The inscription on the amulet to ward off evil spirits and jinn was dictated by a grand 'churail' (ogress) to a mighty king
Even today many Muslim households in South Asia have a special amulet to ward off evil spirits and jinn, especially from children. What is little known is that the inscription on the amulet was dictated by a grand churail (ogress) to a mighty king.
The story, which goes back to King Solomon’s court, is the basis of the description and attributes of the churail or dayan mentioned in South Asian folklore. The powerful description of the creature given in the story remains unsurpassed to this day, and its image is the one upon which many future depictions of the churail were modelled.
It is said that once Solomon vanquished and imprisoned the rebellious jinn and demons of Earth, when all the armies of Earth and the heavens were assembled before him in triumph, it was brought to his notice that the greatest suffering and misery of his subjects was on account of a single creature.
At Solomon’s summons a mighty churail was led before him, heavily chained and shackled, and with a steel collar around her neck. She had tusks like an elephant’s, her hair was matted, and smoke came out of her nostrils and open mouth as she stood before Solomon, her wings spread wide.
Even as she stood there the churail dug up the earth, tore apart mountains, and uprooted mighty trees with her talons. She roared like thunder despite her heavy restraints, and her eyes shone like lightning. The sight of her moved Solomon to seek refuge in God’s name; he proclaimed that he had never seen a visage more horrible and a sight more terrifying.
When Solomon demanded her name, the churail gave no answer. Then an angel arrived and advised Solomon to burn her alive and disperse her ashes to the four winds. Only then did the churail ask Solomon for quarter, seeking refuge from punishment by fire. She gave her name as Himatah and her title as Umm al-Subyan.
Asked to explain her activities, she told him that she made desolate the houses of men and populated the graves; that she inflicted all manner of sufferings, disease and afflictions on men, visiting penury and famine on them, drying up the water of their lands and killing their crops; that she emptied women’s laps of their young ones, and made traders suffer losses. She claimed that she infiltrated the bodies of women in all their various states and stages in life, running inside them like blood inside the veins.
Solomon asked her how she chose and caught her adult and young victims, and she replied that she ate men and women alive. Among children, she chose those with ruddy faces and black eyes, then drank their blood, ate their flesh and chewed their bones to powder.
Solomon was enraged to hear of her despicable acts and proclaimed that she would receive no mercy and would be imprisoned in the seventh and deepest chamber of Earth, which would be filled with molten brass and copper.
The churail again pleaded before Solomon and told him that if he gave her a reprieve, she would instruct him in an amulet whose combination of letters and numerals would make the bones, flesh, hair, and physical body of a person, even his very house, proof against her entry, and she would depart, never to return.
The churail warned that when a woman was with child she must wear it. Newborns and children would be protected from her molestation only as long as they had the amulet on their person. And she would not go near a house, either during the day or at night (that contained it). Then Solomon made her reveal the amulet and take an oath to keep her word.
The churail took an oath on the name of the one whose throne extended from the land to the waters, the one who had conquered Earth and the heavens, the dignity of the angels, and the seal of Solomon, binding her to depart the limbs and body of the one who had the amulet. She professed she would depart in the manner that a hair was drawn out from wet flour. Then she dictated 12 names, a talisman and a seal to Solomon, who asked his minister, Asif Barkhia, to have it written and preserved with the protection of the Most Great Name. The churail was then given reprieve and let go.
It is possible to interpret this legend as the demonization of a female as the inflicter of all suffering, but it is also the description of a majestic creature who struck fear in the greatest king who ever ruled. She talked her way out of her captivity on the strength of her word without compromising her true nature, and still haunts Earth and all who walk on it without the protection of the amulet bestowed by her.
Musharraf Ali Farooqi is an author, novelist and translator. He can be reached at www.mafarooqi.com and on Twitter at @microMAF
This monthly column explores the curious world of the myths and folk tales of South Asia.