Amarakoshodghatana of Kshirasvamin (study)

by A. Yamuna Devi | 2012 | 77,297 words | ISBN-13: 9788193658048

This page relates ‘Fauna (6): Snakes’ of the study on the Amarakoshodghatana of Kshirasvamin (in English) which represents a commentary on the Amarakosha of Amarasimha. These ancient texts belong the Kosha or “lexicography” category of Sanskrit literature which deals with the analysis and meaning of technical words from a variety of subjects, such as cosmology, anatomy, medicine, hygiene. The Amarakosa itself is one of the earliest of such text, dating from the 6th century A.D., while the Amarakoshodghatana is the earliest known commentary on that work.

Fauna (6): Snakes

Serpents are an interesting group of reptilia. They vary in size, colour and habitat. They are mostly terrestrial but can thrive in acquous medium. Though they do not have adaptations like fins, they live on land and swim in water. They are both poisonous and non-poisonous. Cobra is indigenous to India and is a part of Hindu mythology of yore. Hence Amarakośa has dedicated a separate varga viz., Bhogi varga for snakes. There are references to V āsuki and Ādiśeṣa, the mythological snakes of great importance while delineating the ‘Nāgas’.

(a) Gonasa (I. 7. 4, p. 57-8)–

[Kind of snake:]

According to Kṣīrasvāmin, the word gonasa etymologically means a serpent that has the head (hood) resembling that of a cow.Explaining grammatically he quotes the Pāṇini sūtra:

āñ nāsikāyāḥ saṃjñāyāṃ nasaṃ cāsthūlāt (Pā.5/4/118)

According to which the nāsikā śabda at the end of a bahuvrīhi compound is replaced by ‘nas’ and ‘ac pratyaya is suffixed to the compound word. Gonāsa is also found in usage in Rājaśekhara's Viddhaśālabhañjikā (I. 3)–

gonāsāya niyojitāgadarajāḥ |

He further adds the word candra as denoting this variety of snake.

(b) Ajagara (I. 7. 5, p. 58)–


Kṣīrasvāmin derives the word to mean that which feeds on a goat or that which always has the antidote or poison–

ājāṃ giratyajagaraḥ ājo nityo garo'sya vā |

He also adds acala and cakramaṇḍalī to this category.

(c) Non-Poisonous Snakes:

(i) Alagarda (I. 7. 5, p. 58)–

[A water snake:]

Kṣīrasvāmin explains that this kind of snake is non-poisonous and hence harmless even when it bites; it is also called aligarda by some, as it makes a noise like the bee–

na lagannardayati nivirṣatvāt ālīva gardatyalirgada ityeke |

(ii) Rājila (I. 7. 5, p. 58)–


Kṣīrasvāmin says that this is a snake belonging to the non-poisonous category–

nirviṣo dvimukho'hiḥ |

Substantiating this, he quotes from Raghuvaṃśa (11. 27) of Kālidāsa

lakṣyam ca—[1]
kiṃ mahoragavisarpi vikramo rājileṣu garuḍaḥ pravartate |

Rāma while protecting the sacrifice of Viśvāmitra, aims his arrows only at Mārīca and Subāhu and not others. The poet compares this to Garuḍa attacking only the venomous snakes and not the nonpoisonous water snakes.

In total, Amarakośa gives 33 synonyms for a snake to which Kṣīrasvāmin adds, kumbhīnāsaḥ, kañcukī and lelihāna.

Footnotes and references:


The first line reads–tatra yāvadhipatī makhadviṣāṃ tau śaravyamakarotsa netarān |

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