20 May 2009

JRS: The Bs

From Balmeek to Bote hona. Some of the more noteworthy terms:

Balmeek is the name of an author who wrote three versions of the story of Sita and Rama. He's included here because the Thuggee allegedly claim him as one of their own. A brief biography follows, detailing how Balmeek was a Brahmin who joined a gang of Bheel robbers after losing his parents. The gang, armed with bows and arrows, would rob and kill travelers. Balmeek was eventually redeemed by an encounter with seven celebrated saints and went on to write mystic texts.

A Google search suggests that Balmeek is an older transliteration of Valmik or Valmiki, aka Bhagwan Valmik, who wrote the Ramayana. There is one sect of Hindus, named Valmikis, who consider Bhagwan Valmik to have been a God and find references to the legend of his brigand past scandalous.*

One question that's intrigued me as I've learned more about the Thuggee is the extent to which Thuggee, as described by British colonial sources, was actually a real phenomena. That there was banditry in pre-British India is inarguable, but to what the extent to which Thuggee represented the sort of singular occupation that required a Draconian response is unclear. What's odd about this entry is that there is no indication that Balmeek (or Valmeek) actually engaged in Thuggee as we understood it. (Or if there is, Sleeman doesn't hint at it.) Neither strangulation, deceiving travelers nor Devi worship are ever mentioned. If the Thuggee themselves were willing to swell their ranks by adopting what appears to have been a run-of-the-mill bandit (albeit a famous one) into their ranks, how reliable are any accounts of their exploits?

Then again, the author of the Ramayana as a Thug might make for a nicely preposterous rewriting of history in a Da Vinci Code-style thriller centered around Thuggee.

Buk,h - Meaning "come" and used by Thugs to get each other to assemble after having separated. Apparently repeated in threes: Buk,h, buk,h, buk,h. A bunch of feared murderers making chicken noises?

Banee signifies blood. That's about it. The noteworthy thing about this entry is that it made me wonder why more references to blood had not appeared. Considering that the use of strangulation is sometimes attributed to Thuggee's mythic origins in the destruction of Raktabija, wouldn't Thugs have more superstitions about blood? And if so, where is the corresponding vocabulary?

Bunij refers both to loot and to potential victims. Does the conflation of the potential victim with the monetary gain to be derived from his destruction strengthen the case for economic motives? I'd say yes, but it's probably not a definite.

Bhurtotee is the rank of strangler. Relates a story, quoted often, about a Thug leader who claims never to have killed anyone because, "Is any man killed from man's killing? Is it not the hand of God that kills him? And are we not instruments in the hand of God?"

Bora is another term that Thugs have for themselves, though apparently not used by the same clans that use Aulea.

Burka signifies a leader of Thugs, though apparently it can be used to denote any Thug of rank. The Ramaseeana goes on to state that Burkas are considered of particular threat, because a Burka left to his own devices could create a new gang. This is another term that doesn't seem to have made it into any of the fiction, which tends to use the term "jemadar" for the leader of a Thuggee gang. (Jemadar is I believe a more generic term that was used to denote officers in the Anglo-Indian Armed Forces.)

Bisul is someone whose clothing makes them a poor target for strangulation, but can also denote someone who was handled badly in the strangulation or a Thug who has blood or other signs on him that might draw suspicion. Similarly, bisul purna means to be handled badly during a strangulation.

Bote hone means to become inveigled or to fall into the snares of a Thug.

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