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The Deadly Lives of the Ancient Indian Poison Girls

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Ravi is a traveler and foodie who loves to visit off-the-beaten-track places and understand the culture, history and customs behind them.

The Vishkanya or poison damsel

The Vishkanya or poison damsel

Poison damsels,’ Vish-Kanya’,’ Vish-Kanyaka’,’ Vishmayi Kanya or ‘Vishanghani’, they have many names but the purpose was only one; kill or assassinate enemies.

A poison damsel was an exquisitely beautiful woman whose system was charged with poison to such an extent that intercourse with her was believed to cause death. They were first reportedly used as assassins, often against powerful enemies, during the Mauryan Empire (321–185 BCE).

Their blood was extremely poisonous to other humans, and the raising of these damsels is described in detail in a standalone treatise to his famous book on statecraft Arthashastra, written by Chanakya (Kautilya), an adviser and a prime minister to the first Maurya Emperor Chandragupta (c. 340–293 BCE).

As Dalhana, a famous ancient writer, surgeon, and medical practitioner describes them in his treatise Susruta Samhita

“If she touches you, her sweat can kill. If you make love to her, your penis drops off like a ripe fruit from its stalk.”

In a nutshell, they were the world’s original Femme Fatales.

The story of the poison damsels

According to several ancient texts, the process of selecting a poison damsel was a long and tedious one with several prerequisites that need to be met to enable a girl to be a successful assassin.

  • She is one, born under an inauspicious configuration or conjugation of planets. So, she does harm to one who marries her.


  • She has a naturally gifted immune system for absorbing poisons. This was rigorously studied by doctors and the right girl is selected from hundreds of girls identified for the task.


  • There was a high mortality rate as a lot of newborn girls also lose their lives in the process of being experimented with poison in increasingly higher doses.

The selected young girls were raised on a carefully created diet of poison and antidote from an early age by a technique based on similar lines to mithridatism. Many of these girls would die during ‘training’, but those who managed to become immune to the various toxins would become human weapons as their bodily fluids became extremely poisonous to others. And any contact especially sexual contact would prove fatal to the men who had the bad luck to sleep with them.

And according to Chanakya, once the girls are 'ready', these damsels will approach their targets by seducing them and giving them poisoned alcohol. They would also drink from the same poisonous cup to gain the trust of their victim and when the unsuspecting victim would drink from the same cup, he would die instantly.

Legends also say that these girls could sometimes even take down any adversary with a single kiss due to the increasing amounts of snake venom fed to them since the 2nd day of childbirth. So, by the time they reach adolescence, even the minutest quantity of their bodily fluids can prove fatal to anybody coming in touch with them.

And even Aristotle warns his student Alexander the Great about these poison damsels in his treatise Secretum Secretorum (“The Secrets of Secrets”). Aristotle warns him to beware of lavish gifts from Indian kings. Another Indian legend even suggests that Alexander the Great died as a result of embracing a damsel that was given to him as a trophy by the defeated King Porus.

While the story might not be true, the deadly stories of these poison damsels had well managed to create shock and fear across the entire ancient world.

Did poison girls really exist?

The question, however, is, how much is the truth and how much is myth as the legend of the poison girls have so much deeply got intertwined in truth, myth, rumor, and awe that the actual potency and lives of these girls are still shrouded in mystery.

And as time passed by, the stories of the "poison damsel" passed into folklore as the unconfirmed sources gradually merged into reality and created a popular archetype theme exploited by multiple writers over the centuries that made these damsels way larger than life than what they actually were.

They have been portrayed as superhumans where in reality they may be just actual poor girls doing the dangerous job entrusted to them, sacrificing their lives in the process.

But one thing is for sure; while the ancient world seems to be a masculine one with most feats of rewriting and transforming history done by men, women also have played path-breaking roles, behind the curtains by being unglorified, unsung warriors who shaped the world as we see today.

As R. H. Sin has rightly said.

“The most dangerous woman of all is the one who refuses to rely on your sword to save her because she carries her own.”

Comments

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on February 11, 2021:

Thanks Devika

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on February 11, 2021:

This is interesting and well-written.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on February 10, 2021:

Thanks Sankhajit

Sankhajit Bhattacharjee from MILWAUKEE on February 10, 2021:

interesting article....

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