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Avittam. Статья из «Призраки, чудовища и демоны Индии»


Avittam is the Tamil name for the star Dhanishta, or δ-Delphini as it is known by Western astronomers. This star gives its name to the 23rd of the 27 lunar mansions in the Hindu astrological calendar. One night every month, the moon is in Avittam.

This star manifests as a grotesque demon that lives in the cremation ground. If someone dies on the night of Avittam, then the demon visits the house of the deceased every month on the same night for the next few years. The relatives of the deceased are supposed to leave offerings for it on the thinnai, a raised platform outside the house: a little water in a snail shell, a handful of rice. They are also supposed to spread some sand on the thinnai so that Avittam can lie down for a while after it eats.

Failure to propitiate the demon in this manner can have dire consequences. When Avittam is angry, it grows in stature until its head touches the sky. Then, at midnight, the humongous monster stomps out of the cremation ground. In this form, it has huge bells hanging from it that clang when it walks, and smaller Rakshasas that ride along on its shoulders and limbs.

In its rage, Avittam is capable of destroying the house of the family that neglected to feed it, or even leveling the whole village with fire.

Ref: 291. Rajanarayanan, Ki. (2008). Where are You Going, You Monkeys?: Folktales from Tamil Nadu (Pritham K. Chakravarthy, Trans.). Blaft Publications Limited; 292. Rajanarayanan, Ki. (2016). நாட்டுப்புறக் கதைக் களஞ்சியம். Annam-Agaram Pathippagam Books.

Asura. Статья из «Призраки, чудовища и демоны Индии»


Commonly translated into English as “demon”, the word Asura is very ancient, and its meaning has shifted over time. It is related to the Persian word Ahura, which signifies a kind of angel in the Zoroastrian faith. Many linguists believe it comes from the same Proto-Indo-European root as the word Aesir — the clan of deities in Norse Paganism that includes Frigg, Odin, and Thor.

In the oldest Hindu texts, the word Asura is used for any and all supernatural beings. The Rig Veda refers to gods such as Indra, Rudra, and Agni as Asuras.

In later texts, the pantheon of deities is divided into two main camps: the mostly-benevolent Devas and mostly-malevolent Asuras.

The Asuras are further subdivided into many clans. A few of the major ones are:

• The Adityas, led by the god Varuna. In most stories, these deities are pious and good.
• The Daityas, descended from the earth goddess Diti and the sage Kashyap. These beings have a mixed reputation. Some are worshipped as deities, but many other legendary Daitya kings became power-mad and warred with the Devas. In several Indian languages, Daitya is used to mean “giant”, or any enormous monster.
• The Danavas, sons of Danu. These are usually evil, or at least up to no good. The monstrous drought-demon Vritra is the eldest of the Danavas.
• The Nivatakavachas, beings who wear impenetrable armour and reside at the bottom of the ocean. In the Ramayana, they are allied with Ravana, the Asura king of Lanka. In the Mahabharata, they are finally destroyed by Arjuna.

Ashwatthama. Статья из «Призраки, чудовища и демоны Индии»


Ashwatthama is not exactly a ghost, for he never died; but he still manages to haunt the present, thousands of years after his birth.

The Mahabharata tells us that Ashwatthama’s father was the sage Dronacharya. For many long years before his son was born, Dronacharya had practiced intense asceticism, praying to Lord Shiva for a boon.

As a result of his father’s devotions, Ashwatthama was born with a magic jewel in the middle of his forehead. This gem gave him special powers. No illness could affect him; he could feel neither hunger, nor thirst, nor tiredness. He could stay alive even without needing to breathe. He was a chiranjeevi — one of the very few “immortals” who will survive until the end of Kali Yuga, the current aeon, more than 400,000 years in the future.

In the Kurukshetra War, Ashwatthama fought on the side of the Kauravas against the Pandavas, led by Arjuna. He was a ferocious warrior with deadly skill on the battlefield, and he dispatched many opponents.

Then the Pandavas killed Drona, his father, and Ashwatthama became even more dangerous. Consumed by murderous rage, he aimed a powerful supernatural weapon called the brahmashirastra at the womb of Uttara, Arjuna’s daughter-in-law, in an attempt to put an end to the Pandava lineage.

In this he was thwarted by Lord Krishna, who restored Uttara’s child to life. Krishna then removed the gem from Ashwatthama’s forehead, and as punishment for having targeted an innocent unborn child, he cursed him to suffer for the whole of Kali Yuga. He left Ashwatthama roaming the forests, howling in pain and wishing for death, with his skin slowly melting away.

Arakkan. Статья из «Призраки, чудовища и демоны Индии»


In Tamil folklore, Arakkans are gigantic humanoid monsters, usually depicted as muscular male creatures with red skin. They live in solitude at the tops of forested hills.

An Arakkan will rarely bother humans unless they trespass in his lair or offend him in some way. In this case the angry Arakkan might hurl a giant boulder at the intruders, instantly crushing them to death.

Alternatively, the Arakkan might decide to take the humans captive. Such captives usually end up wishing they had been smashed by a boulder, for Arakkans are sadistic taskmasters who force their prisoners to do backbreaking, repetitive work.

One folktale tells of a Paataal Arakkan from the jewel-studded netherworld of Paataal Lok, who became enamored with a human woman and abducted her. This Arakkan had the power of turning his enemies to stone. He had also had the power of hiding his soul outside his body, so that he would be impossible to defeat in battle.

The imprisoned woman kept refusing to marry him. Finally, she agreed, but on a condition: he should tell her where he kept his soul, so that as his dutiful wife she might be its caretaker. The Arakkan told her that he kept it in the form of a snake.

There are different theories about the etymology of the word “Arakkan”. Many believe it came from the Sanskrit Rakshasa through Maharashtri Prakrit, while others claim it is a native Dravidian word. Whatever the truth, “Arakkan” has been used in ancient Tamil texts to refer to the character Ravana from the Ramayana; in Tamil translations of European fairy tales, such as Jack and the Beanstalk, to mean “giant”; in environmental writing to refer to the spectre of nuclear disaster; and in astronomy to mean the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way.

Apsara. Статья из «Призраки, чудовища и демоны Индии»


In mainstream Hindu and Buddhist mythology, Apsaras are beautiful celestial angels or nymphs — dancers, singers, and seductresses in the service of the gods. Their Sanskrit name, a-psaras, means “shameless” — a reference to their promiscuity.

The best-known of them are Urvashi, Tilottama, Menaka, Rambha, and Ghritachi, all of whom are important figures in mythology. Dozens more Apsaras are named in the Mahabharata and Ramayana epics. For the most part, they are benevolent, though they sometimes throw curses when they are very annoyed.

In some local traditions, the Apsaras can be more sinister. They may simply be amoral creatures, who think nothing of murdering humans on a whim.

The word is sometimes used as a synonym of Pari, or of the Kumaoni ghosts called Anchheri.

In Assam it is said that a person who steps on an Apsara’s shadow, or who angers the Apsara in some other way, will be put under a magic spell that will cause him to wither away and die.

Apsaras are always women. Their male consorts are the Gandharvas.

Ref: 391. Vetschera, T. (1978). The Potaraja and Their Goddess. Asian Folklore Studies, 37(2), 105-153. doi:10.2307/1177634

Apasmara. Статья из «Призраки, чудовища и демоны Индии»


Apasmara, also called Muyalaka, is a Hindu demon of ignorance and ego. He appears as a dwarf, and is usually depicted with his hands in the anjali mudra, or “namaste pose”.

One story goes that Apasmara was brought to life by a sect of powerful rogue sadhus. These ascetics, who lived in a mangrove swamp, created him in an attempt to kill Lord Shiva. But Shiva, in his avatar as Nataraja, began his cosmic dance — the tandava — and stamped Apasmara underfoot.

The demon can be seen in most images of the dancing Nataraja.

It is said that Apasmara can never be killed, so Shiva must stand on him for all eternity.

Ref: 444. Apasmara. Yogapedia. (2017, Jul. 27)

Aonglamla. Статья из «Призраки, чудовища и демоны Индии»


Aonglamla, also called Alonglemla or Aonglemlatsü, is a diminutive jungle spirit known from the folklore of the Ao Naga people of Nagaland. According to most accounts — but not quite all — she is female. She stands just about two feet tall, with wild hair that falls all the way from her head to the ground. Her feet are turned to point backwards, and there is hair that grows on her legs and feet as well. She is sometimes encountered bathing in lonely jungle streams or cave pools, talking or laughing to herself, or singing songs in an alien language.

This spirit — it has been argued that “entity” is a better word — has a tendency to flicker. One moment she’s there, the next she’s gone. The reason for the flickering, some say, is that she becomes invisible whenever she makes direct contact with the ground. You can only see her when she is floating in a pool of water; or if she hops; or if she steps on her hair while she’s walking. Others say that she moves backwards and forwards in time. She appears young and healthy one second, then suddenly old and wizened — and then she blinks out of existence entirely for a while.

The sighting of Aonglamla is very unlucky. Those who catch a glimpse of her can expect to fall very ill soon afterwards, perhaps even die; or they might see a close friend perish in an gruesome accident. However, Aonglamla is not malevolent by nature. Instead, she has a sort of melancholy detachment from the human realm.

Angra Mainyu. Статья из «Призраки, чудовища и демоны Индии»

Angra Mainyu

In Zoroastrianism, Angra Mainyu — also called Ahriman — is the adversary of god in the great cosmic battle between good and evil. He is the king of all the Daevas (see Dev), the grand demon of deceit, chaos, and destruction.

Zoroaster taught that in the beginning Ahura Mazda, the creator, made twenty-four great Yazatas. He placed these angels inside a celestial egg. But Angra Mainyu created twenty-four evil Daevas to oppose them, and they bored holes through the egg to attack. This war between the Yazatas and the Daevas has raged ever since.

In Persian tradition, Angra Mainyu was a primordial entity. He came into being at the same time as the Ahura Mazda, and was considered nearly his equal in power.

However, among the Parsis of India, he has been pulled down a notch in the hierarchy: he is merely the destructive emanation of Ahura Mazda, rather than his rival.

This demon is associated with foul smells. He can take on the shape of a worm, snake, fly, or lizard.

In the Pahlavi language, the word Ahriman was always written upside-down, as a sign of contempt.

Ref: 443. Duchesne-Guillemin, J. “Ahriman,” Encyclopædia Iranica.

Anchheri. Статья из «Призраки, чудовища и демоны Индии»


The Anchheri live high in the hills of Kumaon and Garhwal in Uttarakhand. Sometimes, at night, they descend to lower altitudes to play near the shores of lakes and in flowering meadows. They appear in groups, cavorting and chasing each other in what appears to be a frolicsome mood. But if you look closely you will see that their eyes are hollow and sunken, for these are the ghosts of girls who died unnatural deaths — either from murder, disease, or neglect.

Despite their playfulness, they are very dangerous. If a living girl sees them and tries to join their games, she will die. It is unsafe to visit the favoured playgrounds of Anchheri even during the daytime after they have left. When little girls or elderly people fall sick, it is thought to be because the shadow of an Anchheri has fallen on them.

Anchheri hate the colour red. Some say that the best defense against them is to tie a red ribbon around one’s neck. But according to other stories, the colour makes the Anchheri fly into a rage, so red clothing may invite an attack rather than repel it.

These ghosts appreciate gifts — especially jewellery, kajal for the eyes, and colourful saris or shawls. If they are regularly propitiated with such things, they cause less trouble for the living.

Anchheri play a role in a famous Garhwali folk ballad known as Jeetu Bagdwal. This is the tragic tale of a young man named Jeetu, said to have lived around 500 years ago during the reign of Raja Man Singh.

Anangu. Статья из «Призраки, чудовища и демоны Индии»


Ancient Tamil literature has a wide variety of terms for ghosts and demons: Oozhi, Paasam, Yaadam, Savam, and Veri being a few of them. But there is not much to say about these beings by way of description. If the words ever referred to specific types of spirits, those shades of meaning are now mostly lost to the mists of time.

Another ancient term is Anangu. This word occurs in the Tholkappiyam, the oldest surviving work of Tamil literature, and is still used today. Its meaning has varied widely over the centuries, making the Anangu a rather difficult spirit to characterize.

But we shall hazard a try.

The most common understanding seems to be that an Anangu is a demoness of hysterical grief — an embodiment of the rage stemming from women’s oppression.

The Anangu has been described as a preternaturally beautiful celestial damsel, an attacking deity from the mountains who wears bright flowers in her long flowing hair; but also as a shapeshifter, or as a formless entity. Some poems paint her as a succubus or Mohini — a temptress who feeds on the souls of weak men drawn to her by lust. Others say that she is the demon unleashed by a woman with disruptive sexuality: a married slut, an unchaste widow. But the Anangu’s activities are driven by a thirst for vengeance rather than by physical desire.

In the ancient Tamil epic Silappathikaram, or “The Anklet Story”, when Kannagi learns that her husband has been wrongly executed, she is described as an Anangu. The term has also been connected to Suparnakha — the Rakshasi of the Ramayana who was humiliated and disfigured for the crime of desiring the wrong man — and to the folkloric character Neeli.