[INDOLOGY] Ancient medical practices

Tieken, H.J.H. (Herman) H.J.H.Tieken at hum.leidenuniv.nl
Sun Jan 28 20:45:30 UTC 2024

I have received several suggestions for the animal called eli in the Cīvakacintāmaṇi passages referred to in my earlier mail. Two of them account for the colour scheme: the Madras Tree Shrew (Matthew Kapstein) and the giant squirrel or Ratufa indica (Timothy Lubin). The habitat of both is mountains. Furthermore, both animals are quite big. Thus we are dealing with a rat (eli) which differs from a normal rat by being bigger than a cat (pūcaiyil periyaṉa), or the rat's natural enemy. See the first two lines of stanza 1898:

pukaḻ varai ceṉṉi mēl pūcaiyil periyaṉa
pavaḻamē aṉaiyaṉa pal mayir pēr eli,

A big rat, bigger than a cat, which has much coral-red hair, lives on the top of (that) famous mountain

Many thanks for the reactions.


Herman Tieken
Stationsweg 58
2515 BP Den Haag
The Netherlands
00 31 (0)70 2208127
website: hermantieken.com<http://hermantieken.com/>

The Aśoka Inscriptions: Analysing a corpus, New Delhi: Primus Books, 2023.

Van: INDOLOGY <indology-bounces at list.indology.info> namens Tieken, H.J.H. (Herman) via INDOLOGY <indology at list.indology.info>
Verzonden: zondag 28 januari 2024 16:30
Aan: Srilata Raman via INDOLOGY <indology at list.indology.info>; Jim Ryan <jim_ryan at comcast.net>
Onderwerp: Re: [INDOLOGY] Ancient medical practices

Dear Jim,

In Civakacintāmaṇi stanza1874 a list of items is found of presents made by the king. The list includes ornaments made with diamonds, a bow, arrows, a jewelled spear, and, finally, in your translation, a healing blanket made of rats' fur (mayir eliyiṉ pōrvai). For this healing blanket you refer to stanza 819. This stanza describes "warriors who have wounds all over their bodies like the hollows in ancient trees". Cīvakaṉ treats them with morsels of food mixed with ghee prepared by women, urging the wounded to accept this as a medicine. Furthermore, he urges them to "get into a healing jacket of cloth made from rat fur". However, in this case no word for "rat" (eli) is found in the text (nuti mayirttukiṟ kuppāyam pukuka). In your translation you base yourself on one commentator, who indicates "that rat hair is used here [which it isn't, HT] because it is very warm and keeps the cold away, because the wind cannot penetrate it, and because it is very soft (soft as cotton). The commentator evidently refers to stanzas 2471 and 2680 (cold season).

In the other instaces of eli mayir the point is the colour of the rat's fur, namely red (ce eli mayir), gold (poṉ kampalam) (2686), red orange (iṅkulikam, Skt hiṅgula) and coral-red (pavaḻam) (1898). (pūcai in stanza 1898 cannot mean "cat" [a cat on the mountain top??], but must mean something applied to the mountain, which gives it the dark gray colour of an elephant.)

What rat-like animal are we dealing with that has a golden red fur?

With kind regards

Herman Tieken
Stationsweg 58
2515 BP Den Haag
The Netherlands
00 31 (0)70 2208127
website: hermantieken.com<https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fhermantieken.com%2F&data=05%7C02%7Ch.j.h.tieken%40hum.leidenuniv.nl%7C4c5da8994af147d872f908dc20162e95%7Cca2a7f76dbd74ec091086b3d524fb7c8%7C0%7C0%7C638420526849877549%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C0%7C%7C%7C&sdata=owzeQI6ojbGgPAgY9O6J0VX9pHlO4EnExNWhVI7zFS0%3D&reserved=0>

The Aśoka Inscriptions: Analysing a corpus, New Delhi: Primus Books, 2023.

Van: INDOLOGY <indology-bounces at list.indology.info> namens Jim Ryan via INDOLOGY <indology at list.indology.info>
Verzonden: zaterdag 27 januari 2024 20:53
Aan: Srilata Raman via INDOLOGY <indology at list.indology.info>
Onderwerp: [INDOLOGY] Ancient medical practices


In the Tamil epic Cīvakacintāmaṇi (@9th century CE) several times warriors wounded in battle are said to be treated by having their wounds wrapped in rat hair (elimayir) blankets or cloth. sometimes I translated this as “rat fur,” though it may imply that rat’s skin was taken with the hair. That would mean the rat was dead, probably killed, and this the Jains (whose text this is) would abhor, we’d think. But I couldn’t imagine how rat hair could somehow be shaved off and woven into cloth. Anyway, in an internet search (see below) out of curiosity I found that, in fact, rat fur is currently used to treat wounds in diabetics. It appears that the keratin in the fur, because it is biodegradable, allows the fur to help bind the wound and, as it heals, the hair of the fur sort of melts away, leaving a cleanly healed wound. Well, it solved a mystery for me, and showed that sometimes modern discoveries aren’t so new.

There is no reference to "rat hair" in the Index des mots de la literature tamoule ancienne.

I'm wondering whether this medical treatment has ever been referenced in Sanskrit literature.

I recently googled: "rat fur for healing" and got this:
How Rat Fur can Help Diabetics Heal Wounds

Jim Ryan
Asian Philosophies and Cultures (Emeritus)
California Institute of Integral Studies
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