Commentary on
William Logan’s ‘Malabar Manual’


As a book on Malabar, there should be some information on the superstitions and belief systems of Malabar. Moreover, there should be some information on the widely practised Shamanistic spiritual worship systems in vogue. However, only very little is mentioned on these lines. It again points to the stranglehold the Nayar caste officials had on this book. There seems to be an aims to simply avoid items in which they had not much leadership on.

The evil-eye is mentioned, off course. The wider side of this phenomenon is that it might not be a simple superstition at all. For, the evil-eye can actually be a fact. For, the language is feudal. There is either dichotomy or trichotomy in the verbal codes. These verbal codes do act and react with the codes of reality in manners which are quite different from how the English verbal codes act with it. For more information on this, the reader is requested to check this book: Software codes of mantra, tantra, witchcraft, black magic, evil eye, evil tongue &c.

Talking about superstitions of Malabar, there was a very striking wizardry ritual in practise in the land. It is the phenomenon of Odiyan.

I am quoting from Edgar Thurston’s Omens and Superstitions of Southern India.


A detailed account of the odi cult, from which the following information was obtained, is given by Mr Anantha Krishna Iyer. The disciple is taught how to procure pilla thilum (foetus oil) from the six or seven months foetus of a young woman in her first pregnancy.

He (the Paraiyan magician) sets out at midnight from his hut to the house of the woman he has selected, round which he walks several times, shaking a cocoanut containing gurasi (a compound of water, lime, and turmeric), and muttering some mantrams to invoke the aid of his deity. He also draws a yantram (cabalistic figure) on the earth, taking special care to observe the omens as he starts. Should they be unfavourable, he puts it off for a more favourable opportunity.

By the potency of his cult, the woman is made to come out. Even if the door of the room in which she might sleep be under lock and key, she would knock her head against it until she found her way out. She thus comes out, and yields herself to the influence of the magician, who leads her to a retired spot either in the compound (grounds), or elsewhere in the neighbourhood, strips her naked, and tells her to lie fiat. She does so, and a chora kindi (gourd, Lagenaria) is placed close to the uterus. The foetus comes out in a moment. A few leaves of some plant are applied, and the uterus contracts.

Sometimes the womb is filled with rubbish, and the woman instantly dies. Care is taken that the foetus does not touch the ground, lest the purpose be defeated, and the efficacy of the medicine completely lost. It is cut into pieces, dried, and afterwards exposed to the smoke above a fireplace. It is then placed in a vessel provided with a hole or two, below which there is another vessel. The two together are placed in a larger vessel filled with water, and heated over a bright fire. The heat must be so intense as to affect the foetus, from which a kind of liquid drops, and collects in the second vessel in an hour and a half.

The magician then takes a human skull, and reduces it to a fine powder. This is mixed with a portion of the liquid. A mark is made on the forehead with this mixture, and the oil is rubbed on certain parts of the body, and he drinks some cow-dung water. He then thinks that he can assume the figure of any animal he likes, and successfully achieves the object in view, which is generally to murder or maim a person.

A magic oil, called angola thilum, is extracted from the angola tree (Alangium Lamarckii), which bears a very large number of fruits. One of these is believed to be capable of descending and returning to its position on dark nights. Its possession can be secured by demons, or by an expert watching at the foot of the tree. When it has been secured, the extraction of the oil involves the same operations as those for extracting the pilla thilum, and they must be carried out within seven hours.


QUOTE from Edgar Thurston’s Omens and Superstitions of Southern India:

"There are," Mr Govinda Nambiar writes, “certain specialists among mantravadis (dealers in magical spells), who are known as Odiyans. Conviction is deep-rooted that they have the power of destroying whomever they please, and that, by means of a powerful bewitching matter called pilla thilum (oil extracted from the body of an infant), they are enabled to transform themselves into any shape or form, or even to vanish into air, as their fancy may suggest.

When an Odiyan is hired to cause the death of a man, he waits during the night at the gate of his intended victim's house, usually in the form of a bullock. If, however, the person is inside the house, the Odiyan assumes the shape of a cat, enters the house, and induces him to come out. He is subsequently knocked down and strangled.

The Odiyan is also credited with the power, by means of certain medicines, of inducing sleeping persons to open the doors, and come out of their houses as somnambulists do. Pregnant women are sometimes induced to come out of their houses in this way, and they are murdered, and the foetus extracted from them. Murder of both sexes by Odiyans was a crime of frequent occurrence before the British occupation of the country." END OF QUOTE.

In the book Malabar, there is this hint that certain lower castes do inspire terror and fear among the higher castes. However, there are two items in this fear. One is directly connected to the feudal verbal codes, which actually have very powerful destructive power.

However, when speaking from the perspective of superstitions, this is what is there in this book, Malabar:

QUOTE: and some individuals of the lower classes have a powerful superstitious influence over the higher castes owing to their supposed efficiency in creating enchantments and spoils and in bringing misfortunes. END OF QUOTE.

Rev. Samuel Mateer also has made similar mention of how certain lower castes use this intimidation tactic to ward off the terrible suppression let loose by the higher castes.

There is this QUOTE: It may be added that the best educated native gentlemen have even yet hardly got over their objections to photography on the ground that their enemies may obtain possession of their photographs, and may by piercing with needles the eyes and other organs, and by powerful incantations, work them serious mischief. END OF QUOTE.

Actually the above quote is very closely connected to witchcraft, voodoo, tantra etc. Do these things really work?

There is the wider issue that such British writers as Edgar Thurston, Samuel Mateer, William Logan etc. have all missed the core element of the local social systems in the subcontinent. This very core element is that the social system is encompassed by feudal languages. These languages do have powers beyond that of mere conveying of ideas and thoughts.

This is where feudal language might have actual powers quite akin to that of voodoo and such. It is another topic altogether. Readers can refer to the book I mentioned.