My friends from Kerala have often regaled me with tales of Yakshis. The stories typically proceed like this:
A lonely traveller, walking at night in the narrow roads that separate the rich rice fields of Kerala, is enchanted by the heady scent of jasmine flowers and is drawn to a palm tree under which he finds a ravishingly beautiful woman who looks scared and requests the traveller if she can walk with him to her house. It is dark, and she is afraid. Naturally the lonely traveller, spellbound by the fragrance and her beauty, and bound by the code of chivalry agrees. After they walk some distance, and she has enchanted him with her melodious voice and her wit, she offers him some betel leaves. ‘I will make pan with arecanuts and spices, if you have some lime on you.’ The traveller will know that this is no simple request and is in fact a local code where a woman expresses her desire to be intimate with a man. As soon as he offers the lime, a house appears–an impressive house that clearly belongs to nobility. “Would you like to come in?” she would ask gently and the smitten man would follow her inside. But as soon as the door would shut, the lady would turn into a fierce monster with fangs and claws–a Yakshi! The next day, under a palm tree, people would find the remains of the traveller, some hair, and his betel-stained teeth.
Many say that Yakshi may have been the ghost of a woman who died of heartbreak and so stayed trapped in the land of the living seducing young men, taking revenge against all men, for what one man did to her.
Devdutt Pattanaik is an Indian physician turned leadership consultant, mythologist, author and communicator whose works focus largely on the areas of myth, religion, mythology, and management.