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Killer Khilats, Part 1: Legends of Poisoned "Robes of Honour" in India

Michelle Maskiell and Adrienne Mayor
Folklore
Vol. 112, No. 1 (Apr., 2001), pp. 23-45
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1260863
Page Count: 23
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Killer Khilats, Part 1: Legends of Poisoned "Robes of Honour" in India
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Abstract

This article presents seven historical legends of death by Poison Dress that arose in early modern India. The tales revolve around fears of symbolic harm and real contamination aroused by the ancient Iranian-influenced customs of presenting robes of honour (khilats) to friends and enemies. From 1600 to the early twentieth century, Rajputs, Mughals, British, and other groups in India participated in the development of tales of deadly clothing. Many of the motifs and themes are analogous to Poison Dress legends found in the Bible, Greek myth and Arthurian legend, and to modern versions, but all seven tales display distinctively Indian characteristics. The historical settings reveal the cultural assumptions of the various groups who performed poison khilat legends in India and display the ambiguities embedded in the khilat system for all who performed these tales.

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