Rainbows, and Snakes

Klaus Karttunen Klaus.Karttunen at HELSINKI.FI
Thu Jul 22 09:21:54 EDT 2004

Dear colleagues,

as to the question about rainbows in Sanskrit before 1000, I think a
check with VarAhamihira's BRhatsaMhitA may be rewarding, but I don't
have the text at hand.

Now I have also had time to go through the discussion about snakes and
would like to add a few notes. Years ago I made a preliminary study of
Suzruta's chapters on snakes and snake-poisoning. Some day I would like
to develop it into an article, but now I have my hands full with other
things. In any case, what I then thought of classes of snakes, is:
1. darvIkara, the spoonmakers, are undoubtedly cobras.
2. maNDalin, those with circles, refers clearlky to the appearance and
suits well with the Boidae (but they are not poisonous) and with Vipera russelli.
3. rAjumat, the striped ones, are probably kraits (genus Bungarus) with
their spectacular cross stripes.
4. nirviSa seem to refer to the numerous (more than 100) non-poisonous
colubrid snakes of India.
5. vaikarañja, hybrid snakes, supposedly born from cross-breeding of two
species. Of course the whole system is represented as being founded on
the kind of their poison, afflicting resp. on wind, bile, phlegm,
nothing, or two.
This still leaves out at least the coral snakes, water snakes and worm
snakes, all poisonous.

DRSTiviSa -- it was commonly believed that both the sight and breath of
snakes were poisonous. Vogel's Serpentlore gives many examples.

Dominik already mentioned Daniel's book. Another one I have found useful is:
DEORAS, P. J. 1978. Snakes of India. 3rd rev. ed. New Delhi (1st ed. 1965).
For Buddhist context this may also be useful, but I have not seen it:
SÖRGER, Dagmar 1969. Die Schlange im Mythus und Kult in Burma. Diss. Leipzig.

Klaus Karttunen, Ph.D.
Docent of Indology and Classical Ethnography
Institute of Asian and African Studies
PL 59 (Unioninkatu 38 B), 00014 University of Helsinki, FINLAND
phone 358-9-19122188, fax 358-9-19122094, home 358-9-8134868

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