Nov 9, 2012

The Legend of the Malabar Vampire


You are probably more familiar with the term 'vampire', the most famous being the legend of Count Dracula of Romania. There are variations of this legend spread all across the globe, ranging from Portugal, Malaysia, Arabia, Russia and even Scotland. But are you aware of the fact that India has had it's own vampire tale since many centuries, long before we had any form of communication with the above mentioned countries ?  In the southern state of Kerala, specifically the Malabar region, lies the origin of the infamous 'lady in white' from our movies, also known as the 'Yakshi'. 

According to folklore, the Yakshi appears as a beautiful woman who seduces lonely travellers at night. Dressed in a white sari with her hair loose and flowing in the wind, she stops them with a simple request for lime for her betel nut. From there, she uses her guile to seduce him with the promise of further pleasures and gets him to follow her to her palace. The fate awaiting the poor traveller is sadly more gruesome. The palace is, in fact, the palm tree where she resides and once there, the yakshi assumes her dreadful form of jet black eyes and elongated bared canines before proceeding to devour the man. The only remains that would be found in the morning are the leftovers at the base of the tree - the victims hair, teeth and nails.
So how were travellers warned to identify a Yakshi ? 


Is this a Yakshi ?


Well, close but no. You see, 
the real Yakshi is a good actress.



Anyway, before it's too late and you find yourself falling for her charms, take a good look at her feet - After all, we all know 'The devil wears Prada'. 
No, I was just kidding. The Yakshis feet apparently do not touch the ground even when they walk, according to legend. Of course, a more unique characteristic is the scent of the woman. Legend has it that the body of the Yakshi has the very distinctive fragrance of a particular flower, Astonia scholaris. The regional name, Yakshippala, is in fact derived from the legend of the Yakshi. Any guesses for what the flowers are called in English ? *drum roll* 

Indian devil-tree flowers




Yes, I can see you're shocke... SALMAN !! C'mon !
There should be a basic reason for removing your shirt !
Even the monkey's keeping his on !!



While the description of the large canines may seem common to all evil spirits, there is another feature of this folklore that remarkably links it closer to the ancient legend of the vampire. Like the first legends of vampires in Romania, the Yakshi too can be warded off by iron. In fact, as per folklore, many scholars would offer the lime stabbed onto the tip of their iron pen called Ezhuthani, which they used for writing on palm leaves in the earlier days. Even today, superstitious travellers of the Malabar region of Kerala still carry a small iron pocket-knife as part of their belief to protect them from Yakshis.


Yakshi statue in Malampuzha Garden.
 (Let's avoid any comments on 
trimmed bushes, shall we ?)


As per the Malabar folklore, women who suffered an unnatural end would stay back on Earth as Yakshis. Exorcisms were aplenty in those days and the evil spirit would be 'nailed to the nux vomica tree' with iron nails. Should the nails be accidentally removed, the yakshi would be freed to feast once more upon poor travellers. There are many individual tales of encounters with yakshis. The most infamous of them all is of Kalliyankattu Neeli in a forest called Kalliyankadu to whose beauty not even the most pious of brahmins were immune. 


A final point to ponder is on how legends scattered across such diverse parts of the globe from centuries ago could have such close similarities with that of a small state of India. 


  •  Like the Yakshis of Kerala, the vampires  Bruxsa ( Portugal ) , the Baobhan Sith ( Scotland ) and Dearg-due ( Ireland ) were also similar in appearance and went after lonely men at night. 
  • Unlike the Yakshis and Pontianak ( Indonesia ), the Baobhan Sith and the Langsuir ( Malaysia ) prefer green attire to white in their folklore.  
  • Eerily, our own Yakshi shares her love for floral fragrance with that of the Pontianak, albeit a different flower ( the plumeria ) . 
  • The Yakshi shares one other significant similarity with the Bruxsa, Boabhan Sith and the original vampire tale – they are all vulnerable to iron.


So that's your 'How to avoid getting seduced and eaten by an Indian Vampire 101' class for the day. Stay safe... and carry an iron pen, men !



         

43 comments:

  1. This am sure would save more lives than your previous life saving posts!
    And regarding the similarities between the legends what if these vampires actually exist and they all have the same source or origin, then the same method should be fatal to all of them right??

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wouldn't it be fun ? :)
      But you have to admit, there is space for allowing your theory - technically, the same story exists across various continents which shouldnt really have any connection with each other.

      Delete
  2. Pretty interesting and informative. Never knew about the Indian vampires!
    They dont attack women?? :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No... for women, they just go online and bitch about them on Twitter and Facebook. True story. :D

      Delete
    2. LOL :D
      I agree, completely! :D :D

      Delete
  3. Did you have a chance encounter with a Yakshi lately, or something?

    And PS, that Malampuzha yakshi is one item no?? :p

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha... chance encounter wouldn't begin to describe some of the 'graceful' women I've met :)

      And seriously, have you seen the actual size of that statue !! This picture doesn't do it justice at all !

      Delete
  4. The good old Yakshi :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yep... the good ol' Yakshi. Though somehow, I don't think either your or my mom are gonna describe them with those same terms of endearment :D

      Delete
    2. he he he... well I just did... didn't you just see that in the above comment??

      Delete
    3. my grammatical mistake - by 'your and my mom', I meant 'neither of OUR moms' : We are a different breed in such matters :)

      Delete
  5. Hahaha..... that was some research!!! I kinda like the smell of the flower :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You'd be surprised about the things you find when you do just a little basic digging. That 'Best of Mohanlal' post threw so many nuggets of info I had no idea about - Srinivasan's other connection to Chitram etc

      Delete
  6. But don't Yakshis create more Yakshis? Vampires create vampires right? So basically if a Yakshi drinks the blood of a man, we will have a male Yakshi. No?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is where the problem arises... here the girl wants too much of the man !! She aint satisfied with his blood, she wants it all :) Doesn't leave much left over for a return.

      Delete
  7. Umm...I have a feeling that these legends were created to get men to marry, stay home and take care of their wives.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah.. there's more logic in that than in the 'feet no touchy the ground' bit.. but then again, when have our folklores depended on logic ? :)

      Delete
  8. Though you are a successful doctor and a blogger you always can find an alternate career as a Witch Doctor... just kidding... :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wouldn't mind - those witch doctors and voodoo hoodoos probably earn 10 times more than I do... and all they have to do is cut chickens and throw powders here n der

      Delete
  9. I remember watching the old black and white Malayalam movie 'Yakshi' when I was a kid and then getting nightmares, though I didn't understand a lot of it then!!! This was a real fun read, and yes, the photo doesn't do the original justice :-))). I wonder whose idea that statue was, anyway!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Apparently the guy behind the statue was someone famous... don't know who. And yes, the original statue is huge !

      Delete
    2. Nice post. I think our movie directors started dressing up Yakshis in white saree. In Aithihyamala, they looked like beautiful young women (probably wearing mundu).

      Kanayi Kunhiraman is the one behind the Yakshi of Malampuzha
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanayi_Kunhiraman

      Delete
    3. Thanks for that link, Priyanka :D

      Delete
  10. was that scary or what?!! im a complete chicken when it comes to such tales...and i've kind of timed my reading at the wrong time too!! but im relieved they spare women!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ya,I'm the same.. never could watch even those old Ramsay brothers horror movies without a sofa cushion hiding my face :)

      Delete
  11. Interesting. You stated similarities between different vampires. Recently I saw a documentary which stated similarities between different Gods and how different people have come up with with different stories revolving around the same theory.
    The basic premise was that God doesnt exist. Maybe if we promote more stories abt vampires they will become as famous as Mr. God? :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh man. I would love to get a link to that documentary. Not for the sake of debunking religions, but because I totally feel there are so many similarities in our stories - 'Man/Manu vs Adam/Eve', 'Vishnu's Matsya avatar tale vs Noahs ark', 'Moses parting of the sea vs the same to get the infant Krishna away to safety'...

      Delete
    2. And regarding promoting stories to make 'vampires' into Gods, dont u think we do the same anyway to make Human Gods here in India ?

      Delete
    3. It was one part in the Zeitgist series. You can put a combination of words in youtube about religion, sun and Zeitgist. It said the same things you mentioned ..maybe you've already seen it :)

      Humans are funny. They pray to stones and ill-treat their own tribe. We can make vampires believable too. Im sure cults already exist. Just give it a few generations, loads will be worshiping them. Scary!!

      Delete
    4. will check up on it... And as for making 'vampires' into Gods, well... we already know to make humans into Gods in India so why not ?

      Delete
  12. I just wonder why no yakshi came after me though I was a bachelor for a very long period. Well, hard luck.

    Interesting post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. haha... just a miss, I'm sure :)

      Delete
  13. Seriously, 'Pala' is called 'Devil Tree' in English ? and Amisha Patel as Yakshi ? She can neither play the role in reel nor real for sure.
    Yakshi do harm women by getting into their body, then the poor woman has to get all the beating from some Tantrik to drive the Yakshi out of the body.
    Did you happen to meet any Yakshi on your last trip to Kannur that inspired you to write this post ? :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alstonia_scholaris - the devil tree part.

      Ya, I know about our Malayalee versions of exorcism :) And as for Kannur, I can honestly say I've met the best angels and the worst Yakshis both in this place itself :D

      Delete
  14. I have been to Malampuzha many times as a kid and clearly remember that statue! But never knew so much about Yakshis! So they dont attack women?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, as Seena mentioned, they do 'theorectically' inhabit the womans body - nothing much.. just a small exorcism and you're ok again :D

      Delete
  15. Oh so they seduce men :D. I wish there were more Yakshis in Haryana and Gurgaon who could do away with the perverts and rapists roaming freely out there!
    And about feet not touching the ground - my uncle used to say that a yakshi's toes were in the front and heels at the back.. and they dont touch the ground..wonder what type of footwear they use ?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're rt.. those places could use a couple of 'Ladies in White':)
      Sigh.. atleast out of fear then, those guys would keep their weewees in their pants !!
      As for footwear, well - somehow I dont think high heels come into the picture

      Delete
  16. Nice article.
    Just one question, though. Aren't vampires allergic to silver rather than iron??

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Silver ( bullets ) is lycanthropes ( werewolves )... for our Dracula and company, its iron :D

      Delete
  17. All I have actually learned about vampires is from the show , Vampire Diaries :P

    It says vampires can be killed with a wooden stake through their heart, silvers dont work. Also, they mentioned a plant called Vervain which can protect a person from vampires, it can almost burn a vampire. Also, in the show the vampires can hypnotise you. I know what you are thinking..I am really addicted to the show :P

    But come one the vampire guys are really hot ! :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll kinda forgive you since u said Vampire diaries.. if u tell me 'OMG, I love Bella and Edward and that wolf boy"... ya, then, I'm coming after u with a wooden stake !

      And I dont know about Vervain.. need to look it up. The old tale for vampires involved garlic I think - though that might just have been bad breath issues :D

      Delete

So what do you think ?