Tuesday, October 21, 2014

An Introduction to the Demons According to Indian Culture

There is a reason I chose Indian and not Hinduism as an appropriate title. When I say Indian, it gives me the freedom to talk about demonic myths of numerous varieties. I can speak of spirits that might be not only demons classified as Vetalas, Bhutas, Pishachas, Rakshasas, Asuras etc., but also Prets, Betaals, Dainees, and chudels. These too are often also taken as demons. Many urban legends are inspired by these demons.

Demons in Hindu Mythology: If I have to do a random survey asking questions about hindu mythology, most of them might very well give me correct answers which is good but if ask the source of their knowledge it would definitely be movies and televisions. There will be few like me whose source might be internet. If I ask what is the difference between a Rakshasa and Asura or difference between Daitya or Danava? Most of them will say that they are one and the same, just known to us by different names. Heck! you too are thinking that what's the difference? they are same.

I wouldn't say you're completely wrong, they all are bad news. Our Vedics and Puranic stories have explained each of these demons quiet elaborately. The problem is that there is no one book of Veda or a Purana, there are many and Ramayana and Mahabharata goes without saying are epics. These holy pieces of literature describe rakshasa, asura, daitya, danava etc., very differently.

Rakshasa: These are usually depicted as the ones with a huge body structure. Red eyes, fangs protruding down from the top of the mouth, big mustached face as well as sharp, claw-like fingernails. Most renowned rakshasas from the mythologicals scripts are Ravana, often known as Rakshasraj (King of rakshasas). Kumbhakarna, Bakasur, Jatasur, Kirmira, Ghatotkacha, Hidimba Hidimb.

Asura: Asura according to what I understand is rather a concept than a being. Different puranas will tell different stories of their origins, but so far as my idea of asura goes, it is anybody who has the following negative qualities such as pride, arrogance, conceit, anger, harshness, and ignorance instilled in themselves is an Asura. In some texts Asura is also synonymous with "powerful" or "mighty". So even vedic gods and deities are too described as asuras.

Daitya and Danava: During my research one name kept popping up everywhere "Kashyapa". The story of Kashyapa was different in different books though. Kashyapa is portrayed as the father of both, devas and asuras. In one of the Puranas, Kashyapa was married to many women among them were Aditi, Diti and Danu and his sons with Danu were Danavas, with Diti are the Daityas and with Aditi are the Adityas, who are considered Devas and are also called Suras.

Pishach: Pishach are most often taken as the demonic ghost in hindu mythology. Some urban legends depict them as some demonic entity that can be summoned by mantras and tantras to do desired tasks of the summoner. Pishach are also known to have possessed human beings and alter their thoughts, hurt them in certain manner and the victims are afflicted with a variety of maladies, diseases and abnormalities like insanity.  Tantriks chanting mantras are supposed to cure such afflicted persons, and drive away the Pishach which may be possessing that particular human being. You may find this very similar to the christian method of exorcism.

Preta or Pretatma: Preta are nothing but the soul or ghost of the departed. According to Indian believes when a person dies their soul merges itself with the Paramatma (the Ultimate soul). But if the soul is unsatisfied in any way it either chooses the option of rebirth or keep wandering in the afterlife (bhatakti Atma). This atma or Preta or pretatma in this condition may find means to communicate with the living world and try to fulfill their unfinished business and in process may or may not hurt people in the living world. Not very different from the general concept of ghost folklore around the world.

Betaal: A ghostly character, most of the time to be found as a soul of old man. White long hair, white eyes, usually naked, is the generalized description of a Betaal. Betaals are found hanging upside down on old banyan trees. The most famous story in Indian folklore is the Story of "Vikram and Betaal".

Dainee or Chudel: Indian ghost stories cannot be complete without a Dainee or chudel as some may say. Chudel is a female ghost often described as a hideous creature with long sagging breasts and unkempt hair. Often, her feet are backward; her toes in the back and heel in the front. Their signature costume is a white saree. Her victims are always men. A chudel has the power of shape-shifting. She assumes the form of a beautiful young woman, with her head covered and carrying a lantern to charm any man and ultimately kill them.

If you come up with for name and types of Indian ghost please mention them in the comments.