Encyclopedia for Epics of Ancient India

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Read about Rakshasa at Wikipedia or Encyclopedia Mythica. (Feminine form: Rakshasi.)

RAKSHASAS. [Source: Dowson's Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology] Goblins or evil spirits. They are not all equally bad, but have been classified as of three sorts - one as a set of beings like the Yakshas, another as a sort of Titans or enemies of the gods, and lastly, in the common acceptation of the term, demons and fiends who haunt cemeteries, disturb sacrifices, harass devout men, animate dead bodies, devour human beings, and vex and afflict mankind in all sorts of ways.

These last are the Rakshasas of whom Ravana was chief, and according to some authorities, they are descended, like Ravana himself, from the sage Pulastya. According to other authorities, they sprang from Brahma's foot. The Vishnu Purana also makes them descendants of Kasyapa and Khasa, a daughter of Daksha, through their son Rakshas; and the Ramayana states that when Brahma created the waters, he formed certain beings to guard them who were called Rakshasas (from the root raksh, to guard, but the derivation from this root may have suggested the explanation), and the Vishnu Purana gives a somewhat similar derivation. It is thought that the Rakshasas of the epic poems were the rude barbarian races of India who were subdued by the Aryans.

When Hanuman entered the city of Lanka to reconnoiter in the form of a cat, he saw that "the Rakshasas sleeping in the houses were of every shape and form. Some of them disgusted the eye, while some were beautiful to look upon. Some had long arms and frightful shapes; some were very fat and some were very lean; some were mere dwarfs and some were prodigiously tall. Some had only one eye and others only one ear. Some had monstrous bellies, hanging breasts, long projecting teeth, and crooked thighs; whilst others were exceedingly beautiful to behold and clothed in great splendour. Some had two legs, some three legs, and some four legs. Some had the heads of serpents, some the heads of donkeys, some the heads of horses, and some the heads of elephants." - (Ramayana.)

The Rakshasas have a great many epithets descriptive of their characters and actions. They are called Anusaras, Asaras, and Hanushas, 'killers or hurters;' Ishtipachas, 'stealers of offerings;' Sandhyabalas, 'strong in twilight;' Kshapatas, Naktancharas, Ratricharas, and Samanishadas, 'night-walkers;' Nrijagdas or Nrichakshas, 'cannibals;' Palalas, Paladas, Palankashas, Kravyads, 'carnivorous;' Asrapas, Asrikpas, Kaunapas, Kilalapas, and Raktapas, 'blood-drinkers;' Dandasukas, 'biters;' Praghasas, 'gluttons;' Malinamukhas, 'black-faced;' Karburas, etc. But many of these epithets are not reserved exclusively for Rakshasas.

RAKSHASI. Female rakshasa.

ANUSARA. [Source: Dowson's Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology] A Rakshasa or other demon.

ASARA. [Source: Dowson's Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology] A Rakshasa or other demon.

Modern Languages MLLL-4993. Indian Epics. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. The textual material made available at this website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one. No claims are made regarding the status of images used at this website; if you own the copyright privileges to any of these images and believe your copyright privileges have been violated, please contact the webmaster. Page last updated: October 16, 2007 12:22 PM