Omens and Superstitions of Southern India
EDGAR THURSTON, CLE.
Superintendent of the Madras Government Museum and of the Ethnographic Survey of the Madras Presidency
Mantrams, or consecrated formulae, are supposed to be very powerful, and by their aid even gods can be brought under control. They are, inter alia, believed to be efficacious in curing disease, in protecting children against devils, and women against miscarriage, in promoting development of the breasts, in bringing offspring to barren women, in warding off misfortune consequent on marriage with a girl who has an unlucky mark, in keeping wild pigs from the fields, and warding off cattle disease. For the last purpose, the magical formula is carved on a stone pillar, which is set up in the village. They are divided into four classes, viz., mantrasara, or the real essence of magic; yantrasara, or the science of cabalistic figures; prayogasara, or the method of using these for the attainment of any object; tantrasara, or the science of symbolical acts with or without words.
Mantrasara includes all mantrams, with their efficacy for good and evil, and the methods of learning and reciting them with the aid of a guru (spiritual preceptor). They are said to be effective only when the individual who resorts to them is pure in mind and body. This can be attained by the recitation of ajapagayithri (216,000 inhalations and exhalations in twenty-four hours). These have to be divided among the deities Ganesa, Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra, Jivathma, Paramathma, and the guru, 180 in the proportion of 600, 6000, 6000, 6000, 1000, 1000, 1000. A man can only become learned in mantrams (mantravadi) by the regular performance of the recognised ceremonial, by proper recital of the mantrams, by burning the sacred fire, and by taking food. A Lambadi has been seen repeating mantrams over his patients, and touching their heads at the same time with a book, which was a small edition of the Telugu translation of St John's gospel. Neither the physician nor the patient could read, and had no idea of the contents of the book1. It is noted by the Abbe Dubois2, that one of the principal reasons why so little confidence is placed in European doctors by Hindus is that, when administering their remedies, they recite neither mantrams nor prayers.
1. Rev. J. Cain, “Ind. Ant.," 1879, viii. 219.
2. 2. " Hindu Manners, Customs, and Ceremonies,' translation by H. K. Beauchamp, 1897, i. 143.
Yantrasara includes all cabalistic figures, the method of drawing and using them, and the objects to be attained by them. They are usually drawn on thin plates of gold, silver, copper, or lead. The efficacy of the figures, when drawn on gold, will, it is said, last for a century, while those drawn on the less precious metals will only be effective for six months or a year. Leaden plates are used when the yantrams are to be buried underground. The figures should possess the symbols of life, the eyes, tongue, eight cardinal points of the compass, and the five elements.
Prayogasara includes attraction or summoning by enchantment, driving out evil spirits, stupefaction, tempting or bringing a deity or evil spirits under control, and enticement for love, destruction, and the separation of friends.
The following are examples of cases in which a European, who, having been trained by a guru, was well versed in the theory and practice of native magic, was called in to administer to Natives, who were under the spell of devils. In the first case, a Telugu girl, about seventeen years old, had been for some time possessed by her sister's husband, under whose influence she used to eat abnormal quantities of food, tear off her clothes, and use indecent language in a voice other than her own. When the European arrived in her room, the devil, speaking through the girl, threatened to kill her, or the European, or the individual who put it into her. Under the spell of a suitable mantram, the devil departed, and its return was prevented by the wearing of a yantram. The other case was that of a boy, who was possessed by a devil. He was found, on the occasion of the visit of the European, lying down in the courtyard of his house, clad in an ample loin-cloth, and with a high temperature. Suddenly, through some invisible agency, a corner of his loin-cloth caught fire, which was stamped out. It then caught fire in another place, and eventually was riddled with burnt holes. This was the way in which the devil manifested its influence, and sometimes the boy got burnt. A mantram was recited, with the result that the burning ceased, and the fever abated. An impromptu yantram was made out of vibhuti (sacred ashes), and tied round the boy's neck. A religious mendicant came along a short time afterwards, and treated the boy for some ordinary sickness not connected with the devil, but the medicine did him no good. Finding the yantram round his neck, the mendicant asserted that it was the cause of his failure, and ordered its removal. This boy's relations refused to permit. But the holy man ripped it off. Whereon the boy instantly fell down comatose. In recording these two cases, I have reproduced my notes made on the occasion of an interview with the European.
Reference has been made (p. i8o) to mantrams carved on stone pillars. The story of a stone slab at Rayalcheruvu in the Anantapur district, known as the yantram rayi or magic stone, is narrated by Mr Francis3.
3. " Gazetteer of the Anantapur District," 1905, i. 198.
"The charm consists of eighty-one squares, nine each way, within a border of tridents. Each square contains one or more Telugu letters, but these will not combine into any intelligible words. At the bottom of the stone are cut a lingam and two pairs of foot -prints. Some twelve years ago, it is said, the village suffered severely from cholera for three years in succession, and a Telugu mason, a foreigner who was in the village at the time, cut this charm on the stone to stop the disease. It was set up with much ceremony. The mason went round the village at night without a stitch of clothing on him, and with the entrails of a sheep hanging round his neck. Many cocoanuts were offered to the stone, and many sheep slain before it. The mason tossed a lamb in the air, caught it as it fell, tore its throat open with his teeth, and then bounded forward, and spat out the blood. More sheep and cocoanuts were offered, and then the slab was set up. The mason naturally demanded a substantial return for the benefit he had conferred on the inhabitants. When cholera now breaks out, the villagers subscribe together, and do puja (worship) to the stone in accordance with directions left by him."
Of similar stones in the South Arcot district, Mr Francis writes as follows4: —
4. "Gazetteer of the South Arcot District," 1906, i. 93.
“In several villages in the west of the district are magical slabs, which are supposed to cure cholera and cattle disease. On them, surrounded by a border of trisulas (the trident of Siva) are cut a series of little squares, in each of which is some Tamil letter. The villagers usually explain their existence by saying that, some forty years ago, an ascetic, whom they call the sangili (chain) sanyasi from his predilection for wearing red-hot chains round his neck, came there when cholera and cattle disease were rife, and (for a consideration) put up these slabs to ward off his ills. He left directions that, when either disease reappeared, 108 pots of water were to be poured over the slab, 108 bilva (Ægle Marmelos) leaves tied to it and so on, and that men and animals were then to walk through the water which had been poured over it."
Mr Francis writes further5 that "in many places, stone slabs may be seen set up in the outskirts of the villages, on what are said to be the old boundaries. These are thought to be able to ward off sickness, and other harm which threatens to enter the place, and are revered accordingly. Some are quite blank, others have letters cut on them, while others again bear the rude outline of a deity, and are accordingly given such names as Pidari or Ellai Amman (the goddess of the boundary). To these last, periodical worship is often performed, but, in the case of the others, the attentions of the villagers are confined to an annual ceremony, whereat cocoanuts are broken, camphor is burnt, and a light is placed on the stone."
5. " Gazetteer of the South Arcot District," 1906, i. 92-3.
It was noted by Lieutenant R. F. Burton6 that, in some hamlets, the Kotas of the Nllgiris have set up curiously carved stones, which they consider sacred, and attribute to them the power of curing diseases, if the member affected is rubbed against them. At crossroads in Bellary, odd geometric patterns may sometimes be noticed. These are put there at night by people suffering from disease, in the hope that the affliction will pass to the person who first treads on the charm7.
6. " Goa and the Blue Mountains," 1851, 339
7. " Gazetteer of the Bellary District,' 1904, i. 60.
As examples of yantrams, the following, selected from a very large repertoire, may be cited: —
Ganapathi yantram should be drawn on metal, and worship performed. It is then enclosed in a metal cylinder, and tied by a thread round the neck of females, or the waist or arm of men. It will cure disease, conquer an enemy, or entice any one. If the sacred fire is kept up while the formula is being repeated, and dry cocoanut, plantain fruits, money, ghi (clarified butter), and sweet bread put into it, the owner will be blessed with wealth and prosperity.
Bhadrakali yantram. The figure is drawn on the floor with flour or rice, turmeric, charcoal powder, and leaves of the castor-oil plant. If the deity is worshipped at night, it will lead to the acquisition of knowledge, strength, freedom from disease and impending calamities, wealth, and prosperity. If puja (worship) is celebrated by a mantravadi for twelve days with the face turned towards the south, it will produce the death of an enemy.
Sugarcane yantram, when drawn on a sheet of metal, and enclosed in a cylinder worn round the neck or on the arm, will relieve those who are ill or possessed by devils. If it is drawn on butter spread on a plantain leaf, puja performed, and the butter given to a barren woman, there will be no danger to herself or her future issue.
Suthakadosham yantram. Children under one year of age are supposed to be affected, if they are seen by a woman on the fourth day of menstruation with wet clothes and empty stomach after bathing. She may not even see her own baby or husband till she has changed her clothes, and taken food. To avert the evil, a waistband, made of the bark of the arka plant (Calotropis gigantea), is worn.
Sarabha yantram will cure persons suffering from epilepsy or intermittent fever.
Subramaniya yantram, if regularly worshipped, will expel devils from those attacked by them, and from houses.
Hanuman yantram will protect those who are out on dark nights, and produce bodily strength and wisdom. If drawn on a sheet of gold, and puja is performed to it every Saturday, it will bring prosperity, and help pregnant women during their confinement.
Pakshi yantram, if drawn on a sheet of lead, and kept in several places round a house, will keep snakes away.
Vatugabhairava yantram cures disease in those who are under eighteen years old, and drives out all kinds of evil spirits. If ashes are smeared on the face, and the mantram is uttered sixteen times, it will be very effective.
Varati yantram is very useful to anyone who wishes to kill an enemy. He should sit in a retired spot at night, with his face turned towards the south, and repeat the mantram a thousand times for twenty days.
Prathingiri yantram is drawn on a sheet of lead, and buried at a spot over which a person, whose death is desired, will pass. It is then placed on the floor, on which the sacred fire is kindled. The mantram should be repeated eight hundred times for seven nights.
Chamundi and Raktha Chamundi yantrams are used for causing the death of enemies. The mantram should be written on a sheet of lead, and puja, with the sacrifice of toddy and mutton, performed.
Asvaruda yantram enables a person wearing it to cover long distances on horseback, and he can make the most refractory horse amenable by tying it round its neck8.
8. F. Fawcett, Madras Museum Bull., 1901, iii., No. 3, 307.
An inhabitant of Malabar presented Mr Fawcett with a yantram against the evil eye, which, if whispered over a piece of string, and tied round any part of the body affected, would work an instantaneous cure. A Cheruman at Calicut, who was wearing on his loin-string a copper cylinder containing a brass strip with mantrams, sold it to me for a rupee with the assurance that it would protect me from devils.
To produce an ulcer, which will cause the death of an enemy in ninety days, a mantram is written on a piece of cadjan (palm leaf), enclosed in an egg with a small quantity of earth on which he has urinated, and buried in an anthill. A fowl is killed, and its blood and some toddy are poured over the egg. To cure fever, the formula is written with the finger in water contained in a basin, and the appropriate words are repeated while the water is being drunk.
By some Muhammadans, on festival days, the names of holy persons, together with their sayings, are written on mango or palmyra leaves in ink made of charred rice. When the ink is dry, the leaves are washed in water, which is drunk. This is supposed to cure people of many obstinate diseases. A European official was informed by a Native magistrate in the Vizagapatam district that, when he wanted to tear up some old abkari (liquor) licenses, a man implored him not to do so, as they had brought him life for a year, and were therefore worshipped. So the medicine was water, in which an old license had been dipped.
It is recorded by Mr Logan9 that “in 1877, a poor Mappilla (Muhammadan) women residing in one of the Laccadive islands was put upon her trial for witchcraft for importing into the island a betel leaf with a certain cabalistic and magical inscription on it; but it fortunately turned out for her that she had merely pounded it up, and rubbed it over her daughter's body to cure her of fits. Ibn Batuta (the Arab traveller who visited South India in the fourteenth century) wrote of a Malayali king who was converted to Islam by the leaf of 'the tree of testimony,' a tree of which it was related to him that it does not generally drop its leaves, but at the season of autumn in every year one of them changes its colour, first to yellow, then to red, and that upon this is written ‘There is no God but God : Muhammad is the Prophet of God,' and that this leaf alone falls. The falling of the leaf was an annual event, and the leaf itself was efficacious in curing diseases. Nowadays the belief among the Muhammadans still subsists, that the leaves of a certain tree growing on Mount Deli (in Malabar) possess similar virtues."
9. ''Malabar," 1887, i. 175.
Metal bowls, engraved both on the outside and inside with texts from the Quran, are taken or sent by Muhammadans to Mecca, where they are placed at the head of the tomb of the Prophet, and blessed. They are highly valued, and used in cases of sickness for the administration of medicine or nourishment.
It is on record that, at the battle of Seringapatam in 1799, an officer took from off the right arm of the dead body of Tipu Sultan a talisman, which contained sewed up in pieces of fine flowered silk a charm made of a brittle metallic substance of the colour of silver, and some manuscripts in magic Arabic and Persian characters. A notorious Mappilla dacoit, who was shot by the police a few years ago, and whom his coreligionists tried to make a saint, was at the time of his death wearing five copper and silver charm cylinders round his waist.
It is noted by Mr Logan10 that "when affliction comes, the animal affected is served with grass, fruit, etc., on which charms have been whispered, or is bathed in charmed water, or has a talisman in the shape of a palm leaf inscribed with charms rolled up and tied round its neck."
10. "Malabar," 1887, i. 175.
The tooth or claw of a tiger, worn on the neck or round the loins, is considered effective against evil influences. A tiger's whiskers are held to be a most potent poison when chopped up; so, when a tiger is killed, the whiskers are immediately singed off11. They are represented in stuffed heads by the delicate bristles of the porcupine. When a Savara of Ganjam is killed by a tiger, the Kudang goes through a performance on the following Sunday to prevent a similar fate overtaking others. Two pigs are killed outside the village, and every man, woman, and child is made to walk over the ground whereon the pig's blood is spilled, and the Kudang gives to each individual some kind of tiger medicine as a charm12.
11. M. J. Walhouse, "Ind. Ant.," 1876, v. 23.
12. F. Fawcett, Journ. Anthrop. Soc, Bombay, i. 260.
In Malabar the tusks of a wild boar are, in cases of protracted labour, pressed over the abdomen of the woman from above downwards.
The hair of the bear is enclosed in a casket or cylinder, and tied to the girdle round the loins of male children, and in strings round the neck of female children, as a remedy against fever, and to prevent involuntary discharge of urine during sleep13.
13. "Manual of the Kurnool District," 1886, 116.
One of the occupations of the Kuruvikkarans (birdcatchers and beggars) is the manufacture and sale of spurious jackal horns, known as narikompu. To catch the jackals they make an enclosure of a net, inside which a man seats himself armed with a big stick. He then proceeds to execute a perfect imitation of the jackal's cry, on hearing which the jackals come running to see what is the matter, and are beaten down. Sometimes the entire jackal's head is sold, skin and all. The process of manufacture of the horn is as follows. After the brain has been removed, the skin is stripped off a limited area of the skull, and the bone at the place of junction of the sagittal and lambdoid sutures above the occipital foramen is filed away, so that only a point, like a bony outgrowth, is left. The skin is then brought back, and pressed over the little horn which pierces it. The horn is also said to be made out of the molar tooth of a dog or jackal, introduced through a small hole in a piece of jackal's skin, round which a little blood or turmeric paste is smeared to make it look more natural. In most cases only the horn, with a small piece of skull and skin, is sold. Sometimes, instead of the skin from the part where the horn is made, a piece of skin is taken from the snout, where the long black hairs are. The horn then appears surrounded by long black bushy hairs. The Kuruvikkarans explain that, when they see a jackal with such long hairs on the top of its head, they know that it possesses a horn. A horn-vendor, whom I interviewed, assured me that the possessor of a horn is a small jackal, which comes out of its hiding-place on full-moon nights to drink the dew. According to another version, the horn is only possessed by the leader of a pack of jackals. A nomad Dommara, whom I saw at Coimbatore, carried a bag containing a miscellaneous assortment of rubbish used in his capacity as medicine-man and snake-charmer, which included a collection of spurious jackal horns. To prove the genuineness thereof, he showed me not only the horn, but also the feet with nails complete, as evidence that the horns were not made from the nails. Being charged with manufacturing the horns, he swore, by placing his hand on the head of a child who accompanied him, that he was not deceiving me. The largest of the horns in his bag, he gravely assured me, was from a jackal which he dug out of its hole on the last new-moon night. The Sinhalese and Tamils regard the horn as a talisman, and believe that its fortunate possessor can command the realisation of every wish. Those who have jewels to conceal rest in perfect security if, along with them, they can deposit a narikompu14. The ayah (nurse) of a friend who possessed such a talisman, remarked: ''Master going into any law-court, sure to win the case." Two horns, which I possessed, were stolen from my study table, to bring luck to some Tamil member of my establishment.
14. Tennent, "Ceylon," 1860, i. 145.
The nasal bone of a jackal or fox, enclosed in a receptacle, is believed to ward off many evils. The nose of a hyæna is also held in great estimation as a charm. When a hyæna is killed, the end of the nose is cut off and dried, and is supposed to be a sovereign charm in cases of difficult labour, indigestion, and boils, if applied to the nostrils of the patient15.
15. "Manual of the Cuddapah District," 1875, 292.
In Malabar, silver finger-rings with a piece of bristle from the tail of an elephant set in them, are worn as a charm.
In the Vizagapatam district, a most efficacious charm, supposed to render a man invulnerable to every ill, consists of a small piece of black wool, given to everyone who takes a black sheep for the priest of a temple on the Bopelli ghat. Another much valued charm in this district is called chemru mausa, which is described as being a small musk-rat only an inch and a half long, very scarce, and only found on rocky hills. It is worn in a gold or silver receptacle on the arm, and is supposed to render a man invulnerable against sword cuts and musket shots. In like manner, a mixture of gingelly (Sesamum) oil, the red dye which women use, and other ingredients, put into a small piece of hollow bamboo, and worn on the arm, are believed to protect a man against being shot with a bow or musket.
Many of the Kadir infants on the Anaimalai hills have tied round the neck a charm, which takes the form of a dried tortoise foot; the tooth of a crocodile mimicking a phallus, and supposed to ward off attacks from a mythical water elephant which lives in the mountain streams, or wooden imitations of tiger's claws.
The joints taken from the tail of the black scorpion are believed to ward off illness, if children wear them on their waist-thread16.
16. Madras Mail, 26th January, 1906.
Of charms worn by the Nambutiri Brahmans in Malabar, the following are recorded by Mr F. Fawcett17: —
17. Madras Museum Bull., 1900, iii., No. i, 41.
Ring, in which an anavarahan coin is set. This is a very lucky ring. Spurious imitations are often set in rings, but it is the genuine one which brings good luck.
Gold case fastened to a string round the waist, and containing a figure written on a silver plate. The man had worn it for three years, having put it on because he used to feel hot during the cold season, and attributed his condition to the influence of an evil spirit.
Two cylinders, one of gold, the other of silver. In each were some chakrams (Travancore silver coins) and a gold leaf, on which a charm was inscribed. One of the charms was prepared by a Mappilla, the other by a Nambutiri.
In connection with the wearing of charms by the Nayars of Malabar, Mr Fawcett writes18 as follows: —
18. Madras Museum Bull., 1901, iii., No. 3, 195-6.
"One individual wore two rings made of an amalgamation of gold and copper, called tambak on the ring-finger of the right hand for good luck. Tambak rings are lucky rings. It is a good thing to wash the face with the hand, on which is a tambak ring. Another wore two rings of the pattern called triloham on the ring-finger of each hand. Each of these was made during an eclipse. An Akattu Charna Nayar wore an amulet, to keep off the spirit of a Brahman who died by drowning."
As examples of charms worn by Bedar men in the Canarese country, the following may be cited: —
String tied round right arm with metal box attached to it, to drive away devils. String round ankle for the same purpose.
Necklet of coral and ivory beads worn as a vow to the goddess Huligamma.
Necklets of ivory beads, and a gold disc with the Vishnupad (feet of Vishnu) engraved on it, purchased from a religious mendicant to bring good luck.
In an account of the Mandulas (medicine-men) of the Telugu country. Bishop Whitehead records19 that a baby three days old had an anklet made of its mother's hair tied round the right ankle, to keep off the evil eye. The mother, too, had round her ankle a similar anklet, which she put on before her confinement. One of the men was also wearing an anklet of hair, as he had recently been bitten by a snake.
19. Madras Dioc. Mag., July, 1905.
A metal charm-cylinder is sometimes attached to the sacred thread, which is worn by Devangas (a weaving caste), who claim to be Devanga Brahmans.
I have seen the child of a Kuruba (Canarese agriculturist) priest wearing a necklet with a copper ornament engraved with cabalistic devices, a silver plate bearing a figure of Hanuman (the monkey god), as all his other children had died, and a piece of pierced pottery from the burial-ground, to ward off whooping-cough. The Rev. S. Nicholson informs me that, if a Mala (Telugu Pariah) child grinds its teeth in its sleep, a piece of a broken pot is brought from a graveyard, and, after being smoked with incense, tied round the child's neck with a piece of string rubbed with turmeric, or with a piece of gut. In the Tamil country, the bark of a tree on which any one has hanged himself, a cord with twenty-one knots, and the earth from a child's grave, are hung round the neck, or tied to the waist-string as talismans.
A Kota woman at Kotagiri on the Nilgiris, was wearing a glass necklet, with a charm pendant from it, consisting of the root of some tree rolled up in a ball of cloth. She put it on when her baby was quite young, to protect it against devils. The baby had a similar charm on its neck. By some jungle Chenchus pieces of stick strung on a thread, or seeds of Givotia rottleriformis are worn, to ward off various forms of pain.
Small flat plates of copper, called takudu, are frequently worn by Tamil Paraiyan children. One side is divided into sixteen squares in which what look like the Telugu numerals nine, ten, eleven and twelve, are engraved. On the other side a circle is drawn, which is divided into eight segments, in each of which a Telugu letter is inscribed. This charm is supposed to protect the wearer from harm coming from any of the eight cardinal points of the Indian compass. Charms, in the form of metal cylinders, are worn for the same purpose by adults and children, and procured from some exorcist20.
20. Rev. A. C Clayton, Madras Museum Bull., 1906, v., No. 2, 86.
By some Medaras of the Telugu country, a figure of Hanuman (the monkey god) is engraved on a thin plate of gold with cabalistic letters inscribed on it, and worn on the neck. On eclipse days, a piece of root of the arka plant (Calotropis gigantea) is worn on the neck of females, and on the waist or arm of males.
In a note regarding moon-shaped amulets against the evil eye described by Professor Tylor21, Mr Walhouse mentions that crescents, made of thin plates of metal, sometimes gold, are worn by children on the west coast, suspended upon the breast with the point upwards. Neck ornaments in the form of a crescent are commonly worn by Muhammadan children.
21. Journ. Anthrop. Inst.., 1890, xix., 56.
Concerning the use of coins as charms, Mr V. Devasahayam writes as follows22: —
22. Madras Christian Coll. Mag.., January, 1907, vi. No. 7.
''Seeing a woman with several old coins strung on the tali (marriage badge) string round the neck, I offered to buy them of her for a good price, but got only a torrent of abuse, since she, in her ignorance and superstition, supposed that Lutchmi, the goddess of fortune, would forsake her if she parted with the coins. In Tranquebar there lives a head mason, who always carries in his betel-nut bag a copper coin bearing the inscription of Koneri Rayan, one of the later Pandyans or early Nayakars. The man would on no account part with this coin, for he believes that his success in business has improved since he came into possession of it, and that it will continue as long as he carries it with him. He says that he shall bequeath it to his family at his death, to hold in veneration almost amounting to worship. For dog bite, some Natives tie an old copper coin with a bandage over the wound, and wear it till it has healed. Others rub the coin against a copper vessel, using a few drops of the juice of the datura plant in order to form a paste, and apply the paste to the wound. Whooping-cough is believed to be caused by the displeasure of Bhairava, the dog-god, and the whooping is regarded as a sort of barking, under possession by the god. To appease his anger, an old coin is hammered into a flat round disc, a rude figure of a dog engraved on it, and suspended as a charm to the sick child's waist. In the treatment of skin disease, dyspepsia, and leprosy, old copper coins are ground to dust, heated till the dust is like ashes, and administered medicinally. Soon after a Sonaga woman is delivered of a child, she is made to swallow a small old copper coin together with some water. Natives believe that, during delivery, the whole system is so irritated that strong counter - irritants must be administered to prevent tetanus."
Mercury cups, said to be made of an amalgam of mercury and tin, are stated to possess the property of allowing mercury, when poured in, to ooze through them, and pass out. Milk preserved in such a cup for a few hours is said to turn into hard curd. Milk kept overnight in one of these cups, or an amulet made from the cup materials, are believed to exercise a most potent influence over the male fertilising element. Such an amulet, applied to the neck of a chorister, is said to have increased his vocal powers three or four times. Piles, and other bodily ailments, are believed to be cured by wearing rings, in the composition of which mercury is one of the ingredients.
In a case which was tried before a magistrate in Travancore, the accused, in order to win his case, had concealed in his under-cloth some yantrams, which had been prepared for him by a sorcerer. The plaintiff, having got scent of this, gave information, and the charms were handed over to the magistrate. It is recorded in the Vigada Thuthan that, when a woman who gets tired of her husband sues him for maintenance, she wears charm bundles (manthira kattu), so that his evidence may be confused and incoherent. Such charms are said to be concealed in the hair of the head or in the headdress, and generally to consist of a lime fruit, which has been charmed by magical spells in a graveyard, after the sorcerer has performed certain ceremonies to guard him against devils catching him during the incantations. It is said that, in former times, if the chastity of a Tamil Paraiyan bride was suspected, she had to establish her virtue by picking some cakes out of boiling oil, and then husking some rice with her bare hand. Her hair, nails, and clothes were examined, to see that she had no charm concealed about her23.
23. Rev. A. C. Clayton, Madras Museum Bull., 1906, v., No. 2, 66.
A friend once dismissed a servant for cheating and lying. A short time afterwards, he found nailed to a teapoy a paper scroll containing a jasmine flower tied up with coloured threads. On the scroll were inscribed in Tamil the mystic syllable, "Om," and "Nama Siva R. U. Masthan Sahibu avergal padame thunai" (I seek for help at the feet of Masthan sahib). Masthan is a Muhammad saint. The servant of a European police officer, who had been caught out in all sorts of malpractices, tried to win back the good-will of his master by means of a charm, for which he paid fifteen rupees, placed under his master's pillow.
It is recorded by Marco Polo24 that South Indian pearl divers25 call in the services of an Abraiman (Brahman?) to charm the sharks. “And their charm holds good for that day only; for at night they dissolve the charm, so that the fishes can work mischief at their will." The prospects of a pearl fishery, when success seems certain, may be abruptly ruined by accidents from sharks, of which the divers have a superstitious, but not altogether unreasonable, dread. Before the fishery of 1889, at which I was present, the divers of Kilakarai on the Madura coast, as a preliminary to starting for the scene thereof, performed a ceremony, at which prayers were offered for protection against the attacks of sharks.
24. "The Book of Ser Marco Polo, the Venetian," translation, 3rd ed., 1903, ii. 332.
25. The pearl fisheries are conducted from Tuticorin in the Tinnevelly district.
"The only precaution,” Tennent writes26, "to which the Ceylon diver devotedly resorts is the mystic ceremony of the shark-charmer, whose power is believed to be hereditary. Nor is it supposed that the value of his incantations is at all dependent upon the religious faith professed by the operator, for the present head of the family happens to be a Roman Catholic. At the time of our visit, this mysterious functionary was ill, and unable to attend; but he sent an accredited substitute, who assured me that, although he was himself ignorant of the grand and mystic secret, the fact of his presence, as a representative of the higher authority, would be recognised and respected by the sharks."
26. "Ceylon," 1860, ii. 564-5
At the Tuticorin fishery in 1890, a scare was produced by a diver being bitten by a shark, but subsided as soon as a "wise woman" was employed. Her powers do not, however, seem to have been great, for more cases of shark-bite occurred, and the fishery had to be abandoned at a time when favourable breezes, clear water, plenty of boats, and oysters selling at a good price, indicated a successful financial result.
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: