Sunday, October 25, 2009

[Creature Feature] Rakshasa

The Rakshasa is a cannibalistic, ill-tempered, shape-shifting demon notorious for disturbing sacrifices, desecrating graves, harassing priests, possessing humans, and so on. I guess they're kind of like KISS without the catchy tunes.

Magicians and warriors, their fingers are venomous, and they feed on humans and rotten food.  They show up all over India and Southeast Asia in epic poems and art. In the Ramayana, the figure of Ravana is a Rakshasa, and he is known in Laos as Hapkhanasouane in the Lao epic of Phra Lak Phra Lam. Some dispute whether or not they have a true shape.

Interestingly, in one translation of the Lotus Sutra, a set of Rakshasa daughters swear to uphold and protect the teachings of the Buddha:
At that time there were daughters of rakshasa demons, the first named Lamba, the second named Vilamba, the third named Crooked Teeth, the fourth named Flowery Teeth, the fifth named Black Teeth, the sixth named Much Hair, the seventh named Insatiable, the eighth named Necklace Bearer, the ninth named Kunti, and the tenth named Stealer of the Vital Spirit of All Living Beings. These ten rakshasa daughters, along with the Mother of Devil Children, her offspring, and her attendants, all proceeded to the place where the Buddha was and spoke to the Buddha in unison, saying, "World-Honored One, we too wish to shield and guard those who read, recite, accept, and uphold the Lotus Sutra and spare them from decline or harm. If anyone should spy out the shortcomings of these teachers of the Law and try to take advantage of them, we will make it impossible for him to do so.
Well, who could say no to an offer like that?

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