[INDOLOGY] Ancient medical practices

Tieken, H.J.H. (Herman) H.J.H.Tieken at hum.leidenuniv.nl
Mon Jan 29 11:01:23 UTC 2024

Dear Jim,

You rightly pointed out that I overlooked how the rat had acquired a coral-red colour. This is said in the stanza’s third line: it had been digging into the iṅkulikam, or vermillion, found on the mountain.

Here I want to ask you what we should do with the verb nūkkiṉāṉ in 819, “treated” in your translation:

For those who had wounds all over their bodies like the hollows in ancient trees, women kept bit of food mixed with ghee and said, “This is medicine”. Applying, according to practice [payila? HT], a piece of ghee soaked cloth to Patumukaṉ’s broad chest, Cīvakaṉ treated [nūkkiṉāṉ, HT] him, saying, “Get into a healing jacket of cloth made of rat fur.”

The verb nūkku is rare. In the Caṅkam corpus I found two instances in the Paripāṭal (9-27 and 16-45). In the Cīvakacintāmaṇi I found two other instances (101-2 and 922-3). In 101 you translate it with “repel” and in 922 with “push” (a swing). In Paripāṭal 16-45 the water in the river rises, “pushed” by the wind, and in 9-27 the flowing water “damages” or “wears away” the river bank.

Just an idea: Is Cīvakaṉ dismissing the warriors, telling them to change their cuirass for a soft (nuti mayir) jacket, and take a rest or else to allow the wounds to heal properly?


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: Jim Ryan <jim_ryan at comcast.net>
Verzonden: zondag 28 januari 2024 21:50
Aan: Tieken, H.J.H. (Herman) <H.J.H.Tieken at hum.leidenuniv.nl>
Onderwerp: Re: [INDOLOGY] Ancient medical practices

Pardon me for the long response. And thanks to all who’ve joined here. Note that this mountain rat got that way from digging around in vermilion.  See below.

elimayir is “rat hair” or “rat fur.” The Madras Lexicon is unambiguous about this and no other animal is possible. It is genus ratus. That dictionary suggests it could refer to a bandicoot.

As for Herman’s mention of red rat fur (CC 2686), this was for a “blanket warm as fire.”  I translated this as a blanket made of “red-dyed rat hair.” That seems logical.

As for the blanket being also made of gold, Nacciṉarkkiṉiyar, the 14th century commentator, understands the word “gold” (poṉ) to be used adjectively, meaning something like “splendid” (polivu). A “golden blanket!” as it were. I, right now, can’t see how a blanket could be made of both red rat hair and gold, so I’m inclined to agree with the authoritative commentator and disagree with my distinguished friend.

As for the creatures having red hair CC 1898 states these are large rats (pēr eli)

who have been rooting about in vermilion on the mountain:

My translation:

            Bigger than the wild-cats on the summit of the famed mountain

            were the huge rats with many hairs red as coral. The vermilion

              dug up by them was scattered over the antimony mountain and

            seemed like the coverlet over the forehead of a well-fed elephant.

As for the cat, the trusty Tamil Lexicon says that the word pūcai, “cat,” can be taken to mean kāṭṭupācai – “forest cat,” here rendered “wild-cat.”

Dr. Tieken’s questioning of the “healing blanket made of rat fur” of CC 819 turns out marvelously well.  It is Naccarkkiṉiyar himself who takes the “fine hair” (fine in terms of thinness) to mean it is rat hair.  Herman says rat hair wasn’t “used,” when, more precisely, it is not specifically mentioned in the text. I see no need to question the commentator’s judgement here.

However, the great joke on me is that Nacciṉarkkiṉiyar’s comment which lead me to understand that here was a “healing jacket made from rat fur” is: cīlaiyaṭaiciṉa elimayirp paṭattāṟceyta cattai.  I had read cīlaiyaṭaicina to mean something like “causing healing,” because in the Tamil Lexicon there is the word aṭaicīlai just preceding the verb aṭaicu which is used here. aṭaicīlai is “a cloth steeped in a medicinal preparation…” Haphazardly, I did not read the rest: “and put in the mouth for a sore throat.” Or I discounted it. So, with some modern subcommentarial help, the longer phrase reads somewhat laboriously (and roughly): “a shirt made of fabric of rat hair made into cloth.”

To sum up: this is rat hair/fur and not from some other animal. And it is made into shirts (I stretched it to “jackets”) and blankets that are supposed to keep one very warm.  By deduction in verse 819 where the shirt is put on a badly wounded warrior, one might conclude that it aids in healing.

It’s all rather beautiful, as it turns out rat fur is used to help heal wounds in diabetics these days.

So, my ridiculous mistake in reading aside, is mention of rat fur for healing wounds found in Sanskrit anywhere? Lavanya says moleskin is used for healing…

Sometimes one can be wrong, but it might turn out right.


On Jan 28, 2024, at 12:45 PM, Tieken, H.J.H. (Herman) <H.J.H.Tieken at hum.leidenuniv.nl<mailto:H.J.H.Tieken at hum.leidenuniv.nl>> wrote:

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<https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fhermantieken.com%2F&data=05%7C02%7Ch.j.h.tieken%40hum.leidenuniv.nl%7C90d41baed3674abd8f9d08dc2042df9a%7Cca2a7f76dbd74ec091086b3d524fb7c8%7C0%7C0%7C638420718805662716%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C0%7C%7C%7C&sdata=Rp9VbXtppXyNmHAMw%2BaolgGVCKPxFJ2xGly4GcFscxI%3D&reserved=0>

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

Van: INDOLOGY <indology-bounces at list.indology.info<mailto:indology-bounces at list.indology.info>> namens Tieken, H.J.H. (Herman) via INDOLOGY <indology at list.indology.info<mailto:indology at list.indology.info>>
Verzonden: zondag 28 januari 2024 16:30
Aan: Srilata Raman via INDOLOGY <indology at list.indology.info<mailto:indology at list.indology.info>>; Jim Ryan <jim_ryan at comcast.net<mailto: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%7C90d41baed3674abd8f9d08dc2042df9a%7Cca2a7f76dbd74ec091086b3d524fb7c8%7C0%7C0%7C638420718805679759%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C0%7C%7C%7C&sdata=imPDX%2BssA3mSYhVIMmK%2B1gMfnZHh5coCbw5kxKG6kcg%3D&reserved=0>

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

Van: INDOLOGY <indology-bounces at list.indology.info<mailto:indology-bounces at list.indology.info>> namens Jim Ryan via INDOLOGY <indology at list.indology.info<mailto:indology at list.indology.info>>
Verzonden: zaterdag 27 januari 2024 20:53
Aan: Srilata Raman via INDOLOGY <indology at list.indology.info<mailto: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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