Where “Thugs” got its name

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Thuggee or tuggee refers to the acts of thugs, an organized gang of professional assassins.

The Thugs travelled in groups across India for several hundred years. Hindus appear to have been associated with them at an early period; at any rate, their religious creed and practices as worshipers ofKālī, the Hindu goddess of destruction, showed no influence of Islām. The fraternity possessed a jargon of its own, Ramasi, and signs by which its members recognized each other.

They were first mentioned in the Ẓiyāʾ-ud-Dīn Baranī (English: History of Fīrūz Shāh) dated around 1356.

In the 1830s they were targeted for eradication by William Bentinck and his chief captain William Henry Sleeman. They were seemingly destroyed by this effort. According to some estimates the Thugs murdered a million people between 1740 and 1840.

The Thugs would join travelers and gain their confidence. This would allow them to then surprise and strangle their victims by pulling a handkerchief or noose tight around their necks. They would then rob their victims of valuables and bury their bodies. This led them to also be called Phansigar (English: using anoose), a term more commonly used in southern India.

The term Thuggee is derived from Hindi word ठग, or ṭhag, which means “thief”. Related words are the verb thugna, “to deceive”, from Sanskrit स्थग sthaga “cunning, sly, fraudulent, dishonest, scoundrel”, from स्थगति sthagati “he conceals”. This term for a particular kind of murder and robbery of travellers is popular in South Asia and particularly in India.

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