Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Today's Word: Thug

Today's word comes courtesy of fellow word-enthusiast Nick, who has a very engaging blog called Ganesh and Gandhi regarding all things Indian! He's an American who is teaching the internet Hindi - one letter of the alphabet at a time!

Thug. Is it slang? Well, it's used in a derisive enough manner that it sure seems like it might be!

We all know that a thug is a brutish malcontent whose solution to any dilemma is quick and unyielding violence. But where did the term come from? Appropriately, the same place we got the word 'mugger': India!

(Mugger is derived from the Hindi 'muggar' - which in turn comes from the Sanskrit 'makarah' - referring to a type of crocodile (Crocodilus palustris) that is found primarily in Southwest Asia. Reptiles tend to get the short end of the reputation stick, and as such - these crocodiles have become the namesake of the cold-blooded human profiteers who lurk in the underbelly of our society.)

'Thug' is a shortening of the name 'Thuggee'. The Thuggees were an Indian cult (more on this term later) that was active in India for over six hundred years! Think about that! The United States has barely been around for two hundred years!

The Thuggees were devoted to the Hindu Goddess Kali. Membership in the cult was hereditary, meaning that it was passed from generation to generation from father to son, often in secret.

Kali is the Tantric Goddess of Destruction! But take care! 'Destruction' has taken on a significantly negative tone in our cut-and-dry Western view of the world! The truth is, all things must end...Death is an essential part of our life-cycle...rotting wood provides mulch to nurture new growth! Destruction, like Winter, is simply a phase of life - and as such, Kali's followers were not all murderous people! In fact, the Thuggees were acting out of a sense of moral obligation! The belief was that for each Thuggee murder, they were postponing the return of Kali (and thus the destruction of the world) by a thousand years!

The Thuggees were not aimless villains! Their murders were highly ritualistic and they were extremely well organized. They were a recognized group of assassins, and even though they worked in secrecy - they paid taxes!

They traveled in large gangs, and were most famous for their method of killing - strangulation. It is estimated that the Thuggees were responsible for over two million murders, and their last leader, Behrem, was alleged to have personally murdered 931 people between the years 1790 and 1830!

After six hundred years, a British soldier named William Sleehan formed the precursor to India's current intelligence Agency. Through extensive profiling and research, the agency was able to eradicate the cult from modern Indian society!

A part of me finds it somewhat of a shame that the complex and rich history of the Thuggee cult has been distilled down to a term that is applied to random and recklessly violent people.

(I use the term 'cult' in the same way I use 'myth' - without judgment or connotation. The cults and mythology of ancient times were the sects and beliefs of our ancestors. I don't believe that I have the authority to say whether any one system is more right or more wrong than any other - particularly when examined out of the context of the system's era. If I lived into the next millennium, I would use the term 'cult' to refer to any branch of any major contemporary religion. "Cult" has become synonymous with "crazy" to many people, and that's dangerous and sad.)



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