From the Rig Veda to myriads of folk narratives, the belief in demons prevails all over India, vividly illustrating that a demon is something people fear because it is beyond their comprehension and control. Time and again, the menacing and uncontrollable forces of night, darkness and death, along with powerful defeated enemies and incomprehensible natural phenomena, are demonized.
The Book of Demons presents a perceptive overview of the various types of demonic beings and concepts that exist in Hindu literature, supplemented with a dictionary of individual demons for ready reference. Besides the well-known rakshasas and asuras, the author also reveals a densely populated world of lesser-known, but equally fascinating, demonic creatures. Andhaka (blind darkness), conceived when Parvati playfully covered Shiva's eyes and the world was plunged into darkness; Gajamukha, the elephant-faced demon who was transformed into a mouse by Ganesha and then converted into his vehicle; Jambha, the demon-leader who snatched the pot of immortal nectar from the ocean during the great churning; Maya, the demonic equivalent of Vishvakarma, architect of the gods, who built the three cities of Tripura; and Putana, the demon who tried to kill Krishna by suckling him with poisoned breasts.
Male or female, human, animal, plant, or simply a concept—demons play a pivotal role in our mythical traditions. Blending insightful erudition and lively description, Nanditha Krishna brings to life the traits and actions of a host of-complex, colourful, monstrous and intriguing demons that inhabit Indian religion and mythology.
THE BOOK OF DEMONS
The Book of Demons
Including a Dictionary of Demons, in Sanskrit Literature
The Book of Demons was the brainchild of Ravi Singh of Penguin India. He has been extremely encouraging and very patient, in spite of the fact that the book was terribly delayed. The problem is best described by Ravana's ten heads. Each time one was cut a new one or new information would surface, which could not be left out. My special thanks to Ravi, Paromita Mohanchandra and all the others at Penguin India who were involved in the publication of this book.
The C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation and its staff have always supported me enthusiastically in all my writing endeavours. I must particularly mention the librarians K. Sujatha, S.P. Vijayakumari and V. Kameshraj; G. Balaji and M. Amrithalingam who sourced images to photograph; Prema Srinivasan and Y. Venkatesh who did the sketches; and others like P. Sudhakar, Malathy Narasimhan, P. Sumabala, and S.M. Sujatha who helped me find some rare books. Michel Danino gave me material about the Indus culture and T. Gopalakrishnan the book Scenes from Ramayana, which had fascinating early British drawings. Most importantly, my secretary, H. Manikiandan, performed the very difficult task of keeping track of the text, photos, sketches and the various papers that i accumulated as I was writing this book. My sincere thanks to all of them. Every book is a burden on the family of the writer and my husband, Dr S. Chinny Krishna, and my sons Prashanth and Rudra, were particularly accommodating and encouraging, in spite of long nights with the lights on all over the house and books and papers strewn everywhere, besides long monologues about demons which they were forced to hear.
The demons of Hinduism are as colourful as the gods, and I enjoyed researching and writing about them. I hope this is merely a beginning and more people will search for the demons that haunt the folk literature of every Indian language.
Note for the Reader
This book has so many Indian words that the entire book would have been full of diacritical marks, making reading difficult. To avoid that, a general rule has been followed regarding spelling:
Popular spellings have been used for all proper nouns— names of people, places and books. For example, although the sound 'sh' is written differently in Devanagari in the names of Shiva and Vishnu, I have followed the popular spellings. However, I have retained Brahmana (instead of Brahmin or Brahman) as my preferred spelling.
Where the sound may change the meaning, either a double vowel or a diacritical mark has been used. For example, Maya was the demon architect, while māyā (pronounced maayaa) means illusion.
The following words appear very frequently, so putting diacritical marks or double vowels throughout the book would make it difficult reading. I have therefore listed the words below:
• Rakshasa is pronounced as Raakshasa (to be distinguished from rakshas).
• Yatu and Yatudhana are pronounced Yaatu and Yaatudhaana.
• Danava is pronounced Daanava.
• Pishacha is pronounced Pishaacha.
• Rama and Ravana are pronounced Raama and Raavana respectively.
• To distinguish between the male and female, the double vowel has been used, as in the male Hidamba and his sister Hidambaa. Similarly, Naraka means hell and Naaraka means an inhabitant of hell.
• Dasa, Dasyu, Naga and Nishada are pronounced Daasa, Daasyu, Naaga and Nishaada respectively.
• Pragjyotisha and Patala are pronounced Praagjyotisha and Paataala respectively.
• Rambha and Rambha are distinct entities: a demon and an apsaras respectively.
• Apsaras is the singular form of the word, the plural being apsarases.
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