[INDOLOGY] Techniques of Blinding

Matthew Kapstein mkapstei at uchicago.edu
Sun May 3 09:26:40 EDT 2020

Dear Walter,

I don't think that "touching" is the adjective that I would choose to describe the harrowing scene from the film you mention. (The connotation of the word in English is the arousing of positive sympathy.)

But that is not my main reason for responding. The reference to the use of a needle recalled a scene in Orhan Pamuk's novel Red set, not in India, but in Ottoman Turkey. Perhaps the practic e was rather widespread in earlier times.


Matthew Kapstein
Directeur d'études, émérite
Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris

Numata Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies,
The University of Chicago
From: INDOLOGY <indology-bounces at list.indology.info> on behalf of Walter Slaje via INDOLOGY <indology at list.indology.info>
Sent: Sunday, May 3, 2020 3:35 AM
To: Indology <indology at list.indology.info>
Subject: [INDOLOGY] Techniques of Blinding

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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