[INDOLOGY] The Unicorn and its equivalent in Indian knowledge systems: the Śarabha /// Re: "The Age of the Unicorn

Jan E.M. Houben jemhouben at gmail.com
Tue Jan 11 11:12:03 UTC 2022

Instead of wasting much time on discourses that are *avicārita-ramaṇīya*,
nice (at least for some public) as long as one does not reflect on it
critically, I would like to propose a very different perspective:

The Unicorn in emerging science, and its equivalent in Indian knowledge
systems: the Śarabha

“If one would like to portray the debate about the existence of the unicorn
as it was conducted in the seventeenth century, then the proven metaphor of
the scales lends itself best to this. On one scale of the balance, the
knowledge handed down in scriptures is accumulated: the testimonies of
ancient, medieval and later authorities about the existence of the unicorn
and the medicinal power of its horn. On the other scale one imagines the
new knowledge acquired through one's own observation: the observation that
what had been assumed to be unicorn horns were in fact narwhal tusks, and
that the special medicinal effect could not be demonstrated. In the
seventeenth century the weight of tradition still appears to be
considerably greater than that of perception. The revolutionary views of
Galileo and Newton have found acceptance considerably more quickly than the
belief that the unicorn does not exist and never existed. ...

In the eighteenth century, the scholarly debate about the unicorn comes to
a halt. It seems that science has lost all interest in the question that
had been on the agenda for more than two centuries: does the unicorn exist?
The question is tacitly answered in the negative. In the great
eighteenth-century natural-historical standard works by Linnaeus and
Buffon, no place is reserved for the unicorn among the existing animals.

(W.P. Gerritsen 2003, p. 46-47, my transl. from Dutch)

“The techniques of transmission of knowledge current in India are
vulnerable to the uncritical transmission of unverified and unverifiable
knowledge, such as the *śarabha* in Āyurvedic texts: an unexisting
mythological animal to the meat of which concrete remedial properties have
been attributed and were transmitted over the centuries (note 41:
Zimmermann 1987: 208-210).

On the other hand, even when printing was already in use to provide quick
linking of specialised talents all over the globe, it took European science
several centuries before it could unmask the unicorn as a purely mythical
animal based on wrong perceptions, wrong categorizations and wrong
conceptualizations. (note 42: ref. to Gerritsen [2002>] 2003 pp. 46-47).”

(Jan E.M. Houben 2009, p. 13:


See also:

Zimmermann, Francis. 1987. *The Jungle and the Aroma of Meats : An
Ecological Theme in Hindu Medicine.* [translation of Zimmermann 1982, with
updates and additions.] Berkeley: University of California Press.

Faidutti, Bruno. 1996. “Images et Connaissance de la Licorne (Fin du
Moyen-Age - XIXème Siècle).” Thèse de doctorat de l'Université Paris XII
(Sciences littéraires et humaines). See esp. the section “le point de vue
des savants,” vol. II, p. 284ff.

On Tue, 4 Jan 2022 at 09:23, Alex Watson via INDOLOGY <
indology at list.indology.info> wrote:

> On this topic, I'm forwarding a mass email that was sent 10 days ago to a
> number of faculty members in History and Philosophy departments in India.
> ---------- Forwarded message ---------
> Date: Sun, Dec 26, 2021 at 9:54 PM
> Subject: Revisiting Vishwaguru Bharatvarsha in IIT Kharagpur's 2022
> Calendar
> To Whom It May Concern,
> I am writing this letter as I believe it is the most I can do, in the face
> of what is happening.
> Attached is the 2022 calendar for IIT Kharagpur. Kindly take a look at it.
> I am not a historian, merely an amateur, and hence I cannot satisfactorily
> provide a rebuttal to the 'reinterpretations' of Indian history.
> What shocks me is how a premier scientific institution of India can allow
> for such a selective reading of history, which absolutely flies in the face
> of scientific rigour, and present a racially/nationally self-flattering
> hypothesis .
> --

*Jan E.M. Houben*

Directeur d'Études, Professor of South Asian History and Philology

*Sources et histoire de la tradition sanskrite*

École Pratique des Hautes Études (EPHE, Paris Sciences et Lettres)

*Sciences historiques et philologiques *

Groupe de recherches en études indiennes (EA 2120)

*johannes.houben [at] ephe.psl.eu <johannes.houben at ephe.psl.eu>*


*https://www.classicalindia.info* <https://www.classicalindia.info>

LabEx Hastec OS 2021 -- *L'Inde Classique* augmentée: construction,

et transformations d'un savoir scientifique
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <https://list.indology.info/pipermail/indology/attachments/20220111/89e2b95d/attachment.htm>

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list