Magic in Hindu, Sumer and Egyptian Culture


Research Article No. 2036

Written by London swaminathan

Date : 2nd August  2015

Time uploaded in London : – 19-12



This article is about the Hindu beliefs of burying hair and bones at the place of an enemy to eliminate him/her and hanging ugly faces to ward off evil eye (Dhrsti) that were found in Egypt, Greece and Sumer.

Western “Scholars” used to project Greeks as advanced in modern thinking or philosophical thinking. It is true only after they came into contact with the Hindus.  We see it from the period of Pythagoras and Socrates, who came into the world only after the Upanishad period. Greeks, Egyptians and Sumer people had similar beliefs about magic, witchcraft and ghosts which was in the Vedas at least one thousand years before them. There are of similarities in the Atharva Veda, Sumerian and Egyptian literature. I will take only one set of beliefs for comparison in this article:


How to destroy enemies or evil spirits?

All the ancient people believed that they can eliminate their enemies or evil spirits through curses. They also believed that they can destroy the statues or dolls of their enemies and eliminate them. They thought that they can bury something like hair, magical plates or talismans at the residence of their enemies and subdue them.

Kavachams are a genre of hymns where in god is prayed to protect every part of the body. In addition to it, they pray for the elimination of their enemies and counter act the enemy’s black magic activities. The most famous kavacham of Tamils is Kantha Shasti Kavacham which prays to God Skanda, son of Shiva. It specifically refers to the enemies act of burying dolls, cat’s hair, bones, hair and nails of children etc. The devotee of Skanda prays to neutralise such things and act against all the ghosts, spirits, ghouls etc. The basis for such belief is in the Atharva Veda (10-1-18 and 19). This shows that it is an age old belief; may be several thousand years old.

This belief spread to different parts of the world when Vedic Hindus spread to different parts of the world.

To ward off the evil eye, an ugly figure was hung in all the palaces or houses of the Hindus. This is called Dhrsti (Evil Eye) doll. This is found in all other cultures.

pazuzu 3

Sumerian beliefs

Magic was used to drive away demons, to undo the bad effects of certain sinful actions, to counteract the potential effects of certain portended effects, to increase sexual potency, to secure the favours of a loved one, to quieten squalling infants and to frustrate the activity of hostile sorcerers

(All these are in Hindu mantras/incantations)

Sumer people wore ugly figures similar to ugly Dhrsti dolls of Hindus. ‘Pazuzu’ was Sumer demon. They hung it at the entrance of the houses like Hindus. Hattic and Hittites cultures were sources for all this belief. They were Kshatriyas who migrated from India.

Akkadian had ‘namburbu’ incantation rituals to ward off evil things. Some aspects of these were done during night time like Hindu black magic rituals. Hindus did this at the dead of night.

Sumerian incantations are similar to Atharva Veda incantations/mantras. (I have already shown that even the most popular Valentine day symbol of an ‘arrow piercing the heart’ is from the Atharva Veda).


image of Bes

Egyptian Beliefs

The magical rituals that are most easily understood involved the deflection of enemies by cursing formulae (similar to Vedas). These are accompanied by ritual destruction of wax or clay figures (Even now it is done by magicians in Kerala) Ritual devised for vanquishing cosmic enemies Apep and political enemies, also private individuals, were essentially similar in character. Some Greco-Egyptian spells invoke evil gods and demons to appear in a person’s nightmares.

Magic was used for benign purpose as well. A love potion was given to wanted man or woman with incantations (like in Athrva Veda). Talismans, amulets and Lucky charms were also used to bring fortune to the wearer. Huge quantities of amulets representing gods and goddesses, parts of the body replicas were recovered from Egyptian burial sites. Magical spells written on papyrus were also used as amulets. Hindus also did this. They put such magical spells inside the metal containers and hung on their necks.

Isis was the goddess frequently addressed. Bes was a curious dwarf whose hideous features personify the supernatural world’s mixture of frightfulness and beneficence.

bes in Louvre

Bes in Louvre Museum, Paris


Bes’ ugliness wards off evil. He appears with a large bearded and barely human face, a thick body, short arms and short bandy legs. He wears a plumed crown and often wields a short sword. He possesses a lion’s mane, usually has his mouth open and tongue protruding. He is also drawn as a dancing musician.  Bes was absorbed by Greco – Roman culture. The Greeks depicted him in strong ithyphallic (erect penis) guise.

(This can be compared with the Dhrsti doll of Hindus or Ayyanar/Sastha, village God with sword and protruding tongue at villages in South India).

Bes was a protective deity, usually portrayed as a hideous but jovial dwarf. It was revered as the god of pleasure and entertainment and as a protector of the family, especially of children and women in child birth

hecate 2

Hekate in Greece

Hekate is the corrupted form of Sakti in Sanskrit. The goddess of sorcery, who resided in the Underworld.  There she oversaw the ritual purifications as well as magical invocations. Witches, such as Medea, drew power from the goddess. Hekate would sometimes appear on earth at night time, especially at cross roads, accompanied by baying hounds.

(Hindus fear to cross junction of three roads, particularly at night time,  and they believe evil spirits occupy those places. Greeks also believed in it)

Artistic representations show her carrying torches. Where paths met, a triple figure of Hecate rose from masks placed at the junction. Offerings were left at road side shrines and at junctions. In some parts of Greece she was worshipped by occult bands and moon worshippers.

(Vedic Hindus believed in Path way god Pushan. In South Indian villages lot of road side shrines are there for village gods and goddesses.)

pazuzu, british museumpazzuzu assyrian

image of Sumerian Pazuzu


Dictionary of the Ancient Near East by British Museum

Ancient Egypt by David Silverman

Atharva Vedam(tamil Book) by Tamilmaaran

Dictionary of World Myth by Roy Willis

Encyclopaedia of Gods by Michael Jordan

Pictures from various sources

Hindu Magic — Indra Jal!

rope trick karachi

Written by London Swaminathan
Post No. 1046; Dated 16th May 2014

Magic is one of the Sixty Four Arts in the Sanskrit book Kamasutra. Vatsyayana recommended it even for women. More than their friends and relatives, they can make their children enjoy it. But in actual practice, we see only men. They dominate the World of Magic. Of all the Indian magic tricks the Rope Trick was the most famous one. The magician would climb a rope that is going towards sky and disappear from there!

The Indian Rope trick was the oldest Indian magic. Adi Shnkara mentioned it in his commentary on Vedanta. Kanchi Paramacharya put his date somewhere before Christ. So the trick must be at least 2000 year old. Vatsyayana also metnioned magic as one of the 64 arts. Later, traveller Ibn Batuta (1304-1377) has mentioned a similar trick which he saw in China. Adi Shankara has clearly said it was an illusion. So people knew that there was no mystery behind it, but only an illusion or just tricks.

A lot of tricks fall under the category of Indrajal. We don’t know why Indra’s name is attached to it. It may be due to its colourful presentation. Rainbow with seven colours is called Indra’s bow in Sanskrit and Tamil literature.

The Sanskrit Prose Kavya ‘’Dasakumaracharitam’’ by the Seventh Century poet Dandin gives an interesting account of a magic show.

Rajavahana was a prince of Magadha country. Manasara, King of Malawa, had a daughter by name Avantisundari. Rajavahana’s father was driven out of the country by Malawa king and he was living in exile in the forest. He allowed Rajavahana to go on an all India tour. He was separated from his group of nine friends on the way and arrived at Ujjaini, capital of Malawa desa. There he met his old friend who married a girl who is close to Avantisundari. When he met her one day he fell in love with her. She also wanted to marry him. But he knew his father wouldn’t allow that relationship, because she was the daughter of his enemy.
Magic Series - smoke and mirrors

By chance he met a magician by name Vidyeswara who was ready to help Rajavahana in his wedding plan. Through Avantisundari, Rajavahana got one magic show arranged in the palace. The description of the magic show reveals how the old magic shows looked like. Here is the detail:

Trumpets were sounded, music was played, songs were sung by enchanting songstresses, and then fierce looking snakes, displaying their hoods, roamed about the court emitting out poison. Shrieks were heard and people rushed to the doors, when a flight of vultures descended from above the sky and flew away each with one serpent in its mouth. Before the people had come to their senses, a growl like thunder was heard, and people saw with their own eyes Vishnu- assuming his half man half lion form (Narasimha form),killing the demon Hiranyakasipu.

Thus holding the whole audience spellbound for half an hour, the clever magician saluted the king and said, “Your Majesty, I think I should conclude my programme with a pleasant and auspicious show to cheer up my spectators. I am afraid, I have taxed their nerves too much. And what else would be more pleasant that a marriage between a girl resembling your daughter and a handsome youth, an exact match for the bride?”
The king who was more than pleased with what the magician had already shown, smilingly agreed to the novel idea.

In came Rajavahana, hand in hand with Avantisundai and the marriage ceremony was conducted by a proper priest. Then the magician waved his wand and shouted ‘vanish’. Both Rajavahana and Avantisundari disappeared through a secret door in the palace.

Though it was only a fiction, we knew that the magic shows were performed 1200 years ago. Legendary King Vikramaditya’s wife Bhanumati and Bhoja were experts of this art.
Sutrakrida, tricks with coloured threads, Hasta laghava, tricks by hands were also known in those days.

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