To date, there is no organized cult of killers that has claimed more lives than Thuggee, who last existed in the 1800s. Thuggee refers to the actions conducted by thugs, a group of organized gangs that robbed and killed people to appease their goddess in the Indian subcontinent. Here are some more intriguing thuggee facts.

1. The Word “Thug” Originated from Thuggee Activities

The English word “thug” originated from the Indian “thag.” It refers to a person engaging in swindling activities, often involving robbery and murder.

2. Thuggee Gang Leader Was Called Jamadar

Thuggee gangs had ranks similar to those of the military. Jamadar was the highest-ranked leader, with Subedar following closely below. Individual members referred to each other as “private.” To conceal their true intentions from their targets, thuggee gangs used jargon such as Ramasee.

3. They Killed Their Victims By Strangulation

Once a gang member approaches a target/s by charming their way into being trusted, others would appear from behind and strangle them. Strangulation was Thuggee’s method of killing their victim, but it wasn’t the only one: they would use blades or poison if they had to.

4. A Thug Holds The Record for the Most Prolific Murderer

Even though it happened in the 1800s, the Guinness World Record still recognizes Behram, an Indian thug who strangled 931 people, as the world’s most prolific murderer. During his trial, it was established that Behram killed his victims by using his yellow and white cloth to suffocate his victims.

5. Thuggee’s Preference to Strangulation Might Have Had Something to Do With The Law

During Thuggee’s reign, a murderer could only be sentenced to death if he shed the blood of the victim. As such, if someone killed another by strangulation, they were likely to avoid execution and only had to deal with hard labor and a prison sentence. Thugs took advantage of this loophole, making strangulation their primary method of killing their targets.

6. They Had Various Modes of Operation

Depending on the thuggee unit, members had varying modus operandi. The most common one was the disguised travelers method. The thugs (thuggee practitioners) would dress up as travelers by wearing neat clothes, including turbans, and even carrying luggage with them.

In other instances, the thugs would pretend to be Hindus or Muslims, which made it easier to trick unsuspecting targets. Rarely did they carry weapons other than the cloth they used to strangle people. They also didn’t aggressively confront their victims unless they outnumbered them. Their goal was to collect maximum loot without being identified or caught – they would kill and hide/bury the bodies if they had to.

7. Female Thugs Were Called Baronee

Most females who practiced Thuggee preferred keeping their acts on the low. Within themselves, they addressed each other as “baronee,” while their male counterparts were called “baroo.”

8. Thugs Rarely Killed Children

While they didn’t think twice about killing their victims, thuggee practitioners had a soft spot for children; they rarely killed them. Instead, they adopted them. However, they did not hesitate to kill women together with their children in situations where they thought they had to eliminate witnesses.

9. Thugs Sniffed Datura for Its Deliriant Properties

Before going into their stealing and strangulation missions, thugs used to smoke Datura, a poisonous sacred plant, for its deliriant properties. That way, they wouldn’t think much about killing people; it gave them the audacity and confidence they needed.

10. Thugs Were Kali’s Children

Sometimes referred to as Kalika, Kali is a great Hindu goddess responsible for controlling time, death, and doomsday in Shaktism. People who practiced Thuggee considered themselves the children of Kali and often prayed to her. However, the majority of thugs arrested by the British during the massive cleanup were Muslims.

11. They Were Among the World’s First Mafias

Most historians consider the Thuggees to be the world’s first mafia. They operated between the 13th and the 19th century, terrorizing people in the Indian subcontinent. Records show that the first thuggee organized group in the region was around 1356, with the majority identifying the seven Muslim tribes as their origin.

12. Thuggee Resulted in More Than 30,000 Deaths

During their reign, it is estimated that thugs strangled more than 30,000 people, primarily travelers, as a sacrifice to their goddess, Kali, the “Dark Mother.” They were only stopped by the activities of the British, who started expanding into India in the mid-1800s.

13. Thugs Were Lenient on Specific People

Besides children, the thuggee code of ethics forbade thugs from killing carpenters, blacksmiths, Gange’s water carriers, oil vendors, musicians, fakirs, dancers, sweepers, and people with leprosy.

14. Only People Who Were Born in Thuggee Families Could Become Thugs

Apart from small boys who may have been caught or spared during a raid, the only way a person could become a thug was if they were born in a thuggee family. They were initiated at the age of 10 and had to wait until they were 18 to make their first human sacrifice to their goddess.

15. The Capture of About 3,700 Thugs Broke the Secret Society

By 1841, the police under British rule had captured over 3,700 thugs. Only about 50 Thugs were pardoned for providing critical information leading to the others’ arrest. The rest were either hanged or sentenced to life in prison– this broke the secret society’s back. Interestingly, the thugs that were hanged chose to place the noose around their necks themselves.

16. Thugs Believed Indulgence in Vices Drew Them Closer to Their Goddess

Together with their female counterparts, thugs believed that indulging in what they called the “Five Vices” drew them closer to their goddess, Kali. The vices that they believed corrupted the soul of humankind included drinking wine, engaging in sexual activities, mystical gesticulations, and eating fish & meat. Ironically, they believe engaging in the mentioned activities drove poison out of their body.

17. Scholars Are Increasingly Skeptical about the “Thuggee” Concept Nowadays

Even though the concept of Thuggee was huge in the past, contemporary scholars are hugely skeptical about its existence. They are convinced the British made up the phenomenon to serve their colonial agendas.

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Last Update: January 15, 2024