pots, brahmin names, and potters

Georg von Simson g.v.simson at EAST.UIO.NO
Sat Dec 12 11:26:34 UTC 1998

Artur Karp wrote:

>Dear Dr. Simson,
>Thank you very much for your answer. Unfortunately, at this moment I cannot
>consult Waldschmidt's book - a couple of days ago I found out that our copy
>had been lent out. I would be then very grateful, if you would kindly
>answer several more questions. There are also questions directed to the
>participants of the Indology list in general.
>1) which verb is used to describe the process of placing the body of the
>Buddha in the "iron trough filled with oil" [tailapUrNA ayodroNI]?

The Sanskrit text (which is, by the way, rather fragmentary) uses
n(i)kSip(ya) (46.7) and there is nothing that would suggest a sitting
position of the body on the funeral pile.

>Pali MPS uses pakkhipitvA ("having placed in"), which may be suggestive of
>laying the body down in ayodroNI horizontally. But Dr. Karol Piasecki from
>this University (a friendly anthropologist with considerable experience in
>archeology) tells me, that the bone-relics enumerated by Buddhaghosa in
> his
>commentary (The Sumangala-Vilasini, Buddhaghosa's Commentary on the
>Digha-Nikaya, Part II, published by PTS, London 1971, p. 604) suggest
>cremation of a body that is placed on the pyre in sitting position. They
>all belong to the upper part of the body: four (canine) teeth, two collar
>bones and the upper part of the cranium [cattaso dAThA, dve akkhakA
> uNhIsan ti].
>General question: Is there any evidence in the older strata of the Buddhist
>tradition pointing to the custom of cremating bodies in sitting position?
>Iconographic evidence?
>2) which verb is used to describe the process of the cremation of the
>Buddha's body?

The Sanskrit text says: ... citAM citvA dhyApyate, which is just a
resanskritisation of the Pali verb jhApenti which you quote in the
following. Subject of the sentence seems to be "rAjnaz cakravartinaH kAyo",
mentioned in the beginning of the passage, and then the Sanskrit text would
say the same as the Pali text, namely that the body of the king/Buddha is
burnt. But, as you point out in the following, it does not seem likely that
the body could be burnt to ashes if it was put in an iron vessel filled
with oil and covered by an other iron vessel!

>Pali MPS uses jhApenti, which is translated as: "they burn".  However,
>considering the configuration described in the MPS, would oil in the closed
>ayodroNI burn or boil? Cf. The PTS Pali-English Dictionary, where jhApeti
>explained as "to set fire to, to burn", but also "to cook". My brother, who
>is a chemical engineer, tells me that with the body placed in an iron
>vessel which is in turn covered by another iron vessel and with the
>wood-fire underneath, the oil inside the lower vessel would boil and not
>burn, and even if the oil inside ignited, it would only burn as long as it
>would have oxygen, and then it would return to boiling.

>General question: Is it possible, that the process described in the MPS
>wasn't meant to burn the body, but rather to separate the softer parts from
>the skeleton?

I find this idea very tempting, and I think you will find parallels in the
anthropological literature.

>Is there any evidence for such funeral practice in the Indian
>tradition? Or is the story of the two iron vessels just one more example of
>mythological imagination?
I can't answer this question. The whole episode may be a blend of real
customs and mythological imagination.

>3) how many bone-relics [asthIni] were left after the cremation?
>Buddhaghosa says seven (and some smaller remnants). The Pali MPS insists
>that brahmin DoNa divided the relics into eight parts.

In the Sanskrit MPS (51.2,6; 51.8), too, the bones are divided into eight
parts (but the text has to be reconstructed here after the Tibetan Vinaya

>General question: Could that mean that what he was dividing was
>sarIraTThaka - "the [consisting of eight parts] bony framework of the body"?

An interesting idea. But it may also be (and this is, as far as I remember,
Bareau's explanation) that the tradition happened to know about eight
zarIrastUpas.  As the story goes, the relics are divided into eight parts
for political reasons.



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