Thugs (Hindi, thugna, to deceive), a sect of assassins in India, now exterminated by the British government. They roamed about the country in bands of from 30 to 300, and strangled to death such persons as they could decoy into their company. Their atrocious practices were not followed so much from impulses of plunder or malice as from religious motives. They were worshippers of the goddess Kali, who presided over impure love, sensual indulgence, and death. The members of the sect belonged to different Hindoo castes, and each had its functions. The bands were under junadar or sirdar, who was the leader, and a guru or teacher. Its members were classified into spies, who were learners; strangles; entrappers, who were sometimes women; and grave diggers. They usually assumed the dress of merchants or pilgrims, and often craved the protection of those whom they intended to destroy. Their usual instrument of destruction was the handkerchief, with which by a dexterous movement they strangled their victims.
The spies having informed the band of the route, habits, and circumstances of their intended victims, the members travelled in such lines as to be near one another, and the entrappers by artful management attracted them to a spot remote from dwellings, where the stranglers executed their office; and having stripped them of whatever they possessed, the grave diggers buried them, with such precautions as generally to prevent discovery. The plunder was divided, one third to the widows and orphans of the sect, one third to the goddess Kali, and the remainder to the partners in the assassination. After a murder the Thugs who had committed it united in a sort of sacrament, eating consecrated sugar. Their deities were carefully consulted before going on their expeditions, and unless the omens were favorable the Thug would not go. Neither women nor old men were victims. Europeans were never killed, as there would have been more danger of detection. There were also bands of Mohammedan Thugs, of the sect of Mooltanees, and it is possible that at first the system of thuggee originated with Mohammedan banditti, though it afterward became more a Hindoo than a Mohammedan practice, and the words used are of Sanskrit origin.
Thugs were found in all parts of India. Attempts were made to exterminate these bands of murderers in several of the native states, even prior to the present century; but their connection as a wide-spread religious fraternity remained unknown till 1829, during the administration of Lord William Bentinck, who appointed Capt. (afterward Sir William) Slee-man to break up the organization. This was successfully accomplished by the arrest of every known Thug or relative of a Thug in India; 3,266 such persons were apprehended prior to 1837. They were colonized at Jubbulpore into a trade settlement, where technical instruction was afforded them and their children. Their descendants are still under government supervision there, and the practice of thuggee has become extinct. - In 1836 the government published, for judicial purposes, " Ramaseeana, or a Vocabulary of the peculiar Language used by the Thugs," by Capt. Sleeman. See also "The Confessions of a Thug," by Meadows Taylor (London, 1858).