Thug: noun – A violent person, especially a criminal.
Here’s a fascinating little piece of information you probably didn’t know about. The word thug actually has its roots in India, and derives from the leader of a notorious cult of murderers who were active between the 18th and 19th century. They performed ritual killings by strangulation using a kamarband, are known to have murdered into the thousands and the leader of this Thuggee cult was known as Thug Behram.
The English word ‘Thug’ is actually borrowed from the Hindi word ‘Thag’. The term ‘Thuggee’ means a deceitful crime such as murder or robbery.
The Thuggee cult functioned around Oudh in northern India, and their leader, Thug Behram, also known as ‘The King of the Thugs’, was also one of the most prolific serial killers ever, with a body count estimate of 931 people.
As with the rest of the cult, Behram was an ardent worshipper of Kali, the goddess of death and destruction. According to some, the Thuggees operated from the 1300s, but Behram was their last, most well-known and most feared leader. He believed that it was his religious duty to murder people as it would prevent a 1000-year delay in the arrival of Kali.
His modus operandi involved latching onto unsuspecting travelling groups, then using his kamarband as a rumaal to strangle his victims before robbing them. The large medallion sewn into this would put added pressure on the Adam’s apple during the strangling. Following this, he would bury the victims and proceed to do a ritualistic dance on their graves!
Thug Behram is said to have murdered 931 people, although he only admitted to actually killing 125 people, and being an accomplice to around 150 more strangulations.
It’s hard to distinguish myth from fact, but whether it was 900 or 100, that’s still a frightful number of murders by one single person. The mysterious disappearances that kept getting reported finally received it’s due attention when British officers started getting killed as well. The British took over the case from the Indian Government, which is rumoured to have been complicit in the protection of the Thuggee cult, and the notorious Thug Behram was finally captured.
The Thuggee cult was brought down by the British, who had set up a dedicated Thuggee and Dacoity Office in India. In 1840, Thug Behram, 75, was caught and executed by hanging, leaving a legacy of death and fear behind. His Canova medallion, used in at least 65 killings, is preserved in a private museum today. The morbidly fascinating thing about this whole case is still the fact that Behram, along with his cult mates, were not killing to benefit monetarily or for pleasure, but out of a sense of religious righteousness which they thought was saving mankind and was intended for the greater good.