Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Vampires in India

Anne Rice would love this: Vampires have a long history in India. In fact, some historians believe that the vampire myth started in India and entered Europe through the spice trade routes.

Many cultures around the world have stories of blood-sucking creatures. India is no exception. In fact several types of vampires are described in the folk literature of that sub-continent. Here are a few:

Vetalas: Said to be evil spirits that inhabit the bodies of the dead, they are often depicted as hanging upside down from trees. Sometimes described them as half-bat, half-man, this may describe how bats became entwined with vampire mythology. Other legends have them entering living bodies, which they manipulate at will, usually for some evil purpose. However, in a recent television story in India, “Vicky and Vetaal” the Vetaal (Vetala) is shown as a fairly innocuous and friendly spirit.

Pisachas: Usually female, Pisachas are types of witches. Some take the appearance of beautiful women who suckle babies with the intent of poisoning them with their deadly milk. Sometimes, they are depicted as ghastly, flesh-eating creatures. However, they may be driven away by chanting mantras, or by propitiating them with offerings.

 Bhutas: Ghosts, who appears for several reasons, mainly due to having an injustice committed to them while in human forms. Because of this, the souls of the dead, instead of continuing their journeys, remain in disembodied states until justice is served and the guilty punished. As ghosts, they are supposedly common at cremation grounds and have reputations for driving humans insane.


Rakshashas: Demonic bloodthirsty beings, they are usually depicted as having long fang-like teeth and horrible appearances. They are almost always cannibals and have a reputation of disrupting prayers and sacred rituals. Some texts describe their origins to pre-date humans. Rakshashas can also shape-shift, taking normal human form to form friendships, only to betray and kill the unsuspecting. Interestingly, in the fantasy role-playing gameDungeons & Dragons, a rakshasa is a type of evil outsider.

Interestingly, human souls, based on their moral history (karma,) may incarnate into these types of vampire bodies. However, even these creatures have the chance to reincarnate again, potentially into human bodies, and thus receive the chance to ascend into higher levels of consciousness.

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