Creature #4 - Rakshasa  

Posted by Wishwords in , ,

I've hesitated to tackle any primarily Hindu creatures because they all seem to be individual gods or demons. But then I remembered the Rakshasa. I first heard of Rakshasa years ago when I played Dungeons and Dragons. It has been used quite a bit more in pop culture, most notably video and role-playing games, than some of the other creatures I've written about, but it isn't a creature that most people readily recognize.

In D&D, the Rakshasa was depicted as an anthropomorphic tiger. I remember a drawing of one in a smoking jacket, lounging in a wingback chair. I can sort of see where they got that depiction, but the legendary Rakshasa is certainly no mere humanoid tiger.



In Hindu and Buddhist mythology, the Rakshasa is a goblin, demon, or evil spirit noted for shape shifting, magic, and eating humans and spoiled food. In the great Hindu epics, they are depicted as powerful warriors as well as skilled magicians and illusionists. Their hobbies are disturbing sacrifices, desecrating graves, harassing priests, and possessing humans. Their demonic form is usually described or shown as humanoid, yellow, green, or blue with catlike eyes, potbellies, large fangs, poisonous fingernails, and a reek of rotten meat. Some note that they are most powerful at night, especially during the new moon, and are dispelled by sunrise, but in the epics they are noted for participating in huge battles, which I assume took place during the day.

There are a couple differing ideas about their origins. In the Hindu epic, Ramayan, it says that they sprang from Brahma's foot. In other epics, they are descended from the sage Pulastya. The Vishnu Purana, one of the most important Hindu religious texts, calls them descendants of Kasyapa and Khasa, through their son Rakshas. Early Sanskrit texts say they are the children of the Vedic goddess of death, Nirriti. And in some legends, they are the reincarnations of extremely wicked humans.

Interestingly, the Rakshasa appears to be limited to the Hindu and Buddhist cultures. The argument could be made that the Jewish and Christian Satan bears resemblance, but Satan is an individual archdemon rather than a race of creatures and more complex.

Well-known Rakshasa

Ravana - King of the Rakshasa, had ten heads, was said to have paid homage to the Buddha.

Pūtanā - Rakshasi (female Rakshasa), attempted to kill the infant Krishna by offering him milk from her poisoned breast. Krishna sucked the life out of her, literally.

Vibhishana - Ravana's younger brother, was not evil, helped Rama defeat Ravana and was made king of Lanka.

A group of Rakshasi - followed the Buddha, protected the Lotus Sutra, and taught magic (in the form of mantras) to the followers.

Rakshasa in art

If you ever get the chance to visit Cambodia and see the temples of Angkor (one of the places on my wish list to see), you will find many carvings of Ravana and even one of Vibhishana. There is even a bas-relief of the Battle of Lanka in Angkor Wat.

Rakshasa in modern books and comics

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny - The now-bodiless natives of the planet are Rakshasa.
Song in the Silence by Elizabeth Kerner - The demons are referred to as Rakshasa.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman - Rakshasas appear briefly.
The Iron Ring by Lloyd Alexander - The villain turns out to be a Rakshasa.
Rakshasa by Max Overton - The entire book is about Rakshasa.
Resurrecting Ravana by Ray Garton - A Buffy the Vampire Slayer original novel with Rakshasa as the bad guys.
Game World Trilogy by Samit Basu - Rakshasas are one of the major races.
Gold Digger manga-style comics by Fred Perry - One of the characters is a Rakshasa.

Rakshasa in video games

• The Exile and Avernum games - Rakshasas are one of the magic-casting enemies.
Linley's Dungeon Crawl - The Rakshasa is one of the monsters.
Final Fantasy for PlayStation, Game Boy Advance, and PlayStation Portable - The Rakshasa is a magic-casting, tiger-headed creature.
Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne - Rakshasas are Haunt class creatures.

Rakshasa in role-playing games

Dungeons & Dragons - Rakshasa are tiger-headed necromancers, enchanters, and illusionists.
The Palladium Fantasy RPG - Rakshasas are a race of demons (spelled Raksasha in the game).

Rakshasa in movies and television

Kolchak: The Night Stalker episode "Horror in the Heights" (A great TV series, btw even though it aired so long ago.)
Supernatural episode "Everybody Loves a Clown"

As always, please use this article to inspire you to write about or visually depict the month's creature. If you do and would like your artwork or fiction (around 500 words) posted, please email me. I would love for people to see your work.

This entry was posted on Thursday, October 1, 2009 at Thursday, October 01, 2009 and is filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

1 comments

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March 21, 2012 at 10:18 AM

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