Devotion to Ma Kali: These 'dakats' were extremely devoted to Goddess Kali. Before leaving for any 'mission', they would worship Kali. Many stories are heard in this region (Bengal)... of the advantage taken of these dacoit's devotion towards Ma Kali.
In those days... some dark-complexioned wives or daughters or daughters-in-law of a rich farmer/goldsmith/merchant/zamindar (landlord) would stride forth... completely bare, with their thick, long, dark tresses left untied and flying, a 'chopper' or sword in hand to repel these dacoits... who would have broken into their homes. And seeing them/this scene... these dacoits... overwhelmed with devotion and fear, would cry out, "Maa! Maa!" (O Mother! O Mother!) and, making obeisance before the "goddess", leave the place. Infact, many dacoits would not rob anything from a house where goddess Kali was worshipped.
To read one such story titled, "Girl as Kali-Ma"... please visit my earlier post: "Tales of Dacoits and one unique story... dating back three centuries!" (HERE)
Here is a compilation of 20 stories, "Bengal Dacoits and Tigers" by the Maharanee Sunity Devee, C.I. of Cooch Behar. It is a full text free book... and even contains a story of the legendary 18th century dacoit/brigand, Raghu Dakat ('dakat' is bangla for 'dacoit' or 'daku'). You can read them all: HERE. The download (pdf) link: HERE.
Dakate Kali: Actually... these 'thieves' and 'robbers' or the chors/dakats of yore had their own Kali. Many of these dakats lived (for a while, when they went into hiding, that is) and/or hid their looted treasures ('guptodhon') or had their 'adda' (permanent base... to hide their weapons, equipments and treasures) in the forests/woods. They had the habit of worshipping 'Dakate Kali' (Dakait Kali... meaning: the idol of Ma Kali worshipped by the 'dakats'/'dakaits'/dakus') before embarking on a 'mission'... be it peoples' houses, highways or raiding entire villages. Some of these old Kali images/idols have survived the ravages of 'father time' and are still being wroshipped, though for reasons other than those originally intended.
The very name of these dakats evoked terror in the hearts and minds of the common people... usually the rich and well-to-do. In those days, if any distant village were to be visited, the villagers would usually leave home only after making their 'wills' or having made permanent arrangements for their lands and property. This is because every moment of their travel was beset with the fear of losing their lives at the hands of the 'dakats' or the 'thengaariyaa'/'thengare' (staff wielding murderous gangs). Even today... tales of such 'thengaariyaa fields' or 'Dakate Kali' can be heard in villages.
It seems that some of these gangs even offered 'nara bali' (sacrifice of a human). According to some, this 'ritual' originated from the practice of sacrificing 'prisoners-of-war' (PoW). Some of them were experts in 'tantra' and followed (as well as mastered) several 'tantric' practices. Tales of these 'Kapalik dakats' abound in every other house in Bengal. These dakats would usually search for a healthy, able-bodied male (of a certain age) and kidnap him. On the anointed day, after performing some rituals, the 'chosen one' (to be sacrificed) would be forced to take a bath. Then some more rituals would follow... with vermillion (sindoor), ash ('chita bhoshsho'... the 'ash' gathered or taken from the remains of a funeral pyre) and/or turmeric (powdered haldi) smeared on the "intended victim's" forehead, a red hibiscus in his hair and a garland of red hibiscus flowers around his neck.
Then... at the appointed time, this man would be made to kneel in front of the 'hadikath' with his hands tied behind his back... and with his neck resting on the base of the U-shaped 'hadikath'. A dakat would stand beside him... ready with a 'kharga' or 'chopper'... while the others sat around and watched. On the dot, with one stroke of this 'kharga' - and on most occasions, accompanied by the thundering of the drums and the frenzied beating of the gongs, with the chanting of some 'mantras' and cries of salutations to Kali Ma - the "sacrificial human's" 'jobai' (cutting off the head... from the neck) is completed. All this... in front of an image/idol of Ma Kali (rather 'Dakate Kali'). The warm and fresh blood that gushed out from the neck of the headless and (now) lifeless body... was given as an offering to appease Ma Kali (as per the dakats' belief/philosophy). Some dakats even smeared their bodies with the fresh blood. Freshly plucked, red coloured hibiscus flowers were also used during the puja/worship of goddess Kali.
Note: A 'hadikath' is an U-shaped structure, made of strong wood, and attached to the ground via a wooden base... which makes it resemble the english alphabet 'Y'. But instead of the 'v' on top... there is an 'u'. The 'hadikath' (or 'harikath') gets a fresh coating of oil and vermilion before every 'sacrifice'. Over time, the practice of 'nara bali' decreased and was replaced by 'patha bali' (sacrifice of a goat). Accordingly, a goat stolen by these dakats would be consecrated here.
I have read about an incident... based on a true story... involving this spine-chilling ritual/practice of 'nara bali'. Here is the story (through first-person narrative)...
In those days we used to visit the pilgrimage spots of Bharat (India) by boat on the Ganga. On the way back from Kashi, we were resting at a place on the riverbank. My neighbours requested me to collect firewood. I had gone a little way into the jungle when some muscular men caught hold of me. Tying my hands and gagging me with a 'gamchha', (a cloth towel used for wiping the body after a bath) they carried me through the jungle. Reaching a huge pond, they dropped me on its bank.
Looking back, I saw... below a banyan tree... a massive image of Kali with lolling tongue and a real chopper (kharga/khanda) in hand. I understood that they had undoubtedly brought me to be sacrificed to the mother. Here and there about 60 people were seated on mats and smoking. Looking at the wooden block nearby and the polished chopper next to it, I horripilated.
After this... at two at night, after the worship, two of the men untied me and took me to the tank for bathing. One of them dragged me into the water. Luckily, I was an expert in underwater swimming and could hold my breath very long. On the excuse of dunking my head, I dove underwater to the opposite bank where I merged into the darkness and sat silently on the topmost branch of a big tree. The dacoits searched long for me with torches in the jungle and finally left frustrated. Then I quietly came down and after tiptoeing for some distance, ran for my life... to the bank of the Ganga and clambered up on the boat. It is Mother Kali's grace that saved my life somehow on that trip and that is why I could tell you this story. Otherwise all my friends would have presumed that I had been dragged away by a tiger.
You can read an extract of another such story from the Bangla short story, "Asto charan sholo hantu" ("Eight Legs Sixteen Knees"): HERE.
Some info gathered, courtesy: Wikipedia.
Hadikath: 'HADI', a 'helot race', spread over all Bengal, who take their name from the original 'Santali' word for 'man', 'Had', and who have supplied such terms as 'Hadd' - base, low-born ; 'Hadduk' - a sweeper ; 'Hunda' - hog, blockhead, imp; 'Hudduka' - a drunken sot, etc.
Also, 'Hadi', in low Bengali 'Hadikath', is the name of a rude fetter or stock, by which landholders used to confine their serfs until they agreed to their terms. It means literally the 'helot's log'. It was also used for fastening the head of the victim in the bloody oblations which the Aryan/Vedic religion adopted from the aboriginal races, especially in the human sacrifices to goddess Kali, to which the low castes even now resort in times of special need. In an account of such a human offering to Ma Kali, during the famine of 1866, it was mentioned that the bleeding head was found fixed on the 'harcat,' i.e. the helot's log.
There are ample references to the 'Ashwamedha Yagna' (Sanskrit: अश्वमेध aśvamedhá; "horse sacrifice") but no mention of 'nara bali' even in our two great epics (the Ramayana and the Mahabharata). Hence, this bone-chilling custom of 'nara bali' is a much later day phenomenon/ritual.
There is a mention of "Purushamedha" (literally translated, "human sacrifice")... which is a Vedic yajna (ritual) described in the Yajurveda (VS 30–31). The verse describes people from all classes and of all descriptions tied to the stake and offered to Prajapati. The ritual in many aspects resembles that of the Ashvamedha (horse sacrifice). But, these nominal victims were afterwards released uninjured, and, so far as the text of the 'White Yajurveda' goes, the whole ceremony was merely emblematical. The ceremony evokes the primordial mythical sacrifice of "Purusha", the "Cosmic Man", and the officiating Brahman recites the Purusha sukta (RV 10.90 = AVS 5.19.6 = VS 31.1–16).
"Asto charan sholo hantu" ("Eight Legs Sixteen Knees") - In Harvest [Vol.1]: Bangla Short Stories. Translation from Bengali: Tapati Gupta.
1. An idol of Ma Kali (Pic courtesy: link)
2. A red hibiscus flower (Pic courtesy: Wikipedia).