snakes and wells

Georg von Simson g.v.simson at EAST.UIO.NO
Wed Oct 3 13:45:11 UTC 2001

Dear Arlo Griffith,

it is well known that the half-divine nAgas (poisonous snakes, cobra
snakes) are closely associated with water and with sacred places along
rivers; see Charles Autran, L'epopee indoue, Paris 1946, ch. III and IV;
you might also check Jean Philippe Vogel, Indian serpent lore, the nAgas in
Hindu legend and art, London 1926.
As far as snakes in water-wells are concerned, what comes immediately to my
mind is the famous parable of the Man in the Well, Mahabharata 11.5-6. Here
a large nAga (vs. 5.13, additional line in some mss.: mahAnAgam apazyata;
vs. 5.20 kUpAdhastAc ca nAgena; vs. 6.7 yas tatra vasate 'dhastAn mahAhiH)
is imagined at the bottom of the well (5.10 udApAna, otherwise kUpa).
But this is, of course, much later than your AV passage.


Georg v. Simson

>Dear fellow Indologists,
>Can anyone confirm for me that in (ancient, Vedic) India, (harmful) snakes
>were thought to live in or near water-wells? Can anyone provide me with
>Thank you very much,
>-- Arlo Griffiths
>CNWS / Instituut Kern
>Universiteit Leiden
>Postbus 9515
>2300 RA  Leiden
>the Netherlands
>***The immediate cause for this query is a passage from the AV (Paipp.),
>6.14.5, where snakes belonging to the jungle and belonging to arma's
>(ara.nyeya.m caarm[i]yeya.m) are made to vanish. I would like to take up
>K.T. Schmidt's suggestion ('Zu einigen Archaismen in Flexion und Wortschatz
>des Tocharischen', in W. Meid (ed.) Studien zum Indogermanischen Wortschatz,
>Innsbruck [1987], 287-300), adopted also by Mayrhofer, that Vedic ;arma-
>means 'well, source' rather than 'abandoned resting place' as proposed by
>Rau in 1976 and maintained in 1983.
>    Although Schmidt does not mention this, taking Vedic ;arma- as
>'Wasserwort' would also finally solve the problem posed by the mantra VS
>30.11/TB ;armebho hastip;am  "To armaa.h [one should consecrate] a
>mahout" (unconvincingly Falk, ZDMG 1981, p. 169).***

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