Tinnevelly Shānans,” 1849.

A form of sorcery in Malabar called marana (destruction) is said by Mr Fawcett 1) to be carried out in the following manner:—
“A figure representing the enemy to be destroyed is drawn on a small plate of metal (gold by preference), and to it some mystic diagrams are added. It is then addressed with a statement that bodily injury, or the death of the person, shall take place at a certain time. This little sheet is wrapped up in another metal sheet or leaf (of gold if possible), and buried in some place which the person to be injured or destroyed is in the habit of passing. Should he pass over the place, it is supposed that the charm will take effect at the time named.”

Evil, Eye, Figures, malabar, india, tamil nadu
Evil Eye Figures set up in Fields.

One favourite tantra of the South Indian sorcerer is said 2) to consist of “what is popularly known in Tamil as pavai, that is to say, a doll made of some plastic substance, such as clay or wheat-flour. A crude representation of the intended victim is obtained by moulding a quantity of the material, and a nail or pin is driven into it at a spot corresponding to the limb or organ that is intended to be affected. 3) For instance, if there is to be paralysis of the right arm, the pin is stuck into the right arm of the image; if madness is to result, it is driven into the head, and so on, appropriate mantras being chanted over the image, which is buried at midnight in a neighboring cremation ground. So long as the pavai is underground, the victim will grow from bad to worse, and may finally succumb, if steps are not taken in time. Sometimes, instead of a doll being used, the corpse of a child recently buried is dug out of the ground, and re-interred after being similarly treated. The only remedy consists in another sorcerer being called in for the purpose of digging out the pavai. Various are the methods he adopts for discovering the place where the doll is buried, one of them being very similar to what is known as crystal-gazing. A small quantity of a specially prepared thick black fluid is placed on the palm of a third person, and the magician professes to find out every circumstance connected with the case of his client’s mental or physical condition by attentively looking at it. The place of the doll’s burial is spotted with remarkable precision, the nail or pin extracted, and the patient is restored to his normal condition as by a miracle.”

1) Madras Museum Bull., 1900, iii., No. 1,51.
2) Madras Mail, 18th November, 1905.
3) An example of so- called homoeopathic magic. See Haddon, “Magic and Fetishism” (Religions ancient and modern), 1906,19-22.

The following form of sorcery resorted to in Malabar in compassing the discomfiture of an enemy is recorded by Mr Walhouse. 1)

“Make an image of wax in the form of your enemy; take it in your right hand at night, and hold your chain of beads in your left hand. Then burn the image with due rites, and it shall slay your enemy in a fortnight. Or a figure representing an enemy, with his name and date of his birth inscribed on it, is carved out of Strychnos Nux-vomica wood. A mantra is recited, a fowl offered up, and the figure buried in glowing rice-husk embers. Or, again, some earth from a spot where an enemy has urinated, saliva expectorated by him, and a small tuft of hair, are placed inside a tender cocoanut, and enclosed in a piece of Strychnos Nux-vomica. The cocoanut is pierced with twenty-one nails and buried, and a fowl sacrificed.”

1) “Ind. Ant.” 1876, v. 22.

A police inspector, when visiting a village a few years ago, was told by one of the villagers that a man was going to bury two wax dolls, in order to cause his death. The inspector accordingly went to the house of the suspected enemy, where he found the two dolls, and some books on witchcraft.

The Native servant of a friend in Madras found buried [249]in a corner of his master’s garden the image of a human figure, which had been deposited there by an enemy who wished to injure him. The figure was made of flour, mixed with “walking foot earth,” i.e., earth from the ground, which the servant had walked over. Nails, fourteen in number, had been driven into the head, neck, and each shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, knee, and ankle. Buried with the figure were fourteen eggs, limes, and balls of camphor, and a scrap of paper bearing the age of the servant, and the names of his father and mother. A Mohammedan fortune-teller advised the servant to burn the image, so at midnight he made an offering of a sheep, camphor, betel nuts, and cocoanuts, and performed the cremation ceremony.

In 1903, a life-size nude female human figure with feet everted and directed backwards, carved out of the soft wood of Alstonia scholaris (commonly called blackboard tree or devil’s tree), was washed ashore at Calicut in Malabar. Long nails had been driven in all over the head, body, and limbs, and a large square hole cut out above the navel. Inscriptions in Arabic characters were scrawled over it. By a coincidence, the corpse of a man was washed ashore close to the figure. Possibly it represented the figure of a woman who was possessed by an evil spirit, which was attached to it by a nail between the legs before it was cast into the sea, and was made on the Laccadive islands 1), some of the residents on which are notorious necromancers. It has been suggested 2) that the figure may represent some notorious witch; that the nails were driven into it, and the mutilation made in order to injure her, and the spells added to destroy her magical powers; finally, that the image was cast into the sea as a means of getting rid of the sorceress. There is a tradition that the goddess Bhagavati, who is worshipped at Kodungallur in Malabar, was rescued by a fisherman when she was shut up in a jar, and thrown into the sea by a great magician. The Lingadars of the Kistna district are said 3) to have made a specialty of bottling evil spirits, and casting the bottles away in some place where no one is likely to come across them, and liberate them.

1) Laccadiveans come to the Malabar coast in sailing-boats.
2) Nature, 18th October, 1906.
3) Madras Mail, 18th November, 1905.

A few years ago, another wooden representation of a human being was washed ashore at Calicut. The figure is 11 inches in height. The arms are bent on the chest, and the palms of the hands are placed together as in the act of saluting. A square cavity, closed by a wooden lid, has been cut out of the abdomen, and contains apparently tobacco, ganja (Indian Cannabis, Marihuana), and hair. An iron bar has been driven from the back of the head through the body, and terminates in the abdominal cavity. A sharp cutting instrument has been driven into the chest and back in twelve places.

A life-size female figure, rudely scratched on a plank of wood, with Arabic inscriptions scrawled on it, and riddled with nails, was washed ashore on the beach at Tellicherry in Malabar (Thalassery). In the same district, a friend once picked up on the shore at Cannanore (Kannur) a wooden figure about 6 inches high, riddled with nails. His wife’s ayah implored him to get rid of it, as it would bring nothing but misfortune. He accordingly made a present of it to a recently married friend, whose subsequent career was characterized by a long series of strokes of bad luck, which his wife attributed entirely to the possession of the dreadful image.

Sometimes, in Malabar, “a mantram is written on the stem of the kaitha plant (Limonia acidissima), on which is also drawn a figure representing the person to be injured. A hole is bored to represent the navel. The mantra is repeated, and at each repetition a certain thorn (kāramullu) is stuck into the limbs of the figure. The name of the person, and of the star under which he was born, are written on a piece of cadjan (woven mats made from coconut palm leave), which is stuck into the navel. The thorns are removed, and replaced twenty-one times. Two magic circles are drawn below the nipples of the figure. The stem is then hung up in the smoke of the kitchen. A pot of toddy, and some other accessories, are procured, and with them the warlock performs certain rites. He then moves three steps backwards, and shouts aloud thrice, fixing in the thorns again, and thinking all the while of the particular mischief with which he will afflict the person to be injured. When all this has been done, the person whose figure has been drawn on the stem, and pricked with thorns, feels pain. 1)

The following variant of the above rite has been described 2):—

“A block of lead is moulded into the effigy of a man about a span in length. The stomach is opened, and the name and star of the intended victim are inscribed along with a charm on a lead plate, and placed therein. The effigy is laid recumbent on a plantain leaf, on which a little water mixed with sandal has first been sprinkled, and the smoke of an extinguished wick is passed thrice over it. Then nine little square pieces of plantain leaf (or leaves of Strychnos Nux-vomica) are placed round the effigy, and in each square some rice-flour, and chouflower (Cauliflower) petals. Beside the effigy are shells holding toddy and arrack (liquor), a burning lamp, and several little wicks. One of the wicks is lighted, and the flame passed thrice over the collection. Nine wicks are lighted, and put on the nine squares. The charm inscribed on the lead plate is at this stage repeated fervently in an undertone no less than twenty-one times. This preamble, or one closely resembling it, is generally the beginning of the mantravādi’s program.

The rest of it is guided by the special circumstances of each case. Let us suppose that the wizard, having a victim in view, wishes the latter to be afflicted with burning pains and insufferable heat all over his body. The following is the ceremony he would perform. Thinking of the victim, he drives a thorn of Canthium parviflorum into the effigy, and then, folding up the collection detailed above in the plantain leaf, he proceeds to a tank or pool, and immerses himself up to the neck. He places the bundle on the surface of the water — he tells you it will float despite the lead—and, calling for a cock, cuts off its head, permitting the blood and the head to fall on the bundle. He presses the bundle down into the water, and submerges himself at the same time. Coming to the surface, he goes ashore, whistling thrice, and being very careful not to look behind him. Within twenty one days, the charm will take effect.

In order to induce a boil or tumor to appear in a victim’s foot, the mantravādi inscribes a certain charm on a sheet of lead, and stuffs the plate into a frog’s mouth, repeats another charm, and blows into the batrachian’s mouth, which is then stitched up, after which the creature is bound with twenty-one coils of string. The frog is next set down on a plantain leaf, the ritual already described with the squares, toddy, etc., is performed, the frog is wrapped up together with the various substances in the leaf, and buried at some spot where two or more roads meet, and which the victim is likely to pass. Should he cross the fateful spot, he will suddenly become conscious of a feeling in his foot, as though a thorn had pricked him. From that moment dates the beginning of a week of intense agony. His foot swells, fever sets in, he has pains all over his body, and for seven days existence is intolerable.

The cherukaladi is another form of odi mantram, and the manner in which it is performed is extremely interesting. The wizard takes three balls of rice, blackens one, reddens another, and passes through the third a young yetah fish (Bagarius yarrellii), after having put down its throat seven green chillies, seven grains of raw rice, and as many of pepper. In the carapace of a crab some toddy, and in the valve of a particular kind of mussel, some arrack is placed. The sorcerer conveys all these things to a hill built by termites (white-ants). The crown of the hill is knocked off, and the substances are thrown in. Walking round the mound thrice, the magician recites a charm, and comes away without looking over his shoulder. 3) Within a very short time, similar effects are produced as those resulting from the previously described form of sorcery.”

1) F. Fawcett, Madras Museum Bull., 1901, iii., No. 3, 317.
2) Madras Mail, 19th November, 1897.
3) In like manner, the chief mourner at the funeral among many castes, after breaking a water-pot at the graveside, retires without looking back.

A grāndha (palm-leaf book), describing how an enemy may be struck down, gives the following details. The head of a fowl with dark-colored flesh is cut off. The head is then split open, and a piece of cadjan (palm-leaf), on which are written the name of the person to be injured, and the name of the star under which he was born, is stuck in the split head, which is then sewn up and the tongue stitched to the beak. The head is then inserted into a certain fruit, which is tied up with a withe of a creeper, and deposited under the enemy’s gateway.

In Malabar, a wooden figure is sometimes made, and a tuft of a woman’s hair tied on its head. It is fixed to a tree, and nails are driven into the neck and breast, to inflict hurt on an enemy. Sometimes a live frog or lizard is buried within a cocoanut shell, after nails have been stuck into its eyes and stomach. The deaths of the animal and the person are supposed to take place simultaneously. 1) When a Tamil woman of the Parivāram caste who commits adultery outside the caste is punished with excommunication, a mud image representing her is made, two thorns are poked into its eyes, and it is thrown away outside the village. 2) At Bangalore in the Mysore province, a monthly festival is held in honor of Gurumurthi Swāmi, at which women disturbed by the spirits of drowned persons become possessed. The sufferer is dragged by the hair of the head to a tree, to which a lock of the hair is nailed. She flings herself about in a frenzy, and throws herself on the ground, leaving the lock of hair torn out by the roots fastened to the tree by the nail. Eventually the spirit goes up the tree, and the woman recovers. 3) In the Madura district, women possessed by devils may be seen at the great temple at Madura every Navarātri, waiting for release.

1) F. Fawcett, Madras Museum Bull., 1900, iii., No. i, 51.
2) “Gazetteer of the Madura District,” 1906, i. 103.
3) F. Fawcett, Journ. Anthrop. Soc, Bombay, i. 533-5.

“There are many professional exorcists, who are often the pūjāris (priests) at the shrine of the local goddess. At dead of night they question the evil spirit, and ask him who he is, why he has come there, and what he wants to induce him to go away. He answers through the mouth of the woman, who works herself up into a frenzy, and throws herself about wildly. If he will not answer, the woman is whipped with the rattan which the exorcist carries, or with a bunch of margosa (Melia Azadirachta) twigs. When he replies, his requests for offerings of certain kinds are complied with. When he is satisfied, and agrees to leave, a stone is placed on the woman’s head, and she is let go, and dashes off into darkness. The place at which the stone drops to the ground is supposed to be the place where the evil spirit is content to remain, and, to keep him there, a lock of the woman’s hair is nailed with an iron nail to the nearest tree.” 1)

Sometimes a sorcerer makes an evil spirit take a vow that it will not trouble any one in the future, and, in return, offers to it the blood of fowls, a goat, etc. He then orders the spirit to climb a tree, and drives three large iron nails into the trunk thereof. As iron is disliked by evil spirits, the result is to confine the spirit in the tree, for it cannot descend beyond the nails. In the Telugu country, when a person is supposed to be possessed by a devil, it is often the practice to take him to some special tree, which is believed to be a favorite residence of demons, and drive a nail into the trunk. If the devil has any proper feeling, he thereupon leaves the man or woman, and takes up his abode in the tree. This ceremony is performed with certain religious rites, and involves considerable expenditure. Sometimes, devil drivers are called in, who “seat the woman in a fog of resin smoke, and work upon or beat her until she declares the supposed desires of the devil in the way of sacrifice; and, when these have been complied with, one of her hairs is put in a bottle, formally shown to the village goddess, and buried in the jungle, while iron nails are driven into the threshold of the woman’s house to prevent the devil’s return.” 2)

1) “Gazetteer of the Madura District,” 1906, i. 87.
2) “Gazetteer of the Vizagapatam District,” 1907, i. 73.

At the first menstrual ceremonies of a Pulaya girl in the Cochin State, she stands on the morning of the seventh day before some Parayas, who play on their flute and drum, to cast out the demons, if any, from her body. If she is possessed by them, she leaps with frantic movements. In this case, the demon is transferred to a tree by driving a nail into the trunk, after offerings have been made. 1) When an Oddē (Telugu navvy) girl reaches puberty, she is confined in a special hut, in which a piece of iron, and other things, are placed, to keep off evil spirits. In some castes, when a woman is in labour, an iron sickle is kept on the cot for a similar purpose. After delivery, she keeps iron in some form, e.g., a small crowbar, knife, or nails, in the room, and takes it about with her when she goes out. At a Nāyar funeral in Malabar, the chief mourner holds in his hand, or tucks into his waist-cloth, a piece of iron, generally a long key. 2) At a marriage among the Mūsu Kammas in the Telugu country, an iron ring is tied to the milk-post. For curing sprains, it is said to be a common practice to keep near the patient a sickle, an iron measure, or any article of iron which is at hand. A ceremony, called Dwāra Pratishta, is performed by Lingāyats when the door-frame of a new house is set up, and an iron nail is driven into the frame, to prevent devils or evil spirits from entering the house. A former Rāja of Vizianagram would not allow the employment of iron in the construction of buildings in his territory, because it would inevitably be followed by smallpox or other epidemic. 3)

1) L. K. Anantha Krishna Iyer, “The Cochin Tribes and Castes,” 1909, i. 99.
2) F. Fawcett, Madras Museum Bull., 1901, iii., No. 3, 247.
3) M. J. Walhouse, “Ind. Ant.” 1881, x. 364.

A few years ago, a Native servant was charged with beating with a cane a woman who was suffering from malarial fever after her confinement, in order to drive out a devil, which was said to be the spirit of a woman who was drowned some time previously. The woman died three days after the beating, and various abrasions were found on the head and body. The sub-magistrate held that the hurt was part of the ceremony, to which the husband and mother of the woman, and the woman herself, gave their consent. But, as the hurt was needlessly severe, the servant was fined twenty-five rupees, or in default five weeks’ rigorous imprisonment.

The practice of extracting or knocking out some of the teeth of a magician is widespread throughout Southern India. In connection therewith Mr R. Morris writes to me as follows:—

“A sorcerer’s spells depend for their efficacy upon the distinctness with which they are pronounced. The words uttered by a man, some or all of whose front teeth are damaged, are not so clear and distinct as those of a man whose teeth are intact. Consequently, if a sorcerer’s front teeth are smashed, he is ruined as a sorcerer. And, if the front teeth of his corpse are broken or extracted, his ghost is prevented from bewitching people. It is necessary to mutilate a corpse, in order to prevent the ghost doing what the live man unmutilated could have done. For example, when a man is murdered, he is hamstrung, to prevent the ghost from following in pursuit.”

Rangoli, drawing, Kolam, Kalam, Muggu, Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, India, Dhanya Komarek
Rangoli drawing in Tiruvannamalai. Photography © Dhanya Komarek.

In connection with sorcery among the Oriyas, Mr S. P. Rice tells us 1) that a girl was suffering from mental disease, and believed to be possessed by a devil. She declared that she was bewitched by a certain man, who had to be cured of his power over her. Accordingly, the friends and relatives of the girl went to this man’s house, dragged him out into the road, laid him on his back, and sat on his chest. They then proceeded to extract two of his front teeth with a hammer and pincers. Mr Rice adds that it does not appear how the cure was to work — whether the operators thought that words of cursing or magic, coming through the orifice of the teeth, would be mumbled, and thus lose some of their incisive force, and therefore of their power for evil, or whether it was thought that the devil wanted room to fly out. Attacks upon supposed sorcerers are said to be not uncommon in the Jeypore Agency.

1) “Occasional Essays on Native South Indian Life,” 1901, 70-1.

In one instance, a wizard’s front teeth were pulled out by the local blacksmith, to render him unable to pronounce his spells with the distinctness requisite to real efficiency. 1) In the Vizagapatam district, where a village was supposed to contain a witch, a Dāsari (religious mendicant) was called upon to examine his books, and name the person. He fixed on some wretched woman, whose front teeth were knocked out, and her mouth filled with filth. She was then beaten with a switch made from the castor-oil plant. A few years ago, a woman in the North Arcot district (North Arcot was a former district in Madras Presidency) was suffering from severe pain in the abdomen, and she and her husband were made to believe that she was possessed by a devil, which a Bairāgi (religious mendicant) offered to expel. His treatment went on for some days, and the final operations were conducted by the side of a pond.

The Bairāgi repeated mantras, while the woman was seated opposite him. Suddenly she grew violently excited, and possessed by the deity Muniswara. She pulled the Bairāgi backwards by his hair, and cried out, “Break his teeth.” She then opened his mouth by pulling up the upper lip, and her husband took a small stone, and broke some of the incisor teeth. The woman continued to cry out, “He is chanting mantras; pour water into his mouth, and stop his breathing.” A third party brought water, and the woman’s husband poured it into the Bairāgi’s mouth.

1) “Gazetteer of the Vizagapatam District,” 1907, i. 205.

A struggle ensued, and the woman called out, “I am losing my life; he is chanting; the mantra is in his throat; he is binding me by his spell; put a stick into his throat.” The third party then brought the Bairāgi’s curved stick (yōgathandam), which the husband thrust into the Bairāgi’s mouth, with the result that he died. The woman was sent to a lunatic asylum, and her husband, as there was no previous intention to cause death, and he was evidently under the influence of blind superstition, received only four and a half months’ imprisonment. In a further case which occurred in the North Arcot district, a man was believed to have great power over animals, of which he openly boasted, threatening to destroy all the cattle of one of his neighbors. This man and his friends believed that they could deprive the sorcerer of his power for evil by drawing all his teeth, which they proceeded to do with fatal results.

In the Kistna district (District of the Madras Presidency), a Māla weaver was suspected of practising sorcery by destroying men with devils, and bringing cholera and other diseases. He was met by certain villagers, and asked for tobacco. While he stopped to get the tobacco out, he was seized and thrown on the ground. His hands were tied behind his back, and his legs bound fast with his waist-cloth. One man sat on his legs, another on his waist, and a third held his head down by the kudumi (hair-knot). His mouth was forced open with a pair of large pincers, and a piece of stick was thrust between the teeth to prevent the mouth closing. One of the assistants got a stone as big as a man’s fist, and with it struck the sorcerer’s upper and lower teeth several times until they were loosened. Then nine teeth were pulled out with the pincers. A quantity of milk-hedge (Euphorbia) juice was poured on the bleeding gums, and the unfortunate man was left lying on his back, to free himself from his bonds as best he could. 1)

1) H. J. Stokes, “Ind. Ant.,” 1876, v. 355-6.

In the Tamil country, the Vekkil Tottiyans are supposed to be able to control certain evil spirits, and cause them to possess a man. It is believed, however, that they are deprived of their power as soon as they lose one of their teeth.

The Kondhs of Ganjam 1) believe that they can transform themselves into tigers or snakes, half the soul leaving the body and becoming changed into one of these animals, either to kill an enemy, or to satisfy hunger by having a good feed on cattle. During this period they are said to feel dull and listless, and, if a tiger is killed in the forest, they will die at the same time. Mr Fawcett informs me that the Kondhs believe that the soul wanders during sleep. On one occasion, a dispute arose owing to a man discovering that another Kondh, whose spirit used to wander about in the guise of a tiger, ate up his soul, and he fell ill. Like the Kondhs, some Paniyans of Malabar are believed to be gifted with the power of changing themselves into animals. There is a belief that, if they wish to secure a woman whom they lust after, one of the men gifted with the special power goes to the house at night with a hollow bamboo, and goes round it three times. The woman then comes out, and the man, changing himself into a bull or dog, works his wicked will. The woman is said to die in the course of a few days. For assuming the disguise of an animal, the following formulæ are said 2) to be effective:—

  1. Take the head of a dog and burn it, and plant on it a vellakuthi plant. Burn camphor and frankincense, and adore it. Then pluck the root, mix it with the milk of a dog, and the bones of a cat. A mark made with the mixture on the forehead will enable a person to assume the form of any animal he thinks of.
  2. Worship with a lighted wick and incense before a stick of the malankara plant. Then chant the Sakti mantram one hundred and one times. Watch carefully which way the stick inclines. Proceed to the south of the stick, and pluck the whiskers of a live tiger. Make with them a ball of the veerali silk, string it with silk, and enclose it within the ear. Stand on the palms of the hand to attain the disguise of a tiger, and, with the stick in hand, think of a cat, white bull, or any other animal. Then you will appear as such in the eyes of others.

1) Ganjam district is a district in the Indian state of Odisha. Khonds are a Dravidian-speaking tribal people of India.
2) L. K. Anantha Krishna Iyer, “The Cochin Tribes and Castes,” 1909, I. 167.

The name Chedipe (prostitute) is applied to sorceresses in the Godāvari district. The Chedipe is believed to ride on a tiger at night over the boundaries of seven villages, and return home at early morn. When she does not like a man, she goes to him bare-bodied at dead of night, the closed doors of the house in which he is sleeping opening before her. She sucks his blood by putting his toe in her mouth. He will then lie like a corpse. Next morning he feels uneasy and intoxicated, as if he had taken ganja, and remains in this condition all day. If he does not take medicine from some one skilled in the treatment of such cases, it is said that he will die. If he is properly treated, he will recover in about ten days. If he makes no effort to get cured, the Chedipe will molest him again, and, becoming gradually emaciated, he will die. When a Chedipe enters a house, all those who are awake will become insensible, those who are seated falling down as if they had taken a soporific drug. Sometimes she drags out the tongue of the intended victim, who will die at once. At other times, slight abrasions will be found on the skin of the victim, and, when the Chedipe puts pieces of stick thereon, they burn as if burnt by fire.

Sometimes she will find him behind a bush, and, undressing there, will fall on any passer-by in the jungle, assuming the form of a tiger with one of the legs in human form. When thus disguised, she is called Marulupuli (enchanting tiger). If the man is a brave fellow, and tries to kill the Chedipe with any instrument he may have with him, she will run away; and, if any man belonging to her village detects her mischief, she will assume her real form, and say blandly that she is only digging roots. The above story was obtained by a Native official when he visited a Koyi village, where he was told that a man had been sentenced to several years’ imprisonment for being one of a gang who had murdered a Chedipe for being a sorceress.

In the Vizagapatam district, the people believe that a witch, when she wishes to revenge herself on any man, climbs at night to the top of his house, and, making a hole through the roof, drops a thread down till the end of it touches the body of the sleeping man. Then she sucks at the other end, and draws up all the blood out of his body. Witches are said to be able to remove all the bones out of a man’s body, or to deposit a fish, ball of hair, or rags in his stomach. The town of Jeypore was once said to be haunted by a ghost. It was described as a woman, who paraded the town at midnight in a state of nudity, and from her mouth proceeded flames of fire. She sucked the blood of any loose cattle she found about, and, in the same way, revenged herself on any man who had insulted her. 1)

I am informed by Mr G. F. Paddison that, in cases of sickness among the Savaras of Vizagapatam, a buffalo is tied up near the door of the house. Herbs and rice in small platters, and a little brass vessel containing toddy, balls of rice, flowers, and medicine, are brought with a bow and arrow. The arrow is thicker at the basal end than towards the tip. The narrow part goes, when shot, through a hole in front of the bow, which is too small to allow of the passage of the rest of the arrow.

1) “Gazetteer of the Vizagapatam District,” 1907, i. 73.

A Bēju (wise woman) pours some toddy over the herbs and rice, and daubs the patient over the forehead, breasts, stomach, and back. She croons out a long incantation to the goddess, stopping at intervals to call out “Daru,” to attract the attention of the goddess. She then takes the bow and arrow, and shoots twice into the air, and, standing behind the kneeling patient, shoots balls of medicine stuck on the tip of the arrow at her. The construction of the arrow is such that the balls are dislodged from its tip. The patient is thus shot at all over the body, which is bruised by the impact of the medicine balls. Afterwards the Bēju shoots one or two balls at the buffalo, which is taken to a path forming the village boundary, and killed with a tangi (axe). The patient is then daubed with the blood of the buffalo, rice, and toddy, and a feast concludes the ceremonial. Mr Paddison once gave some medicine to the Porojas of Vizagapatam during an epidemic of cholera in a village. They took it eagerly, but, as he was going away, asked whether it would not be a quicker cure to put the witch in the next village, who had brought on the cholera, into jail. In the Koraput tāluk of Vizagapatam, a wizard once had a reputation for possessing the power of transplanting trees, and it was believed that, if a man displeased him, his trees were moved in the night, and planted in some one else’s grounds.

It is recorded 1) by the Rev. J. Cain that the Koyis of the Godāvari district “assert that the death of every one is caused by the machinations of a sorcerer, instigated thereto by an enemy of the deceased, or of the deceased’s friends. So, in former years, inquiry was always made as to the person likely to have been at such enmity with the deceased as to wish for his death; and, having settled upon a suspicious individual, the friends of the deceased used to carry the corpse to the accused, and call upon him to clear himself by undergoing the ordeal of dipping his hands in boiling oil or water. 2) Within the last two years, I have known of people running away from their village because of their having been accused of having procured by means of a wizard the death of some one with whom they were at enmity about a plot of land.”

According to another account, 3) “some male member of the family of the deceased throws colored rice over the corpse as it lies on the bed, pronouncing as he does so the names of all the known sorcerers who live in the neighborhood. It is even now solemnly asserted that, when the name of the wizard responsible for the death is pronounced, the bed gets up, and moves towards the house or village where he resides.”

The Rev. J. Cain 4) once saw a magician at work in the Godāvari district, “discovering the cause of the sickness which had laid prostrate a strong Koyi man. He had in his hand a leaf from an old palmyra leaf book, and, as he walked round and round the patient, he pretended to be reading. Then he took up a small stick, and drew a number of lines on the ground, after which he danced and sang round and round the sick man, who sat looking at him, evidently much impressed with his performance. Suddenly he made a dart at the man, and, stooping down, bit him severely in two or three places in the back. Then, rushing to the front, he produced a few grains, which he said he had found in the man’s back, and which were evidently the cause of the sickness.”

1) “Ind. Ant.,” 1876, v. 358.
2 Trial by Ordeal, see my “Ethnographic Notes in Southern India,” 1907, 407-32.
3) “Gazetteer of the Godāvari district,” 1907, i. 64.
4) Madras Christ. Coll. Mag., 1887-8, v. 355.

In another case, a young Koyi was employed to teach a few children in his village, but ere long he was attacked by a strange disease, which no medicine could cure. As a last resource, a magician was called in, who declared the illness to have been brought on by a demoness at the instigation of some enemy, who was envious of the money which the lad had received for teaching. The magician produced a little silver, which he declared to be a sure sign that the sickness was connected with the silver money he was receiving for teaching.

A riot took place, in 1900, at the village of Korravanivasala in the Vizagapatam district, under the following strange circumstances. A Konda Dora (hill cultivator caste) named Korra Mallayya pretended that he was inspired, and gradually gathered round him a camp of four or five thousand people from various places. At first his proceedings were harmless enough, but at last he gave out that he was a reincarnation of one of the five Pāndava brothers, the heroes of the Mahābhārata, who are worshipped by the Konda Doras. 1) He further announced that his infant son was the god Krishna; that he would drive out the English, and rule the country himself; and that, to effect this, he would arm his followers with bamboos, which would be turned by magic into guns, and would change the weapons of the authorities into water. Bamboos were cut, and rudely fashioned to resemble guns, and, armed with these, the camp was drilled by the Swāmi (god), as Mallayya had come to be called.

1) At times of census, the Konda Doras have returned themselves as Pandava kulam, or Pāndava caste.

The assembly next sent word that they were going to loot Pāchipenta, and, when two constables came to see how matters stood, the fanatics fell upon them, and beat them to death. The local police endeavored to recover the bodies, but, owing to the threatening attitude of the Swāmi’s followers, had to abandon the attempt. The district magistrate then went to the place in person, collected reserve police from various places, and rushed the camp to arrest the Swāmi and the other leaders of the movement. The police were resisted by the mob, and obliged to fire. Eleven of the rioters were killed, others wounded or arrested, and the rest dispersed. Sixty of them were tried for rioting, and three, including the Swāmi, for murdering the constables. Of the latter, the Swāmi died in jail, and the other two were hanged. The Swāmi’s son, the god Krishna, also died, and all trouble ended.

A Kāpu (Telugu cultivator) in the Cuddapah district once pretended to have received certain maxims direct from the Supreme Being, and forewarned his neighbors that he would fall into a trance, which actually occurred, and lasted for three days. On his recovery, he stated that his spirit had been during this time in heaven, learning the principles of the Advaita religion from a company of angels. One of his peculiarities was that he went about naked, because, when once engaged in separating two bullocks which were fighting, his cloth tumbled down, after which he never put it on again. This eccentric person is said to have pulled a handful of maggots from the body of a dead dog, to have put them into his mouth, and to have spat them out again as grains of rice. A shrine was built over his grave.

A few years ago, a Mohammedan fakir undertook to drive away the plague in Bellary. Incantations were performed over a black goat, which was sacrificed at a spot where several roads met. A considerable sum of money was collected, and the poor were fed. But the plague was not stayed.

1) “Manual of the Cuddapah District,” 1875, 290-1.

On one occasion, an old woman hearing that her only son was dangerously ill, sought the aid of a magician, who proceeded to utter mantras, to counteract the evil influences which were at work. While this was being done, an accomplice of the magician turned up, and, declaring that he was a policeman, threatened to charge the two with sorcery if they did not pay him a certain sum of money. The woman paid up, but discovered later on that she had been hoaxed.

Two men were, some years ago, sentenced to rigorous imprisonment under the following circumstances. A lady, who was suffering from illness, asked a man who claimed to be a magician to cure her. He came with his confederate, and told the patient to place nine sovereigns on a clay image. This sum not being forthcoming, a few rupees and a piece of a gold necklace were accepted. These were deposited on the image, and it was placed in a tin box, which was locked up, one of the men retaining the key. On the following day the two men returned, and the rupees and piece of gold were placed on a fresh image.

Becoming inspired by the god, one of the men announced that the patient must give a gold bangle off her wrist, if she wished to be cured quickly. The bangle was given up, and placed on the image, which was then converted into a ball containing the various articles within it. The patient was then directed to look at various corners of the room, and repeat a formula. The image was placed in a box, and locked up as before, and the men retired, promising to return next day. This they failed to do, and the lady, becoming suspicious, broke open the box, in which the image was found, but the money and ornaments were missing.

A case relating to the supposed guarding of treasure by an evil spirit came before the Court in the Coimbatore district in 1908. Two Valluvans (Tamil astrologers) were staying in a village, where they were foretelling events. They went to the house of an old woman, and, while telling her fortune, announced that there was a devil in the house guarding treasure, and promised to drive it out, if twenty rupees were given to them. The woman borrowed the money, and presented it to them. In the evening the Valluvans went into the kitchen, and shut the door. Certain ceremonies are said to have been performed, at the conclusion of which the woman and her son entered the room, and, in the light of a flickering torch, were shown a pit, in which there was a copper pot, apparently full of gold sovereigns.

One of the astrologers feigned a sudden attack from the devil, and fell down as if unconscious. The other pushed the people of the house outside the door, and again shut it. Eventually the men came out, and announced that the devil was a ferocious one, and would not depart till a wick from an Erode paradēsi was lighted before it, for obtaining which a hundred rupees were required. If the devil was not thus propitiated, it would, they said, kill the people of the house sooner or later. The old woman borrowed the sum required, and her son and the two astrologers went to Karur to take the train to Erode, to meet the paradēsi. At Karur the two men took tickets for different places, and the son, becoming suspicious, informed the police, who arrested them. On them were found some circular pieces of card covered with gold tinsel.

A few years ago, a Zamindar (landowner) in the Godāvari district engaged a Mohammedan to exorcise a devil which haunted his house. The latter, explaining that the devil was a female and fond of jewelry, induced the Zamindar to leave a large quantity of jewels in a locked receptacle in a certain room, to which only the exorcist, and of course the devil, had access. The latter, it was supposed, would be gratified by the loan of the jewels, and would cease from troubling. The exorcist managed to open the receptacle and steal the jewels, and, such was the faith of his employer, that the offense was not suspected until a police inspector seized Rs. 27,000 worth of jewels in Visakhapatnam on suspicion, and they were with difficulty traced to their source.

In a note on wonder-working in India, the Rev. J. Sharrock narrates the following incident.

“A Sanyāsi (ascetic) was ordered with contempt from the house of a rich Zemindar. Thereupon, the former threatened to curse his house by dispatching a devil to take possession of it that very night. On one of the doors of the inner courtyard he made a number of magical passes, and then left the house in high dudgeon. As soon as it grew dark, the devil appeared on the door in flickering flames of phosphorus, and almost frightened the Zemindar and the other inmates out of their five senses. Wild with terror, they fled to the Sanyāsi, and begged and entreated him to come and exorcise the devil. Of course he refused, and of course they pressed him with greater and greater presents till he was satisfied. Then he came with kungkuma (a mixture of turmeric, alum, and lime-juice), and rubbed the fiery demon off with the usual recitation of mantras. During the rest of his stay, the Sanyāsi was treated with the most profound respect, while his sishyas (disciples) received the choicest food and fruits that could be obtained.”

The following cases are called from the annual reports of the Chemical Examiner to the Government of Madras, in further illustration of the practices of pseudo-magicians.

(a) A wizard came to a village, in order to exorcise a devil which possessed a certain woman. He was treated like a prince, and was given the only room in the house, while the family turned out into the hall. He lived there for several days, and then commenced his ceremonies. He drew the figure of a lotus on the floor, made the woman sit down, and commenced to twist her hair with his wand. When she cried out, he sent her out of the room, saying she was unworthy to sit on the lotus figure, but promising nevertheless to exorcise the devil without her being present. He found a half-witted man in the village, drugged him with ganja, brought him to the house, and performed his ceremonies on this man, who, on becoming intoxicated with the drug, began to get boisterous. The wizard tied him up with a rope, because he had become possessed of the devil that had possessed the woman. The man was subsequently traced by his relatives, found in an unconscious state, and taken to hospital. The wizard got rigorous imprisonment.

(b) Some jewels were lost, and a mantrakāra (dealer in magical spells) was called in to detect the thief. The magician erected a screen, behind which he lit a lamp, and did other things to impress the crowd with the importance of his mantras. To the assembly he distributed betel-leaf patties containing a white powder, said to be holy ashes, and the effect of it on the suspected individuals, who formed part of the crowd, is said to have been instantaneous. So magical was the effect of this powder in detecting the thief, that the unfortunate man ultimately vomited blood. When the people remonstrated with the magician for the severity of his magic, he administered to the sufferer an antidote of solution of cow-dung and the juice of some leaf. The holy ashes were found to contain corrosive sublimate, and the magician got eighteen months’ rigorous imprisonment.

I may conclude with a reference to an interesting note on the Jesuits of the Madura Mission in the middle of the seventeenth century by the Rev. J. S. Chandler, who writes as follows:—

“Dr Nobili lodged in an incommodious hut, and celebrated mass in another hut. The older he got, the more he added to the austerity of his life. The Pandārams 1) (non-Brāhman priests) made a new attempt against his life. One fine day they held a council as to the death he should die, and decided on magic. They summoned the most famous magician of the kingdom. Every one knew of it. When the day came, the magician presented himself, followed by a crowd, all alert to witness the vengeance of their gods. He insolently arranged his machines, and then described circles in the air. Dr Nobili regarded him with a composed air. Soon the ceremonies became more noisy. The features of the magician became decomposed, his eyes inflamed, his face contracted like that of one possessed; he ground his teeth, howled, and struck the ground with his feet, hands, and forehead. Dr Nobili asked what comedy he was pretending to play. Then he recited magical sentences. Dr Nobili begged him to spare his throat. The magician said ‘You have laughed, now die,’ and threw a black powder into the air, at the same time looking at his victim, to see him fall at his feet, and then … skedaddled from the jeers of the crowd. Dr Nobili addressed the crowd, and from that time they regarded him as more than human.”

Mr Chandler narrates further that 2) “a Jōgi (sorcerer and exorcist) lost in public opinion by pretending to perform a miracle in imitation of a previous Jōgi, by making a stone bull eat. A quantity of rice and other grains was served to the figure, but the vahānam (vehicle) of Rudra was not hungry. The Jōgi made many grimaces, threatened, and even employed a rattan cane, but the bull remained motionless. Not so the spectators, who overwhelmed the Jōgi with blows, and he was only saved by his friends, conducted to the frontier by soldiers, and forbidden ever again to enter the kingdom.”

1) Some Pandārams are managers of Siva temples.
2) “A Madura Missionary, John Eddy Chandler: a Sketch of his Life,” Boston.

Source: Omens and superstitions of southern India by Edgar Thurston. New York: Nast McBride, 1912.


Leave a Reply