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Chapter IV - Description of the poison of a snakebite

Now we shall discourse on the Chapter which treats of the specific features of the poison of a snakebite Sarpa-dashta-Visha-Vijnaniya). 1.

Having laid himself prostrate at the feet of the holy and wise Dhanvantari, the master of all the Shastras, Sushruta addressed him as follows:—“Enlighten and illumineus (illuminous?), O Lord, on the number and classification of snakes, on the nature of their poison and on the distinguishing marks of their respective bites”, whereupon Dhanvantari, the foremost of all physicians replied as follows:—Innumerable are the families of serpents, of which Takshaka and Vasuki are the foremost and the most renowned. These are supposed to carry the earth[1] with the oceans, mountains and the islands on their heads and are as powerful and furious as the blazing fire, fed upon the libations of clarified butter. I make obeisance to those who constantly roar, bring down rain, scorch the whole world (with the heat of their hundred-headed venom) and are capable of destroying the universe with their angry looks and poisonous breath. It is fruitless, O Sushruta, to enter into a discourse on the treatment of their bites as they are beyond the curative virtues of ail terrestrial remedies. 2-A.


I shall, however, describe in due order, the classification of the terrestrial snakes whose poison lies in their fangs wherewith they bite the human beings (and other animals). They are eighty in number, classified into five main genera, namely, the Darvi-kara (hooded), Mandali (hoodless and painted with circular patches or rings of varied colours on their skin), Rajiman (hoodless and striped), Nirvisha (non-venomous or slightly venomous) and Vaikaranja (hybrid species). The last named is also, in its turn, divided into three sub-divisions only, viz., the Darvi-kara (hooded), the Mandali (hoodless and ring-marked) and the Rajiman (striped ones). 2.

Of these there are twenty six kinds of Darvi-kara snakes, twenty-two of the Mandali species, ten of the Raji-man class, twelve of the Nirvisha (non-venomous) species and three of the Vaikaranja (hybrid) species. Snakes born of Vaikaranja parents are of variegated colours (Chitra) and are of seven different species (three of these being Mandali (marked with rings) and (four) Rajila (marked with stripes). 3.

Classification of snake-bites:—

snake trampled under foot, or in a fit of anger or hunger, or anywise terrified or attacked, or out of its innate malicious nature, will bite a man or an animal. The bites of these snakes highly enraged as they are, are grouped under three heads by men conversant with their nature, viz., Sarpita (deep-punctured), Radita (superficially punctured) and Nirvisha (non-venomous) bites. Some of the authorities on snake bites,however, add a fourth kind viz., Sarpangabhihata (coming in contact with the body of a serpent). 4–A.

Their specific Symptoms:—

The bite in which one, two or more marks (punctures) of fangs of considerable depth are found on the affected part attended with a slight bleeding as well as those which are extremely slender and owe their origin to the turning aside and lowering of its mouth (head) immediately after the bite and are attended with swelling and the characteristic changes (in the system of the victim) should be known as the Sarpita bite. A (superficial) puncture (or punctures) made by the fangs of a snake and the affected part being attended with reddish, bluish, whitish or yellowish lines or stripes is called the Radita bite, which is characterised by the presence of a very small quantity of venom in the punctured wound. A Nirvisha (non- venomous) bite is marked by the presence of one or more fang - marks, an absence of swelling and the presence of slightly vitiated blood at the spot and is not attended with any change in the normal (physiological) condition of the person bitten. The contact of a snake with the body of a naturally timid person may cause the aggravation of his bodily Vayu and produce a swelling of the part. Such a man is said to be Sarpangabhihata[2] (affected by the touch of a snake). 4.

A bite by a diseased or agitated snake or by an extremely old or young one, should be considered as considerably less venomous. The poison of a snake is inoperative in a country resorted to by the celestial Garuda (the king of birds), or by the gods, Yakshas, Siddhas and Brahmarshis, as well as in one in which there are drugs of anti-venomous virtues. 5.

Characteristic features of the different Species Of Snakes:—

Those having hoods and marked with spots resembling a wheel or a plough, an umbrella or a cross (Svastika) or a goad (Amkusha) on their heads and are extremely swift, should be known as the Darvi-kara snakes. Those which are large and slow and marked with parti-coloured


ring-like or circular spots on their skin, and have the glow of the sun or fire should be known as Mandali snakes, while those which are glossy and whose bodies are painted with parti-coloured horizontal, perpendicular and lateral stripes, should be known as the Rajiman species. 6.

Features of the different Castes amongst snakes:—

The snakes whose skin is lustrous like a pearl or silver, is coloured yellow and looks like gold and emits a sweet smell, should be regarded as belonging to the Brahmana species of snakes. Those which are glossy, extremely irritable in their nature and marked with spots on their skin resembling the discs of the sun and moon, or of the shape of a conch- shell (Ambuja) or an umbrella, should be regarded as belonging to the Kshatriya species. The snakes of the Vaishya caste are coloured black or red or blackish grey or ash-coloured or pigeon-coloured and are (crooked or hard in their structures) like a Vajra. The snakes which resemble a buffalo or a leopard in colour and lustre or are rough-skinned or are possessed of a colour other than the preceding ones should be considered as belonging to the Shudra class. 7.

The poison of all hooded snakes (Phani) deranges and aggravates the bodily Vayu, that of the Mandali (circular spotted) species aggravates the Pitta, while that of the Rajiman (striped) class aggravates the bodily Kapha. The poison of a snake of hybrid (Vaikaranja) origin aggravates the two particular Doshas of the body which its parents would have separately aggravated—a fact which helps us to ascertain the species to which its parents belong. 8.

Particular habits of different kinds of snakes:—

Now hear me describe the special habits of each of these families of snakes. A snake of the Rajiman species, is found abroad in the fourth or the last quarter of the night, the Mandali snakes are found to be out in the three preceding watches, while the Darvi-kara snakes are found to be abroad (in quest of prey) only in the day time. 9.

A Darvi-kara snake of tender age, a middle-aged Rajiman snake and an old Mandali snake are as fatal as personified death. A snake of extremely tender age, as well as the one roughly handled by a mungoose, or oppressed with water, as well as an extremely old and emaciated one, or one which is extremely frightened or has recently cast ofif its slough should be considered as mild-venomed. 10–11.

Names of the different Species of Darvi-kara Snakes:—

Snakes known as Krishna-Sarpa, Maha-krishna, Krishnodara, Shveta-kapota, Vala haka, Maha-Sarpa, Shankha-pala, Lohitaksha, Gavedhuka, Parisarpa Khanda-phana, Kakuda, Padma, Maha-Padma, Darbha-pushpa, Dadhi-mukha, Pundarika, Bhrukuti-mukha, Vishkira, Pushpabhikirna, Giri-sarpa, Riju-sarpa, Shvetodara, Maha-shiras, Alagarda and Ashi- visha belong to the family of Darvi-kara snakes. 12

Names of the different Species of Mandali Snakes:—

Snakes known as Adarsha- mandala, Shveta-mandala, Rakta-mandala, Chitra-mandala, Prishata, Rodhra-pushpa, Milindaka, Gonasa, Vriddha-gonasa, Panasa, Maha-panasa, Venu-patraka, Shishuka, Madana, Palimhira, Pingala, Tantuka, Pushpa-pandu, Shadga, Agnika, Vabhru, Kashaya, Kalusha, Paravata, Hastabharana, Chitraka and Enipada belong to the family of the Mandali species of snakes. 13.

Names of the different species of Rajiman Snakes:—

Snakes known as Pundarika, Raji-chitra, Angula-raji, Vindu-raji, Kardamaka, Trina-shoshakas, Sarshapaka, Shveta-hanu, Darbha-pushpa, Chakraka, Godhumaka, Kikvisada belong to the Rajiman family of snakes. 14.

Names of the different species of Nirvisha snakes:—

The Galagoli, Shuka-patra, Ajagara, Divyaka, Varshahika, Pushpa-shakali, Jyoti- ratha, Kshirika, Pushpaka, Ahi-pataka, Andhahika, Gaurahika and the Vrikshe-shaya belong to the Nirvisha (non-venomous) group of snakes. 15.

Names and Origin of the different species of Vaikaranja snakes:—

The Vaikaranja snakes are the cross-bred of the above first three species, viz., Darvi-kara, etc., and are known as Makuli, Potagala and Snigdha-raji. Those born of a Krishna-sarpa father and Gonasi mother or the contrary are known as Makuli, A Rajila father and Gonasi mother or the contrary bring forth a (hybrid species known as the) Potagala, and a Krishna-sarpa father and a Rajimati mother or the contrary produce a Snigdha-raji snake. According to several authorities, the poison of a snake of the first of these three hybrid sub families partakes of the nature of that of its father while that of the remaining two partakes of the nature of their mother. 16.

Sub-families of the Vaikaranja Snakes:—

Seven other sub-families arise out of the three aforesaid families of Vaikaranja snakes and are known as Divyelaka, Lodhra-pushpaka, Raji-chitraka, Potagala, Pushpabhikirna, Darbha-pushpa and Vellitaka. Of these the first three species resemble the Rajila and the last four resemble the Mandali species of snakes. Thus we have finished describing the eighty different families of snakes. 17.

Characteristic features of male and female snakes:—

The eyes, the tongue, the mouth and the head of a male serpent are large, while those of a female snake are small Those which partake of both these features and are mild-venomed and not (easily) irritable, should be considered as hermaphrodite (Napumsaka). 18.

Now we shall describe the general features of snakebites:—Why does snake-poison prove instantaneously fatal like a sharp sword, thunder-bolt or fire? Why is it that a case of snake bite, if neglected even for a very short time (Muhurta) at the outset, terminates in the death of the patient without (even) giving him an opportunity of speaking? 19-20.

From the general characteristics of the bites, it should be presumed that they may be divided into three kinds. We shall, therefore, describe in detail the specific features of the bites of these three kinds (instead of all of them separately). It will be both beneficial to the patient and will leave no room for the confusion of the physician. From the specific features of these three kinds of snake-bites should be inferred all other snake-bites. 21.

Specific symptoms of a bite by a Darvi-kara snake:—

A black colour of the skin, eyes, nails, tooth, urine and stool and the seat of the bite, roughness of the body and heaviness of the head, pain in the joints, weakness of the back, neck and waist, yawning, shivering, hoarseness of the voice, a rattling sound in the throat, lassitude, dry eructation, cough and difficult breathing, hiccough, upward course of the bodily Vayu, pain (Shula) and consequent aching of the limbs, thirst, excessive salivation, foaming in the mouth, choking of the external orifices of the body (such as the mouth and the nostrils) and peculiar pains (such as the pricking, piercing pain in the body) due to the aggravation of the bodily Vayu,—these are the specific symptoms of a bite by a snake of the Darvi-kara species. 22.

Specific symptoms of a bite by a Mandali snake:—

Yellowness of the skin, etc., longing for cold, a sensation as if the whole interior is being burnt with scorching vapours, extreme burning sensation in the body, thirst, a sensation of intoxication, delirium, fever, hemorrhage through both the upper and the lower channels, sloughing of the flesh, swelling and suppuration in the affected part, a jaundiced sight, a rapid aggravation (of the Pitta) and the presence of various sorts of pain peculiar to the derangement of the of the bodily Pitta,—these are the specific symptoms of a bite by a snake of the Mandali species. 23.

Specific symptoms of a bite by a Rajiman snake:—

Whiteness of the skin, etc., Shita-Jvara (catarrhal fever), horripilation, a numbness of the limbs, a swelling about the seat of the bite, flowing out of dense phlegm (from the mouth), vomiting, constant itching of the eyes, a swelling of and a rattling sound in the throat, obstruction of breath, delirium, peculiar pain and troubles characteristic of the deranged Kapha in the body,—these are the specific symptoms of a bite by a snake of the Rajiman species 24.

Specific symptoms of bites by snakes of different sexes and ages, etc.:—

The sight or the pupils of the eyes of a person bitten by a male snake, is turned upward. A bite by a female serpent exhibits such smyptoms as downcast eyes and appearance of veins on the forehead, while that by a hermaphrodite (Napumsaka) snake makes the patient look sidelong. A person bitten by a pregnant snake produces yellowness of the face and tympanites. A bite by a newly delivered snake causes Shula (pain), bloody urination and an attack of tonsilites (Upa-jihvika) in the victim. A person bitten by a hungry serpent craves for food. A bite by an old serpent is marked by a slow and mild character of the different stages of poisoning. A bite by a snake of tender age is marked by a rapid setting of the characteristic poisonous symptoms which are found to be mild in their nature. A bite by a non-venomous serpent is marked by the absence of any of the specific symptoms of poisoning. According to several authorities, a bite by a blind serpent brings on blindness in its train. An Ajagara (Boa-constructor) is found to actually swallow up the body of its prey, to which should be ascribed the death of the victim in such a case (resulting from the crushing of bones and strangulation) and not to the effects of any poison. A person bitten by a snake of instantaneously fatal poison, drops down dead at the moment of the bite as if struck by a sharp weapon or by lightning. 25.

Symptoms of the different stages of poisoning from the bites of a Darvi- kara Snake:—

The poison of all species of snakes (snake-bites) produces seven distinct stages of transformation (in the organism of a person bitten by one of them). The poison of a snake of the Darvi-kara species affects and vitiates the blood (vascular system) in the first stage of its course or its physiological transformation in the body. The blood thereby turns black, imparting its hue to the complexion and giving rise to a sort of creeping sensation in the body, as if ants have been creeping over it. In the second stage the poison affects the principle of flesh, turns it deep black and produces swellings and Granthis all over the body. In the third stage it invades the principle of Medas (adipose tissues?) in the body, giving rise to a sort of mucous discharge from the seat of bite, heaviness in the head, perspiration and numbness of the eyes. In the fourth stage the poison enters the Koshtha (abdomen?) and aggravates the Doshas, especially Kapha, producing somnolence, water-brash and a breaking sensation in the joints. In the fifth stage, it penetrates into the principle of bone, deranges the Prana (vital principle) and impairs the Agni (digestive fire), giving rise to hiccough, a burning sensation in the body and a breaking pain in the joints. In the sixth stage, it enters the principle of Majjan (marrow) and greatly deranges the Grahani (the large intestines?) giving rise to a sense of heaviness of the limbs, dysentery, pain in the heart and epileptic fits. In the seventh stage it permeates the principle of semen, extremely aggravates the vital nerve-governing Vayu known as the Vyana, dislodges the Kapha even from the minutest capillaries, producing secretions of lump-like phlegm from the mouth, a breaking pain in the waist and the back, impaired functions of the mind and of the body, excessive salivation, perspiration and a suppression of breath 26.

Different stages of poisoning from the bites of a Mandali Snake:—

In the first stage of bite by a Mandali snake, the poison affects the blood (vascular system), which being thus vitiated produces shivering (lit. coldness followed by a burning sensation in the body and pallor (yellowness) of the skin. In the second stage the poison contaminates the flesh which causes an extreme yellowness of complexion attended with a burning sensation in the body and yellowness about the seat of the bite. In the third stage, the poison affects the principle of Medas (adipose tissues) producing numbness of the eyes, thirst, slimy exudation from the wound (bite) and perspiration as in the case of a bite by a Darvi-kara snake described before. In the fourth stage, it enters the Koshtha (cavity of the trunk) and produces fever. In the fifth stage, it produces a burning sensation throughout the whole organism. The sixth and the seventh stages are identical with those of the foregoing (Darvi-kara bite). 27.

Different stages of poisoning from the bite of a Rajiman Snake:—

The poison of a Rajiman snake in the first stage of poisoning, vitiates the blood whicht is turned pale yellow producing the appearance of goose-skin of the victim who looks white. In the second stage, it contaminates the flesh, giving rise to an extreme paleness of complexion, prostration and swelling of the head. In the third stage, it affects the principle of Medas, giving rise to haziness of the eyes, deposit of filthy matter on the teeth, perspiraion and secretions from the nostrils and the eyes. In the fourth stage, it enters the Koshtha (abdominal cavity) and produces paralysis of the nerves of the neck (Manya) and heaviness of the head. In the fifth stage, it gives rise to loss of speech and brings on Shita-Jvara (catarrhal fever). The sixth and the seventh stages of the poisoning are identical with the preceding kind. 28.

Memorable Verses:—

A snake-poison is found to successively attack the seven Kalas or facio described before (in Chapter IV. Sharira Sthana), and gives rise respectively to the seven stages of poisoning. The interval of time during which a deadly poison leaves a preceding Kala and, carried forward by the bodily Vayu, attacks the succeeding one, is called its Vegantara (the intervening stage). 29-30.

Different Stages of poisoning in cases of lower animals:—

A lower animal bitten by a snake first becomes swelled up and looks steadfast and distressed. In the second stage of poisoning, salivation, horripilation and pain in the heart set in. The third stage is marked by pain in the head and drooping of the neck and of the shoulder. In the fourth stage, it shivers, gnashas its teeth, drops down unconscious and expires. Some experts hold that there are only three stages of poisoning in the case of a lower animal, the fourth being included therein. 31.

Different Stages of poisoning in Cases Of birds:—

A bird, bitten by a snake,looks stead-fast and becomes unconscious in the first stage of poisoning. The second stage is marked by an extreme agitated condition of the bird and the third stage ends in death. According to several authorities there is only a single stage of poisoning in the case of a bird. A snake-poison cannot penetrate far into the body of a cat, mungoose, etc. 32–33.


Thus ends the fourth Chapter of the Kalpa Sthana in the Sushruta Samhita which treats of the specific features of the poison of a snakebite.

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- Footnotes:


In the Hindu mythology the earth is supposed to rest on the heads of snakes, the inmates of the infernal region.


It should be noted here that coming in contact with thorns and nails, etc., if unnoticed, may also produce in the minds of persons the fear of having been bitten by a snake and may thus produce the effects of such poisoning.

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