History has a hoard store of mysteries and astonishing myths that keep surfacing from time to time. Some of them seem so unbelievable, but history also provides evidences in wondrous ways. One of such astonishing thing that I’m going to discuss here is about the Poison Damsels or Vish Kanya. Sounds weird, right? But apparently the mention of this subject has surfaced to our day today lives innumerable times in different ways. The most recent was, that in the tribal community and also some other communities of Jharkhand and Chhatisgarh, was found that these so called ‘Vish Kanya’ still exist today and that these girls make it a mission of their life to carry out this tradition unlike some other traditional practices which gradually subjected to extinction.
India seems to have a long tradition of belief in poison damsels. We have found evidences of it in literature, folklore stories and myths. Vish Kanya or Poison Damsels were described to be young, beautiful women reportedly used as assassins, often against powerful enemies, during the times of Ancient Indian Subcontinent. To consume poison in their meals is told to be normal, they had it in breakfast, in lunch and even in dinner. It was believed that it became impossible to sleep without the consumption of venom. Surely, a lot of you must have heard about it from your grandparents and read in stories that these extremely beautiful enticing maidens could breathe poison, venom flowed in their veins and that a mere touch of theirs could be as dangerous as an instant death. Dr. J. Jamshedji Modi in his article “The Story of Alexander the Great and the Poison-Damsel of India. A Trace of it in Firdousi’s Shah Nameh” mentions of the types of poison damsels that have been recorded in various Indian and Persian writings. The types mentioned are:
- “A poison-damsel, in the original sense of the word seems to mean a damsel who does harm deceitfully in some way or other to another person.”
- “She is one, born under an inauspicious configuration or conjugation of planets. So, she does harm to one who marries her. It is this view, that seems to have led, and even now seems to lead, many Indian parents to resort to an astrologer to ascertain, whether the planets, under the influence of which their children are born, are of the same conjunction or not. The happiness or otherwise of marriage depends upon that.”
- “A damsel who is, in some way or other, so much poisoned or infected with a disease, that she is likely to convey her poison or infectious disease to the person, who has intercourse with her or who comes into some form of close contact with her, and to bring about his death. A woman infected with a venereal disease is a poison-damsel of this kind.”
- “A damsel who has actually saturated her body with gradual doses of poison, and who, therefore, is in a state believed to be likely to convey the poison of her body, so saturated, to another person who comes into contact with her.”
- “A damsel who treacherously captivates the heart of a person, and then actually gives him some poison in food or drink.”
Existence in contemporary times
The recent discovery of existing poison damsels in Jharkhand and Chhatisgarh has led to various questions such as, even if these people consume venom, how is it that they survive the venom’s effect and become immune to it whereas a mere drop can lead to the death of even a huge elephant. It is of questionable nature to think alone that can these poison damsels actually exist among us even today. Well, a recent study conducted by a News TV Channel shows that they do live among us. Also the study shows existence of poison man as well. In the jungles of Jharkhand and Chhatisgarh women are found to be using poison to fight off evil. Evil that takes the form of dark criminal minds that prey on their helplessness and take advantage of the situation. These women are also called the Snake women of the Santhal parganas, who attack intruders and threaten them with venom of snakes. These girls and women actually don’t consume venom like it used to be traditionally, instead carry it around to protect themselves. The venom they carry is so effective that death comes almost instant. These young girls have to spend almost the entire day in the dense jungles either to collect firewood or leaves. The jungles are full of wild animals who could attack them at any time and there will be no one around to even help them, that is why they stick to measures as these, carrying around sharp pointed instruments loaded with snake poison, securely hiding them in their clothes either around their waist or in the form of amulets around the upper arms or neck.
History and Origin
Origin of poison damsels dates back to centuries earlier. We’ve heard in folklores and stories that Kings in ancient times used to select young girls when they were just babies to raise them up as Poison Maidens. So a carefully crafted diet of poison and antidote were given from a very young age. This practice is also called Mithridatism after the Greek Emperor Mithridates VI of Pontus, who practiced it to protect himself from enemies. Evidences of practice of Poison girls in India have been found in literary works of Chanakya, like in Arthasastra, in books, Sukasaptati, Chanakya’s Chant, a Latin work called Secretum Secretorum. The story of attack on Alexander the Great by sending him a beautiful maiden(which in fact was a poison maiden) by an Indian King is popular. There are various versions of the story, three of them seemingly more authentic, in which a maiden is sent to Alexander as a gift, he is at once enticed by the beauty and wants to have her but the original motive behind sending her is seen through by Aristotle or another minister and Alexander is saved and the girl is killed. According to the historians, while raising these girls, many would not survive, those that did were immune to other poisons and their body fluids would be poisonous to others; sexual contact would thus be lethal to other humans. There also exists a myth that says a Visha Kanya can cause instant death with just a touch.
The study conducted by the news channel showed, there were people some of which openly declared being a poison man or woman and some who thought it was better to remain concealed. Some among them who opened up were Peelu Ram and Ashok of Jashpur, Chhatisgarh etc., other were women who opened up but didn’t disclose their name. They also made it clear that this practice was still being carried on not for any addiction or drug purpose, but only to preserve their tradition which is hundreds of centuries old and also want to pass it on to their younger generations. Even Historians like Santosh Panday and C.V. Daniel asserted that these people who are trying to preserve their traditions is a good thing.
How its done
For most people though (as it was my first question too) it was hard to believe as to how this practice was still carried on. How did the consumption of venom not kill them? Upon lots of queries these people have explained that since directly consuming the venom can burn out their veins and esophagus, so most of them dried the venom, churned it into powder and then consumed it little by little, and gradually when their system gets adapted they can even drink the venom directly and nothing would happen to them.
Similar practices from around the globe
This practice isn’t just present in India, but in other countries as well. China being the most popular, but there they eat snakes not the venom alone, as they believe snake has medicinal properties which can control and cure blood pressure and heart diseases. Also an American scientist, Tim Freddie has researched upon the medicinal properties of venom and is trying to create an anti-venom vaccine, in the process of which he has bitten himself altogether 160 times by various dangerous snakes. He said it burns in his skin for a moment and there is little swelling around the bitten part, but they soon disappear since his body has also become immune to the snake poison.
Existence of people like these in one way seems unimaginable in modern days, but evidences like these leave you speechless. They are no less than super people with super capability, except for a fact that, in ancient times they existed to safeguard and protect the Kings and today they exist to protect and safeguard their traditions.
dangerous for the country.