An Indian secret society of murderers, which the vernacular term, 'thug' comes from. Members of the thuggee worshipped Kali, and expressed their devotion through murder.

The murders had to be bloodless, due to the details of the Kali myth, so the favored methods were strangulation and neck breaking.

Ironically enough, thugs were otherwise upstanding members of society, and they were fastidious about burying their victims, which lent to the mystique. Another interesting note is that the Thuggee crossed all boundaries of caste, making it pretty unique in Indian society at the time.

Between the British Raj's efforts to eliminate them, and the advent of railroads cutting back on the number of foot travelers to waylay, the Thuggee were supressed, and are believed to be defunct.

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Thugee (pronounced "tug-ee" and taken from the Hindi verb "thaglana" which meant "to deceive") was a mysterious and religious cult based in India with followers who regarded the murder of people as a legitimate sport and a very important part of their common faith. The murders were usually carried out with a "ruhmal" which was simply a handkerchief that was used to strangle unsuspecting travellers whom they would befriend on the high roads of India during the British and pre-British era. At its prime, the Thugee cult was responsible for about 30,000 killings per year.

Thugees worshipped the deity of Kali, the goddess of destruction and death. Thugee lore stated that there once was a monstrous demon known as Rukt Bij-dana who devoured mankind as fast as they were created. Kali attempted to slay the demon but with every drop of blood shed, a new demon sprang up. She kept swinging her sword at the demons until the demons multiplied so fast that she grew weary of her task. She paused for a bit, brushed off the sweat from one of her arms, and created two men from those droplets. To each of these men, she gave a rhumal and commanded them to strangle the demons. When the demons were all slain, the men offered to return the rhumals but Kali ordered them to keep the handkerchiefs and pass it down to their future generations with orders to destroy all men who were not of their kindred. Hence, every murder carried out was considered an offering to Kali. After death by strangulation, the bodies were usually disposed of in graves that were already dug beforehand and with deep gashes cut into the bodies to hasten decomposition. The "tuponee" was then carried out which was a sacrificial rite involving the consecration of sugar and the blessing of the kusee, a pickax which served as a totemic object for Thugee members.

What was most intriguing about the Thugees was that apart from killing people, the followers were normally good citizens who were also devoted to their families. Some members were also part of the aristocracy in India and thus received protection from powerful figures.

The cult was eventually eradicated by the British colonists, led by Sir William Henry Sleeman during the second quarter of the 19th century, who rounded up masses of followers and used them as informants on others.

(As an add on to the above definitions) The Thuggee also believed that killing was a mercy, as it released the soul from the bondage of accumulating negative karma, hastening it to the next life to work off the balance.

They were also a band of thieves, Kali being the patroness of vis-a-vis society, and would mug their victims before or after their demise.

Thug*gee" (?), n. [Hind. hagi.]

The practice of secret or stealthy murder by Thugs.

"One of the suppressors of Thuggee."

J. D. Hooker.

 

© Webster 1913.

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