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Who Were the Thugs of India?


Thugs could be from any religion or caste, and were famed for strangling their victims.

India's Thugs or Thuggee are the source of the English word "thug," meaning a violent criminal.

via Wikipedia

Thugs or Thuggee: Organized gangs of criminals in India who preyed upon trade caravans. They would strangle and then rob travelers, burying the bodies of their victims beside the road.

The Thugs may have come into existence as early as the 13th century CE. Although members of the group came from both Hindu and Muslim backgrounds, and all different castes, they shared in worship of the Hindu goddess of destruction, Kali. (Whether or not they had religious motivations for their actions is a subject of on-going debate, but certainly they performed rituals related to "The Dark One.")

British colonial officials during the British Raj in India were horrified by the depredations of the Thugs, and set out to suppress the murderous cult. They set up a special police force specifically to hunt the Thugs, and publicized any information about Thuggee movements so that travelers would not be taken unawares. Thousands of accused Thugs were arrested and executed or sent into exile. By 1870, most people believe that the Thugs had been destroyed.

The word "Thug" comes from the Urdu thagi, which is taken from the Sanskrit sthaga meaning "scoundrel" or "cunning one." In southern India, the Thugs are also known as Phansigar, signifying "strangler" or "user of a garotte." According to legend, many Thugs would use their head-scarves to strangle their victims.

Pronunciation: thuhg
Also Known As: Phansigar
Alternate Spellings: Thag, Thuggee
"The leader of a Thuggee group was called a jemadar, a term that means essentially 'boss-man.'"
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