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Omens and Superstitions of Southern India
OmensAnchor
EDGAR THURSTON, CLE.

Superintendent of the Madras Government Museum and of the Ethnographic Survey of the Madras Presidency

2 ANIMAL SUPERSTITIONS

I. Mammals


There is a belief that the urine of a wild monkey (langur) called kondamuccha, which it discharges in a thick stream, possesses the power of curing rheumatic pains, if applied to the affected part with a mixture of garlic. Some of the poorer classes in the villages of Kurnool obtain a sale even for stones on which this monkey has urinated, and hill people suffering from chronic fever sometimes drink its blood1. I am informed by Mr A. F. Martin, that he has seen a Muduvar on the Travancore hills much pulled down by fever seize an expiring black monkey (Semnopithecus johni), and suck the blood from its jugular vein. Childless Muduvar couples are dieted to make them fruitful, the principal diet for the man being plenty of black monkeys. The flesh of the black monkey (Nilgiri langur) is sold in the Nilgiri bazaars as a cure for whooping-cough. When Savara (hill tribe in Ganjam) children are seriously ill and emaciated, offerings are said by Mr G. V. Ramamurthi Pantulu to be made to monkeys, not in the belief that the illness is caused by them, but because the sick child, in its wasted condition, has the attenuated figure of these animals. The offerings consist of rice and other articles of food, which are placed in baskets suspended from branches of trees in the jungle.

1."Manual of the Kurnool District," 1886, 114.


Some years ago, a drinking fountain was erected at the Madras Museum, in which the water issued from the mouth of a lion. It entirely failed in its object, as the Native visitors would not use it, because the animal was represented in the act of vomiting.


I am informed by Mr C. Hayavadana Rao that the Beparis, who are traders and carriers between the hills and plains in the Vizagapatam Agency tracts, regard themselves as immune from the attacks of tigers, if they take certain precautions. Most of them have to pass through places infested with these beasts, and their favourite method of keeping them off is as follows. As soon as they encamp at a place, they level a square bit of ground, and light fires in it, round which they pass the night. It is their firm belief that the tiger will not enter the square, from fear lest it should become blind, and eventually be shot. Mr Hayavadana Rao was once travelling towards Malkangiri from Jeypore, when he fell in with a party of Beparis thus encamped. At that time the villages about Malkangiri were being ravaged by a notorious man-eater. In connection with man-eating tigers, Mr S. M. Fraser narrates2 that, in Mysore, a man-eater was said to have attacked parties bearing corpses to the burning-ground.

2. Journ. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc., 1902, xiv., No. 2, 388-91.


"The acquisition," he writes, “of such a curious taste may perhaps be explained by the following passage in a letter from the Amildar. It is a custom among the villagers here not to burn or bury the dead bodies of pregnant females, but to expose them in the neighbouring jungles to be eaten by vultures and wild beasts. The body is tied to a tree, in a sitting posture, and a pot of water is put close by. Not long ago some cowherd boys came across the dead body of a woman tied to a tree, and noticed the foot-prints of a tiger round it, but the body was untouched. The boys cut the rope binding the body, which fell to the ground, and the next day the corpse was found eaten away by the tiger."


The village of Hulikal, or tiger's stone, on the Nilgiris is so called because in it a Badaga once killed a notorious man-eater. The spot where the beast was buried is shown near the Pillaiyar (Ganesa) temple, and is marked by three stones. It is said that there was formerly a stone image of the slain tiger thereabouts3. When a tiger enters the dwelling of a Savara (hill tribe in Ganjam) and carries off an inmate, the village is said to be deserted, and sacrifices are offered to some spirits by the inhabitants. It is noted by Mr F. Fawcett4 that the Savaras have names for numerals up to twelve only. This is accounted for by a story that, long ago, some Savaras were measuring grain in a field, and, when they had completed twelve measures, a tiger pounced on them, and devoured them. So, ever after, they have not dared to have a numeral above twelve for fear of a tiger repeating the performance. In the Vizagapatam district, a ballad is sung by the Dasaris (a mendicant caste) about the goddess Yerakamma, who is reputed to have been the child of Dasari parents, and to have had the possession of second sight foretold by a Yerukala fortune-teller. She eventually married, and one day begged her husband not to go to his field, as she was sure he would be killed by a tiger if he did. He went notwithstanding, and was slain as she had foreseen. She killed herself by committing sati (suttee, or burning of the living widow) on the spot where her shrine still stands. The Muduvars are said by Mr Martin to share with other jungle folk the belief that, if any animal is killed by a tiger or leopard so as to lie north and south, it will not be eaten by the beast of prey. Nor will it be revisited, so that sitting over a ''kill" which has fallen north and south, in the hope of getting a shot at the returning tiger or leopard, is a useless proceeding. The Billava toddy-drawers believe that, if the spathe of the palm tree is beaten with the bone of a buffalo which has been killed by a tiger, the yield of toddy will, if the bone has not touched the ground, be greater than if an ordinary bone is used.

3. "Gazetteer of the Nilgiris," 1908, i. 328.

4. Journ. Anthrop. Soc, Bombay, i. 241-2.


I once received an application for half a pound of tiger's fat, presumably for medicinal purposes. The bones of tigers and leopards ground into powder, and mixed with their fat, gingelly (Sesamum) oil, and a finely powdered blue stone, make an ointment for the cure of syphilitic sores. The bones of a leopard or hyæna, ground into powder and made into a paste with ox-gall and musk, are said to be a useful ointment for application to rheumatic joints. The addition of the fat of tigers or leopards makes the ointment more effective. I am told that when, on one occasion, a European shot a tiger, the Natives were so keen on securing some of the fat, that the shikaris (hunters) came to him to decide as to the proper distribution among themselves and the camp servants.


The leopard is looked upon as in some way sacred by the hill Kondhs. They object to a dead leopard being carried through their villages, and oaths are taken on a leopard's skin.


Writing in 1873, Dr Francis Day states5 that “at Cannanore (in Malabar), the Rajah's cat appears to be exercising a deleterious influence on one branch at least of the fishing-, viz., that for sharks. It appears that, in olden times, one fish daily was taken from each boat as a perquisite for the Rajah's cat, or the poocha meen (cat-fish) collection. The cats apparently have not augmented so much as the fishing boats, so this has been converted into a money payment of two pies a day on each successful boat."

5. "Report on the Sea Fisheries of India and Burma," 1873, lxxvi.


In connection with cats, there is a tradition that a Jogi (Telugu mendicant) bridegroom, before tying the bottu (marriage badge) on his bride's neck, had to tie it by means of a string dyed with turmeric round the neck of a female cat. People sometimes object to the catching of cats by Jogis for food, as the detachment of a single hair from the body of a cat is considered a heinous offence. To overcome the objection, the Jogi says that he wants the animal for a marriage ceremony. On one occasion, I saw a Madiga (Telugu Pariah) carrying home a bag full of kittens, which he said he was going to eat. Some time ago, some prisoners, who called themselves Billaikavus (cat-eaters), were confined in the Vizagapatam jail. I am informed that these people are Mala Paidis, who eat cat flesh.


The gun with which a wolf has been shot falls under some evil influence, and it is said not to shoot straight afterwards. Hence some shikaris (hunters) will not shoot at a wolf.


The hyæna is believed to beat to death, or strangle with its tail, those whom it seizes. The head of a hyæna is sometimes buried in cattle-sheds, to prevent cattle disease. Its incisor teeth are tied round the loins of a woman in labour, to lessen the pains6.

6. "Manual of the Kurnool District," 1886, 115.


There is a belief that, when a bear seizes a man, it tickles him to death7. Bears are supposed, owing to the multilobulated external appearance of the kidneys, to gain an additional pair of these organs every year of their life. They are believed to collect ripe wood-apples (Feronia elephantum) during the season, and store them in a secure place in the forest. After a large quantity has been collected, they remove the rind, and heap together all the pulp. They then bring honey and the petals of sweet-smelling flowers, put them on the heap of pulp, thresh them with their feet and sticks in their hands, and, when the whole has become a consistent mass, feast on it. The Vedans (hunters) watch them when so engaged, drive them off, and rob them of their feast, which they carry off, and sell as karadi panchamritham, or bear delicacy made of five ingredients. The ordinary ingredients of panchamritham are slices of plantain (banana) fruits, jaggery (crude sugar) or sugar, cocoanut scrapings, ghi (clarified butter), honey, and cardamom seeds.

7. M. J. Walhouse, "Ind. Ant.," 1876, v. 23.


It is believed that the flesh or blood of some animals, which have certain organs largely developed, will cure disease of corresponding organs in the human subject. Thus, the flesh of the jackal, which is credited with the possession of very powerful lungs, is said to be a remedy for asthma.


By the jungle Paliyans of the Palni hills, the following device is adopted to protect themselves from the attacks of wild animals, the leopard in particular. Four jackals' tails are planted in four different spots, chosen so as to include the area in which they wish to be safe from the brute. Even if a leopard entered the magic square, it could do the Paliyan no harm, as its mouth is locked8.

8. Rev. F. Dahmen, "Anthropos," 1908, iii. 30.


There is a belief that the urine of wild dogs (Cyon dukhunensis) is extremely acrid, and that they sprinkle with it the bushes through which they drive their prey (deer and wild pigs), and then rush upon the latter, when blinded by the pungent fluid. According to another version, they jerk the urine into their victim's eyes with their tails.


The Koyis of the Godavari district are said by the Rev. J. Cain9 to hold in reverence the Pandava brothers, Arjuna and Bhima, and claim descent from the latter by his marriage with a wild woman of the woods. The wild dogs or dhols are regarded as the dutas or messengers of the brothers, and they would on no account kill a dhol, even though it should attack their favourite calf. They even regard it as imprudent to interfere with these dutas, when they wish to feast upon their cattle. The long black beetles, which appear in large numbers at the beginning of the hot weather, are called by the Koyis the Pandava flock of goats.

9. " Ind. Ant.," 1876, v. 359.



At a sale of cattle, the vendor sometimes takes a small quantity of straw in his hand, and, putting some cow-dung on it, presents it to the purchaser10. The five products of the cow, known as panchagavyam —milk, curds, butter, urine, and fæces—are taken by Hindus to remove pollution from confinement, a voyage across the seas, and other causes. It is on record11 that the Tanjore Nayakar, having betrayed Madura and suffered for it, was told by his Brahman advisers that he had better be born again. So a colossal cow was cast in bronze, and the Nayakar shut up inside. The wife of his Brahman guru (religious preceptor) received him in her arms, rocked him on her knees, and caressed him on her breast, and he tried to cry like a baby. It is recorded by Frazer12 that, when a Hindu child's horoscope portends misfortune or crime, he is born again from a cow thus. Being dressed in scarlet, and tied on a new sieve, he is passed between the hind-legs of a cow forward through the fore-legs, and again in the reverse direction, to simulate birth. The ordinary birth ceremonies are then gone through, and the father smells his son as a cow smells her calf.

10. H. J. Stokes, “Ind. Ant.," 1874, iii. 90.

12. "Toteinism," 1887, 33.


Tradition runs to the effect that, at the time of the separation of Ramesvaram Island from the mainland, the cows became prisoners thereon. Not being able, like the cows of Cape Cod, which are fed on herrings' heads, to adapt themselves to a fish diet, they became gradually converted into diminutive metamorphosed cows, which may still be seen grazing on the shore. The legend is based on the fancied resemblance of the horned coffer-fishes (Ostracion cornutus), which are frequently caught by the fishermen, to cattle. Portions of the skulls of cats and dogs, which are sometimes picked up on the beach, also bear a rude resemblance to the skull of a cow, the horns being represented by the zygoma.


A story is told at Cochin that the beautiful blue and white tiles from Canton, which adorn the floor of the synagogue of the White Jews, were originally intended for the Durbar hall of a former Raja of Cochin. But a wily Jew declared that bullock's blood must have been used in the preparation of the glaze, and offered to take them off the hands of the Raja, who was only too glad to get rid of them.


The afterbirths (placentæ) of cattle are tied to a tree which yields a milky juice, in the belief that the cow will thereby give a better yield of milk.


There is a custom among the Tellis (Oriya oil-pressers) that, if a cow dies with a rope round its neck, or on the spot where it is tethered, the family is under pollution until purification has been effected by means of a pilgrimage, or by bathing in a sacred river. The Holodia section of the Tellis will not rear male calves, and do not castrate their bulls. Male calves are disposed of by sale as speedily as possible.


If the jungle Paliyans of Tinnevelly come across the carcase of a cow or buffalo near a stream, they will not go near it for a long time. They absolutely refuse to touch leather, and one of them declined to carry my camera box, because he detected that it had a leather strap.


The Bakudas of South Canara will not carry a bedstead, unless the legs are first taken off, and it is said that this objection rests upon the supposed resemblances between the four-legged cot and the four-legged ox. In like manner, the Koragas have a curious prejudice against carrying any four-legged animal, dead or alive. This extends to anything with four legs, such as a chair, table, etc., which they cannot be prevailed on to lift, unless one leg is removed. As they work as coolies, this is said sometimes to cause inconvenience13.

13. M. J. Walhouse, Journal Anthrop. Inst, 1874, iv. 376.

Among the Sembaliguda Gadabas of Vizagapatam, there is a belief that a piece of wild buffalo horn, buried in the ground of the village, will avert or cure cattle disease14.

14. H. D. Taylor, "Madras Census Report," 1891.


The jungle Kadirs believe that their gods occasionally reside in the body of a "bison" (Bos gaurus) and have been known to worship a bull shot by a sportsman.


The goddess Gangadevi is worshipped by the Kevutos (fishing caste) of Ganjam at the Dasara festival, and goats are sacrificed in her honour. In the neighbourhood of the Chilka Lake, the goats are not sacrificed, but set at liberty, and allowed to graze on the Kalikadevi hill. There is a belief that animals thus dedicated to the goddess do not putrefy when they die, but dry up.


The Tiyans (toddy-drawers) of Malabar carry, tucked into the waist-cloth, a bone loaded with lead at both ends, which is used for tapping the flower-stalk of the palm tree to bring out the juice. A man once refused to sell one of these bones to Mr F. Fawcett at any price, as it was the femur of a sambar (Cervus unicolor), which possessed such virtue that it would fetch juice out of any tree. Deer's horn, ground into a fine paste, is said to be an excellent balm for pains and swellings. It is sometimes made into a powder, which is mixed with milk or honey, and produces a potion which is supposed to aid the growth of stunted women15.

15. Madras Mail, 26th January, 1906.


A Yanadi shikari (hunter) has been known, when skinning a black buck (antelope) shot by a European, to cut out the testicles, and wrap them up in his loin-cloth, to be subsequently taken as an aphrodisiac. Antelope horn, when powdered and burnt, is said to drive away mosquitoes, and keep scorpions away. A paste made with antelope horn is used as an external application for sore throat. Antelope and chinkara (Indian gazelle) horns, if kept in grain baskets, are said to prevent weevils from attacking the grain.


The Gadabas of Vizagapatam will not touch a horse, as they are palanquin-bearers, and have the same objection to the rival animal that a cab-driver has to a motor-car. In South Canara, none but the lowest Pariah will rub a horse down. If a Malai Vellala of Coimbatore touches one of these animals, he has to perform a religious ceremonial for the purpose of purification.


The members of the elephant sept of the Oriya Haddis, when they see the foot-prints of an elephant, take some of the dust from the spot, and make a mark on the forehead with it. They also draw the figure of an elephant, and worship it, when they perform sradh and other ceremonies. Wild elephants are said to be held in veneration by the jungle Kadirs, whereas tame ones are believed to have lost the divine element16.

16. L. K. Anantha Krishna Iyer, "Cochin Tribes and Castes," 1909, i. 22.


When cholera breaks out in a Kondh village, all males and females smear their bodies from head to foot with pig's fat liquefied by heat, and continue to do so until a few days after the disappearance of the dread disease. During this time they do not bathe, lest the smell of the fat should be washed away.


Some women rub the blood of the small garden-bat, which has well-developed ears, into the artificially dilated lobes of their ears, so as to strengthen them. The wings of bats are highly prized as a hairwash. They are crushed, and mixed with cocoanut oil, and other ingredients. The mixture is kept underground in a closed vessel for three months, and then used to prevent the hair from falling out or turning grey17. The Paniyans of Malabar are said to eat land-crabs for a similar purpose.

17. Madras Mail, 26th January, 1906.


The common striped or palm-squirrel (Sciurus palmarum) was, according to a legend, employed by Rama to assist the army of monkeys in the construction of the bridge to connect Ramesvaram island with Ceylon, whither Ravana had carried off his wife Sita. The squirrel helped the monkeys by rolling in the sand on the shore, so as to collect it in its hairy coat, and then depositing it between the piled up stones, so as to cement them together. Seeing it fatigued by its labours, Rama sympathetically stroked its back with the three middle fingers of his right hand, marks of which still persist in the squirrels at the present day. There is a further legend that, once upon a time, one of the gods, having compassion on the toddy-drawers because their life was a hard one, and because they were constantly exposed to danger, left at the foot of a palmyra tree some charmed water, the value of which was that it saved from injury any one falling from a height. A toddy-drawer, however, got drunk, and, forgetting to drink the elixir, went home. When he returned, he found that a squirrel had drunk it, and vowed vengeance on it. And that is why every toddy-drawer will always kill a squirrel, and also why the squirrel, from whatever height it may fall, comes to no harm18. In a note on the Pariah caste in Travancore, the Rev. S. Mateer narrates19 a legend that the Shanans (Tamil toddy-drawers) are descended from Adi, the daughter of a Pariah woman at Karuvur, who taught them to climb the palm tree, and prepared a medicine which would protect them from falling from the high trees. The squirrels also ate some of it, and enjoy a similar immunity. There is a Tamil proverb that, if you desire to climb trees, you must be a Shanan. The story was told by Bishop Caldwell of a Shanan who was sitting upon a leaf-stalk at the top of a palmyra palm in a high wind, when the stalk gave way, and he came down to the ground quite safely, sitting on the leaf, which served the purpose of a natural parachute. Woodpeckers are called Shanara kurivi by bird-catchers, because they climb trees like Shanans.

18. S. P. Rice, "Occasional Essays on Native South Indian Life," 1901,211.

19. Journ. Roy. Asiat. Soc, 1884, xvi. 181.


There is a legend that, before the Kaliyuga began, the Pandavas lived on the Nilgiris. A kind of edible truffle (Mylitta lapidescens) is known as little man's bread on these hills. The Badaga legendary name for it is Pandva-unna-buthi, or dwarf bundle of food20, i.e., food of the dwarfs, who are supposed to have built the pandu kulis or kistvaens. Being so small, they called in the black-naped hare (Lepus nigricollis) to plough their fields. The black patches on their necks are the inherited mark of the yoke. The blood of the hare is administered to children suffering from cough.

20. Report, Govt. Botanical Gardens, Nilgiris, 1903.


Brahmans use a porcupine quill for parting their wives' hair in a ceremony connected with the period of gestation known as simantam. It is said21 that among the Nambutiri Brahmans, the quill should have three white marks on it. The quills of porcupines are sold by Jogis (Telugu mendicants) to goldsmiths, for use as brushes.

21. " Gazetteer of Malabar," 1908, i. 163.


There is a tradition among the fishing folk of Ramesvaram island that a box of money was once found in the stomach of a dugong (Halicore dugong), and an official is consequently invited to be present at the examination of the stomach contents, so that the possessors of the carcase may not be punished under the Treasure Trove Act for concealing treasure. The fat of the dugong is believed to be efficacious in the treatment of dysentery, and is administered in the form of sweetmeats, or used instead of ghi (clarified butter) in the preparation of food.


2. Birds


The following story is current concerning the sacred vultures of Tirukazhukunram. The Ashtavasus, or eight gods who guard the eight points of the compass, did penance, and Siva appeared in person before them. But, becoming angry with them, he cursed them, and turned them into vultures. When they asked for forgiveness, Siva directed that they should remain at the temple of Vedagiri Iswara. One pair of these birds still survives, and come to the temple daily at noon for food. Two balls of rice cooked with ghi (clarified butter) and sugar, which have been previously offered to the deity, are placed at a particular spot on the hill. The vultures, arriving simultaneously, appropriate a ball apiece. The temple priests say that, every day, one of the birds goes on a pilgrimage to Benares, and the other to Ramesvaram. It is also said that the pair will never come together, if sinners are present at the temple.




When a person is ill, his family sometimes make a vow that they will offer a few pounds of mutton to the Brahmani kite (Haliastur Indus, Garuda pakshi) on the patient's recovery. It is believed that, should the offering be acceptable, the sick person will speedily get better, and the bird will come to demand its meat, making its presence known by sitting on a tree near the house, and crying plaintively. The shadow of a Brahmani kite falling on a cobra is said to stupefy the snake. The Kondhs do not consider it a sin to kill this bird, which is held in veneration throughout Southern India. A Kondh will kill it for so slight an offence as carrying off his chickens.


The crow is believed to possess only one eye, which moves from socket to socket as occasion demands. The belief is founded on the legend that an Asura, disguised as a crow, while Rama was sleeping with his head on Sita's lap in the jungles of Dandaka, pecked at her breasts, so that blood issued therefrom. On waking, Rama, observing the blood, and learning the cause of it, clipped a bit of straw, and, after infusing it with the Brahma astra (miraculous weapon), let it go against the crow Asura, who appealed to Rama for mercy. Taking pity on it, Rama told the Asura to offer one of its eyes to the weapon, and saved it from death. Since that time, crows are supposed to have only one eye. The Kondhs will not kill crows, as this would be a sin amounting to the killing of a friend. According to their legend, soon after the creation of the world, there was a family consisting of an aged man and woman, and four children, who died one after the other in quick succession. Their parents were too infirm to take the necessary steps for their cremation, so they threw the bodies away on the ground at some distance from their home. God appeared to them in their dreams one night, and promised that he would create the crow, so that it might devour the dead bodies. Some Koyis believe that hell is the abode of an iron crow, which feeds on all who go there. There is a legend in the Kavarathi Island of the Laccadives, that a Mappilla tangal (Muhammadan priest) once cursed the crows for dropping their excrement on his person, and now there is not a crow on the island.


It is believed that, if a young crow-pheasant is tied by an iron chain to a tree, the mother, as soon as she discovers the captive, will go and fetch a certain root, and by its aid break the chain, which, when it snaps, is converted into gold.


In some Kapu (Telugu cultivator) houses, bundles of ears of rice may be seen hung up as food for sparrows, which are held in esteem. The hopping of sparrows is said to resemble the gait of a person confined in fetters, and there is a legend that the Kapus were once in chains, and the sparrows set them at liberty, and took the bondage on themselves. Native physicians prescribe the flesh and bones of cock sparrows for those who have lost their virility. The birds are cleaned, and put in a mortar, together with other medicinal ingredients. They are pounded together for several hours, so that the artificial heat produced by the operation converts the mixture into a pulpy mass, which is taken in small doses. The flesh of quails and partridges is also believed to possess remedial properties.


A west coast housewife, when she buys a fowl, goes through a mystic ritual to prevent it from getting lost. She takes it thrice round the fireplace, saying to it: ''Roam over the country and the forest, and come home safe again." Some years ago, a rumour spread through the Koyi villages that an iron cock was abroad very early in the morning, and upon the first village in which it heard one or more cocks crow it would send a pestilence, and decimate the village. In one instance, at least, this led to the immediate extermination of all the cocks in the village.


The Indian roller (Coracias indica) commonly called the blue jay, is known as pala-pitta or milk bird, because it is supposed that, when a cow gives little milk, the yield will be increased if a few of the feathers of this bird are chopped up, and given to it along with grass.


The fat of the peacock, which moves gracefully and easily, is supposed to cure stiff joints. Peacock's feathers are sold in the bazaar, and the burnt ashes are used as a cure for vomiting.


The deposit of white magnesite in the "Chalk Hills" of the Salem district is believed to consist of the bones of the mythical bird Jatayu, which fought Ravana, to rescue Sita from his clutches.


3. Reptiles and Batrachians.


It is recorded by Canter Visscher22 that, "in the mountains and remote jungles of this country (Malabar), there is a species of snake of the shape and thickness of the stem of a tree, which can swallow men and beasts entire. I have been told an amusing story about one of these snakes. It is said that at Barcelore a chego (Chogan) had climbed up a cocoanut tree to draw toddy or palm wine, and, as he was coming down, both his legs were seized by a snake which had stretched itself up alongside the tree with its mouth wide open, and was sucking him in gradually as he descended. Now, the Indian, according to the custom of his country, had stuck his teifermes (an instrument not unlike a pruning knife), into his girdle with the curve turned outwards; and, when he was more than half swallowed, the knife began to rip up the body of the snake so as to make an opening, by which the lucky man was most unexpectedly able to escape. Though the snakes in this country are so noxious to the natives, yet the ancient veneration for them is still maintained. No one dares to injure them or to drive them away by violence, and so audacious do they become that they will sometimes creep between people's legs when they are eating, and attack their bowls of rice, in which case retreat is necessary until the monsters have satiated themselves, and taken their departure."

22. Letters from Malabar, Translation, Madras, 1862.


Another snake story, worthy of the Baron Munchausen, is recorded in Taylor's ''Catalogue raisonne of Oriental Manuscripts,"23

23. 1862, iii. 464.


''The Coya (Koyi) people eat snakes. About forty years since a Brahman saw a person cooking snakes for food, and, expressing great astonishment, was told by the forester that these were mere worms; that, if he wished to see a serpent, one should be shown him; but that, as for themselves, secured by the potent charms taught them by Ambikesvarer, they feared no serpents. As the Brahman desired to see this large serpent, a child was sent with a bundle of straw and a winnowing fan, who went, accompanied by the Brahman, into the depths of the forest, and, putting the straw on the mouth of a hole, commenced winnowing, when smoke of continually varying colours arose, followed by bright flame, in the midst of which a monstrous serpent having seven heads was seen. The Brahman was speechless with terror at the sight, and, being conducted back by the child, was dismissed with presents of fruits."


It is stated by Mr Gopal Panikkar24 that, ''people believe in the existence inside the earth of a precious stone called manikkakkallu. These stones are supposed to have been made out of the gold, which has existed in many parts of the earth from time immemorial. Certain serpents of divine nature have been blowing for ages on these treasures of gold, some of which dwindle into a small stone of resplendent beauty and brightness called manikkam. The moment their work is finished, the serpents are transformed into winged serpents, and fly up into the air with the stones in their mouths."

24. "Malabar and its Folk," Madras, 2nd ed., 59.

According to another version of this legend25, "people in Malabar believe that snakes guard treasure. But silver they will have none. Even in the case of gold, the snakes are said to visit hidden treasure for twelve years occasionally, and, only when they find that the treasure is not removed in the meantime, do they begin to guard it. When once it has begun to watch, the snake is said to be very zealous over it. It is said to hiss at it day and night. This constant application is believed to diminish its proportions, and to make it assume a smaller appearance. In time, in the place of the pointed tail, the reptile is said to get wings, and the treasure, by the continuous hissing, to assume the form of a precious stone. When this is done, the snake is said to fly with its precious acquisition. So strong is this belief that, when a comet appeared some ten years ago, people firmly believed that it was the flight of the winged serpent with the precious stone."

25. C. Karunakara Menon, Calcutta Review^ July, 1901.


Natives, when seeking for treasure, arm themselves with a staff made from one of the snake-wood trees, in the belief that the snakes which guard the treasure will retire before it.


In Malabar, it is believed that snakes wed mortal girls, and fall in love with women. When once they do so, they are said to be constantly pursuing them, and never to leave them, except for an occasional separation for food. The snake is said never to use its fangs against its chosen woman. So strong is the belief, that women in Malabar would think twice before attempting to go by themselves into a bush26.

26. C. Karunakara Menon, Calcutta Review, July, 1901.


There is a temple in Ganjam, the idol in which is said to be protected from desecration at night by a cobra. When the doors are being shut, the snake glides in, and coils itself round the lingam. Early in the morning, when the priest opens the door, it glides away, without attempting to harm any of the large number of spectators, who never fail to assemble27.

27. Madras Mail, 22nd July, 1905.


The town of Nagercoil in Travancore derives its name from the temple dedicated to the snake-god (naga kovil), where many stone images of snakes are deposited. There is a belief that snake-bite is not fatal within a mile of the temple.


The safety with which snake-charmers handle cobras is said to be due to the removal of a stone, which supplied their teeth with venom, from under the tongue or behind the hood. This stone is highly prized as a snake poison antidote. It is said to be not unlike a tamarind stone in size, shape, and appearance ; and is known to be genuine if, when it is immersed in water, bubbles continue to rise from it, or if, when put into the mouth, it gives a leap, and fixes itself to the palate. When it is applied to the punctures made by the snake's poison fangs, it is said to stick fast and extract the poison, falling off of itself as soon as it is saturated. After the stone drops off, the poison which it has absorbed is removed by placing it in a vessel of milk which becomes darkened in colour. A specimen was submitted to Faraday, who expressed his belief that it was a piece of charred bone, which had been filled with blood, and then charred again28.

28. Vide, Yule and Burnell, "Hobson-Jobson," ed. 1903, 874-9.


There is, in Malabar, a class of people called mantravadis (dealers in magical spells), who are believed to possess an hereditary power of removing the effects of snake poison by repeating mantrams, and performing certain rites. If a house is visited by snakes, they can expel them by reciting such mantrams on three small pebbles, and throwing them on to the roof. In cases of snake-bite, they recite mantrams and wave a cock over the patient's body from the head towards the feet. Sometimes a number of cocks have to be sacrificed before the charm works. The patient is then taken to a tank (pond) or well, and a number of pots of water are emptied over his head, while the mantravadi utters mantrams. There are said to be certain revengeful snakes, which, after they have bitten a person, coil themselves round the branches of a tree, and render the efforts of the mantravadi ineffective. In such a case, he, through the aid of mantrams, sends ants and other insects to harass the snake, which comes down from the tree, and sucks the poison from the punctures which it has made.


In the early part of the last century, a certain Tanjore pill had a reputation as a specific against the bite of mad dogs, and of the most poisonous snakes29.

29. Asiatic Journal, ii. 381.


The following note on a reputed cure for snake poisoning, used by the Oddes (navvies), was communicated to me by Mr Gustav Haller.


"A young boy, who belonged to a gang of Oddes, was catching rats, and put his hand into a bamboo bush, when a cobra bit him, and clung to his finger when he was drawing his hand out of the bush. I saw the dead snake, which was undoubtedly a cobra. I was told that the boy was in a dying condition, when a man of the same gang said that he would cure him. He applied a brown pill to the wound, to which it stuck without being tied. The man dipped a root into the water, and rubbed it on the lad's arm from the shoulder downwards. The arm, which was benumbed, gradually became sensitive, and at last the fingers could move, and the pill dropped off. The moist root was rubbed on to the boy's tongue, and into the corner of the eyes, before commencing operations. The man said that a used pill is quite efficacious, but should be well washed to get rid of the poison. In the manufacture of the pills, five leaves of a creeper are dried, and ground to powder. The pill must be inserted for nine days between the bark and cambium of a margosa tree (Melia Azadirachta) during the new moon, when the sap ascends."


The creeper referred to is Tinospora cordifolia (gul bel), and the roots are apparently those of the same climbing shrub. There is a widespread belief that gul bel growing on a margosa tree is more efficacious as a medicine than that which is found on other kinds of trees.


In cases of snake-bite, the Dommara snake-charmers place over the seat of the bite a black stone, which is said to be composed of various drugs mixed together and burnt. It is said to drop off, as soon as it has absorbed all the poison. It is then put into milk or water to extract the poison, and the fluid is thrown away as being dangerous to life if swallowed. The Mandulas (wandering medicine men) use as an antidote against snake-bite a peculiar wood, of which a piece is torn off, and eaten by the person bitten30.

30. Bishop Whitehead, Madras Diocesan Magazine, July, 1906.


Among the Viramushtis (professional mendicants), there is a subdivision called Naga Mallika (Rhinacanthus communis), the roots of which are believed to cure snake-bite. The jungle Paliyans of the Palni hills are said31 to carry with them certain leaves, called naru valli ver, which they believe to be a very efficient antidote to snake-bite. As soon as one of them is bitten, he chews the leaves, and also applies them to the punctures. The Kudumi medicine men of Travancore claim to be able to cure snake-bite by the application of certain leaves ground into a paste, and by exercising their magical powers. The Telugu Tottiyans are noted for their power of curing snake-bites by means of mystical incantations, and the original inventor of this mode of treatment has been deified under the name of Pambalamman.

31. Rev. F. Dahmen, "Anthropos," 1908, iii. 22.


The jungle Yanadis are fearless in catching cobras, which they draw out of their holes without any fear of their fangs. They claim to be under the protection of a charm, while so doing. A correspondent writes that a cobra was in his grounds, and his servant called in a Yanadi to dislodge it. The man caught it alive, and, before killing it, carefully removed the poison-sac with a knife, and swallowed it as a protection against snakebite.


The Nayadis of Malabar, when engaged in catching rats in their holes, wear round the wrist a snake-shaped metal ring, to render them safe against snakes which may be concealed in the hole.


A treatment for cobra-bite is to take a chicken, and make a deep incision into the beak at the basal end. The cut surface is applied to the puncture made by the snake's fangs, which are opened up with a knife. After a time the chicken dies, and, if the patient has not come round, more chicken must be applied until he is out of danger. The theory is that the poison is attracted by the blood of the chicken, and enters it. The following treatment for cobra bite is said32 to be in vogue in some places: —

32. Madras Mail, 26th January, 1906.


"As soon as a person has been bitten, a snake-charmer is sent for, who allures the same or another cobra whose fangs have not been drawn to the vicinity of the victim, and causes it to bite him at as nearly as possible the same place as before. Should this be fulfilled, the bitten man will as surely recover as the snake will die. It is believed that, if a person should come across two cobras together, they will give him no quarter. To avoid being pursued by them, he takes to his heels, after throwing behind some garment, on which the snakes expend their wrath. When they have completed the work of destruction, the pieces to which the cloth has been reduced, are gathered together, and preserved as a panacea for future ills."


A fisherman, who is in doubt as to whether a water-snake which has bitten him is poisonous or not, sometimes has resort to a simple remedy. He dips his hands into the mud, and eats several handfuls thereof33.

33. Madras Mail, 26th January, 1906.


The fragrant inflorescence of Pandanus fascicularis is believed to harbour a tiny snake, which is more deadly than the cobra. Incautious smelling of the flowers may, it is said, lead to death.


The earth-snake (Typhlops braminus) is known as the ear-snake, because it is supposed to enter the ear of a sleeper, and cause certain death.


The harmless tree-snake (Dendrophis pictus) is more dreaded than the cobra. It is believed that, after biting a human being, it ascends the nearest palmyra palm, where it waits until it sees the smoke ascending from the funeral pyre of the victim. The only chance of saving the life of a person who has been bitten is to have a mock funeral, whereat a straw effigy is burnt. Seeing the smoke, the deluded snake comes down from the tree, and the bitten person recovers.


The green tree-snake (Dryophis mycterizans) is said to have a habit of striking at the eyes of people, to prevent which a rag is tied round the head of the snake, when it is caught. Another, and more curious belief is that a magical oil can be prepared from its dead body. A tender cocoanut is opened at one end, and the body of the snake is put into the cocoanut, which, after being closed, is buried in a miry place, and allowed to remain there until the body decays, and the water in the cocoanut becomes saturated with the products of decomposition. When this has taken place, the water is taken out, and used as oil for a lamp. When a person carries such a lamp lighted, his body will appear to be covered all over by running green tree-snakes, to the great dismay of all beholders34.

34. M. Upendra Pai, Madras Christian Coll. Mag., 1895., xiii., No. 1, 29.


For the following note on beliefs concerning the green tree-snake (Dryophis), I am indebted to Dr N. Annandale. A recipe for making a good curry, used by women who are bad cooks, is to take a tree-snake, and draw it through the hands before beginning to make the curry. To cure a headache, kill a tree-snake, and ram cotton seed and castor-oil down its throat, until the whole body is full. Then bury it, and allow the seeds to grow. Take the seeds of the plants that spring up, and separate the cotton from the castor seeds. Ram them down the throat of a second snake. Repeat the process on a third snake, and make a wick from the cotton of the plant that grows out of its body, and oil from the castor plants. If you light the wick in a lamp filled with the oil, and take it outside at night, you will see the whole place alive with green tree-snakes. Another way of performing the same experiment is to bore a hole in a ripe cocoanut, put in a live tree-snake, and stop the hole up. Then place the cocoanut beneath a cow in a cowshed for forty days, so that it is exposed to the action of the cow's urine. A lamp fed with oil made from the cocoanut will enable you to see innumerable tree-snakes at night.


The bite of the sand-snake (Eryx Johnii) is believed to cause leprosy and twisting of the hands and feet. An earth-snake, which lives at Kodaikanal on the Palni hills, is credited with giving leprosy to any one whose skin it licks. In the treatment of leprosy, a Russell's viper (Vipera russellii) is stuffed with rice, and put in an earthen pot, the mouth of which is sealed with clay. The pot is buried for forty days, and then exhumed. Chickens are fed with the rice, and the patient is subsequently fed on the chickens. The fat of the rat-snake (Zanienis mucosus) is used as an external application in the treatment of leprosy. An old woman, during an epidemic of cholera at Bezwada, used to inject the patients hypodermically with an aqueous solution of cobra venom.


Mischievous children, and others, when they see two persons quarrelling, rub the nails of the fingers of one hand against those of the other, and repeat the words “Mungoose and snake, bite, bite," in the hope that thereby the quarrel will be intensified, and grow more exciting from the spectator's point of view.


When a friend was engaged in experiments on snake venom, some Dommaras (jugglers) asked for permission to unbury the corpses of the snakes and mungooses for the purpose of food.


If a snake becomes entangled in the net of a Bestha fisherman in Mysore when it is first used, the net is rejected, and burnt or otherwise disposed of.


There is a widespread belief among children in Malabar, that a lizard (Calotes versicolor) sucks the blood of those whom it looks at. As soon, therefore, as they catch sight of this creature, they apply saliva to the navel, from which it is believed that the blood is extracted.


A legend is recorded by Dr Annandale35, in accordance with which every good Muhammadan should kill the blood - sucker (lizard), Calotes gigas, at sight, because, when some fugitive Muhammadans were hiding from their enemies in a well, one of these animals came and nodded its head in their direction till their enemies saw them.

35. Mem. Asiat. Soc, Bengal, 1906, i., No, 10,


A similar legend about another lizard is described as existing in Egypt. Dr Annandale further records that the Hindus and Muhammadans of Ramnad in the Ramnad district regard the chamæleon (Chamælon calcaratus) as being possessed by an evil spirit, and will not touch it, lest the spirit should enter their own bodies. I have been told that the bite of a chamæleon is more deadly than that of a cobra.


There is a popular belief that the bite of the Brahmini lizard (Mabuia carinata), called aranai in Tamil, is poisonous, and there is a saying that death is instantaneous if aranai bites. The same belief exists in Ceylon, and Mr Arthur Willey informs me that deaths attributed to the bite of this animal are recorded almost annually in the official vital statistics. I have never heard of a case of poisoning by the animal in question. There is a legend that, ''when the cobra and the arana were created, poison was supplied to them, to be sucked from a leaf. The arana sucked it wholesale, leaving only the leaf smeared over with poison for the cobra to lap poison from; thereby implying that the cobra is far less venomous than the arana. Thus people greatly exaggerate the venomous character of the arana36."

36. T. K. Gopal Panikkar, “Madras and its Folk," Madras. 2nd ed., 65-6.



It has already been noted (p. 73) that, when Savara children are emaciated from illness, offerings are made to monkeys. Blood-suckers are also said to be propitiated, because they have filamentous bodies. A blood-sucker is captured, small toy arrows are tied round its body, and a piece of cloth is tied round its head. Some drops of liquor are then poured into its mouth, and it is set at liberty.


The Maratha Rajas of Sandur belong to a family called Ghorpade, which name is said to have been earned by one of them scaling a precipitous fort by clinging to an ''iguana" (Varanus), which was crawling up it. The flesh of the "iguana" is supposed to be possessed of extraordinary invigorating powers, and a meal off this animal is certain to restore the powers of youth. Its bite is considered very dangerous, and it is said that, when it has once closed its teeth on human flesh, it will not reopen them, and the only remedy is to cut out the piece it has bitten37. This animal and the crocodile are believed to proceed from the eggs laid by one animal. They are laid and hatched near water, and, of the animals which come out of them, some find their way into the water, while others remain on land. The former become crocodiles, and the latter "iguanas." The flesh of the crocodile is administered as a cure for whooping-cough.

37. "Manual of the Cuddapah District," 1875, 293-4.

It is popularly believed that, if a toad falls on a pregnant woman, the child that is to be born will die soon after birth. The only remedy is to capture the offending toad, and fry it in some medicinal oil, which must be administered to the child in order to save it from death38.

38. Madras Mail, 26th January, 1906.


4. Fishes


It is recorded39 that “Matsya gundam (fish pool) is a curious pool in the Macheru (fish river) near the village of Matam, close under the great Yendrika hill.’

39. "Gazetteer of the Vizagapatam District," 1907, i. 286.


The pool is crowded with mahseer (Barbus tor) of all sizes. These are wonderfully tame, the bigger ones feeding fearlessly from one's hand, and even allowing their backs to be stroked. They are protected by the Madgole zamindars, who on several grounds venerate all fish. Once, the story goes, a Brinjari caught one, and turned it into curry, whereon the king of the fish solemnly cursed him, and he and all his pack-bullocks were turned into rocks, which may be seen there to the present day. At Sivaratri, a festival occurs at the little thatched shrine nearby, the priest at which is a Bagata (Telugu freshwater fisher), and part of the ritual consists in feeding the sacred fish. The Madgole zamindars claim to be descended from the rulers of Matsya Desa. They are installed on a stone throne shaped like a fish, display a fish on their banners, and use a figure of a fish as a signature. Some of their dependents wear ear-rings shaped like a fish."


A tank at Coondapoor contained a species of fish locally known as the flower-fish, which was especially reserved for the table of Tipu Sultan, being fat and full of blood40. The sacred fish at Tirupparankunram near Madura are said to have been sages in a bygone age, and it is believed to be very meritorious to look at them. They are said to appear on the surface of the water only if you call out "Kasi Visvanatha." But it is said that a handful of peas thrown into the pool is more effective. The Ambalakkarans (Tamil cultivators) admit that they are called Valaiyans, but repudiate any connection with the caste of that name. They explain the appellation by a story that, when Siva's ring was swallowed by a fish in the Ganges, one of their ancestors invented the first net (valai) made in the world.

40. "Manual of the South Canara District," 1895, ii, 242.

Some Natives will not eat the murrel fish (Ophiocephalus striatus) y owing to its resemblance to a snake. Some Halepaiks (Canarese toddy-drawers) avoid eating a fish called Srinivasa, because they fancy that the streaks on the body bear a resemblance to the Vaishnavite sectarian mark (namam). Members of the Vamma gotra of the Janappans (Telugu traders) abstain from eating the bombadai fish, because, when some of their ancestors went to fetch water in a marriage pot, they found a number of this fish in the water collected in the pot.


When a new net is used for the first time by the Besthas of Mysore, the first fish which is caught is cut, and the net is smeared with its blood. One of the meshes of the net is burnt, after incense has been thrown into the fire.


5. Invertebrates


The Sahavasis of Mysore are described41 as "immigrants, like the Chitpavanas. Sahavasi means co-tenant or associate, and the name is said to have been earned by the community in the following manner. In remote times, a certain Brahman came upon hidden treasure, but, to his amazement, the contents appeared in his eyes to be all live scorpions. Out of curiosity, he hung one of them outside his house. A little while after, a woman of inferior caste, who was passing by the house, noticed it to be gold, and, upon her questioning him about it, the Brahman espoused her, and by her means was able to enjoy the treasure. He gave a feast in honour of his acquisition of wealth. He was subsequently outcasted for his mesalliance with the low caste female, while those who ate with him were put under a ban, and thus acquired the nickname."

41. " Mysore Census Report," 1891, part i. 235.

It is commonly said that the scorpion has great reverence for the name of Ganesa, because it is supposed that when, on seeing a scorpion, one cries out “Pilliyar annai" (in the name of Ganesa), the scorpion will suddenly stop ; the truth of the matter being that any loud noise arrests the movements of the animal42.

42. S. K. Sundara Charlu, Indian Review, 1905, vi., No. 6, 421.

At the temple of Kolaramma at Kolar in Mysore, a pit under the entrance is full of scorpions, and the customary offerings are silver scorpions. The village goddess at Nangavaram in the Trichinopoly district is called Sattandi Amman, and her idol represents her in the act of weaving a garland of scorpions. It is generally supposed that no scorpion can live in this village, and that the sacred ashes from Sattandi Amman's shrine are a specific for scorpion stings. People sometimes carry some of the ashes about with them, in case they should be stung43. At Royachoti in the Cuddapah district, a festival is held on the occasion of the god going hunting. The idol Virabudra is carried to a mantapam outside the town, and placed on the ground. Beneath the floor of the mantapam there is a large number of scorpions. Whilst the god is taking his rest, the attendants catch these scorpions, and hold them in their hands without being stung. As long as the god remains in the mantapam, the scorpions do not sting, but, directly he leaves it, they resume their poisonous propensities44. The peon (attendant) in the zoological laboratory of one of the Madras colleges would put his hand with impunity into a jar of live scorpions, of which he believed that only a pregnant female would sting him with hurt. Lieutenant-Colonel D. D. Cunningham records45 the case of a certain Yogi (religious mendicant), who was insusceptible to the stings of scorpions, "which would fix their stings so firmly into his fingers that, when he raised and shook his hand about, they remained anchored and dangling by their tails, whilst neither then nor afterwards did he show the slightest sign of pain or inconvenience. The immunity may possibly have been the result of innate idiosyncratic peculiarity in the constitution of the performer, or more probably represented the outcome of artificial exemption acquired at the expense of repeated inoculations with the virus, and corresponding development of its antitoxin."

43. " Gazetteer of the Trichinopoly District," 1907, i. 283.

44. "Manual of the Cuddapah District," 1875, 288.

45. "Plagues and Pleasures of Life in Bengal," 1907, 196-8.

A sweeper man, who had a mole on his back in shape somewhat resembling a scorpion, believed himself to be immune against scorpion sting, and would confidently insert the poison spine of a live scorpion into his skin. In a letter to a medical officer, a Native wrote, that, when a pregnant woman is stung by a scorpion, the child which is in the womb at the time of such stinging, when delivered, does not suffer from the sting of a scorpion, if ever it is stung during its lifetime. Some families keep in their homes small pots called thelkodukku undi (scorpion sting vessels), and occasionally drop therein a copper coin, which is supposed to secure immunity against scorpion sting. The Sakuna Pakshi mendicants of Vizagapatam have a remedy for scorpion sting in the root of a plant called thella visari (scorpion antidote), which they carry about with them on their rounds. The root should be collected on a new-moon day which falls on a Sunday. On that day, the Sakuna Pakshi bathes, cuts off his loin-cloth, and goes stark-naked to a selected spot, where he gathers the roots. If a supply thereof is required, and the necessary combination of moon and day is not forthcoming, the roots should be collected on a Sunday or Wednesday. In cases of scorpion sting, Dommara medicine-men rub up patent boluses with human milk or juice of the milk-hedge plant (Euphorbia Tirucalli) and apply them to the parts. Among quaint remedies for scorpion sting may be noted, sitting with an iron crowbar in the mouth, and the application of chopped lizard over the puncture. The excrement of lizards fed on scorpions and the undigested food in the stomach of a freshly killed goat, dried and reduced to powder, are also believed to be effective remedies. There is a belief that scorpions have the power of reviving, even after being completely crushed into pulp. We are, therefore, warned not to rest secure till the animal has actually been cremated.


The whip-scorpion Thelyphonus is believed to be venomous, some Natives stating that it stings like a scorpion, others that it ejects a slimy fluid which burns, and produces blisters. The caudal flagellum of Thelyphonus, of course, possesses no poison apparatus.


When the umbilical cord of a Kondh baby sloughs off, a spider is burnt in the fire, and its ashes are placed in a cocoanut shell, mixed with castor-oil, and applied by means of a fowl's feather to the navel.


The eggs of red ants, boiled in margosa (Melia Asadirachta) oil, are said to be an invaluable remedy for children suffering from asthma.


If a house is infested by mosquitoes, or the furniture and bedding by bugs, the names of a hundred villages or towns should be written on a piece of paper. Care must be taken that all the names end in uru, kottai, palayam, etc. The paper is fastened to the ceiling- or bed-post, and relief from the pests will be instantaneous47.

47. Madras Mail, 26th January, 1906.



The Oriya Haddis, on the evening of the tenth day after a death, proceed to some distance from the house, and place food and fruits on a cloth spread on the ground. They then call the dead man by his name, and eagerly wait till some insect settles on the cloth. As soon as this happens, the cloth is folded up, carried home, and shaken over the floor close to the spot where the household gods are kept, so that the insect falls on the sand spread on the floor. A light is then placed on the sanded floor, and covered with a new pot. After some time, the pot is removed, and the sand examined for any marks which may be left on it.


A devil, in the disguise of a dung-beetle of large size, is believed to haunt the house wherein a baby has been newly born, and the impact of the insect against the infant will bring about its instant death.


The following case was brought to my notice by the Chemical Examiner to Government. In Malabar, a young man, apparently in good health, walked home with two other men after a feast, chewing betel. Arriving at his home, he retired to rest, and was found dead in the morning. Blood was described as oozing out of his eyes. It was given out that the cause of death was an insect, which infests betel leaves, and is very poisonous. The belief in death from chewing or swallowing the veththilai or vettila poochi (betel insect) is a very general one, and is so strong that, when a person suffers from giddiness, after chewing betel, he is afraid that he has partaken of the poisonous insect. Native gentlemen take particular care to examine every betel leaf, wipe it with a cloth, and smear chunam (lime) over it, before chewing. The poochi is called by Gundert48 vettila pampu or moorkhan (snake), or vettila thel (scorpion). It has been described49 as ''a poisonous creature, which lives adhering to the betel leaf. Its presence cannot be easily detected, and many deaths occur among persons who are in the habit of carelessly chewing betel. The poison passes into the system through the moisture of the mouth, and death ensues within an hour and a half. It generally inhabits the female leaf, i.e., the leaf that opens at night. The following symptoms are seen when a person is affected with the poison:—exhaustion, delirium, copious perspiration, and change of colour of the skin. Treatment: — administer internally the juice of the leaves of a tree called arippera. Make the patient suck the milk of the breast of a woman, whose baby is more than eighty days old."

48. "Malayalam Dictionary," 1872, 983.

49. Kerala Chintamani.


A perichæte earthworm was sent to me from Malabar as a specimen of vettila poochi, with a note to the effect that, when it is accidentally chewed, the chief symptom is drawing in of the tongue, and consequent death from suffocation. The antidote was said to be salt and water, and the leaves of the goa (guava) tree. From South Canara, Mr H. Latham sent me a planarian worm, about two inches in length, which is believed to be the vettila poochi. His camp boy told him of a case in which death was said to have resulted from eating one of these animals cooked with some jak fruit.


A few years ago, a scare arose in connection with an insect, which was said to have taken up its abode in imported German glass bangles, which compete with the indigenous industry of the Gazula bangle -makers. The insect was reported to lie low in the bangle till it was purchased, when it would come out and nip the wearer, after warning her to get her affairs in order before succumbing. A specimen of a broken bangle, from which the insect was said to have burst forth, was sent to me. But the insect was not forthcoming.


As a further example of the way in which the opponents of a new industry avail themselves of the credulity of the Native, I may cite the recent official introduction of the chrome-tanning industry in Madras. In connection therewith, a rumour spread more or less throughout the Presidency that the wearing of chrome-tanned boots or sandals gave rise to leprosy, blood poisoning, and failure of the eyesight.


1.  William Logan’s ‘Malabar Manual’

2.  MEIN KAMPF by Adolf Hitler - A demystification!

3.  Native life in Travancore by Rev. Samuel Mateer

4.  Castes and Tribes of Southern India by Edgar Thurston

5. A commentary on Kamasutra

6. Feudal languages! What are they?

7. Software codes of mantra, tantra &c.

8. Indian culture! What is it exactly?

9. You and your star by CHEIRO

10. English Classics Illustrated

A small annotated commentary on this book can be seen in the book:
 

Software codes of mantra