The Thuggee, also known as the Thugs of India, is one of the most infamous cults to ever exist in the world. Their reign of terror dates back as far as the early 1300s, all the way up until India come under the control of the British in the 1800s, with a trail of countless bloodshed and murder in their wake.
The Thuggees as a group are commonly believed to be one of the first major organized crime rings documented in history. The Thuggees believed themselves to be above morality and consequences—regarding themselves as spiritual beings meant to bring balance to the world.
Their allegiance and devotion was given to the Hindu Goddess Kali, however their multitude of followers ranged from Hindu and Muslim backgrounds.
Believing that they were doing the work of Kali—a goddess known in Hindu tradition for an association with death, time, power, and destruction—the Thuggees would abduct travelers, steal their valuables and strangle them to death.
Women and children were spared, but children were usually enslaved and raised to participate in Thuggee life and crime.
Thuggees spoke a language unto themselves, complete with secret hand signals and signs used in order communicate with each other and identify themselves to other members of the sect. A cultural hierarchy meant that all members, young to old, has specific roles to fulfill. Rules were meant to be strictly followed.
By the time India fell under British rule, the Thuggees had gained notoriety for their violence and crime. The British formed a task force devoted to the investigation and capture of the cult.
Thousands of cult members were captured and arrested from across India—according to some records as many as 4,000 thugs were discovered by the mid-1800s. Of those at least 2,000 were convicted and over 1,000 Thuggee members were put to death.
Although finally eradicated, Thuggee culture has continued to fascinate Westerners. Authors ranging from Mark Twin to Philip Meadows Taylor wrote about the infamous cult.
Notably in pop culture, the Thuggee cult served as inspiration for the antagonists of the film classic Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Image Credit: NPR.com