Showing posts with label Sanskrit. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sanskrit. Show all posts

Friday, January 15, 2016

From the भोजप्रबन्धः बल्लालसेनेन विरचितम् 

मनीषिणः सन्ति न ते हितैषिणो
हितैषिणः सन्ति न ते मनीषिणः |
सुहृच्च विद्वानपि दुर्लभो नृणां |
यथौषधं स्वादु हितञ्च दुर्लभम् ||५८||

Wisdom is knowledge together with goodness. -- S. Wujastyk

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Kuṭipraveśam rasāyanam

In the Compendium of Suśruta (Suśrutasaṃhitā), there is a passage describing rejuvenation through the use of Soma, which is taken over a period of four months while living in a special hut (4.29.10).  The description is very dramatic, and I translated it in my book The Roots of Ayurveda.(2003: 125-131).

Two accounts of a parallel therapy occur in Caraka's Compendium (Carakasaṃhitā).  In one version, the patient akes Soma and spends six months naked in a greased barrel (6.1.4-7).  In another, he enters a hut, as in Suśruta's account, but Soma is not involved.  (See Roots, 2003: 76--8.)

In my discussion in Roots, I drew a parallel with the Aitareyabrāhmaṇa 1.3 in which a Soma ritual involving rebirth is described (the passage was kindly pointed out to me by David Pingree).

Now I have identified another passage that seems to be about the same ritual.

Pātañjalayogaśāstra (sūtras and bhāṣya)

In the Pātañjalayogaśāstra (i.e., the Yoga Sutras and the Bhāṣya commentary, all by Patañjali), there is a sutra that lists the means by which super powers may be attained.  Sutra 4.1 says:
super powers (siddhi) come from birth, drugs, mantras, asceticism, and meditative integration (samādhi)(janmauṣadhimantratapaḥsamādhijāḥ siddhayaḥ).  
Explaining this, Patañjali (not Vyāsa) says, in his Bhāṣya,
by using drugs means using rejuvenations (rasāyana) in the houses of the Asuras, and so on.
(oṣadhibhir asurabhavaneṣu rasāyanenety evamādiḥ).
No further explanation is given, and we are left to wonder what the "houses of the Asuras" might be.


The commentator Śaṅkara, in his Vivaraṇa, expands on this passage in a significant way. He says (1952 edition, pp. 317-18):
oṣadhibhir asurabhavaneṣu rasāyanena  somāmalakādibhakṣaṇena pūrvadehānapanayenaiva/

by means of drugs in the houses of the Asuras
by elixir, by consuming Soma, emblic, and so on, completely without the removal of the previous body.  
[I am grateful to Philipp Maas for improving this translation. -- October 2016]

The use of the word "soma" suggests that this commentator is putting together the idea of rasāyana entioned in the Bhāṣya with the specific rasāyana treatment described by Suśruta (and, more briefly, Caraka).


The only place that Asurabhavana "home of the Asuras" is mentioned with any regularity is in the Pāli literature of the Buddhist Canon.  For example, in the Mahā Suññata Sutta (Majjhimanikāya 122/3, tr. by Piya Tan; tr. by Thanissaro Bhikkhu), the Buddha is described worrying about the fact that worldly people live in too-crowded conditions for proper meditation.  Asura bhavana is described as being ten-thousand yojanas wide, and is included in a listing of the various parts of the universe where living creatures live (and are crowded).  Asurabhavana is therefore a geographical location in the Buddhist universe.

In one of the British Library Stein Tibetan manuscripts, IOL Tib J 644, Vajrapāṇi is described entering an Asura Cave in order to meditate.  See J. Dalton and Sam van Schaik (2006), Tibetan Tantric Manuscripts from Dunhuang: A Descriptive Catalogue of the Stein Collection at the British Library. Brill, Leiden, Boston, p. 291.


Explaining Patañjali, the commentator Vācaspati (as so often) is guessing at the meaning on the basis of his general knowledge (e-edition at SARIT): 
oṣadhisiddhim āha --- asurabhavaneṣv iti/ manuṣyo hi kutaś cin nimittād asurabhavanam upasaṃprāptaḥ kamanīyābhir asurakanyābhir upanītaṃ rasāyanam upayujyājarāmaraṇatvam anyāś ca siddhīr āsādayati/ ihaiva vā rasāyanopayogena yathā māṇḍavyo munī rasopayogād vindhyavāsīti/

He states the super power of drugs: "in the houses of the Asuras." Because a human, for a certain reason, who has reached the house of an Asura, is served an elixir by the attractive Asura girls.  After taking it, he achieves the state of never aging or dying, and other super powers.  Alternatively, by taking elixirs in this actual world, like the sage Māṇḍavya took up residence in the Vindhya mountains through the use of elixirs.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

The Origins of a Famous Yogic/Tantric Image (part 2)

In a post in February this year I talked about the origin and spread of the famous "lines of energy" image.  I asserted that this image was created by or for Yogini Sunita.

I had a memory of having seen the image reproduced in Mircea Eliade's book, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, or in one of Daniélou's books.  I looked at the issues of Eliade's books available to me, and at Daniélou's
Yoga: Mastering the Secrets of Matter and the Universe, that is on my bookshelf, but the image wasn't there.

Now, I can report that I've solved both these puzzles in a stroke.  In the Vienna Indology library last week, I came across an Eliade book that I'd forgotten, Patanjali et le Yoga (Paris, 1962).  And look at the cover!

Eliade reproduces the image inside the book:

Eliade captions the image "La matière, la vie, l'esprit."  As an aside, I have argued and taught in the past that anyone who says "body, mind and spirit" is reproducing a meme from Western New Age thought, and not anything specifically Indian.  The threefold division of Man in the original Sanskrit sources is normally "body, mind and speech."

In the acknowledgements at the back of the book, Eliade attributes this image to Alain Daniélou's "Yoga: Méthode de réintégration (Éditions de l'Arche), pp. 171, 179 et couverture."  Eliade doesn't give a date for the Daniélou edition he copied from, but the edition will turn up sooner or later.  It was first published in 1951.

newspaper article about Sunita
So, this image was used by Daniélou, as early as 1951, and following him, by Eliade in 1962.

The earliest edition of Yogini Sunita's book that I can find is 1965, and she only arrived in England in 1960, and started her first yoga classes that year, as reported in this newspaper clip.

So perhaps the whole story of this image has a prehistory before Yogini Sunita.  Perhaps she reproduced the image from Daniélou, or even Eliade.

Update April 2019

Here's the image in a 1949 English translation of Daniélou's book.  The caption says "with permission from 'Kalyan' Corakhour".  Kalyan was a well-known Sanskrit and Hindi journal published by the Geeta Press in Gorakhpur since 1926.  So the trail now leads to an issue of Kalyan from before 1949.  Some issues have been scanned and are at

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Origins of a Famous Yogic/Tantric Image (part 1)

Mark Singleton
Ellen Goldberg
I'm delighted by the arrival from the bookshop of my copy of the excellent new book Gurus of Modern Yoga edited by Mark Singleton and Ellen Goldberg (ISBN 978-0-19-993872-8).

Full details of the book can be had from Peter Wyzlic's website.

Yogini Sunita's Pranayama Image

Suzanne Newcombe
Suzanne Newcombe's chapter, "The Institutionalization of the Yoga Tradition: `Gurus' B. K. S. Iyengar and Yogini Sunita in Britain," is an outstanding description and evaluation of the impact of two yoga teachers in the UK.  One of Suzanne's subjects is Yogini Sunita (aka Bernadette Cabral), originally a Catholic from Bombay.  Although tragically killed by a car at the early age of 38, her work is kept alive by her son Kenneth Cabral and other yoga teachers (

Yogini Sunita published a book in 1965 called Pranayama, The Art of
Relaxation, The Lotus and the Rose (Worldcat).  It contained an illustration that has gone on to become one of the most famous and iconic images in yoga publishing.  The image is a line drawing in black on a white background showing the outline of a seated, cross-legged meditator superimposed on a wild network of lines, with annotations in Devanagari script. The Sanskrit word प्राणायाम (prāṇāyāma) "breath control" labels the image in the top right-hand corner.  The smaller writing, along the lines, is more or less illegible in all the reproductions I have been able to examine.  I can just discern the Devanagari alphabet being spelt out (अ आ इ ई उ ऊ ए ओ ऐ औ अं अः ...) on the right clavicle.  But the rest of the writing is unclear.  I am not confident that it is even real text, although it looks superficially like Devanagari or Gujarati script.  Only an examination of the original artwork or a good reproduction would settle the matter.

Yogini Sunita's signature
Yogini Sunita was not a confident Devanagari writer, as is evidenced by her signature in the preface to her book (in Devanagari, "yodinī saunīṭā").  She could not have produced the Pranayama the drawing herself, and must have commissioned it from a source or collaborator with a confident knowledge of Sanskrit and the Devanagari script, perhaps in Bombay.

Yogini Sunita's illustration has been reproduced almost endlessly in books and now on the internet, and there are multiple modifications and interpretations.  One of the more common is a negative version, with white lines on a black background.  Others are coloured, simplified, and interpreted in various creative ways.  It appears in various contemporary yoga-themed mashups.  The word प्राणायाम is often masked out.  The image is often shown as a representation not primarily of breath control, but of the nodes and tubes of the spiritual body (cakras and nāḍīs).

Suzanne Newcombe describes how Yogini Sunita's early death meant that her methods and ideas did not spread as widely as those of other 20th century yoga teachers.  Nevertheless, the Pranayama illustration from her 1965 book has become one of the most widely-known images of yoga in the 21st-century (Google images).

Update, July 2014: now see part 2 of this article

Friday, October 18, 2013

Sanskrit manuscripts lost with the Titanic

Adheesh Sathaye mentioned today that the terrible sinking of the Titanic in 1912 was also the occasion of the loss of fourteen Sanskrit manuscripts of the Vikramacarita.  The MSS were on their way from Bombay to Edgerton in the USA.

Here is Edgerton's account, also kindly supplied by Adheesh.

There's an uncomfortable ambiguity in Edgerton's prose, regarding the predicate of his expression "terrible disaster."

Monday, June 24, 2013

Reflections on translation from Sanskrit

The following was written by me in another context, as part of a conversation.  I'm reproducing it here in case it is of general interest:

Monday, May 27, 2013

XeLaTeX for Sanskrit: update

In a post on 5 July 2010, I gave an example of how to use XeLaTeX with various fonts and various ways of inputting text.   Some time later, the commands in the Fontspec and Polyglossia packages were updated, and my example didn't work as advertised any more.  Here is an update that works again.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Smallpox history: The Madras Courier for 12 January 1819


In my 1987 paper, "A Pious Fraud: The Indian Claims for pre-Jennerian Smallpox Vaccination"  I traced all claims for pre-Jennerian smallpox vaccination to a single newspaper report that appeared in the Madras Courier for 12 January 1819.  I have now uploaded scans of this issue of the Madras Courier to for posterity. The images at are large enough to read properly.

The claim for pre-Jennerian vaccination in a Sakteya Grantham (see first two columns)

The above image is too small to read, but you can read this one from

Smallpox MS in Sanskrit

MS R.15.86 in the library of Trinity College Cambridge is a tract in Sanskrit in the Bengali script about smallpox.  To the right is the description of this MS in Aufrecht's 1869 catalogue of the Trinity collection (click to enlarge).
The work is described as Rājasiṃhasudhāsaṃgrahanāmni granthe Masūrikācikitsādhyāyaḥ, meaning "The chapter on therapies for smallpox in the book called The Collection of Nectar of Rajasinha."  Aufrecht says it's by a Mahādeva.  It's hard to know who either Mahādeva or Rājasiṃha might be.  A work called Siṃhasudhānidhi "Collected Nectar of the Lion" was composed by one Prince Devīsiṃha of the Bundela dynasty in the 17 century (Meulenbeld, History of Indian Medical Literature, v. IIA, p. 299), but that's a long shot.  Rājasiṃha is a bit of a generic name, "King-Lion".  All Sikhs have "siṃha" (=Singh) as part of their names.  Could be anyone, really.  The MS collection comes from John Bentley (d.1824), who was a historian of astronomy in early 19 cent Calcutta (he wrote A historical view of the Hindu astronomy (1825)).  The MS has written on it in a copper-plate script on the last leaf, "The Forgery of the Hindu respecting the Cowpock-innoculation."  Probably Bentley's hand, though I'm not certain.  The verses on p.25 that Aufrecht says "are open to the suspicion of modern authorship" say,
There are plukes (grantha, knot, lump) on the breasts of cows, with discharge.
One should collect the pus from them, and protect it carefully.
Preceded by
the illnesses of Śītalā, having placed on the surface (pratīka?) of a child,
with a small knife a wound like the wound of a mosquito,
having made it enter into the blood, with the pus itself,
and with the bloods on a little brush, the wise person to what is cured.
The very best physician fearlessly approaches (m-? upaiti) on the child _ _ _

My translation is a bit incoherent, because the original is too.  Maybe if I thought about it longer, I might come up with something better, but probably not.  The vocabulary is a bit strange: pratīka for a limb or the surface of the body is unusual; the stuff about a brush may be wrong. Any suggestions gratefully received.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Sanskrit aṅga अङ्ग not a "limb"

Monier-Williams' dictionary, p.7
 In most of our dictionaries, we find that the Sanskrit word aṅga अङ्ग means "limb, member."  "A limb of the body" says MW, following his teacher Wilson.
As a result, when we have expressions like aṣṭāṅgayoga अष्टाङ्गयोग or aṣṭāṅgavidyā अष्टाङ्गविद्या, we commonly get translations like, "yoga of eight limbs" or "the science with eight limbs (medicine)."
If you open the bonnet (US hood) of your car, you see an engine with ... what?  Limbs?  I don't think so.  I think you see components, or parts.  A textbook is divided into, what, limbs?  No, sections, or parts. 

H. H. Wilson's dictionary, p.9
I'd love to see translators of the word aṅga  अङ्ग try harder, and offer some inner resistance to the dead hand of our nineteenth-century dictionaries.  It's as if a mass of [dictionary] words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details (with sincerest apologies to Orwell.)
Next time you see aṣṭāṅgayoga अष्टाङ्गयोग, allow yourself to think instead, "the yoga with eight components." Or when you see aṣṭāṅgavidyā अष्टाङ्गविद्या, think, perhaps, "the science with eight parts."  If you see vedāṅga  वेदाङ्ग translated as "limb of the Veda," you can be sure that the translator isn't seeing the metaphors s/he's using.  What on earth would a "limb of the Veda" possibly be?  All the original author is saying is that the Veda has components or adjunct parts.  And don't let yourself use "ancilliary" either.  When did you last see that in a contemporary English novel?  In my dictionary, it's flagged as "very rare."
Too often, we indologists write and translate in mental companionship with our predecessors from the nineteenth century, and we write for colleagues who too often do the same. 
If you find yourself writing "limb" for aṅga अङ्ग, snap out of it.
Here I am, with Orwell, jeering loudly at worn-out and useless dictionary-bound translations.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Sanskrit hyphenation list

I'm gradually building up a file of hyphenated Sanskrit words and compounds, written in the Latin alphabet.  The file is called sanskrit-hyphenations.tex, and you are welcome to download it.

It contains hyphenation points for words in English (ayur-veda), and for words in Sanskrit (āyur-veda).
 To use it, do something like this in your style file:
\newfontfamily\sanskritfont{Sanskrit 2003}
% Define \sansk{} which is the same as \emph{}, except
% that it causes appropriate hyphenation

% for Sanskrit words.  Use \sansk{} for Sanskrit and
% \emph{} for English.

 and \input the sanskrit-hyphenations.tex file after \begin{document}, thus:


XeTeX  already has built-in hyphenation rules for Devanāgarī and Romanized Sanskrit. The above file is intended to extend the hyphenation coverage for Romanized words, using etymological and stylistic considerations.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Crowdsourcing manuscript transcription

The TEI world is discussing, amongst many things, the crowdsourcing of MS transcription.  This idea seems to hold great promise for the Indian case.  After all, we've got crowds, right?  As always, the issue is quality control.

But just for a moment, imagine the scenario of an open, public, collaborative website where anybody can bring up an image of a Sanskrit manuscript and write a transcription in an adjacent window.  A transcription that - like a Wikipedia article - would be open for others to improve or annotate, that would rely on crowdsourced cognitive surplus for contribution and gradual quality improvement.  It would be under a history/version control system, so everything would be trackable.  Contributors would earn trust points or, as in eBay's feedback score. 

Ben Brumfield has created an extremely useful survey of MS transcription tools here.

His own FromThePage service looks simple to use and very attractive for a proof-of-concept pilot project.

For example, the Transcribe Bentham project has developed this way of working:
See also the other video about markup, on their "getting started" page.

All the exciting work in MS and edition work today is happening in connection with the TEI framework, and based on transcribed MSS with TEI encoding.  Juxta, the Versioning Machine, etc.  We need to start thinking about creating a public, high-quality corpus of transcribed MSS.  Such a corpus would be the basis for many future projects.

See also:



  • Clay Shirkey's Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age (2011). And a TED talk on the same subject.
  • Transcribe Bentham project at UCL .

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Two more good Devanāgarī fonts

I have posted an update to this post with some new material.

Steve White has recently done a great deal of work updating the FreeSerif and FreeSans Unicode fonts (that are, er, free).   He has done especially important work on the Devanagari characters in the font, as well as several other Indian writing systems.  See here for a listing of what has changed. Steve's work means that the Devanāgarī in the Free* fonts now works not only with Xe(La)TeX but also in Firefox, LibreOffice and other programs.  Thanks, Steve!

Zdeněk Wagner recently announced (here) that,
A few days ago version 20120503 of GNU FreeFont was released. This (OpenType as well as TrueType) version contains working Devanagari. FreeSans is based on Gargi with bugs fixed and positions of matras fine-tuned (and changes were reported back to the Gargi developers), FreeSerif is based on Velthuis fonts. Both fonts contain the Indian Rupee sign. In XeLaTeX, conjuncts in FreeSerif can be switched on/off according to the language.
Zdeněk provided an example file showing FreeSans and FreeSerif, and demonstrating the different conjuncts of Sanskrit and Hindī.  I have taken the liberty of expanding his file to compare some of the other leading Unicode fonts that contain both Devanāgarī and Latin typefaces in the same font:

XeLaTeX Input:

\newfontfamily\eng[Mapping=tex-text]{TeX Gyre Pagella}
\setmainfont{FreeSerif} \newfontfamily\eng[Mapping=tex-text]{FreeSerif}
{\eng FreeSerif} = शक्ति, kārtsnyam {\addfontfeatures{Language=Hindi} Hindī = शक्ति}
\setmainfont{FreeSans} \newfontfamily\eng[Mapping=tex-text]{FreeSans}
{\eng FreeSans} = शक्ति, kārtsnyam {\addfontfeatures{Language=Hindi} Hindī = शक्ति}
\setmainfont{Sanskrit 2003} \newfontfamily\eng[Mapping=tex-text]{Sanskrit 2003}
{\eng Sanskrit 2003} = शक्ति, kārtsnyam {\addfontfeatures{Language=Hindi} Hindī = शक्ति}
\setmainfont[FakeStretch=1.08]{Sanskrit 2003}
{\eng Sanskrit 2003+} = शक्ति, kārtsnyam {\addfontfeatures{Language=Hindi} Hindī = शक्ति}
\setmainfont{Nakula} \newfontfamily\eng[Mapping=tex-text]{Nakula}
{\eng Nakula} = शक्ति, kārtsnyam {\addfontfeatures{Language=Hindi} Hindī = शक्ति}
\setmainfont{Sahadeva} \newfontfamily\eng[Mapping=tex-text]{Sahadeva}
{\eng Sahadeva} = शक्ति, kārtsnyam {\addfontfeatures{Language=Hindi} Hindī = शक्ति}
(click to enlarge)

Note the use of the RomDev mapping to get "कार्त्स्न्यम्" out of "kārtsnyam", just for fun.  I've included Sanskrit 2003 twice, the second time with a bit of horizontal stretch, that I think makes it look nicer.
The official web page of the newly-updated FreeSans and FreeSerif fonts is:
As Zdeněk adds, ``Hopefully the font will soon appear in TeX Live and (some) Linux distributions. If you install it independently, be sure that you do not have font conflicts."

Be sure to delete all earlier versions of FreeSerif and FreeSans that might be lurking on your hard drive.  Then install the new version.  If you find the conjuncts aren't working as promised, you probably have an old FreeSerif or Sans lurking in a directory somewhere that you have forgotten about.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Scribal abbreviation 2

Here's another instance of the same abbreviation from the same scribe, proving HI's conjecture about it being a ring.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Scribal abbreviation in Sanskrit manuscript

Here is an extract from folio 4r of MS Baroda 12489 (includes the Carakasaṃhitā), showing इति iti followed by a ह ha with a loop to the right of the glyph.  A bit like the loop on the syllable ॐ oṃ. This is probably an abbreviation for the phrase इति स्माह भगवानात्रेयः iti smāha bhagavān ātreyaḥ that occurs as the second phrase in most chapters.

Here is the phrase from the next chapter, f.5v of MS Baroda 12489.

Baroda 12489 dates from AD 1816/17.
Scribal abbreviations are not as common in Sanskrit manuscripts as they are in medieval European ones.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Simplest Sanskrit XeLaTeX file



Your Devanāgarī looks like this:  आसीद्राजा नलो नाम and your romanized stuff looks like this: āsīd rājā nalo nāma.  


You can get the Nakula font (and its twin, Sahadeva) from John Smith's website,

Monday, October 03, 2011


Sanskrit booklets, or guṭkās, contain several works collected between one set of covers.  They were presumably copied sequentially by their owners as a vade mecum of useful knowledge.

Biswas 0891 (available digitized, no. 090393 at is a series of catalogues of MSS in Jaina libraries in Rajasthan.  Volume 2 (1954), 73 ff. has a section that describes 222 such booklets, and lists their contents in detail.  A study of these particular collocations of texts would provide a valuable insight into reading habits, the circulation of texts and knowledge, and the personal tastes and obsessions of pre-modern Indian readers.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

XeLaTeX, Velthuis encoding, and palatal nasals

When using the Velthuis input coding for Devanāgarī, and wanting to have it handled by XeLaTeX, one finds the palatal ñ disappears in the Nāgarī.

input: sa~njaya

output: स न्जय

That's because the Velthuis input code for ञ् is ~n, and the "~" is a special code in TeX, meaning "hard space".

Here's the workaround. I define a font-switching command \dev that will turn Velthuis into Devanāgarī. \dev is mostly made up of "\textsanskrit" which is set up using the standard XeLaTeX/polyglossia \newfontfamily commands. \textsanskrit does the work of invoking the mapping-conversion (from XeTeX's velthuis-sanskrit.tec file).

But just before \textsanskrit, we change tilde into a normal character. And after \textsanskrit, we turn tilde back into an "active" hard space. We use the \aftergroup command so that the "active" version of tilde is activated after the closing of the group that contains the Devanāgarī.

Here's the code:

\newfontfamily\textsanskrit [Script=Devanagari,Mapping=velthuis-sanskrit]{Nakula}

% Make the tilde into a normal letter of the alphabet
\def\maketildeletter{\catcode`\~=11 }

% Return tilde to being the default TeX "active" character for hard space
\def\maketildeactive{\catcode`\~=13 }

\def\dev{\maketildeletter\textsanskrit \aftergroup\maketildeactive}

Here's how you use it:

input: {\dev sa~njaya uvaaca}. What did Dr~Sañjaya say?

output: सञ्जय उवाच. What did Dr Sañjaya say?

where that space betwen "Dr" and "Sañjaya" is hard, and you can't break a line there.