Thuggees of India – World’s First Organized Gang of Assassins

by Sankalan Baidya

Today’s India is a peace-loving nation but contrary to today’s image, there was a time when India gave birth to world’s first organized gang of assassins. They went by the name – Thuggees. They remained active for over 6 centuries and were responsible for, according to Guinness World Records, the assassination of over 2 million people. However, this number is often disputed because not many reliable sources exist today that can validate the first emergence of the Thuggees.

These assassins have today earned the moniker of ‘world’s first mafia’. They originated somewhere in the 13th century CE and stayed active till 19th century CE. This notorious gang of people were infamous for assassinating people in the name of Goddess Kali – the Hindu goddess of destruction and renewal. They were fanatical, religious by nature, highly organized and belonged to a fraternity with specific jargon (Ramasi) and communication signals.

Because they worshipped Kali, they held the view that by killing people, they are aiding Kali in her task of maintaining world’s balance. They would work in groups with extreme precision and unmatched coordination. Their method of killing did not involve any bloodshed. They used noose or handkerchiefs to strangulate their victims. The method was selected because it was quiet and quick.

They always followed a set of rules and avoided killing people who were:

  • Brahmins – because they were considered pure.
  • Sick – because they were considered as unworthy sacrifices.
  • Women – because they were considered incarnations of Goddess Kali.

There’s not enough information about whether they killed children or not. Most likely they did not kill children. Female children were always spared but male children of people they killed were often taken in by the fraternity and these children were actually trained to be future Thuggees. The reason they would adopt such children was to avoid suspicion. It was natural for people to believe that if a group of people had children among them, they weren’t possibly Thuggees.

As far as recruitment of Thuggee assassins was concerned, it was most hereditary. Fathers would usually hand over the legacy to their sons. Again, there were Gurus who would formally train new recruits (not from hereditary linage). There were others who would simply replicate the actions of Thuggees hoping that they would be noticed and recruited.

As far as their mode of assassinating people was concerned, they would work in groups. They would befriend unsuspecting travelers and when conditions were ripe, they would silently kill them, bury them and loot their belongings. It was prohibited to loot the belongings of the victims before killing and properly burying them. Every member of a group of Thuggees was assigned a specific task. Some were tasked with befriending people, others were responsible for distracting and rest were there to do the killing.

Historical evidences show that these Thuggees were united with common rituals and superstitions. Which is why, they were branded as a sect or cult. Their special signs and jargon would allow them to identify any member of the fraternity anywhere in India.

While Thuggees were Hindus, there were Muslim members too! In fact, the Thugs actually originated from the seven Muslim Tribes and the earliest known record of Thuggees comes from Ẓiyāʾ-ud-Dīn Barnī’s “History of Fīrūz Shāh” that was written circa 1356. This is where the Thugs were branded as fraternity. Despite the religious differences, they were unified (as mentioned earlier) by common rituals and superstitons.

The Thuggees became an extinct race during 1830’s after the British East India Company passed and implemented a law to control and suppress the Thuggees. The law was known as “Thuggee and Dacoity Suppression Act”. According to the act, anyone who was proven to be a Thuggee within or outside British East India Territories would be punished with hard labor and life imprisonment. General people were educated about Thuggee behaviors and mode of operation. Thuggees who were caught were promised heavy incentives to turn in the group members. Thus, through a series of strategies, the Thuggees were eventually uprooted but their reputation still continues to exist. Today, young criminals who are violent and aggressive are called Thuggees.

FYI: Though the words Thuggees and Thugs are of Sanskrit origins, they were passed on to English during the British Rule in India and the terms are today widely used.

Sources: 1, 2

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