Thugs were gangs of highway robbers that ruled the roost on Indian roads in North and central India, during the period before the British came to India. The cult of Thuggery lasted for well nigh 200 years from 1600 to about 1830, till it was put to an end by the British during the beginning of the period of the Raj.
The thugs usually accosted travelers whom they suspected to have gold or cash and befriended them first. After gaining the confidence of the intended victims they strangled them to death and buried the bodies in wells or deep pits.
The originsof Thuggery can be traced to the consolidation of Mughal rule in India.But the majority of the thugs were Hindus who owed allegiance to the Goddesses Kali or as they termed Bhuvani. Over this period of almost 200 plus years the thugs may have killed millions but the figures can not be correctly estimated as no records are available.
The thugs were closely related and initiated their children also into the cult. Generally the form of strangulation was by a short cloth called a 'rumal' which was carried by all the thugs in their side pocket or a cloth belt. The thugs took great pride in their activities and felt their acts were justified by the Goddess Kali whom they vigorously worshiped. Kali is the most important of the Hindu Goddesses and is attributed to have 3 forms.
Despite what is written the thugsdid have a honor code and generally never killed women or children, but there could have been exceptions. They also did not believe in shedding blood and hence used the method of strangulation with a 'rumal' as a form of death for the traveler.
Thuggery soon reached immense proportions and no Indian government official or imperial force could do anything. Thus travel ling in India during this period was a night mare and when a traveler left home it was uncertain if he would ever come back.
But two men namely Captain William Sleeman, and Francis Curwen Smith a magistrate were instrumental in eradicating this menace. We must give credit to the East India Company who produced fearless men like Sleeman and Smith who dared to proceed against this cult in the heartland of India. That they succeeded is in so small measure due to their dedication and fortitude as well as missionary zeal to improve India. Thus thuggery which the thugs thought was blessed by the Goddesses Kali herself and would never end, vanished in just about a decade. Nearly 500 thugs were hanged and thuggery died away. The hundreds of thousands of poor Indian travelers desperately needed security and this was provided by the Raj.
The eradication of thuggery is one the most positive achievements of the Raj, something that is overlooked now.