Elephantology and its Ancient Sanskrit Sources

by Geetha N. | 2012 | 36,369 words

Elephant is considered as an inevitable part of Indian community. So they developed the study of Elephant which is based on Hastyayurveda and Matangalila. Even from the ancient time Indians were awareness about their hygiene and health. They were protected against diseases. They protected not just their own race but also plants and animals. Therefo...

Chapter 3 - Hastyayurveda (Hasti Ayurveda)

In ancient India a good deal of attention was paid to the study of elephant’s disease. The corpus of conclusions of this study came to be known as Hastyayurveda - i.e., the science treatise on the breeds of elephants and on the diagnosis and treatment of elephant’s disease. It is the oldest bulky work in Sanskrit by sage Palakapya.

“A practical treatise on the treatment of the diseases of the elephant is called Hastyayurveda (Hasti-ayurveda)”.[1]

Hastyayurveda deals with the topics like the genealogical, physical, mental, and intellectual characteristics of elephants, techniques of tracing and capturing elephants from forests, nourishment for healthy growth and general upkeep, taming and training them for war and work, classification of elephants on the basis of a number of characteristics and diagnosis and treatment for their diseases.

Hastyayurveda is an important text on elephant lore which originated in India. A copy of which (Hastyayurveda) is available in the Raja Serfoji Saraswathi Mahal Library of Thanjavur in South India. The work consisting of over seventy two chapters deals with the anatomy of elephants and systematically with several disease of elephants grouping them suitably into different categories. It also contains valuable instruction for the healthy of growth, upkeep and training of elephants and also classification of elephants on the basis of a number of characteristics.

Hastyayurveda consists of 171 chapters in 12,000 slokas and is divided into four sections or sthanas namely:

  1. Maharogasthana (Principal disease 18 chapters)
  2. Kshudrarogasthana (Minor disease, 72 chapters)
  3. Shalyarogasthana (surgery, 34 chapters) and
  4. Uttararogasthana (therapy, Both, Deties etc., 36chapters)

Content of Hastyayurveda

Hastyayurveda furnishes the contents in 4 sthanas. They are

1. Maharogasthana

In Hastyaurveda, Maharogasthana is the first part. As the name indicates, it describes some disease like jwara (fever) siroroga, sweda, and disorders of the eyes.

2. Kshudrarogasthana

The second sthana known as kshudrarogasthana, elaborately describes the poisons caused by serpents, causes of vomition, tooth diseases, heart diseases and garatrogas etc.

3. Shalyarogasthana

Shalyaroghasthana is the third part which describes kshatas, deep wounds, vrianas, disorders of nerves, important nucleus parts and its kshatas, pregnancy and affected diseases, abortion etc.

4. Uttararogasthana

Uttararogasthana is the last part, which explains the topics like snehapana, snehapanavidhikathana, annapanakathana, snehapanakthana, Shalavidhana, must various seasons, seasonal food items and other treatments etc.

These are the four sthanas or parts of Hastyayurveda and again each of the sthana is divided into chapters.

The derivations of the Hastyayurveda is based on the conversation between Romapada, the king of Anga and Palakapya.

Hastyayurveda, very old work in Sanskrit is co-related with in modern science and technique. But the Elephant origin is deviated from modern science.

Hastyayurveda describes the mythic story of the elephant origin. Brahma took the cosmic egg to his hand and chanted seven saman, then the elephant Aiyeravata (???) and other seven elephants are born form his right hand, and from his left hand had born seven cow-elephants. In course of time children, grand- children etc., were born; they are the inhabitants of the whole world.

In ancient time elephants can fly in the sky. Once they flew long distance, and for rest sat down on a banyan tree. Under this tree lived a sage named Dirgatapas when elephants slighted on the tree; a branch fell upon the body of this sage.

He felt angry and cursed them, and the curse they come down the earth and became the vehicle of the human beings:

shakhataikh paripaditashramapade tasminstitastaparso
namna dirghatapastatah kupitavan nagam shashapanjasa
tasmatte khalu kamacararahita naga bhabhuvurgatah
martyanamapi vahamatramata noshapstu dikkunjarah

After the curse the diggajas approached Brahma and revealed the fact, the elephants were gone to the earth, and availed bad food so they may be vulnerable to diseases. Then Brahman pacified them by saying that "a sage will be born immediately, he will be related to the matangas and will protect them".

Hastyayurveda gives a clear picture of the origin of the elephants and the birth of Palakapya. Being compelled by Romapada; the King of Anga, Palakapya reveals his identity.

Mythic story of Palakapya

Campa city was ruled by King Romapada, once he knew that his farm and plants were ruined by elephants with the blessing of certain sages and the help of his people, he caught and immured them.

Palakapya, the elephant messiah (protector) searched them in the forest and nearby places. At last, he found them captivated in Campa, and he treated their wounds. He always spend his time with the elephants.

Then he saw fifteen elephants are dies-and he know the reason thus.

paravatat patamam panko vishavalli jaranalah
kripah pratigajo graho vidyudlabado bhujangamah
ala daramsastha vyaho balye maturvisarjanam
dashabhih panjabhishcaiva hetubhirvarana vane
mriiyante naganam tristaunajjayate bhayam

The King and some sages asked him really who he was? After the compulsion Palakapya revealed himself.

Birth of Palakapya

Brahma created a beautiful lady. She showed her imperious beauty.

Frustrated by her ego Brahma himself cursed her and she was born as

Bhargavas daughter named Gunavati. She joined the hermitage of Matanga. Indra sees her and thought that she may disturb his penances! And he cursed her to turn out an elephant-cow. Soon he understand that she was innocent and he gave a boon for recovering from the woe i.e., when she begets a son of the sage Samagayana, her curse will removed.

Once the sage Samagayana dreams of a female sprit with whom he mates. Then the hermit passed the urine and Gunavati drank it soon, and brought birth to a male child from her mouth, she gave her son to the sage Samagayana, he brought him up.

The etymology of the word Palakapya is given below:

palanat gajayuthasya kapyagotrodbhavo yatha
palkapya itisriman namdheyam cakara sah

The mythological story of Palakapya indicates same as the story of Shakuntala - the human baby of Menaka and Vishvamitra, she was abandoned in the forest–was protected and reared by the birds–known as Shakunta in Sanskrit. Shakuntala, the human baby, abandoned in the forest–was protected and reared by the birds. Like this story,

Hastyayurveda describing the birth and nourishing of Palakapya, whose life is with the elephant. The sage named him 'pala and he was known as Palakapya.

smriddohamatah satmyam sukham dukham ca hastinam
janami bhakshyabhakshyam ca tadaivengitabrimhitam
yada yacca nishevante pratikaryam ca yena yat
aranye kurvate nagastat sarvam viditammama

Hastyayurveda is the basic and best available text on elephant lore. The text itself reveals this fact:

swayambhu prag dadau yasmaki gajayurvedamuttamam[6]

The treatise is an extensive compilation, starting with a legendary introduction according to which it was revealed by the sage to King Dasharathan in the Ramayana. Sage Palakapya, according to the text, was born to a human sage and an elephant mother and is said to have had his own hermitge at the confluence of the river Brahmaputra with the ocean. The gotra of the sage is said to be 'Kapya'.

The word 'Kapya' is the tribal name. His childhood was with elephant. Because of that reason 'Kapi' changed into the synonym of the elephant. ‘Pala is a Dravidian word, that word would also become the synonym of the elephant.

Origin of elephants, in Modern view

Modern scientists accept another view in the birth of elephants. Before 23000 dashavarsha, elephant casts are born. They are not in the shape of todays elephant, its upper lip is like a long pipe. But today they are vanished from the earth and will exist three kinds. One of this is Heracks in the race of rabbit, the second one is Dugong, which is a type of seaelephant and the third one is the ancestor of modern elephant called 'Morithirium'. They lived in Egypt, near the cast of river Nail. Then they changed their shapes and became Dainatherium, Gamgotherium, Anangus, Trailofodone, Plabilantone Mastdone and Mammoth. Modern elephant is the converted type of Mammoth, and it had two tusks and is the prehistoric animal, closely related to the present-day elephants. Today the elephant cast is mainly divided into two. Asian elephants and African elephants. Modern science is, most acceptable in case of elephant origin, than the myth.

Anyway Hastyayurveda is the basic treatise on elephant science, which brings the best awareness of elephants and their managements.

The author (of this book) Hastyayurveda is Palakapya and he was a contemporary of Angaraja of Campa.

The king Romapada wished to tame elephant for the use of the human beings. ‘Romapada mentions of Dasharatha the kings of Anga. According to KunnigHarm, Parttaghatta is known as Campa, todays Bhagatpure. Romapada is the father in law of Rishyashringa and the contemporary of King Dasharatha. Fahiyan describes Campa is a big city, which had many Bouddhastupas and viharas. Campa is the capital of Angaraja, which (campa) is also known as Malini, which is famous at the time of King Campans. He was the son of Pridulakshha. According to Trikanda the author of Sheshas, Dhanvantari and Palakapya are the same person. Sushruta learned Shalyacikitsa and animal treatment from Dhanvantari. So Dhanvantari and Palakapya may be same person. But there is no other clear evidence available to prove this similarity.[7]

Other Work of the Author


Palakapyash other work called Gajashastra. (Hastyayurveda and Gajashastra) both describes the some similarities and more differences comparison between Gajashastra and Hastyayurveda.

The G.S.M. (Gajashastra) refers to the Dhatus and Doshas etc. No separate description of the anatomy ???) or sharirakriya (physiology) is given in G.S.M. In Gajashastra, not more than 50 technical terms are used. But in Hastyayurveda separate chapters about the sharira and sharirakriya.

Similarities between the two works (GSM & Hastyayurveda)

• Mythological story is the same

• The author of both treatises is same

• Manaparibhasha-technical terms are the same.

• Types of Elephants are similar in terms and numbers

• The questions and answers in between king Romapada and the sage Palakapya are similar.

Difference between Hastyayurveda and Gajashastra

• Gajashastra describes Gajavana in detail, but, no such description is found in the Hastyayurveda.

Gajashastra gives details about the Desha and features of the elephants living. But in Hastyayurveda does not give these.

Gajashastra has a unique chapter on the Kaliyagaja, i.e., (the physical) age wise growth of elephants.

Hastyayurveda not describes this

• The Gajashastra describes only the diseases, signs and not describes treatments.

Hastyayurveda does not describe the treatments and disease in detailed. It includes chapters on anatomy, physiology, different habit like matting-habits etc; seasonal changes, creation of stables and food, sterility and madness of the elephants. Hastyayurveda is not in order and it is hard for common people.

The symptoms or signs of diseases and their treatments; indications of the imminent death of elephants etc. are also described in the text.

Campapuri is famous and it is also the country of 'Rani Lakshmibhai'.

Authors nation is revealed from this:—

angadesheshvabhut shriman ramapado mahipathih
angarajo mahaprajnnah campayam pridhivipatih
mahaprabhavamasinam palakapyam sma priecchati

So it is concluded that Palakapyan is Angadeshin. Hastyayurveda is available in the Raja Serfoji Saraswathy Mahal Library of Thanjavur in South India in 1894.


Date of Ramayana is considered as before 500 B.C. Romapada is mentioned as a mythic contemporary of Dasharatha, famed in Ramayana.

The introduction of Hastyayurveda also reveals it i.e.

ikshvakoonam kule jatah bhavishyati sudharmikah
namna dasharatho raja shriman satyapratishravah
angarajan asakhyam ca tasya ranjo bhavishyati
kamyacasya mahabhaga santa nama bhavishyati
putrastvangasya ranjastu romapada iti shrutah
tam sa raja dasharathah gamisyati mahayashah

This shloka indicated that Romapada is the contemporary of Dasharatha, the King of Ayodhya; formed in Ramayana.

The date of Dasharatha is considered as:—

caturvamsho yuge ramo vasishtena purodhasa
saptame ravanasyarothe janje dasharathatmajah

There are references to Palakapya in the Agnipurana of Vyasa. Agnipurana is important one among the 18 puranas. So Hastyayurveda is written after the manner of Puranas. The period of the puranas may be fixed as 200 BC to 500 AD[10]. So Palakapya (Hastyayurveda) is before Puranas.

The Hastyayurveda is composed in Karika verses, interspersed with prose for greater elucidation. It has been quoted twice by K. Kshiraswamin (11th century) in his commentary on Amarakosha (under ii.38 and iii.3-148).

The Agnipurana also quotes Palakapya as an authority on the science of animals and these sections have been dated to at least 10th century.Some authors even argue that the text is presupposed by Kalidasa at Raghuvamsha. In any case the extend text is earlier than the 10th century and there is a possibility that it might even preceded Kalidasa.

The text was published as volume No.26 in the Ananthasrama Sanskrit Series (Poona) in 1895 and can be assured that Hastyayurveda is written in 6th of 7th century AD.

Hastyayurveda gives valuable instructions for the healthy growth, upkeep and training, nourishment, diagnosed and treatment etc. So it must be study the elephant owners, elephant doctors and mahouts.

The propounders of Ayurveda has considered a special branch of Indian veterinary science (on elephants) called Hastyayurveda.[11]

There is a Malayalam translation available on Hasytayurveda, authored by Vaidyamadham Ceriya Narayanan Namboodiri.

Hastyayurveda is most popular text available on elephant science because there is no other treatise available beyond this. Hastyayurveda is generally considered as Kalpavriksha (coconut-tree).

Matangalila is the other best known book on elephant. According to Gajashastra, no other work is available in Kerala like Matangalila.

Footnotes and references:


Ana kadhayum karyavum. Dr. K.C. Panicker, 152.


Matangalila. 1.11.6.


Hastyayurveda. 1.3. 14.


Matangalila. 12. 30. 157.


Hastyayurveda 1.1.164 - 165


Ibid. 145.12.


Ayurvedacaritra. 17. 379.


Hasytayurveda Introduction. p-21.


Ibid. 22.


A short history of Sanskrit literature.

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