The Thuggee, founded sometime around the 1300â€™s named after the Hindi word for thief or murderer, also known as a gang of professional assassins. The Thugs traveled in groups across India for several hundred years. They were devoted to Kali, a Hindu goddess associated with violence, sexuality, and more recently, empowerment According to some estimates the Thugs murdered a million people between 1740 and 1840. The Thugs would join travelers and gain their confidence. This would allow them to then surprise their victims by pulling garrote wire or a small knife made of either copper or iron.
The killings were performed in honor of the Hindu goddess Kali and were very ritualistic. They would then rob their victims of valuables and bury their bodies. Recorded mention of the Thugs as a special band or fraternity, rather than as ordinary thieves, is found in the following passage of Ziau-d din Barni’s History of Firoz Shah (written about 1356): In the reign of that sultan (about 1290), some Thugs were taken in Delhi, and a man belonging to that fraternity was the means of about a thousand being captured. But not one of these did the sultan have killed. He gave orders for them to be put into boats and to be conveyed into the lower country, to the neighborhood of Lakhnauti, where they were to be set free. The Thugs would thus have to dwell about Lakhnauti and would not trouble the neighborhood of Delhi any more.â€”Sir HM Elliot, History of India, iii. 141. The story of Thuggee was popularized by books such as Philip Meadows Taylor’s novel Confessions of a Thug, 1839. In his 1897 travelogue Following the Equator Mark Twain devotes two chapters to the Thugs and how they operated. Membership was sometimes passed from father to son, in what would now be termed a criminal underclass. The leaders of long-established Thug groups tended to come from these hereditary lines, as the gang developed into a criminal ‘tribe’. Other men would get to know a Thug band and would hope to be recruited, in the way that one might aspire to join an elite regiment or university: they were the best operators in “the business” and, like a regiment or college fraternity, once in the group, there was a camaraderie of numbers and shared experience. The robbery became less a question of solving problems of poverty and more a profession, like soldiering. Sometimes the young children of the travelers would be spared and groomed to become Thugs themselves. A fourth way of becoming a Thug was by training with a guru, similar to an apprenticeship for a guild or profession, during which the candidate could be assessed for reliability, courage, discretion and discipline.