October 22nd, 2014

beardy

How to cut off one's own head (including repeatedly), and the case of the man who did accidentally

I am continuing, in odd moments, to plough my way through Sir Henry Yule's commentary on The Travels of Marco Polo. In III.XVII, Polo writes of the province of Maabar in India:
They have in this country the custom which I am going to relate. When a man is doomed to die for any crime, he may declare that he will put himself to death in honour of such or such an idol ; and the government then grants him permission to do so. His kinsfolk and friends then set him up on a cart, and provide him with twelve knives, and proceed to conduct him all about the city, proclaiming aloud: "This valiant man is going to slay himself for the love of (such an idol)." And when they be come to the place of execution he takes a knife and sticks it through his arm, and cries : "I slay myself for the love of (such a god)!" Then he takes another knife and sticks it through his other arm, and takes a third knife and runs it into his belly and so on until he kills himself outright. And when he is dead his kinsfolk take the body and burn it with a joyful celebration.
Which leads Yule into this delightfully morbid (and largely irrelevant) discursion:

I have not found other mention of a condemned criminal being allowed thus to sacrifice himself; but such suicides in performance of religious vows have occurred in almost all parts of India in all ages. Friar Jordanus, after giving a similar account to that in the text of the parade of the victim, represents him as cutting off his own head before the idol, with a peculiar two-handled knife "like those used in currying leather." And strange as this sounds it is undoubtedly true. Ibn Batuta witnessed the suicidal feat at the Court of the Pagan King of Mul-Java (somewhere on the coast of the Gulf of Siam), and Mr. Ward, without any knowledge of these authorities, had heard that an instrument for this purpose was formerly preserved at Kshira, a village of Bengal near Nadiya. The thing was called Karavat; it was a crescent-shaped knife, with chains attached to it forming stirrups, so adjusted that when the fanatic placed the edge to the back of his neck and his feet in the stirrups, by giving the latter a violent jerk his head was cut off. Padre Tieffentaller mentions a like instrument at Prág (or Allahabad). Durgavati, a famous Queen on the Nerbada, who fell in battle with the troops of Akbar, is asserted in a family inscription to have severed her own head with a scimitar she held in her hand. According to a wild legend told at Ujjain, the great king Vikramajit was in the habit of cutting off his own head daily, as an offering to Devi. On the last performance the head failed to reattach itself as usual; and it is now preserved, petrified, in the temple of Harsuddi at that place.

I never heard of anybody in Europe performing this extraordinary feat except Sir Jonah Barrington's Irish mower, who made a dig at a salmon with the butt of his scythe-handle and dropt his own head in the pool! (Jord. 33 ; I B. IV. 246; Ward, Madras ed. 249-50; J. A. S. B. XVII. 833; Rás Mála, II. 387.)



—Originally posted on Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments. Please comment there using OpenID or a DreamWidth account (which you no longer need an invite code to create). Though I am leaving comments enabled on LiveJournal for a bit, please don't comment here if you can do so there instead.