Bows in ancient India

George Hart glhart at BERKELEY.EDU
Sat Jul 12 01:04:32 UTC 2008

Dear Prof. Tieken,

This is indeed an excellent suggestion, and I thank you.  As with any  
of the possible meanings I have uncovered, it has some problems.  In  
viLimpu kaTTutal, the word viLimpu refers not to the wrist, as you  
know, but to the edge of the wound (edge, of course, is one of the  
meanings of viLimpu).  The word uriiiya (wear away, rub) would,  
however, go very well with the notion of wrist -- I myself remember  
wearing a wrist guard when practicing archery as a child.  The other  
possibility I have come up with is that viLimpu might refer to the  
area on the bow which the arrow rubs as it goes by (right above the  
grip).  Here, viLimpu might make more sense, as it is in some way the  
edge of the bow (while it's a stretch to make "edge" mean "wrist").   
In Akam 281 we have vaan pooz val vil cuRRi noon cilai av vaar  
viLimpiRku amainta ....kaNai.  The first part of this is quite unclear  
-- apparently "having wrapped a large leather strap around the strong  
bow (vil)" -- for shooting?  Or perhaps for carrying?  The second  
part: "the arrow that is fitted to (or lies against, as you suggest)  
the fine, long (or straight) viLimpu of the powerful bow (cilai)."  
This raises a couple of questions: is a vil the same as a cilai, or  
are they possibly two different kinds of bow?  Second, it seems to say  
quite clearly that the viLimpu belongs to the bow (cilai), as there is  
no other apparent way to construe "cilai."  This would seem to  
preclude your otherwise excellent suggestion of "wrist,"  though of  
course I remain open to any clarification.  I'm posting this on the  
Indology list to express my thanks for your suggestion and to see  
whether our discussion might occasion more responses.  George Hart

On Jul 11, 2008, at 12:49 PM, Tieken, H.J.H. wrote:

> Dear Professor Hart,
> Maybe you should look into a completely different direction. Note in  
> this connection that in two of the three instances in Akananuru the  
> word vilimpu is followed by the participle uriiya "which rubs  
> (against)". In the third instance vilimpu is followed by amainta  
> "which is lying against". Note also the expression vilimpu-kattutal  
> "to form proud flesh around a wound" (TL, p. 3729). The bow string,  
> when released, often hits the inside of the bowman's left wrist (if  
> he is right-handed), forming callosity there. Such "wounds" add to  
> the picture of the fierce bowman. I do remember having read about  
> wrist protections and things like that. Probably it was somewhere in  
> the Mahabharata. Unfortunately, at the moment I can't help you any  
> further with this.
> Kind regards
> Herman Tieken
> ________________________________
> From: Indology on behalf of George Hart
> Sent: Thu 7/10/2008 8:22 PM
> Subject: Bows in ancient India
> In translating Akananuru 175 (this is one of the Tamil anthologies), I
> have the following excerpt:
> My lover crossed the hot wilderness where cruel men
> never miss as they draw their strong, swift bows
> with their heavy strings, and, every time they shoot,
> their sharp-tipped, whistling arrows fly, taking the lives
> of strangers walking on the paths there and vultures
> summoning their flocks feast on their flesh.
> I am wondering about "heavy strings," which in Tamil is viinku
> viLimpu.  The first word means "enlarged," "swollen," and the second
> means "edge," "border," "eyelid" (which leads the commentators to
> interpret it as "edge of the upper arm").  Other occurrences, however,
> make it clear that viLimpu refers to the string or a part of the
> string.  I am wondering whether anyone on this list has dealt with
> bows in Sanskrit sources and whether the strings of bows are mentioned
> as having some special feature.  I think viLimpu might possibly refer
> to the part of the string that comes in contact with the arrow and
> that might have been thicker than the rest of the string.  I recall
> that when I would shoot a bow as a child, that part was often thicker,
> as it could get worn down more easily than the rest of the string.
> George Hart

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