[INDOLOGY] Techniques of Blinding

Walter Slaje walter.slaje at gmail.com
Sun May 3 13:49:16 EDT 2020

Dear Aleksandar,

thank you, most certainly an almost global phenomenon, see the respective
entries in the English:
and in the German Wikipedia (which provides additional evidence in
particular from the Ancient Near East and the Sassanian Empire):

Not only has the evidence from Tamil (Palaniappan), but also from Buddhist
texts shown that ut-paṭ (caus.) was obviously the word used to express the
cutting out of an eyeball or the destruction of one’s eyesight. The
Śibijātaka (in Āryaśūra’s and in the Pali version) uses ut-pāṭay- as well
in order to express these meanings (reference kindly provided by Roland
Steiner). In this Jātaka, however, the careful removal of the eyeball of an
organ donor with a knife is dealt with: his eye must not be injured in
order to be able to be used by the organ recipient (could this become
another gateway for organ transplant fantasies?). Similarly, on the Śaiva
side, where “Tiṇṇaṉ takes out his own eyes with his arrow to replace the
bleeding eyes of Śivaliṅga”. By “arrow” we must assume an arrow-head, which
is a small blade. Also on the Jaina side there is evidence for “cutting
out” the eyes with a knife (netre śastrīkayotpāṭya, Pārśvanāthacaritra of
Bhāvadevasūri, reference kindly provided by Suhas Mahesh).
On the other hand, as we have seen, utpāṭay- stands at the same time for
the destruction of eyeballs and of vision. Judging from the basic meaning
of the root ut-paṭ (caus.: “to tear up or out, pluck, pull out,
eradicate”), the “cutting out” of the eyeballs would seem to be
historically closer to the original practice of blinding in India.
“Extraction” is a technical meaning of utpāṭana in medical literature
(Meulenbeld,   HIML, 1A: 15, n. 158, another ref. by R. Steiner), which, it
is to assumed, is also carried out with the help of a blade. However,
according to the dictionaries, utpāṭay can also mean “to part asunder,
split“ (apparently in medical texts).

A decision on the appropriate meaning rests accordingly on the instruments
respectively used: cutting is done with a blade, piercing with a needle.
They leave different marks on the victim and give him a different look.

If, which is anything but certain and therefore requires further research,
piercing of the retina by a needle was indeed an innovative, minimally
invasive, but highly effective blinding method introduced to India only
under Muslim rule, the translation of the verb utpāṭay- needs to be adapted
to the corresponding technique (“cutting out” or “piercing through”).


Am So., 3. Mai 2020 um 16:56 Uhr schrieb Uskokov, Aleksandar <
aleksandar.uskokov at yale.edu>:

> Dear Walter,
> This is somewhat circumstantial as it does not pertain to South Asia (and
> is based largely on my High School memory, so -- take it with a grain of
> salt), but there is the tradition of the Battle of Kleidon / Belasitsa
> between the Byzantine Emperor Basil II and the Bulgarian (or Macedonian, as
> my countrymen would claim) Emperor Samuel, in 1014, when some 15,000
> soldiers of Samuel were allegedly blinded by the Byzantine army by gouging
> out their eyes with knives (or some form of iron object). That would put
> the practice (or a similar practice) close to Turkey, as Matthew's
> reference from Orhan Pamuk suggests, but not quite in "Ottoman Turkey" yet.
> This suggests that the practice might be Byzantine in origin.
> Best wishes,
> Aleksandar
> Aleksandar Uskokov
> Lector in Sanskrit
> South Asian Studies Council, Yale University
> 203-432-1972 | aleksandar.uskokov at yale.edu
> ------------------------------
> *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 10:22 AM
> *To:* Madhav Deshpande <mmdesh at umich.edu>
> *Cc:* Indology <indology at list.indology.info>
> *Subject:* Re: [INDOLOGY] Techniques of Blinding
> Dear Madhav and Matthew,
> first, thank you for alerting me to my "touching" connotation blunder, and
> second, yes, blinding - especially of pretenders to the throne - was
> certainly not uncommon. To the references already given by you to Ottoman
> and Mughal practices we can furthermore add Humayun’s blinding of his
> brother Mirza Kamran and Jahangir’s blinding of his first son Khusrau by
> using the needle (in 1607). In this context it is perhaps interesting to
> note that what Śrīvara has reported dates only from Sultanate Kashmir of
> the 15th century. To my knowledge no earlier occurrences are documented in
> the Rājataṅgiṇīs. Should we regard the practice of blinding with the needle
> an Islamic import? How does this technique conform to the Sanskrit notion
> of utpāṭana ("tearing out"). This is why I was asking for evidence of
> techniques from other and ideally pre-Islamic sources.
> Thanks again,
> Walter
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