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Chapter VII

2. Story of Guṇāḍhya

THEN, having taken a vow of silence, I came into the presence of the sovereign, and there a certain Brāhman recited a śloka he had composed, and the king himself addressed him correctly in the Sanskrit language; and the people who were present in Court were delighted when they witnessed that. Then the king said deferentially to Śarvavarman: “Tell me thyself after what fashion the god showed thee favour.” Hearing that, Śarvavarman proceeded to relate to the king the whole story of Kārttikeya’s favourable acceptance of him.


2e. The New Grammar revealed

I went, O king, on that occasion fasting and silent from this place, so when the journey came to an end,[1] being very despondent, and emaciated with my severe austerities, worn out, I fell senseless on the ground. Then, I remember, a man with a spear in his hand came and said to me in distinct accents: “Rise up, my son; everything shall turn out favourably for thee.” By that speech I was, as it were, immediately bedewed with a shower of nectar, and I woke up, and seemed free from hunger and thirst and in good case. Then I approached the neighbourhood of the god’s temple, overpowered with the weight of my devotion, and after bathing I entered the inner shrine of the god in a state of agitated suspense. Then that Lord Skanda[2] gave me a sight of himself within, and thereupon Sarasvatī in visible shape entered my mouth. So that holy god, manifested before me, recited the sūtra beginning, “the traditional doctrine of letters.” On hearing that I, with the levity which is so natural to mankind, guessed the next sūtra and uttered it myself.

Then that god said to me:

“If thou hadst not uttered it thyself, this grammatical treatise would have supplanted that of Pāṇini. As it is, on account of its conciseness, it shall be called Kātantra, and Kālāpaka, from the tail (kalāpa) of the peacock on which I ride.”

Having said this, that god himself in visible form revealed to me that new and short grammar,[3] and then added this besides:

“That king of thine in a former birth was himself a holy sage, a pupil of the hermit Bharadvāja, named Kṛṣṇa, great in austerity, and he, having beheld a hermit’s daughter who loved him in return, suddenly felt the smart of the wound which the shaft of the flowery-arrowed god inflicts. So, having been cursed by the hermits, he has now become incarnate here, and that hermit’s daughter has become incarnate as his queen. So this King Sātavāhana, being an incarnation of a holy sage,[4] when he beholds thee will attain a knowledge of all the sciences according to thy wish. For the highest matters are easily acquired by great-souled ones, having been learnt in a former birth, the real truth of them being recalled by their powerful memories.”[5]

When the god had said this he disappeared, and I went out, and there grains of rice were presented me by the god’s servants. Then I proceeded to return,

O king, and wonderful to say, though I consumed those grains on my journey day after day, they remained as numerous as ever.


2. Story of Guṇāḍhya

When he had related his adventure, Śarvavarman ceased speaking, and King Sātavāhana in cheerful mood rose up and went to bathe.

Then I, being excluded from business by my vow of silence, took leave, with a low bow only, of that king, who was very averse to part with me, and went out of that town, accompanied by only two disciples, and, with my mind bent on the performance of austerities, came to visit the shrine of the dweller in the Vindhya hills, and having been directed by the goddess in a dream to visit thee, I entered for that purpose this terrible Vindhya forest. A hint given by a Pulinda enabled me to find a caravan, and so somehow or other, by the special favour of destiny, I managed to arrive here, and beheld this host of Piśācas, and by hearing from a distance their conversation with one another, I have contrived to learn this Paiśācha language,[6] which has enabled me to break my vow of silence. I then made use of it to ask after you, and hearing that you had gone to Ujjayinī, I waited here until your return; on beholding you I welcomed you in the fourth language (the speech of the Piśācas), and then I called to mind my origin. This is the story of my adventure in this birth.

[M] (main story line continued) When Guṇāḍhya had said this, Kāṇabhūti said to him:

“Hear how your arrival was made known to me last night. I have a friend, a Rākṣasa of the name of Bhūtivarman, who possesses heavenly insight, and I went to a garden in Ujjayinī, where he resides. On my asking him when my own curse would come to an end, he said:

‘We have no power in the day; wait, and I will tell you at night.’

I consented, and when night came on I asked him earnestly the reason why goblins[7] delighted in disporting themselves, as they were doing.

Then Bhūtivarman said to me:

‘Listen; I will relate what I heard Śiva say in a conversation with Brahmā. Rākṣasas, Yakṣas, and Piśācas have no power in the day, being dazed with the brightness of the sun, therefore they delight in the night.[8] And where the gods are not worshipped, and the Brāhmans, in due form, and where men eat contrary to the holy law, there also they have power. Where there is a man who abstains from flesh, or a virtuous woman, there they do not go. They never attack chaste men, heroes, and men awake.’[9]

When he said this on that occasion Bhūtivarman continued:

‘Go, for Guṇāḍhya has arrived, the destined means of thy release from the curse.’

So hearing this, I have come, and I have seen thee, my lord. Now I will relate to thee that tale which Puṣpadanta told; but I feel curiosity on one point: tell me why he was called Puṣpadanta and thou Mālyavān.”

Hearing this question from Kāṇabhūti, Guṇāḍhya said to him:


3. Story of Puṣpadanta

On the bank of the Ganges there is a royal district granted to Brāhmans by royal charter, named Bahusuvarṇaka, and there lived there a very learned Brāhman named Govindadatta, and he had a wife, Agnidattā, who was devoted to her husband. In course of time that Brāhman had five sons by her. And they, being handsome but stupid, grew up insolent fellows. Then a guest came to the house of Govindadatta, a Brāhman, Vaiśvānara by name, like a second god of fire.[10] As Govindadatta was away from home when he arrived, he came and saluted his sons, and they only responded to his salute with a laugh; then that Brāhman in a rage prepared to depart from his house.

While he was in this state of wrath Govindadatta came, and asked the cause, and did his best to appease him; but the excellent Brāhman nevertheless spoke as follows:—

“Your sons have become outcasts, as being blockheads, and you have lost caste by associating with them, therefore I will not eat in your house; if I did so I should not be able to purify myself by any expiatory ceremony.”

Then Govindadatta said to him with an oath: “I will never even touch these wicked sons of mine.” His hospitable wife also came and said the same to her guest; then Vaiśvānara was with difficulty induced to accept their hospitality. One of Govindadatta’s sons, named Devadatta, when he saw that, was grieved at his father’s sternness, and, thinking a life of no value which was thus branded by his parents, went in a state of despondency to the hermitage of Badarikā to perform penance; there he first ate leaves, and afterwards he fed only on smoke, persevering in a long course of austerities[11] in order to propitiate the husband of Umā.[12] So Śambhu,[12] won over by his severe austerities, manifested himself to him, and he craved a boon from the god, that he might ever attend upon him.

Śambhu thus commanded him:

“Acquire learning, and enjoy pleasures on the earth, and after that thou shalt attain all thy desire.”

Then he, eager for learning, went to the city of Pāṭaliputra, and according to custom waited on an instructor named Vedakumbha. When he was there, the wife of his preceptor, distracted by passion, which had arisen in her heart, made violent love to him. Alas! the fancies of women are ever inconstant. Accordingly Devadatta left that place, as his studies had been thus interfered with by the God of Love, and went to Pratiṣṭhāna with unwearied zeal. There he repaired to an old preceptor named Mantrasvāmin, with an old wife, and acquired a perfect knowledge of the sciences. And after he had acquired learning the daughter of the King Suśarman, Śrī by name, cast eyes upon the handsome youth, as the goddess Śrī upon Viṣṇu. He also beheld that maiden at a window, looking like the presiding goddess of the moon, roaming through the air in a magic chariot. Those two were, as it were, fastened together by that look which was the chain of love, and were unable to separate. The king’s daughter made him a sign to come near with one finger, looking like love’s command in fleshly form. Then he came near her, and she came out of the women’s apartments, and took with her teeth a flower and threw it down to him. He, not understanding this mysterious sign[13] made by the princess, puzzled as to what he ought to do, went home to his preceptor. There he rolled on the ground unable to utter a word, being consumed within with burning pain, like one dumb and distracted; his wise preceptor guessing what was the matter by these love symptoms, artfully questioned him, and at last he was with difficulty persuaded to tell the whole story.

Then the clever preceptor guessed the riddle, and said to him[14]:

“By letting drop a flower with her tooth she made a sign to you that you were to go to this temple rich in flowers, called Puṣpadanta, and wait there; so you had better go now.”

When he heard this and knew the meaning of the sign, the youth forgot his grief. Then he went into that temple and remained there. The princess on her part also went there, giving as an excuse that it was the eighth day of the month, and then entered the inner shrine in order to present herself alone before the god; then she touched her lover, who was behind the panel of the door, and he suddenly springing up threw his arms round her neck.

She exclaimed:

“This is strange; how did you guess the meaning of that sign of mine?”

He replied:

“It was my preceptor that found it out, not I.”

Then the princess flew into a passion and said, “Let me go; you are a dolt,” and immediately rushed out of the temple, fearing her secret would be discovered. Devadatta on his part went away, and thinking in solitude on his beloved, who was no sooner seen than lost to his eyes, was in such a state that the taper of his life was well-nigh melted away in the fire of bereavement. Śiva, who had been before propitiated by him, commanded an attendant of his, of the name of Pañcaśikha, to procure for him the desire of his heart. That excellent Gaṇa thereupon came and consoled him, and caused him to assume the dress of a woman, and he himself wore the semblance of an aged Brāhman.

Then that worthy Gaṇa went with him to King Suśarman, the father of that bright-eyed one, and said to him:

“My son has been sent away somewhere,[15] I go to seek him; accordingly I deposit with thee this daughter-in-law of mine; keep her safely, O king.”

Hearing that, King Suśarman, afraid of a Brāhman’s curse, took the young man and placed him in his daughter’s guarded seraglio, supposing him to be a woman. Then after the departure of Pañcaśikha the Brāhman dwelt in woman’s clothes in the seraglio of his beloved, and became her trusted confidant. Once on a time the princess was full of regretful longing at night, so he discovered himself to her and secretly married her by the gāndharva form of marriage.[16] And when she became pregnant that excellent Gaṇa came on his thinking of him only, and carried him away at night without its being perceived. Then he quickly rent off from the young man his woman’s dress, and in the morning Pañcaśikha resumed the semblance of a Brāhman; and going with the young man to the King Suśarman he said:

“O king, I have this day found my son; so give me back my daughter-in-law.”

Then the king, supposing that she had fled somewhere at night, alarmed at the prospect of being cursed by the Brāhman, said this to his ministers:

“This is no Brāhman; this is some god come to deceive me, for such things often happen in this world.


3a. Indra and King Śivi

“So in former times there was a king named Śivi, self-denying, compassionate, generous, resolute, the protector of all creatures; and in order to beguile him Indra assumed the shape of a hawk, and swiftly pursued Dharma,[17] who by magic had transformed himself into a dove. The dove in terror went and took refuge in the bosom of Śivi.

Then the hawk addressed the king with a human voice:

‘O king, this is my natural food; surrender the dove to me, for I am hungry. Know that my death will immediately follow if you refuse my prayer; in that case where will be your righteousness?’

Then Śivi said to the god:

‘This creature has fled to me for protection, and I cannot abandon it, therefore I will give you an equal weight of some other kind of flesh.’

The hawk said:

‘If this be so, then give me your own flesh.’

The king, delighted, consented to do so. But as fast as he cut off his flesh and threw it on the scale, the dove seemed to weigh more and more in the balance.

Then the king threw his whole body on to the scale, and thereupon a celestial voice was heard:

‘Well done! This is equal in weight to the dove.’

Then Indra and Dharma abandoned the form of hawk and dove and, being highly pleased, restored the body of King Śivi whole as before, and after bestowing on him many other blessings they both disappeared. In the same way this Brāhman is some god that has come to prove me.”[18]


3. Story of Puṣpadanta

Having said this to his ministers, that King Suśarman of his own motion said to that excellent Gaṇa that had assumed the form of a Brāhman, prostrating himself before him in fear: “Spare me. That daughter-in-law of thine was carried off last night. She has been taken somewhere or other by magic arts, though guarded night and day.” Then the Gaṇa, who had assumed the Brāhman’s semblance, pretending to be with difficulty won over to pity him, said: “If this be so, king, give thy daughter in marriage to my son.” When he heard this, the king, afraid of being cursed, gave his own daughter to Devadatta; then Pañcaśikha departed. Then Devadatta having recovered his beloved, and that in an open manner, flourished in the power and splendour of his father-in-law, who had no son but him. And in course of time Suśarman anointed the son of his daughter by Devadatta, Mahīdhara by name, as successor in his room, and retired to the forest. Then having seen the prosperity of his son, Devadatta considered that he had attained all his objects, and he too, with the princess, retired to the forest. There he again propitiated Śiva, and having laid aside his mortal body, by the special favour of the god he attained the position of a Gaṇa. Because he did not understand the sign given by the flower dropped from the tooth of his beloved, therefore he became known by the name of Puṣpadanta in the assembly of the Gaṇas. And his wife became a doorkeeper in the house of the goddess, under the name of Jayā. This is how he came to be called Puṣpadanta. Now hear the origin of my name.


4. Story of Mālyavān

Long ago I was a son of that same Brāhman called Govindadatta, the father of Devadatta, and my name was Somadatta. I left my home indignant for the same reason as Devadatta, and I performed austerities on the Himālaya, continually striving to propitiate Śiva with offerings of many garlands. The god of the moony crest, being pleased, revealed himself to me in the same way as he did to my brother, and I chose the privilege of attending upon him as a Gaṇa, not being desirous of lower pleasures.

The husband of the daughter of the mountain, that mighty god, thus addressed me:

“Because I have been worshipped by thee with garlands of flowers growing in trackless forest regions, brought with thy own hand, therefore thou shalt be one of my Gaṇas, and shalt bear the name of Mālyavān.”

Then I cast off my mortal frame and immediately attained the holy state of an attendant on the god. And so my name of Mālyavān was bestowed upon me by him who wears the burden of the matted locks,[19] as a mark of his special favour. And I, that very Mālyavān, have once more, O Kāṇabhūti, been degraded to the state of a mortal, as thou seest, owing to the curse of the daughter of the mountain; therefore do thou now tell me the tale told by Śiva, in order that the state of curse of both of us may cease.



This form of marriage occurs in the Ocean of Story more frequently than any other. This may be due to the fact that our heroes are usually warriors and belong, therefore, to the Kṣatriya caste, and it is for this caste that the gāndharva form of marriage is particularly recommended.

The name of the marriage is taken from the Gandharvas, who are spirits of the air, and are, moreover, very fond of beautiful women. Thus the nature of the marriage is explained—the only witnesses are the spirits of the air, and the marriage itself is due to sexual attraction, sometimes quite sudden and unpremeditated.

In the course of the present work the gāndharva form of marriage occurs about a dozen times, and the context usually shows that those who participated realised a certain irregularity in their action, although they knew that they were “within the law.”

Thus we read

“... and secretly married her by the...”;
“... and secretly made her his wife by the    then they both became eager for the...”;
“... made the fair one forget her modesty, and married her by the..”

Manu (Sacred Books of the East, vol. xxv, by Bühler, 1886) first refers to this form of marriage in iii, 21 - 26 , pp. 7.9-80. Speaking of the four original castes, or varṇas (Brāhmans, Kṣatriyas, Vaiśyas and Śūdras), he says that they use eight marriage rites—viz. brāhma, daiva, ārsha, prājāpatya, āsura, gāndharva, rākṣasa and paiśācha; and (23) that the first six are lawful for a Brāhman, and the last four for a Kṣatriya, and the same four, excepting the rākṣasa rite, for a Vaiśya and a Śūdra.

Each rite is briefly described, and (in 32) we read:

“The voluntary union of a maiden and her lover one must know (to be) the gāndharva rite, which springs from desire and has sexual intercourse for its purpose.”

Later we learn that of the eight rites the first four are blameless and the last four blamable, and that (41) from the latter spring sons who are cruel and speakers of untruth, who hate the Veda and the sacred law.

In the introduction to Sir R. F. Burton’s Vikram and the Vampire, 1870, the dancing-girl Vasantasenā marries the devotee by the gāndhana rite. Burton adds the following note (p. 28):—

“This form of matrimony was recognised by the ancient Hindus, and is frequent in books. It is a kind of Scotch wedding—ultra-Caledonian — taking place by mutual consent, without any form or ceremony. The Gandharvas are heavenly minstrels of Indra’s court, who are supposed to be witnesses.”

In his Principles of Hindu and Mohammedan Law, I 860 , Sir VV. H. Macnaghten (p. 63) states that the gāndharva form of marriage is “ peculiar to the military tribe” (i.e. Kṣatriyas), and suggests that the indulgence may have originated in principles similar to those by which, according both to the civil and English laws, soldiers are permitted to make nuncupative wills, and to dispose of their property without those forms which the law requires in other cases.

John D. Mayne, dealing with the question in his Treatise on Hindu Law and Usage, 1878, compares the rākṣasa and gāndharva forms of marriage. He considers the latter is better than the former in that it assumes a state of society in which a friendly, though perhaps stealthy, intercourse was possible between man and woman before their union, and in which the inclinations of the female were consulted. He points out that in neither form of marriage was there anything to show that permanence was a necessary element in either transaction (pp. 66 , 67). Speaking further on the subject Mayne says (p. 70) that the validity of a gāndharva marriage was established in court in 1817, but that the definition seems to imply nothing more or less than fornication.

Sripati Roy in his Customs and Customary Law in British India. Tagore Law Lectures, 1908, 1911, deals with the subject on pp. 288, 289.

He states that the form of marriage is still prevalent among rajahs and chiefs, and that the ceremony consists in an exchange of garlands and flowers between the bride and bridegroom, without a nuptial tie, homam, and without the customary token of legal marriage, called pustelu, being tied round the neck of the bride. This form seems very similar to the svayarnvara mentioned twice in the Ocean of Story, in which a garland is thrown on the neck of the favoured suitor. Readers will also remember the incident in the story of “Nala and Damayantī.”

In conclusion I would quote the classical example of the gāndharva form of marriage which occurs in the Mahābhārata (section lxxiii, “Adiparva”), where King Duṣyanta tries to persuade Princess Śakuntalā with these words:

“Let the whole of my kingdom be thine to-day, O beautiful one! Come to me, O timid one, wedding me, O beautiful one, according to the gāndharva form! O thou of tapering thighs! of all forms of marriage, the gāndharva one is regarded as the first.”

Śakuntalā demurs and speaks of fetching her father; whereupon King Duṣyanta quotes Manu on the eight forms of marriage and shows she need have no apprehensions on the step he wants her to take as it is sanctioned by religion. She is persuaded, but stipulates that her son shall become the heir-apparent. This being agreed upon, the marriage takes place there and then. The king departs with a promise to send for Śakuntalā later.

Her father, Kaṇva, returns, and Śakuntalā, filled with a sense of shame, does not go out to meet him. Her father, however, by his spiritual knowledge, already knows all that has happened, and addresses her:

“Amiable one, what hath been done by thee to-day in secret, without having waited for me—viz. intercourse with man—hath not been destructive of thy virtue. Indeed, union according to the gāndharva form of a wishful woman with a man of sexual desire, without mantras of any kind, it is said, is the best for Kṣatriyas...”

(translated by P. C. Roy, new edition, 1919, etc., part ii, pp. 150, 151, 152).

The Gandharvas are described in Appendix I of this volume. — n.m.p.

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Footnotes and references:


So corrupt was the text at this point that Tawney had practically to guess at its meaning. The Durgāprasād text edits tato’dhvani manākcheṣe jāte: “when there was (still) little remaining of the way.” —n.m.p.


Skanda is another name of Kārttikeya.


This grammar is extensively in use in the eastern parts of Bengal. The rules are attributed to Śarvavarman, by the inspiration of Kārttikeya, as narrated in the text. The vṛtti (or gloss) is the work of Durgā Singh, and that, again, is commented on by Trilochana Dāsa and Kavirāja. Vararuci is the supposed author of an illustration of the Conjugations and Śrīpati Varmā of a Supplement. Other commentaries are attributed to Gopī Nātha, Kula Chandra and Viśveśvara. (Note in Wilson’s Essays, vol. i, p. 183.)




Sanskāra means “tendency produced by some past influence”—often “works in a former birth.”


For a note on this language, called Paiśāchī, see pp. 91, 92.— n.m.p.


For the idea cf. Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act I, sc. 1 (towards the end), and numerous other passages in the same author. This belief seems to be very general in Wales. See Wirt Sikes, British Goblins, p. 113. See also Kuhn’s Herabkunft des Feuers, p. 93; De Gubernatis, Zoological Mythology, vol. ii, p. 285.


Farmer, commenting on Hamlet, Act I, sc. 1 , 150, quotes the following lines of Prudentius’ Ad Gallicinium:

“Ferunt vagantes dæmonas, Lætos tenebris noctium, Gallo canente exterritos, Sparsim timere et cedere. Hoc esse signum præscii Norunt repromissæ spei, Qua nos soporis liberi Speramus adventum Dei.”

Douce quotes from another hymn said to have been composed by Saint Ambrose and formerly used in the Salisbury service:

“Præco diei jam sonat, Noctis profundæ pervigil; Nocturna lux viantibus, A nocte noctem segregans. Hoc excitatus Lucifer Solvit polum caligine; Hoc omnis errorum cohors Viam nocendi deserit. Gallo canente spes redit, etc.”

See also Grōssler’s Sagen der Grafschaft Mansfeld, pp. 58 and 59; the Pentamerone of Basile, ninth diversion of second day (Burton’s translation, vol. i, p. 215); Dasent’s Norse Tales, p. 347“The Troll turned round, and, of course, as soon as he saw the sun, he burst”; Grimm’s Irische Märchen, p. x; Kuhn’s West - fälische Märchen, p. 63; Schôppner’s Sagenbuch der Bayerischen Lande, vol. i, pp. 123 and 228; and Bernhard Schmidt’s Griechische Märchen, p. 138. He quotes an interesting passage from Lucian’s ϕιλσψευδής—The Philopseudes, or The Liar, is a satirical essay on the pseudo-science and superstition of antiquity. A group of philosophers are relating their several experiences. One of them, a Stoic, said he knew of a magician who could fly through the air, raise the dead, call up spirits, etc. Once he performed a love spell for a young man named Glaucias. First of all he raised the ghost of the youth’s father and then summoned Hecate, Cerberus and the Moon, the latter appearing in three forms, as a woman, an ox and a puppy.

The magician then constructed a clay image of the God of Love, which he sent to fetch the girl.

“Off went the image, and before long there was a knock at the door, and there stood Chrysis. She came in and threw her arms about Glaucias’ neck; you would have said she was dying for love of him; and she stayed on till at last we heard the cocks crowing. Away flew the moon into heaven, Hecate disappeared underground, all the apparitions vanished, and we saw Chrysis out of the house just about dawn”

(trans. by H. and F. Fowler, vol. iii, p. 238). The idea of the night being evil and the time when ghosts walk abroad owing to their not having to fear the light dates from the very earliest times. Maspero notes (Stories from Ancient Egypt, p. liv) that all the lucky or unlucky diversions of the day were named and described in detail, while no notice was taken of the night, since it was all unlucky and unsafe to go abroad.

See also A History of Magic and Experimental Science, Lynn. Thorndyke, 2 vols., 1923 (vol. i, p. 280). In Giles’ Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio (vol. i, p. 177) Miss Li, a female devil, disappears as soon as she hears the cock crow.

For details of the Rākṣasas, Yakṣas, etc., see the notes in Appendix I at the end of this volume. —n.m.p.


Brockhaus renders it: “Fromme, Helden imd Weise.”


Vaiśvānara is an epithet of Agni, or Fire.


The amazing austerities of Hindu ascetics have been witnessed by nearly every traveller in India. The term tapas is applied to such penance, while sādhu is the usual word for an ascetic. The history of asceticism is interesting and may be looked upon as a revolt from the tyranny of caste. The forms of mortification vary. They include mutilations of all kinds, and in every part of the body—lying on a bed of spikes (Monier Williams mentions a Brāhman who lay naked on one of these beds for thirty-five years); totally renouncing washing, cutting the hair, etc.; fasting for great lengths of time; lying surrounded by fires, with the burning sun overhead; hanging upside down from a tree or remaining standing on the head for long periods; lying in a bath of red-hot coals; remaining in a position with hands raised, so that they become atrophied; clenching the fists for so long that the nails grow through the palms of the hands; eating hot coals; being buried alive; remaining in water for long periods; keeping silent till the power of speech is lost; and many other such astounding austerities. For fuller details reference should be made to The Mystics, Ascetics and Saints of India, J. C. Oman; the article “Asceticism,” by F. C. Conybeare, in the Ency. Brit. (vol. ii, p. 717 et seq.), and that on “Asceticism (Hindu),” by A. S. Geden, in Hastings’ Ency. Bel. Eth., vol. ii, p. 87 et seq. —n.m.p.




The method of communicating by signs made with objects is widely distributed through the East, and has also been noticed in different parts of Africa and America. The seclusion of women in the East, their ignorance of writing and the risk of conveying a letter to an admirer was quite sufficient to create a necessity for the language of signs, so that the maiden peeping through her lattice of meshrebiya could convey messages quickly and discreetly to her lover or the passing stranger.

Consequently we find the language of signs largely introduced into Eastern fiction. A curious fact is that the man to whom the signs are made never understands them, but has them interpreted by a friend or teacher. This is the case in our story of Devadatta, and also in two stories in the Nights (see Burton, vol. ii, p. 302 et seq., and vol. ix, p. 269). In the first of these stories, that of “Azīz and Azīzah,” are numerous examples of the sign language.

The following may be quoted:—

The woman appears at the window with a mirror and a red kerchief. She then

“bared her forearms and opened her five fingers and smote her breast with palms and digits; and after this she raised her hands and, holding the mirror outside the wicket, she took the red kerchief and retired into the room with it, but presently returned and putting out her hand with the kerchief, let it down towards the lane three several times, dipping it and raising it as often. Then she wrung it out and folded it in her hands, bending down her head the while; after which she drew it in from the lattice and, shutting the wicket-shutter, went away without a single word.”

The explanation is, the sign with her palm and five fingers:

“Return after five days; and the putting forth of her head out of the window, and her gestures with the mirror and the letting down and raising up and wringing out of the red kerchief, signify, Sit in the dyer’s shop till my messenger come to thee.”

After similar other messages our hero meets the lady, but always goes to sleep while waiting for her. Each time on awakening he finds she has been, and deposited objects on his body while asleep. On one occasion he finds lying on his stomach a cube of bone, a single tip-cat stick, the stone of a green date and a carob-pod.

The meaning of these articles is:

“By the single tip-cat stick and the cube of bone which she placed upon thy stomach she saith to thee, Thy body is present but thy heart is absent; and she meaneth, Love is not thus: so do not reckon thyself among lovers. As for the date-stone, it is as if she said to thee, An thou wert in love thy heart would be burning with passion and thou wouldst not taste the delight of sleep; for the sweet of love is like a green date which kindleth a coal of fire in the vitals. As for the carob-pod, it signifies to thee, The lover’s heart is wearied; and thereby she saith, Be patient under our separation with the patience of Job.”

Lane ( Arabian Nights, i, 608 , and Arabian Society in the Middle Ages, p. 130) says that the art of sign language was first “ made known to Europeans by a. Frenchman, M. du Vigneau, in a work entitled Secrétaire Turc, contenant l’Art d’exprimer ses pensées sans se voir, sans se parler, et sans sécrire: Paris, 1688 : in- 12 . Von Hammer has also given an interesting paper on this subject in the Mines de VOrient, No. 1 : Vienna, 1809 (note to Marcel’s Contes du Cheykh El-Mohdy, iii, 327, 328: Paris, 1833).” He gives an example of messages answered in the same manner.

It is well worth quoting:

“An Arab lover sent to his mistress a fan, a bunch of flowers, a silk tassel, some sugar-candy, and a piece of cord of a musical instrument; and she returned for answer a piece of an aloe-plant, three black cumin-seeds, and a piece of plant used in washing. His communication is thus interpreted. The fan, being called mirwaḥah, a word derived from a root which has among its meanings that of ‘going to any place in the evening,’ signified his wish to pay her an evening visit: the flowers, that the interview should be in her garden: the tassel, being called shurrābeh, that they should have shàrāb (or wine): the sugar-candy, being termed sukkar nebāt, and nebāi also signifying ‘we will pass the night’ denoted his desire to remain in her company until the morning: and the piece of cord, that they should be entertained by music. The interpretation of her answer is as follows. The piece of an aloe-plant, which is called sabbarah (from sabr, which signifies patience —because it will live for many months together without water), implied that he must wait: the three black cumin-seeds explained to him that the period of delay should be three nights: and the plant used in washing informed him that she should then have gone to the bath, and would meet him.”

Similar sign language occurs in Swynnerton, Indian Nights’ Entertainments, p. 167 et seq. See also Stein and Grierson, Hatims Tales, 1923, pp. 21 , 22 , where in the story of the goldsmith the lady turns her back, shows a mirror, throws some water, a posy of flowers and a hair out of the window. Finally she scratches the sill of the window with an iron stiletto. All this means that someone else was in the room, but that he can meet her by the water-drain in the garden and must be prepared to file through iron railings. At the moment she was combing her hair.

The ancient Peruvians used knotted strings, called quipus, in a most elaborate manner, the colour chosen usually denoting objects and the knots numbers, The system is still found in the north of South America. For full details and excellent illustrations see J. L. Locke, The Ancient Quipu, Amer. Mus. Nat. Hist., New York, 1923.

The Australian message-stick is merely an aid to memory when conveying a message. In China chopsticks are sometimes used as a means of giving instructions in code, but here we are nearly touching on signalling in the modern sense of the word, which is outside our note.

The language of signs has a distinct connection with the British rule in India, for it was employed by the natives at the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny. In 1856 mysterious chupattees, or griddle-cakes, were circulated from village to village, while among the regiments a lotus-flower was passed round. Each man took it, looked at it and passed it on. The exact meaning of these symbols has never been explained. See “Secret Messages and Symbols used in India,” Joum. Bihar and Orissa Research Soc., 1919, vol. v, pp. 451, 452. W. Crooke, the author of this article, gives instances of the use of sticks, twigs, spears, arrows, etc., used symbolically. After referring to the Nights he says that in India a leaf of pawn with betel and sweet spices inside, accompanied by a certain flower, means, “I love you.” If much spice is put inside the leaf and one corner turned down in a peculiar way, it signifies “Come.” If turmeric is added it means, “ I cannot come,” while the addition of a piece of charcoal means, “Go, I have done with you.” (See T. H. Lewin, The Wild Races of South-Eastern India, p. 123.) —n.m.p.


Cf. the first story in the Vetāla Pañcaviṃśati, Chapter LXXV of this work. See also Ralston’s Russian Folk-Tales, p. 241, where Prince Ivan bv the help of his tutor Katoma propounds to the Princess Anna the fair a riddle which enables him to win her as his wife.


The Durgāprasād text reads prositaḥ, thus making a better reading: “my son is abroad somewhere.”— n.m.p.


See note at the end of this chapter.—n.m.p.


The god of justice.


Benfey considers this story as Buddhistic in its origin. In the Memoires sur les Contrées Occidentales traduits du Sanscrit par Hiouen Thsang et du Chinois par Stanislas Jidien we are expressly told that Gautama Buddha gave his flesh to the hawk as Śivi in a former state of existence. It is told of many other persons (see Benfey’s PaUchatantra, vol. i, p. 388; cf. also Campbell’s West Highland Tales, vol. i, tale xvi, p. 239). M. Lévêque (Les Mythes et Légendes de L’Inde, p. 327) connects this story with that of Philemon and Baucis. He lays particular stress upon the following lines of Ovid:—

Unicus anser erat, minimæ custodia villæ,
Quem Dīs hospitibus domini mactare parabant:
Ille celer penna tardos ætate fatigat,
Eluditque diu, tandemque est visus ad ipsos
Confugisse deos. Superi vetuere necari.”

See also Gubernatis, Zoological Mythology, vol. ii, pp. 187, 297 and 414—and compare how the Persian hero Hatim Tai cuts a slice of flesh from his own thigh to feed a wolf who was in pursuit of a milch-doe. See Clouston’s Popular Tales and Fictions, vol. i, pp. 241, 242, and especially the article by Dames and Joyce in Man, Feb. 1913, pp. 17-19.— n.m.p.


I.e. Śiva.

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