[INDOLOGY] Ayurvedic query

Dominik Wujastyk wujastyk at gmail.com
Mon Mar 2 13:07:49 UTC 2015

Dear Prof. Bhattacharya,

Do you mean Saussurea lappa (Decne.) C. B. Clarke, or Saussurea lappa
(Decne.) Sch. Bip.?  Are you ruling out Aplotaxis lappa Decne., or do you
think it's the same thing?  If so, why?  But probably you mean Saussurea
costus, (Falc.) Lipsch., no?  (last updated 28 August 2014, and syn. Aucklandia
costus Falc.).

What I'm getting at, in an ungraceful manner (sincere apologies!), is that
one really, really can't just give out a name like "Saussurea lappa".  It's
not a real botanical name, because no authority is given.  It's like a
bibliography entry without authors or publication dates.   Also, it's been
formally decommissioned <http://www.theplantlist.org/tpl/record/gcc-142953>
as a botanical name, in favour of S. costus (Falc.) Lipsch.  It's not that
easy to find this stuff out; it's a specialized field.  But I strongly
recommend anyone using botanical terminology to use resources like

   - http://botanicus.org
   - http://www.ubio.org
   - http://www.tropicos.org

in the first instance, to get a handle on up-to-date nomenclature and
authorities.  Botanicus offers a huge free library of scanned and indexed
botanical publications from the fifteenth century onwards, that all are
searchable and downloadable.  It includes many early works from India and
Sri Lanka, and give a wonderful entry-point for finding images of plants by
early engravers, and so forth.

There are lots of other recent online resources for botanical
nomenclature.  Some people love this stuff, and get quite OCD about it,
which is helpful for us outsiders.

I would also say that any identification of the type "Sanskrit plant X =
Linnean plant Y" is not helpful.  There's so much confusion and error in
this field, that it's vital in serious work to give some parameters for the
identification.  Meulenbeld's appendices to his Madavanidana book give the
very best available listing of the X = Y type.  But that is simply a record
of what assertions have been made by people in the past.  What we require
today is *reasons* for thinking that X=Y, and that might include historical
correlations, medicinal use, pre-modern descriptions of form or colour,
etymology of the name, cognates of the Sanskrit name still used in NIA
languages, local knowledge (past and present), and so forth.  Also, plants
mutate, and two thousand years is plenty of time for change, in
evolutionary terms.  The time of simple uncommented lists of the form X=Y
is past.

I am almost as guilty as any: see the index of *Roots of Ayurveda*, which
is just such an X=Y index.  I say "almost" because for that index, I did in
fact collect extensive reference and comparison data of the type described,
but I didn't publish it in the final book.

</rant>  :-)



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