[INDOLOGY] dacoits, bandits, thugs and other unsavory characters

George Hart glhart at berkeley.edu
Sun Jun 9 14:50:11 UTC 2013

Thieves are quite common in the Sangam works (probably 1st 2 centuries CE), especially in the Pālai poems, where they inhabit the wilderness and ambush travelers.  Here's my translation of a poem from the Akanānūṟu.  George

337. Pālai

The hero, who, in a time before left [the heroine] to acquire wealth and returned, speaks to his heart which is urging him [to set out again] to get wealth.

“Her body is the color of a shoot moistened by the rain

budding on a high branch of a yā tree on the hillside,

and her large, cool eyes strive with one another.

Leaving her to feel the pain of loneliness,

staying here is not a pleasant thing.

Wealth is being there, with her,” you thought, and you returned to her

while I stayed alone in the burning jungle abandoned by rain.

There, where the many little hills look like rows of donkeys of salt merchants,

a Brahmin came who often took messages back and forth,

his stomach shriveled from not eating, grasping a rolled-up palm leaf.

Cruel thieves, weapons in hand, thought he was holding gold

and killed him at once, pointlessly.  When they saw how poor he was,

wearing rags instead of decent clothes, with their arrow shafts bloody,

they snapped their fingers in frustration and went away.

A male jackal on the path among the striped hemp plants found him, 

chewed on his intestines that hung out bleeding profusely,

and then howled, staying in the shade of a kaḷḷi plant

on that road where white stones glisten and draw the eye.

You returned then because you thought of the pain

she would feel with the cold north wind

when rain clattered down in the shivering darkness.

Pālai Pāṭiya Peruṅkaṭuṅkō

6. “With her” is added.

10. The palm leaf has a message written on it.

14. “In frustration” is added.

16. “Found him” is added.

18. K2 interprets “draw the eye” (kaṇ paṟi) as “takes out (and eats) the eye.” 

19. “You returned then” is added.

On Jun 8, 2013, at 8:51 PM, Dipak Bhattacharya <dbhattacharya200498 at YAHOO.COM> wrote:

> 9 6 13
> As a secondary task I have collected data on the dangers on the road mentioned in the Atharvaveda, particularly the Paippalāda-Saṃhitā in course of editing the text. As far as I understand they do not exclude reference to highway robbers. These have not yet been published, but I shall try to add the required information in the Introduction to the 4th volume which, depending on the publishers, might be published in not too distant a future. I may assure that the AVP is richer than the RV or AVŚ in this regard.
> Best
> DB
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: Robert A. Hueckstedt <rah2k at cms.mail.virginia.edu>
> To: indology at list.indology.info
> Cc: 
> Sent: Thursday, 6 June 2013 4:10 AM
> Subject: [INDOLOGY] dacoits, bandits, thugs and other unsavory characters
> Colleagues:
> A colleague has asked: " where in the Vedas and other relatively ancient 
> texts might I find references to dacoits, bandits, etc."
> Gratefully,
> Bob Hueckstedt
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