Thursday, October 07, 2010

Legendary Humanoids: Rakshasa, Evil Shapeshifter

Some mythical creatures have their origin in tradition and tales from the distant past. However, each culture is associated with a multitude of interesting and odd creatures, many of these beings are humanoids. One of these legendary humanoids is the Rakshasa.

The Rakshasa are a race of humanoid beings in Hindu and Buddhist mythology. They are seen as a type of goblin or evil spirit. They are not equal in evil traits, but have been classified into four subraces:

Ak'chazar - These rakshasa have the heads of white tigers and are skinnier than common breed. They are unusually powerful spellcasters and specialize in necromantic magic. To use their necromantic powers to their full potential the Ak'chazar often use graveyards or old battlefields as their headquarters. When working on one of their dark schemes they often let their undead do the physical work while they stay behind the scenes themselves.

Naityan - These are shapeshifters with the ability to utilize different supernatural combat styles based on their current forms.

Naztharune - Naztharune have the heads of black tigers and are covered in black fur. They have few magical powers but compensate by being strong fighters, specializing in assassination. They lack most Rakshasa's need to be the leader of any organisation that they are part of, often working for other Rakshasa.

Zakyas - Zakyas resemble standard rakshasas, but rather than focusing on sorcery, they are skilled melee combatants and weapon masters. They use their weak magical powers to supplement their martial prowess.

The great ten-headed demon Ravana, enemy of Lord Ram, was a Rakshasa king
According to the legend, Rakshasas emerged 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. It is thought that the Rakshasas of the epic poems were the rude barbarian races of India who were subdued by the Aryans.

The Rakshasas are described in the Ramayana: "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."

Many traditional Hindus believe these creature are indeed real and that it feeds on human flesh. They are shape changers and magicians, and often appear in the forms of humans, dogs, and large birds. They can make themselves invisible and can not enter a home without being invited. In the popular lore, Rakshasas are demons and fiends who haunt cemeteries, disturb sacrifices, harass priests, possess and devour human beings, and vex and afflict mankind in all sorts of ways. They are said to drink blood and preferred to attack infants and pregnant women.

Rakshasas are most powerful in the evening, particularly during the dark period of the new moon, but they are dispelled by the rising sun. Most powerful among them is their king, the 10-headed Ravana. Putana, a female demon, is well known for her attempt to kill the infant Krishna by offering him milk from her poisoned breast; she was, however, sucked to death by the god. 

They usually disturbed the sacrifices, and tortured the priests. Rakshasas are known to carry away beautiful women to whom they were attracted. The Rakshasas, male or female, were ugly in appearance, but they could assume any form they pleased with the powers they possessed. Occasionally they would serve as rank-and-file soldiers in the service of a warlord. There are epic tales of certain members of the race who rose to prominence, some of them as heroes, most of them as villains.

Most weapons don't work against these creatures. But all Rakshasas have a common weakness; that any crossbow blessed by a priest will kill them instantly. In addition there is said that a dagger of pure brass has the ability to slay it.

There are several modern depictions of Rakshasas including role playing games, comic book series and video games. For more detail references go to - Rakshasas in the Mahabharata

Legendary Humanoids: Rakshasa, Evil Shapeshifter
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