Rakshas, or Rakshasa

Rakshas, Or Rakshasa is, in Hindu mythology, the name of a class of evil spirits or demons, who are sometimes imagined as attendants on Kuvera, the god of riches, and guardians of his treasures, but more frequently as mischievous, cruel, and hideous monsters, haunting cemeteries, devouring human beings, and ever ready to oppose the gods and to disturb pious people. They have the power of assuming any shape at will, and their strength increases towards the evening twilight. Several of them are described as having many heads andt arms, SEE RAVANA, large teeth, red hair, and, in general, as being of repulsive appearance; others, however, especially the females of this class, could also take beautiful forms in order to allure their victims. In the legends of the Ikahabhdratca, Ramdyana, and the Puranas, they play an important part, embodying, as it were, at the period of these compositions, the evil principle on earth, as opposed to all that is physically or morally good. In the Purainas, they are sometimes mentioned as the offspring of the patriarch Pulastya, at other times as the sons of the patriarch Kasyapa. Another account of their origin, given in the Vishnu-Puarcna, where, treating of the creation of the world (bk. i, ch. v), is the following; "Next, from Brahma, in a form composed of the quality of foulness, was produced hunger, of whom anger was born; and the god put forth in darkness beings emaciate with hunger, of hideous aspects, and with long beards. Those beings hastened to the deity. Such of them as exclaimed, 'Not so; oh! let him be saved,' were named Rakshasa (from 'raksh, save); others who cried out, 'Let us eat,' were denominated, from that expression, Yaksha (from yaksh, for jaksh, eat)." This popular etymology of the name, however, would be at variance with the cruel nature of these beings, and it seems, therefore, to have been improved upon in the Bhayavata-Puaurna. where it is related that Brahma transformed himself into night, invested with a body; this the Yakshas and Rlakshasas seized upon, exclaiming, "Do not spare it — devour it!" when Brahmn cried out, "Don't devour me (tuad munin jctkshata) — spare me! (rakshaftt )." (See F. E. Hall's note to Wilson's Vishnu-Plui aint, i, 82.) The more probable origin of the word Rakshas — kindred with the German Recke or Riese — is that from a radical rish, "hurt," or "destroy," with an affix sas; hence, literally, the destructive being.

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