Man-Eating Boulder

There was once a widow working in the fields of the Khasi Hills in Meghalaya, India. She gave her two sons bananas to eat and let them run off and play by themselves while she plowed the fields. The two boys were climbing over some rocks when the younger son found that his foot was stuck. His older brother tried to pull him out, but instead found that his brother was sinking deeper and deeper into the rock.

He called to his mother for help. “Come quickly, my brother’s feet have been swallowed by a boulder!” But his mother didn’t believe him. Thinking that he and his brother were playing a game, she ignored his cries and continued plowing. By the time she checked on her children, the younger brother had been completely swallowed up by the man-eating boulder, and only the outstretched hand of the older brother – still clutching a banana – was visible sticking out of the rock.

All the men of the village brought their hammers and tried to free the children, but every time they struck the boulder, it grew bigger. Finally, fearing that they too would be swallowed up, they abandoned the children to their fate.

References

Bhairav, J. F. and Khanna, R. (2020) Ghosts, Monsters, and Demons of India. Blaft Publications, Chennai.

Corocotta

Variations: Korokottas, Krokottas, Krokottos, Krokouttas (Greek); Corocottas, Crocotta, Crocote, Crocuta (Latin); Cynolycus, Kunolykos, Kynolykos (Greek, “Dog-wolf”); Leoncerote; Chaus; Cameleopard (Strabo); Cyrocrothes, Leucrocotham (Albertus Magnus); Cirotrochea (Ortus Sanitatis); Hyena, Iena, Yena, Yenna

The hyena was known to the ancients under several names. The term hyaina (Greek) and hyaena (Latin) almost certainly refer to the smaller and more familiar striped hyena. The more exotic Corocotta is probably the spotted hyena, especially considering its vocal qualities and prowess at hunting. Then there are other terms that may refer to hyenas such as the glanos, the chaus, and the thōs, the last of which is probably a jackal, civet, or hunting dog.

Much of what is said about the corocotta is shared with the hyena, and even Greek and Roman authors seem uncertain as to whether or not it is seprate from the hyena. Translators of classical texts have also chosen to retain “corocotta” as a unique word, or simply replace it with hyena. Further muddying the waters is the emergence of the derivative leucrocotta, which gained features of the hyena/corocotta through this confusion and passed on its own features (such as a lion-hyena ancestry and single bones for teeth) to the corocotta.

What is known is that the corocotta is unfamiliar, hailing from far-flung lands – either Ethiopia or India, depending on the author (the regions were used interchangeably). If it is indeed African, the word corocotta may be a Libyan or Ethiopian word for the hyena. Lassen (cited by McCrindle) saw in Ctesias an Indian origin to the corocotta, and derives its name from the Sanskrit kroshtuka, “jackal”. The name has since then been applied to the spotted hyena Crocuta crocuta.

Ctesias says that the corocotta is also known as the cynolycus (“dog-wolf”). It is found in Ethiopia and is incredibly strong. It can mimic human voices, calling people out by name at night and killing them when they come out in response. It is as brave as a lion, as fast as a horse, as strong as a bull, and cannot be fought with steel weapons.

Agatharchides says it is a fierce and powerful creature that lives in Ethiopia. It can crush bones with its jaws. The corocotta can also mimic human speech, and it uses this ability to lure humans out at night so it can kill them. Agatharchides rejects this.

Pliny says that the corocotta is the offspring of a dog and a wolf. It can crush anything with its teeth, and anything it eats is immediately digested and passed through its body. It is Ethiopian. Elsewhere further powers are attributed to the hyena or crocuta: it changes sex every other year, its neck is an extension of its spine, it can imitate human speech and vomiting sounds, it digs up graves, its shadow strikes dogs dumb, it paralyzes other living things by circling around them three times, and it has a thousand variations in eye color.

Aelian separates the hyena and the corocotta. The hyena roams around cattle pens by night and imitates the sound of vomiting, attracting dogs which are promptly killed and eaten. But the corocotta is even craftier. Aelian says that it listens to woodcutters calling each other by name and the words they say, then it imitates their voices, calling out to its victim and withdrawing before calling again. It continues this game of cat-and-mouse until its prey has been tempted far away from their friends, whereupon the corocotta pounces and kills them. Aelian admits that “the story may be fabulous”.

Dio Cassius reports that Severius had a corocotta imported from India to be slain in the games in AD 202. It had never been seen in Rome before.

By the time the crocotta and leucrocotta had reached medieval Europe, the similarity of their descriptions, combined with the leucrocotta’s more memorable physical features, caused them to combine. The MS Bodley 764 bestiary adds a mention of the crocote at the end of the hyena entry, describing it as a hybrid of lion and hyena with a single bone replacing its teeth (both features of the leucrocotta). It imitates human voices and is always found in the same place. The leucrota, on the other hand, is given a complete entry of its own which is fairly faithful to its original account.

Albertus Magnus refers to the “cyrocrothes”, which is the corocotta with the single tooth-bone of the leucrocotta, and the “leucrocotham”. It is further corrupted in the Ortus Sanitatis, which includes both the “cirotrochea” and the “leucrocuta”.

Topsell divides his Hyena entry to cover the varieties of hyena. In addition to the hyena proper, he provides additional hyenas including the papio (baboon), the mantichora, and the crocuta. The crocuta has become the same as the leucrocuta; it is an Ethiopian cross between a lioness and a hyena, with its teeth replaced by a single bone in each jaw. It imitates men’s voices and can break and digest anything.

Ludolphus is clear that the hyena or crocuta (by now they are one and the same, and refer to what we would now call the spotted hyena) is the most voracious of all Ethiopian beasts, preying upon men in the day as well as at night, and digging down the walls of houses and stables. It is speckled with black and white spots.

It may be that the hyena of the ancients was the striped hyena, while the corocotta was the spotted hyena, or vice versa. The imitation of human speech seems a clear allusion to the spotted or laughing hyena’s vocalizations. Despite that, the Palestrina Nile Mosaic identifies a striped creature as a corocotta; spotted animals are labeled as examples of the mysterious thōs.

Finally, a notable Spanish bandit was known as Corocotta. This may be a complete coincidence.

References

Aelian, trans. Scholfield, A. F. (1959) On the Characteristics of Animals, vol. II. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Ball, V. (1885) On the Identification of the Animals and Plants of India. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, II(6), pp 302-346

Barber, R. (1993) Bestiary. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge.

Borges, J. L.; trans. di Giovanni, N. T. (2002) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Vintage Classics, Random House, London.

Borges, J. L.; trans. Hurley, A. (2005) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Viking.

Brottman, M. (2012) Hyena. Reaktion Books, London.

Ctesias, McCrindle, J. W. trans. (1882) Ancient India as described by Ktesias the Knidian. Thacker, Spink & Co., Calcutta; B. E. S. Press, Bombay; Trubner and Co., London.

Cuba, J. (1539) Le iardin de santé. Philippe le Noir, Paris.

Kitchell, K. F. (2014) Animals in the Ancient World from A to Z. Routledge, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon.

Ludolphus, J. (1684) A New History of Ethiopia. Samuel Smith, London.

Magnus, A. (1920) De Animalibus Libri XXVI. Aschendorffschen Verlagbuchhandlung, Münster.

Pliny; Holland, P. trans. (1847) Pliny’s Natural History. George Barclay, Castle Street, Leicester Square.Robin, P. A. (1936) Animal Lore in English Literature. John Murray, London.

Topsell, E. (1658) The History of Four-footed Beasts. E. Cotes, London.

Unknown. (1538) Ortus Sanitatis. Joannes de Cereto de Tridino.

Yam Bhaya Akhoot

Variations: Abang Aku (Malay, corruption), A Bao a Qu (corruption)

The Yam Bhaya Akhoot is a mysterious, amorphous being that lives at the bottom of the stairway of the Vijay Stambha, the Tower of Victory, in Chittorgarh, India. By night it haunts the Bhimlat Kund water tank.

Normally the Yam Bhaya Akhoot is in a dormant state, and is invisible. But when visitors start climbing the tower, it follows them up the stairs, remaining on the well-worn outside the steps. It can see through its whole body. Blue light starts to glow through its skin, which is translucent and feels like the skin of a peach. With each step covered its shape becomes clearer and its blue glow stronger. Tentacular appendages appear at the halfway point of the staircase.

It will only follow a fully self-realized person to the top of the stairs. If the Yam Bhaya Akhoot realizes that the person it’s following is unworthy, it lets out a sigh like the rustling of silk and tumbles down the stairs all the way back to the first step, where it awaits the next visitor. But if the person it follows is fully self-realized and blameless, then it will reach the top with them, become their aura, and guide them to Nirvana. This event has happened only once, and sadly is probably impossible today since the top of the tower was covered by a dome in more recent times.

Ethereal and benign, the Yam Bhaya Akhoot’s origin may be more sinister. One suggestion is that it is the ghost of the leader of the Nakshatra Meenu, the giant brittle stars that invaded the Konkan Coast. It had been captured and presented generations later to the ruler of Mewar.

In Malaysia the Yam Bhaya Akhoot is known as Abang Aku, probably a corruption of its name and which can be read as “elder brother”. This is turn was further corrupted to “A Bao A Qu”, a term which was used and popularized by J. L. Borges. Furthermore, Borges also confusingly attributes it to either C. C. Iturvuru’s On Malay Witchcraft or Richard Francis Burton’s The Thousand and One Nights depending on the version of his book.

References

Bhairav, J. F. and Khanna, R. (2020) Ghosts, Monsters, and Demons of India. Blaft Publications, Chennai.

Borges, J. L.; trans. di Giovanni, N. T. (1969) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Clarke, Irwin, & Co., Toronto.

Borges, J. L.; trans. di Giovanni, N. T. (2002) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Vintage Classics, Random House, London.

Borges, J. L. (1978) El Libro de los Seres Imaginarios. Emece Editores, Buenos Aires.

Borges, J. L.; trans. Hurley, A. (2005) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Viking.

Borges, J. L. (2009) Manual de Zoologia Fantastica. Fondo de Cultura Economica, Mexico.

Ajaju

The Ajaju was the terror of the Garo people of Achik Asong and Dura Hill in the Garo Hills of India. Nowadays members of this carnivorous species are a lot harder to find.

An ajaju looks like a chameleon with long kneeless legs. Its head may be like a human head or a chameleon’s head in appearance. It has twelve long, sharp, forked tongues that are very flexible and which it uses to lick up its prey’s flesh and blood.

The kneeless legs of an ajaju are like bamboo stalks without nodes. In the trees an ajaju can swing from branch to branch with ease, but movement on land is a lot harder. Chasing someone downhill is virtually impossible for an ajaju, but anyone running uphill would be immediately caught by the creature’s long sickle-like tongues, swallowed, and stripped of flesh and blood by the tongues. Then there would be nothing left save a few bones for the ajaju to spit out with distaste.

To attract prey an ajaju will call out in a shrill voice, “wa-o, wa-o, wa-o”. If someone responds, the ajaju will continue calling, coming nearer and nearer each time. That is why, if venturing into ajaju territory, one must call out in a high-pitched voice. If the ajaju responds, then one must remain silent and focus on putting as much distance as possible between them and the creature.

Ajaju parts are of great medicinal value, including as a substitute for missing bones when resurrecting someone. One narrator claimed to be in possession of ajaju parts from Rongkugiri, taken when a couple of ajajus were killed decades ago.

References

Rongmuthu, D. S. (1960) The Folk-tales of the Garos. University of Gauhati Department of Publication, Guwahati.

Indus Worm

Variations: Odontotyrannus (allegedly)

indus-worm

Deep in the Indus River live worms that resemble those found in figs or rotten wood, only seven cubits (over 3 meters) in length on average, and thick enough that a ten-year-old boy could barely wrap his arms around one. They have two square teeth, one above and one below, each about 18 inches long. The skin is two fingers thick.

By day the worms remain underwater, wallowing in mud, but they emerge at night to prey on animals up to the size of a cow or camel. Victims are seized, dragged into the Indus, and devoured at leisure. The large teeth can crush their way through flesh, bone, and stone, and only the paunch is left uneaten. There have also been cases of hungry worms seizing drinking camels and oxen by the nose in broad daylight, and pulling them under.

Despite its predatory nature, it is prized by the Indians for its oil, which is highly flammable and capable of consuming wood and animals alike. Fires started by Indus worm oil can only be quenched by throwing large amounts of clay and rubbish on them. The oil is so rare that only the king of India may possess it. To obtain this oil, the worms are captured on hooks to which a lamb or kid has been chained, and slain with javelins, swords, and clubs. After landing and killing a worm, it is hung up for thirty days, with vessels underneath to catch the oil that drips from its carcass. 5 pints of oil are produced in this way. The worm is then disposed of, and the oil is sent to the king. Stored in clay vessels, it makes a formidable siege weapon.

The amphibious lifestyle, geographical location, and predatory habits of the Indus worm have led to comparisons with the Odontotyrannus, although the similarities end there.

References

Aelian, trans. Scholfield, A. F. (1959) On the Characteristics of Animals, vol. I. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Ctesias, McCrindle, J. W. trans. (1882) Ancient India as described by Ktesias the Knidian. Thacker, Spink & Co., Calcutta; B. E. S. Press, Bombay; Trubner and Co., London.

de Xivrey, J. B. (1836) Traditions Tératologiques. L’Imprimerie Royale, Paris.