The term Thug life was glorified by one of the greatest rappers ever – Tupac Shakur. It is an acronym for “The Hate You Give Little Infants Effs Everyone.” While you might see a lot of guns and brutal language in rap videos talking about Thug Life, the idea of a thug is not one who is a criminal. It’s the kind of life lead by a person, who has nothing but still tries to succeed. Which means an individual under hard circumstances needs to hustle to reach his goals. Often we see contradictions between the east and the west, one such contradiction can be unearthed if we dig deep into the origins of the word “Thug.”
The term Thug has its origins from 13th century India by means of the Sanskrit word “Thuggee.” These Thuggees were members of an organized gang who would loot and murder their victims. During the 13th century and all through the 19th, it was very difficult to get from one place to another in rural India. Merchants and farmers had to plan their visits and would hit the road on foot for months to reach their destination. Naturally, these businessmen of the ancient times preferred to travel in groups as moving from one city to another required them to cut through forested and desolate areas. The thugs would join these groups by posing as travelers. In a gang of thugs, each thug had a certain role in the whole play of looting innocent travelers. Usually, one would distract the victim, while the other would choke the victim using a scarf which was a piece of cloth called the rumaal. The thugs ensured not a single drop of blood was spilled and then would bury the bodies of their victims and cover it with a rock or bushes. This ensured no alarms were raised for the next set of travelers and everyone trusted the thuggee route to be safe.
The story of Kali and Raktabija:
The piece of cloth used to suffocate the travelers was usually yellow in color. This is symbolic towards the Hindu goddess Kali. The goddess is often seen wearing a garland of human heads around her neck and is equipped with destructive weapons. Once Kali was in battle against a monster named Raktabija, whose name literally means “seed of blood.” While Kali was very powerful, for each time she tried to slay the monster with her sword, every drop of blood that touched the ground gave rise to a new monster. There are 2 versions of the story:
- Since Kali couldn’t keep up with the rising number of monsters, she gave rise to 2 other beings and gave them a piece of cloth torn from her skirt. While one of them distracted the demon, the other strangled him to death
- Another version suggests, Kali extended her tongue to the ground and ensured all the blood fell on her tongue. This way, the demon Raktabija could not duplicate himself.
The thuggee consider themselves as sons of Kali. Drawing inspiration from such myths, the thugs used a yellow cloth to strangle their victims and ensured not a single drop of blood was spilled. Since the murder weapon was nothing but a piece of cloth, it was difficult to trace thugs. Even though some gave it the name of following tradition, many thugs who were captured were Muslims.
William Henry Sleeman’s mission:
India was a British colony for over 200 years and gained its independence in 1947. Even though the British empire had laid down a lot of laws in India for their own prosperity, there were many untapped areas that was far from the reach of civilization. Such places were ideal for organized gangs to conduct their operations of loot and murder. During the 1830s1 William Henry Sleeman, who was a British officer in India captured a thug called Feringhea. This thug confessed killing over 100 people and directed Sleeman to the bodies of those who he murdered. Citing the growing unlawfulness, Sleeman laid down strict rules and started covert campaigns to hack down the criminals. Most thugs who were captured were sentenced to death by hanging or imprisoned for life. Another thuggee by the name of Bahram, confessed of strangling 931 travelers with his yellow turban. With the continuous efforts put by the British government to suppress these traveler thieves, the thug cult was eradicated before the dawn of the 19th century.
According to the book – Colonial India and the Making of Empire Cinema, this cult is said to have murdered over a million people throughout its 450 years of recorded existence. Who knows, this might just be the reason why 2pac wore a bandana on his head. How ironic, that the poor farmers traveling days to earn a living were living the actual thug life and were put to sleep by thugs. Know the difference!