Jonathan Silk silk at HUMNET.UCLA.EDU
Tue Dec 9 02:44:39 UTC 2003

Dear Friends,

I am interested in any information anyone might have on foundlings
(in ancient India, I mean). I know about the process of adoption,
even including the young man who gives himself (because his parents
are dead, or unable to give him). What I am interested in is infants,
primarily, who are abandoned, and thus adopted by others.

There is a very long and detailed history of this in Europe and the
Classical world (connected, not incidentally, with oblation, another
issue which in India is yet to be explored), but all I know about it
in India is a couple of Buddhist examples, and it is these I am
seeking to understand. In fact, I'm not even sure of what a foundling
is called. In his English-Skt dictionary, Monier-Williams gives a few
equivalents, but since the proffered terms do not turn up in PW, pw,
MW (or for that matter in Pali in CPD), I suspect they must simply be
neologisms MW invented himself (or perhaps that were in use, but not
found in classical sources).

Do the Dharma texts discuss this issue of foundlings? Is there some
ritual for adoption of a foundling, comperable to the adoption
rituals sketched by Kane, perhaps? The Buddhist sources I have
suggest, although they are not 100% clear on this, that a family that
found an infant might simply pretend that the wife of the family had
given birth. (There is a little vignette, in which some neighbors
basically say: Hey, she didn't look pregnant, to which another
replies: well, some people just don't show, that's all.)

By the way, unlike the European case(s), there is no mention of
anything being left with the abandoned infant, such as a token
(although we do have modern Indian examples of such things, such as
in the story studied by AK Ramanujan as a modern Oedipus tale, in
which a cloth is left). The absence of a token also makes me wonder
how anyone who found the baby would know its caste, a matter which is
of grave concern (and apparently legal controversy) in more formal

thanks in advance for any and all advice!
Jonathan Silk
Department of East Asian Languages & Cultures
Center for Buddhist Studies
290 Royce Hall
Box 951540
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1540
phone: (310)206-8235
fax:  (310)825-8808
silk at

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