Open main menu

Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 8, 1897.djvu/222

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
Folklore Parallels and Coincidences.

Many years ago, when in charge of the Trichinopoly district in Southern India, whilst encamped near a large village on the furthermost border, I was struck by the extraordinary prevalence of one and the same name amongst the villagers. The males, young and middle-aged, appeared to bear the same name to an extent confusing and inconvenient in conducting business matters. On asking the reason of this, I was told that some thirty years back there had been a notorious much-dreaded robber of that name, the leader of a gang infamous for "torch-light robberies," that is when the house of some well-to-do man was surrounded at dead of night by a score or more desperadoes, who at a signal lighting torches, with shouts and threats forced their way in and compelled the inmates, too often with violence and cruel tortures, to give up money, jewels, &c., and after outrages, and sometimes murder, would depart, not unfrequently leaving the house in flames. After a long course of such crimes the leader, named Periya Vérappa, was at last caught and executed. Now in that part of India, when a man noted for cruel and violent temper dies, he very often becomes a Bhûta; that is, he reappears as a malignant goblin, working all kinds of spiteful and mischievous tricks and injuries, especially to children and cattle. Even a person of good life and repute who happens to die an unnatural or violent death, by accident or otherwise, is liable to become a Bhûta, and work out spiteful and evil deeds in his old neighbourhood. Much more then would a pre-eminently wicked character like the robber-chief.

Periya Vérappa became a Bhuta of especial power and malignancy; and so, though hanged for his crimes thirty years or more previously, he was held in dread as the most powerful and evil Bhûta in all that country-side; and it was believed that giving his name to any new-born male child would cause him to regard the child and the house that held it with some favour and turn any evil intent aside. Hence the extraordinary multiplication of his