Matangalila and Hastyayurveda (study)

by Chandrima Das | 2021 | 98,676 words

This page relates ‘Use of elephants for religious purposes and rituals’ of the study on the Matangalina and Hastyayurveda in the light of available epigraphic data on elephants in ancient India. Both the Matanga-Lila (by Nilakantha) and and the Hasti-Ayurveda (by Palakapya) represent technical Sanskrit works deal with the treatment of elephants. This thesis deals with their natural abode, capturing techniques, myths and metaphors, and other text related to elephants reflected from a historical and chronological cultural framework.

Use of elephants for religious purposes and rituals

Elephants were often associated with religious activities and rituals. They are universally accepted as an auspicious animal in Brahmanical, Buddhist and Jaina pantheons. Though the earliest literary traditions mention elepahnts in the Brahmanical religious context, but the the earliest epigraphic records mention them in Buddhist context. Jātakas and other Buddhist literatures compare the Buddha with noble White elephant seen by Māyādevī in her dream on the time of the birth of Buddha and thus it became the symbol of the birth of Gautama Buddha. The coping stone bearing Barhut inscription in Allahabad Museum[1] (number AC/2910) with two parts, of which the first part of the inscription reads Gajā-Jātaka-Saso and the second Jātaka which, however, seems to be followed by traces of the letters Saso. The two parts jointly mention the Gaja-jātaka and the Śaśa-Jātaka. Although the Śaśa Jātaka[2] is well known, it is difficult to identify the Gaja-jātaka. Among the Jātakas, we have stories in which both the Gaja (elephant) and the Śaśa (rabbit) are known to have played a signinficant part[3]. Bharhut pillar inscription indicates the Jātaka which mentions the six tusked elephant[4].

In some Prakrit inscriptions from a Buddhist site at Nagarjunikonda Buddha has been described as “musk-elephant” among great spiritual leaders, viz., Āyakapillar inscription C3 (L.2, gaṃdha hathisa), B4 (L.2, ….gaṃdha-hathisa) and B5 (L.2, ….gaṃdha-hadhisa, i.e. hathisa). Mention may be made of the Karle Buddhist cave inscription in Prakrit which records a gift of the elephants (hastin) and the upper and lower rails (veyikā) before the elephants by the elder (thera) bhaṃyaṃta (bhadanta) Iṃdadeva (Indradeva)[5]. It signifies that donation of carving elephants in Buddhist Caityas and Vihāras was most common religious activity and considered as an act of virtue.

Mathura (Kaṅkālī Ṭīlā) Jaina elephant capital inscription of the time of Mahārāja devaputra Huviṣka mentions the setting up of (the elephant) Naṃdiviśāla by the banker (śreṣṭhin) Aryya Rudradāsa (Ārya Rudradāsa), the son of the banker (śreṣṭhin) Śivadāsa for the worship of the Arahaṃtas (Arhats)[6].

Till now we have discussed the positive depiction of elephants as an auspicious animal. However there are a few refences where they have been depicted as destructive or in a negative frame. In this context the Dewal Praśasti of king Lalla of Chinda[7] race praises Goddess Pārvatī, the daughter of the Mountain as the destroyer of a Dānava, who assumed the shape of an elephant. The demon is no doubt Mahiṣāsura. According to the Devimāhātya of Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇa, LXXIII, 30, the asura turned himself also into a Mahāgaja.

Footnotes and references:


EI, Vol. XXXIII, p.60.


See Jātaka, No.316.


eg. Jātaka, No.322 (Daddabha-Jātaka).


Cunningham, Proceed. Beng. As. Soc., 1874, p.115; - Stūpa of Bharhut, 1879, p.61f.137, No.74 and Plates XXVI & LIV; Hultzsch, Zeitschr Deutsch.Morgenl. Ges. Vol.XL,1886, p.70, No.85 (second part), and Plate;Ind. Ant., Vol.XXI,1892, p.234,No.85(second part).


Bhagvanlal Indraji, Burgess, Insc. Cave-Temp. W. Ind., 1881, p.29, No.3, and Plate; Buhler-Burgess, Arch. Surv. W. Ind., Vol.IV, 1883, p.90, No.3 and Plate XLVII; note by Frank, Zeitschr Deutsch.Morgenl. Ges., Vol.L, 1896, p.593; Senart, EI, Vol. VII,1902, p.51f, No.3, and Plate II.


Cunningham, Arch.Surv. Rep., Vol.III, p.32 & No.9 and Plates V &XIV, 1873; Growse, Mathura, Pt.II, p.172, 1874; Bloch, JBAS.,Vol.LXVII, Pt.I, p.276, note 2, 1898; Correction by Luders, Ind. Ant. Vol.XXXIII, p.40f, No.10, 1904.


EI, Vol. I, p.81 & note.

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