Daayan (Hindi: डायन) or Daayani is a term for a witch in India descended from the Sanskrit word dakini, which refers to a female supernatural being. The dakini appeared in medieval legends in North India such as in the Bhagavata Purana, Brahma Purana, Markandeya Purana and Kathasaritsagara as a demon in the train of Kali who feeds on human flesh. They are comparable to malevolent or vengeful female spirits, deities, imps or fairies in other cultures, such as the Persian peri.
The daayan cult refers to a secret society which emerged during the 15th century in Harangul, a village in the Latur district of Maharashtra. The concept of daayans has permeated Indian culture, and may be seen on popular television programs. Belief in daayans has existed in most regions of India, particularly Jharkhand and Bihar. "'Victims of witch-hunting are usually old or widowed women. These women are victimized for their property, or due to problems in the family or for sexual exploitation,' said Vasvi Kiro, a member of the Jharkhand Women's Commission." It is prevalent in rural and semi-rural areas, with "witch-hunts" causing women to be killed or ostracised.
In Harangul it is believed that daayan lives in an area of the village, and an evil spirit resides within them. Villagers believe these women destroy everything good. Daayans are reported in and around cemeteries, abandoned battlefields, crossroads, toilets and squalid places.
Folklore suggests that a woman treated badly by her family or who died in childbirth as a result of family neglect returns as a daayan, haunting the family and drinking the blood of male family members. Beginning with the youngest male in the family, draining his blood changes him into an old man before she progresses to the other men.
A daayan is also said to target young families, young women and other family surrogates. Assuming the form of a young, attractive female, she hunts for young men on roads and seduces lone travellers into accompanying her. Imprisoning a man, she feeds on his blood or sweat. One legend says that a daayan will hold a young man captive until he is old, using him sexually until he dies and joins the spirit world. Another says that a young man seduced by the daayan who eats her food returns at dawn to the village as an old man.
Differences with churels
Daayan is sometimes used interchangeably with the term churel (Hindi: चुड़ैल cuṛail), although conceptual and cultural differences exist between them. A churel is a female vengeful ghost believed to arise from the death of a woman during pregnancy or childbirth, with supernatural powers similar to a witch. Indian witch stories vary across the country; the north Indian states believe that the churel (which lives near graveyards or in forests) can change its form and lure young men killing or having physical contact with them.
Some women are believed to be daayans, and (along with young children) are sometimes tortured and killed in rural areas.
Practices and rituals
Daayans worship the mother goddesses Kali and Durga. Many believe they are the handmaidens of these goddesses, and are known as yoginis in local lore. In rural India, temples to Kali and Durga have yogini carvings and Hindu texts refer to yoginis.
In popular culture
Daayans are described in Ek Thi Daayan as beautiful women with long black hair tied in a thick braid and backwards-facing feet. Her strength is said to be centered in her braid; when cut, the daayan would disappear for 20 years.
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