If you thought Stephen King was the King of Horror, you need to brush up on your Indian mythology, stat. From the gory and uncanny to the downright shocking, the Puranas are chock-full with tales of demons, monsters, spectres, yakshis and creatures that belong at a Halloween party. To get you started, here’s a compilation of some of the ferocious best, straight out of the stories you’ve been listening to since you were little.
The malevolent rakshasi Putana was hired as Krishna’s foster mother, and as the story goes, tried to poison him by breast feeding him. She was sent by Krishna’s wicked uncle Kansa, who wanted him dead. Of course her attempts were thwarted, Krishna killed her instead. The infant was found clinging to Putana’s demonic body; on her death, she had transformed from a beautiful woman to her true avatar.
Shumbha & Nishumbha
Asuras Shumbha and Nishumbha had quite a reputation in devlok and on Earth. Legend has it that the brothers received a boon from Brahma, stating they couldn’t be destroyed by man or animal. This assurance, combined with their hubris, led them to wreak havoc in the Three Worlds. This led the gods to create a female counterpart, Devi. The brothers tried to abduct her, first by sending Dhoomralocana and his army of 60,000 demons, whom the Devi destroyed, then attempting the act themselves. The Devi ended up destroying both – she decapitated Nishmbha and cleaved Shumbha into two.
During their wanderings in the forests, the exiled Pandavas of the Mahabharat encountered the demon-giant Hidimbi, who warned them of her brother Hidimba’s intentions to kill them. Needless to say, the muscle in the group, Bhim, went on a one-man mission to destroy Hidimba and marry his sister. Which brings us to…
Half giant-demon, half human, Ghatotkacha was the Hagrid of the Mahabharata. His powers not only included superhuman strength (obviously!) and magic, but he also had a big warm heart. Although he spent most of his years in the forest with his mother Hidimbi after his father, Bhim, left for Hastinapur, he eventually returned to fight the Kurukshetra war when his father summoned him. He fought valiantly for 14 days until he met his end at the hands of Karana.
Possibly the most menacing of the lot (bar one), Mahishasur was legit scary. This half-demon, half-buffalo terrorised the gods after Bhrama granted him the boon of defeat at the hands of only a woman (yup, yet again). He equated this boon to immortality and went on to wage a war against the Devas. Realising how immenent defeat was, the trinity of Bhrama, Shiva and Vishnu evoked goddess Durga, who killed him after a 10-day battle.
This asura is a legit legend – a 10-headed legend. He was smart and well-read and actually quite nice to Sita even though he kidnapped her and took her to Lanka. Lord Ram followed the trail all the way – with help from Hunuman and Ravana’s brother Vibhishana – and, in an epic war that needs no retelling, annhilated him.
Like this article? Also read: The Ramayana: A Modern Retelling
Illustrations by Aditi Sharma