Unknown Historical Figures – Thug Behram

Thug Behram was born in India in 1765. He belonged to the Thuggee* cult in India and was one of the most prolific killers in the world. The Thuggee cult was an organization of professional assassins that traveled around in India and killed travelers. It is known as history’s most notorious and deadly criminal cult. It was founded in 1300 and the name Thuggee was derived from Sanskrit, sthag and Pali, thak. Thugs were Hindu and Muslim Indians whose cult was based on Kali, the creative and destructive mother goddess of Hinduism. Thugs were a well organized, hereditary cult that practiced large scale robbery and murder, justified by their belief in serving Kali. Membership induction was often passed from father to son, with the women of the home being kept unaware of the men’s cult activity.

As a well organized group of professional murderers or assassins, Thugs traveled throughout India in gangs of 10 to 200 members, all dressed in various guises. They targeted wealthy travelers and gained their confidence. When a favorable opportunity arose, Thugs strangled their victims with a rumal, or a ceremonial handkerchief,  around the victim’s neck. Once the victim was dead, the Thugs then plundered his belongings and buried the body. The acts of displaying false friendship, murder and the burial of the victim were performed according to an ancient, rigidly prescribed process. These barbaric acts were all part of their elaborate religious rites performed to honor Kali. A portion of spoils of their robbery were often set aside for Kali.

Thug Behram began his murderous spree in 1790 when he turned 25 years of age. He was very talented at the ceremonial murder style of the Thuggee and  quickly rose through their ranks to become a top member. Behram used his cummerbund, a broad waist sash, as his rumal to strangle his victims and could do it so skillfully. Every time he used the rumal, he would get the large medallion on it onto the adam’s apple of his victims to add pressure to the throat. The Canova medallion is confirmed to have been used in at least 65 murders and is currently in a private museum. Thug Behram is thought to have killed 931 people in his 50 years in the Thuggee cult. He was even captured in the process of strangling a victim in 1840 at the age of 75! He was immediately sentenced to death and was hung for his heinous crimes under the British rule. He was known as one of the most brutal murderers in history. 

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*The English word “thug” is derived from the cult of the Thuggee although its use differs from what Thuggee stood for in India during the Thuggee reign from 1300 – 1840.