The Vish Kanya (Sanskrit विष कन्या; singular: Visha Kanya) (English: Poison girl) were young women reportedly used as assassins, often against powerful enemies, during the Mauryan Empire (321–185 BCE). Their blood was purportedly poisonous to other humans, and was mentioned in the ancient Indian treatise on statecraft, Arthashastra, written by Chanakya (Kautilya), an adviser and a prime minister to the first Maurya Emperor Chandragupta (c. 340–293 BCE).
However, in time, "poison damsel" passed into folklore, became an archetype explored by many writers, resulting in a popular literary character that appears in many works, including classical Sanskrit texts such as Sukasaptati.
Believed to be started by Chanakya, Vish Kanya were used by kings to destroy enemies. The myth states that girls were made poisonous by exposing them to low-intensity poison from a very young age, a practice referred to as mithridatism. Although many of them would die, those that did not developed an immunity and their body fluids would be "poisoned", and poisonous; sexual contact would thus be lethal to other humans.
In popular culture
Vish Kanya has been a popular theme in Indian literature and folklore, and apart from appearing in classical Sanskrit texts, it has appeared repeatedly in various works like Vishkanya by Shivani and Ek Aur Vish Kanya? by Om Prakash Sharma, who use Vish Kanya as an archetype in their stories—a beautiful girl who kills when she comes too close. More recently, the archetype has taken a new hue in the HIV/AIDS era, for example in Vishkanya, a 2007 novel, based on the AIDS epidemic in society. Vishakanyas have also been depicted as important characters in the book Chanakya's Chant. In 2009, Vibha Rahi, a lower caste woman has written an autobiography 'Vishkanya: Untold Secrets' in Marathi, in which she portrays how upper caste women make intimate relationships with lower caste people of high profile and destroy their families and social relationships.
Over the years, many Hindi films have been made on the subject. The first film, Vish Kanya, was made in 1943, starring Leela Misra, and more recently, Vish Kanya (1991), starring Pooja Bedi as the lead role. In 2013 a vishkanya called Benazir has entered in the Ekta Kapoor TV series Jodhaa Akbar.
The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game presents them as Vishkanya, a race of scaled, serpentine humanoids with venomous blood, known for their amorality and willingness to work for coin regardless of the employer.
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- Molu Ram Thakur (1997). Myths, rituals, and beliefs in Himachal Pradesh. Indus Publishing. p. 17. ISBN 978-81-7387-071-2. Retrieved 20 June 2011.
- Rahi, Vibha (2009). Vishkanya: Untold Secrets. Pune: Karuvaki Prakashan.
- Vish Kanya (1943) IMDB.
- Vishkanya (1991) IMDB.
- The Vish-Kanya or Poison Damsel of Ancient India, Illustrated by the story of Susan Ramashgar. Folklore Society, Britain, 1927.
- Poison-damsels: Folklore of the world, by Norman Mosley Penzer, Somadeva Bhatt. Ayer Publishing, 1980. ISBN 0-405-13336-7. Excerpts
- Vishkanya: True stories of famous women spies of the world in story form. by Yashvant Mehta. Publisher: Gurjar, 1996.
- Vishkanya, by Esa Mehta. Rajasthani Granthagar, 2007.