[INDOLOGY] Techniques of Blinding

Walter Slaje walter.slaje at gmail.com
Sun May 3 04:35:35 EDT 2020

Dear Colleagues,

I take the advantage of the muted attempts at postmodern creative writing
in Sanskrit to post a request pertaining to the study of material culture
and social history in mediaeval India. My source is a representative of –
if I might say so – “Sanskrit literary realism”, namely Kavi Śrīvara, who
depicts a technique of blinding in his *Rājataraṅgiṇī* as it was practised
in Kashmir between c. AD 1472 and 1474.

Most of you will certainly be aware of the prevailing practice in South
Asia of using acid, and possibly of the touching blinding scene shown in
Slumdog Millionaire:


but what Śrīvara was watching as an eyewitness at the royal court he was
serving in Sultanate Kashmir was done differently. It comes closer to the
verbatim meaning of *netra-utpāṭana* (“tearing out one’s eyes”), as they
seem to have gouged out the eyes of the victim, to wit, Bahrām Khān,
pretender to the throne and uncle of the ruling Sultan Hassan:

*tasya tūlācite netradvaye taptāṃ śalākikām* |

*Jonarājānako lauhīṃ dṛṅnāśārtham adāpayat* || III.107 ||

[107]In order to destroy [Bahrām’s] eyesight, the Rājānaka Jona
administered a red-hot copper needle to [his] eyeballs, which had been
covered with cotton.

Śrīvara comments:

*nairghṛṇyam akṣihartur yat kṛṣṭākṣasya ca yā vyathā* |

*dvayaṃ na śakyate vaktuṃ yathārthaṃ mādṛśāṃ girā* || III.108 ||

[108][Poets] like me have no words to express in an adequate manner the
heartlessness of the one who took his eyes and the agony of the one from
whom they were torn.

It is not the only instance of *netrotpāṭana* in his work, however to my
present knowledge it is the only one to render precise details.

In preparation of a new edition and annotated translation of Śrīvara’s
masterpiece I would like to ask if someone might be aware of any other
source having preserved details of the techniques of blinding in India? My
request does not concern the undisputed occurrence of *netrotpāṭana*, but
only the techniques, if known.

On- and off-list replies would be equally welcome.

Thanking you,

Walter Slaje
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