Peacocks and Poison--one last time

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Thu Mar 11 14:42:13 UTC 1999

At 16:01 -0600 3/10/99, Leonard Zwilling wrote:
> peacocks are said to thrive on poisonous plants which they prefer for
>their food

* The theme is a old as the Rgveda, see RV 1.191.14 (a late, Atharva-like
hymn full of non-Indo-Aryan loan words), in the context of charms against

1.191.11 "this little bird (zakuntikA) has eaten you (the poison)....
1.191.14: "the three times seven pea-hens, the 3 x 7 unmarried sisters,
these (females)  have taken away your poison... "
tri'H sa'pta mayUryA`H,  sapta' sva'sAro agru'vaH / tA's te viSa'M vi'
jabhrire...  = Paippalada Samhita 4.17.6

* The topic continues through Vedic literature, a few examples:

AV (S'aunaka) in the context of destroying snake poison: 7.55.7 adanti tvA
pipiilikA, vi vRzcanti mayUryaH .  = Paippalada Samhita 1.48.4

PS 20.38.3   mayUraH kila te viSaM,   kRkavAkuz ca jakSatu
Krkavaku another bird, probably a peacock as well (AV, VS etc.)

PS 19.47.2   mayUro 'tra vRzcikaM,  mayUraM vayaM vidmasi /
                      taM pari parijambhanaM,  vRzcikajambhanam asi //
 in the context of killing various obnoxious animals.

AV-PariziSTa has a number of mentionings, mostly in  other contexts than
that of destroying poison:
20.2.3, 21.4.2, 48.67, 58b.4.8, 61.1.12, 63.4.7, 64.4.6, 64.4.6, 65.1.6,

Iam am sure there is much more, for example in Crooke's North Indian folklore.

* Most interesting for you perhaps the Himalayan occurence, in Nepalese
Shaman texts:
in the context of the battle of the First Shaman with the 9 Witches ("9
Little Sisters"). ---
Note that, as always in (N. Asian) shamanism, '9' is preferred, other than
Rgveda "7'.
(These Nepalese Shaman texts have a strong Atharva flavor, and show mixture
of Shamanistic and "Hindu" elements):

The Nine Little  Sisters :"now we will eat him  (the first shaman)...

TAuko pherI khAUM, bhanI --  jhuppA pagarI cha, mor pekhi cha,    ...
kokalasarI cha,
khAna didainan, bhanin.        (W. Nepali dialect)

"split open his skull  and eat him" - "it's wrapped in a turban with a flap
hanging behind it, there are peacock wings, ...cuckoos.. they don't let us
eat him" they said.

Cambridge 1998, p 209 sq.

Hope this helps.MW>

NB: more on Munda, Rgvedic, Dravidan and Tocharian peacocks this weekend.
Complex picture.

Michael Witzel                                              Elect. Journ.
of Vedic Studies
Harvard University                    
my direct line (also for messages) :  617- 496 2990
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