Matangalila and Hastyayurveda (study)

by Chandrima Das | 2021 | 98,676 words

This page relates ‘Quality Indicators regarding Elephants’ 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.

Quality Indicators regarding Elephants

Arthaśāstra mentions that elephant trainers were to decide on the basis of certain outward marks and behavioural pattern which ones were to be captivated and added to the royal troupe and collection. Since the king’s victory in battle field depended to some extent on elephants, large-sized elephants that were capable of life-destroying activities, could pound enemy’s troops, battle-arrays, fortresses and camps of enemies were made targets (Book 2, Chapter 2, v. 12-14)[1]. The dual functionality of the elephants i.e. used for drawing carriages as well as their direct use in the battle field made them a coveted possession.[2]

Thus he praises the elephants because of their superiority over the others like warriors and horses. The above verse thus mentions that warriors only fight; horses only draw chariots; but elephants are fit for a king as they both fight and draw chariots (Chapter 2, v. 11).[3]

Post capture these elephants were cross checked by the royalty for their auspicious and inauspicious marks, imitation tendencies, origin, strength, and breed before they were finally inducted into the service of the kingdom/ empire. What is interesting is that all the texts directly mention the involvement of the ruler himself in the ultimate selection. This reflects the importance or significance of the elephants in early India. For example the Gajaśāstra mentions while describing the Vaśābandha method that after capturing the elephants, the king will judge their qualities (v. 30-31)[4]. Though the king’s involvement for the selection procedure is mentioned in the texts yet there is a possibility that this activity was carried forth by an expert or a group of experts on behalf of the king. As far as the quality indicators are concerned the texts provide us with elaborate data on the qualities of the animal based on which they were captivated and inducted in royal service. Mānasollāsa contains as many as 56 verses which describe the characteristics of the animal based on health and behaviour of the elephants. The desirable qualities which made them coveted were following body colour—ash-grey, smooth round tusks, smooth and red palate, 18 to 20 toes, honey colour eyes, deep trumpets, good temper, and impressive gait. Classification of elephants was done on the basis of the above mentioned quality markers and then they were divided into categories associating them with deities, castes, etc. thus there were various types of classification processes involved.[5]

One of the qualities that would make an elephant a part of the carriage carrying the ruler according to Mātaṅgalīlā[6] was that it should have six parts, viz. the two temporal bosses, the two tusks, the withers, and the back bone, were elevated in whom.[7]

It further mentions that those elephant which had seven parts in red colour were considered as the best ones. These seven parts are mentioned as, the two trunk ends, penis, tongue, lip, anus and palate[8].

Even feet and number of nails also became part of quality indicators, distinguished by nails numbering twenty, along with this those elephants which have two ears in red and their edges not frayed, whose girth is very smooth, whose tusks are honey coloured and the right one higher, whose belly is well filled out, whose tail and trunk are regularly stout, straight, long and handsome, who is swarthy like betel nuts were considered the best ones for royal possession.[9]

Among other qualities which also made elephants desirable are mentioned such which have smooth and swarthy body, coloured (dark) like a sword, or else ruddy with the sheen of gleaming spots in the shape of a svastika, the śrīvatsas ign, the wheel, the conch and the lotus; whose buttocks stand out like breasts, and who has a good penis depending from a firm belly; whose kalā-part is broad, very fleshy, and elevated: such an elephant is worthy of a king.[10]

Another type is also mentioned as a good quality elephant in the Mātaṅgalīlā, those with large, long, round necks, trumpeting with a roar like clouds full of water, with sparrow like honey-coloured eyes, with trunks like tree stems and marked with three folds (wrinkles), such elephants are fine.[11]

Fifth category of elephants were those with very glossy, shining eyes, and reddish trunk ends, with rod-like penis handsome with the beauty of mango shoots, radiant as red lotuses, with voice like Koil’s; such elephants, assuredly, are auspicious for kings.[12]

Sixth category are those whose right tusk tip is high (higher than the left), whose mighty trunks and faces are marked with (light) spots, whose stout fore and hind legs have invisible joints, these elephants are fit vehicle for a king.[13]

Seventh category are those whose backs have good spines well concealed (with flesh), long and curved like bows, whose temporal bosses are hairy and (large) like the swelling breasts of a lovely woman, with broad ears, jaw, navel, forehead and pudenda, with copper coloured lip, palate, and tusks, such elephants are worthy of a king.[14]

Eighth category consists of the variety of elephants whose body is variegated with spots like one thickly painted with vermillion, provided with eighteen or twenty toenails curved like a tortoise and moon-coloured, gifted with strength, spirit and fortitude, also characterised by fragrance of the water he spurts from his trunk, such an elephant is worthy of a king.[15]

Ninth category is more of a fantasy rather than a real animal as while describing the quality of this type of elephant the author of Mātaṅgalīlā mentions that a gait like an antelope, lion, parrot, ape, wrestler, haṃsa or kādamba-bird shall be regarded as excellent, or like a gandharva, kinnara, eagle, boar, tiger, king, śarabha (a fabulous animal), serpent, or cakravāka-bird.[16] These hardly seem to be found in an elephant hence the fantasy parts or myths about elephants of supreme quality have also been added. It is very difficult to explain why such elements were added to a text which was used more or less for practical purposes by elephant trainers and catchers. Mystification and adding divine elements seems to be the motive here.

While describing the qualities the author of Mātaṅgalīlā also mentions the indicators that lead to the disqualification of an elephant to be inducted in royal service. Those elephants that are weak, roguish, dull, and ill, even if captured were to be avoided for battle-field. The opposed view of this is also mentioned here as the animal which is endowed with majesty, industrious (or efficient), clever in eight ways of fighting, heroic, stout, swift, his mind eager to stay all living creatures, provided with favourable marks-such a noble elephant shall be held fit for a king’s battles.[17]

Besides these direct physical appearances other elements such as their cry was also taken into consideration. The author of Mātaṅgalīlā (Chapter II) mentions six different type of sounds on the basis of which the elephants were selected. The sounds are deep, pleasant, joyous, healthy, amorous, and bland and such elephants producing these sounds were considered as auspicious and noble elephants fit for royal possession.[18]

Pālakāpya mentions details of the sounds/cry, especially those which generate positive vibes. The cry produced from the tongue root (soft palate) was ‘frothy’, that produced from the lip and the (hard) palate is ‘boated’, that produced in the throat is their ‘roar’, the one that was produced in the cheeks and trunk, their ‘laughter’. All these are mentioned as auspicious. Among the inauspicious are those sounds of elephants that are due to hunger, thirst, grief, and fright. If such inauspicious sounds are noticed they were not kept in royal collection.[19] As far as cries are concerned he mentions that the princely elephant that makes with his trunk a sound like a drum, with his ears one like kettledrum, and with his mouth one like a flute, is rated high[20] and those sounds like of a haṃsa, crane, peacock, koil, tiger, lion and bull are rated high. Inauspicious are those like a camel, crow, jackal, boar and ape.[21]

The presence of the above indicators decided the fate of the elephants which were captured. Those found misfit were set free. In this case the author of Mātaṅgalīlā mentions that even if the elephants have good qualities and are auspicious but inspite of this if they have too few or too many toenails, they accomplish only evils; and the reverse of these, good. Thus toe nails were considered as a major indicator in selection of the elephants. However there is no logical reason for this. It seems to be more of a superstition than scientific cause.[22]

Such auspicious marks were also considered as longevity markers of elephants. For example the Mātaṅgalīlā[23] (Chapter IV) states that those elephants have glossy tusks, nails, hair and eyes; long ears, trunk, tail and spine; with full complement of the favourable marks cited earlier; the surfaces of whose frontal bosses are symmetrical: have long lives.[24]

Other markers which indicate long life of elephants is mentioned as those having the seven red parts and the six elevated parts as mentioned earlier, of majestic spirit, fragrant, having the colour of dark-blue clouds, loud-roaring, having a double or triple skin (thick-skinned), these are long lived.[25]

An elephant expert or trainer has to focus on twelve elements to know about the quality of the animal. Thus elephantology was specialization of these twelve elements of elephants to know about their quality. These were knowledge of the foreparts, head, eyes, face, ears, neck, belly, tusks, trunk, character, colour and the hind members. It is coincidental that even the stages of life of an elephant are mentioned as twelve in number in textual sources.[26]

In this case it is worth mentioning that Bṛhaspati declares that the qualities of an elephant were directly proportional to the stages of its life.[27]

In this context Pālakāpya’s opinion also similar he elaborates it and mentions that one who has these distinguishing marks three, five, seven, or eight in number, attains long life to just that extent in decades (i.e., to the extent of three, five, seven, or eight decades).[28]

In this context it is worth mentioning that the fourth (i.e. 40’s) is declared to be a full life for the mṛga (deer) category of elephants thus they are short lived creatures and live for only four decades. Eight decades is mentioned as a life expectancy of a manda or the’slow’ category, maximum life span is given to the bhadra class bearing all the twelve features hence the life expectance in decades is mentioned as twelve i.e.120 years.[29]

Footnotes and references:


R.P. Kangle. tr. The Kauṭilīya Arthaśāstra, Part II, p.68.


The author of Mātaṅgalīlā mentions this dual functionality in the following words -― Yudhyanti kevalaṃ yodhā vahantyeva hayā rathān I Vāraṇāstu narendrārhā yudhyanti ca vahanti ca II‖, T. Ganapati Śāstri. ed. The Mātaṅgalīlā of Nīlakaṇṭha, p. 9.


Franklin Edgerton. tr. The Elephant-Lore of the Hindus, p. 56.


Shri Mantramurti K.S. Subrahmanyaśāstri. ed. &tr. (in Tamil), Gajaśāstra [Gaja-śāstram] of Pālakāpya muni with extracts from other works and Coloured Illustrations, p.61.


Nalini Sadhale & Y.L. Nene. ‘On Elephants in Manasollasa-1.Characteristics, Habitat, Methods of Capturing and Training’, Reproduction from Asian Agri-History, Vol.8, No.1, 2004, pp.5-25.


Franklin Edgerton. tr. The Elephant-Lore of the Hindus, pp. 54-57.


mastakadvitayaṃ dantāvāsanaṃ vaṃśa evaṃ ca /
ṣaḍete pronnatā yasya sa gajo rājavāhanaḥ //
(v. 1),
     —T. Ganapati Śāstri. ed. The Mātaṅgalīlā of Nīlakaṇṭha, p. 7. Franklin Edgerton. tr. The Elephant-Lore of the Hindus, p. 54.


puṣkaradvitayaṃ kośo jihvoṣṭhagudatālu ca /
saptaite raktatanavo yasya sa dviradottamaḥ //

     —(v. 2) Ibid., p. 7 and p. 54, respectively.


viṃśatyā nakhasaṅkhyayāścitapadaḥ sphāronnatiḥ kumbhayoracchidrāñcalaraktakarṇayugalaḥ suślakṣṇakakṣaḥ karī /
savyāmyunnatamākṣikadyutiradaḥ sampūrṇakukṣiḥ karmasthūlarjvāyatacāruvāladhikaraḥ pūgīphalaśyāmalaḥ //
(v. 3),
     —Ibid., p. 8. and p. 54, respectively.


snigdhaśyāsatanuśca khaḍgasaiśacchāyoâthavā svastikaśrīvatsāridarābjalāñchanalasadbinduprakāśāruṇaḥ /
kroḍodyajjaghanasthaloâtha iḍhakukṣistrastasaptiṇḍiko vistīrṇādhikamāṃsalonnatakalābhāgo nṛpārho gajaḥ //
(v. 4),
     —Ibid., p. 8 and pp. 54-55, respectively.


vṛhadāyatavṛttakandharāḥ sajalāmbhodaninādabṛṃhitāḥ /
kalaviṅkamadhuprabhekṣaṇāsrtivaliskandhakarā gajāḥ śubhāḥ //

     —(v. 5), Ibid., p. 8 and p. 55, respectively.


susnigdhatāranayanāruṇapuṣkarāśca cūtapravālarūcikomalakośadaṇḍāḥ /
raktāravindarucirāḥ kalakaṇṭhanādā -stvete gajāḥ śubhakarāḥ khalu pārthivānām //

     —(v. 6), Ibid.


tuṅgadakṣiṇaviṣāṇakoṭayo vinducitritamahākarānanāḥ /
gūḍasandhi iḍhagātrapaścimāḥ pārthivendra! Tava vāhanocitāḥ //

     —(v. 7), Ibid.


cāponnatāyatanigūḍasuvaṃśapṛṣṭhāḥ kāntāghanastanasamānasaromakumbhāḥ /
vistīrṇakarṇahanunābhilalāṭaguhyā-stāmroṣṭhatāluradanāḥ kariṇo nṛpārhāḥ //

     —(v. 8), Ibid.


sindhurasāndrasamabinduvicitratāṅgaḥ kūrmonnatairdvinavaviśatibhirnakhairvā /
candraprabhaiśca sahito balasattvadhairyairudrārasaurabhayutoâpi karī nṛpārhaḥ //

     —(v. 9), Ibid., p. 9 and p. 55, respectively.


Saraṅgasiṃhaśukavānaramallahaṃsa-kādambakairapi gatiḥ saiśī śubhā syāt I Gandharvakinnarasuparṇakasūkaraiśca sārdūlarājaśarabhoragacakravākaiḥ II” (v. 12), T. Ganapati Śāstri. ed. The Mātaṅgalīlā of Nīlakaṇṭha, (Chapter II), p. 9. Franklin Edgerton. tr. The ElephantLore of the Hindus, Chapter II, p. 55.


Bhagnavyālajalāturāṃśca kalabhān hitvā pratāpānvitaḥ karmaṇyoâṣṭavidhaprahārakuśalaḥ śūro iḍho vegavān I Sarvaprāṇivadhe samudyatamanāḥ sadbhiryuto lakṣaṇai- -ryo dantāvalapuṅgavaḥ sa nṛpateḥ saṃgrāmayogyo bhavet II‖ (v. 10), Ibid., p. 9 and p. 56, respectively.


Gambhīrasaumyahṛṣṭāḥ svasthāḥ śṛṅgāriṇastathā snigdhāḥ I Nādāḥ śubhā narādhipa! ṣaḍeva kathitā gajendrāṇām II” (v. 14), Ibid., p. 9 and pp. 56-57, respectively.


Jihvāmūlasamudbhavaṃ nigaditaṃ phenāyitaṃ syād rutaṃ Tat potāyitamoṣṭhatālujanitaṃ tat kaṇṭhajaṃ garjitam /
tat proktaṃ hasitaṃ kapolakarajaṃ sarvaṃ tadetacchubhaṃ kṣuttṛṭchokabhayodbhavaṃ nigaditaṃ nindyaṃ bhṛśaṃ dantinām // (v. 13),
     —T. Ganapati Śāstri. ed. The Mātaṅgalīlā of Nīlakaṇṭha, p. 9. Franklin Edgerton. tr. The Elephant-Lore of the Hindus, p. 56.


hastena mṛdaṅgaravaṃ karṇābhyāṃ dundubhisvanaṃ caiva /
darduraravaṃ mukhena ca karoti yaḥ pūjitaḥ sa gajarājaḥ //
(v. 15), Ibid., p. 9 and p. 57, respectively.


haṃsasārasamayūrakokilavyāghrasiṃhavṛṣasannibhasvarāḥ /
pūjitāḥ karabhakākajambukakroḍavānarasamā na śobhanāḥ //

     —(v. 16), Ibid., p. 9 and p. 57, respectively.


guṇagrāmasamagrāśceddhīnādhikanakhā gajāḥ /
doṣāneva prakurvanti viparītāśca śobhanam //
(v. 17), Ibid., p. 10 and p. 57, respectively.


Franklin Edgerton. tr. The Elephant-Lore of the Hindus, pp. 60-61.


snigdhadantanakharomacakṣuṣo dīrghakarṇakaravālavaṃśinaḥ /
prāpradeśaparipūrṇalakṣaṇāstulyamastakatalāścirāyuṣaḥ //

     —(v. 1), T. Ganapati Sastri. ed. The Mātaṅgalīlā of Nīlakaṇṭha, p. 11. Franklin Edgerton. tr. The Elephant-Lore of the Hindus, p. 60.


saptaraktatanavaḥ ṣaḍunnatāḥ suprabhāvamanasaḥ sugandhayaḥ /
nīlanīradanibhā virāviṇo dvitraromanilayāścirāyuṣaḥ //
(v. 2), Ibid., p. 11 and p. 60, respectively.


Gātrottamāṅganayanānanakarṇakaṇṭha- -vakṣoviṣāṇakarasattvarucoâparāṇi I Aṅgāni ceti saiśāni vayodaśābhiḥ kṣetrāṇyamūni kariṇāṃ daśa ca dvayaṃ ca II‖ (v. 3), Ibid., p. 11 and p. 60, respectively.


Kṣetrāṇāṃ yāvatāṃ pūrṇaṃ lakṣaṇaṃ yasya iśyate I Daśāstāvatya evāyustasyetyāha Bṛhaspatiḥ II‖ (v. 4), Ibid., p. 11 and p. 60, respectively.


Trīṇi pañca ca saptāṣṭau liṅgānyetāni yasya vai I āyuḥ sa labhate tāvahīrdhamityasya me matiḥ II” (v. 5), Ibid., p. 12 and pp. 60-61, respectively.


Caturthī mṛgajātyasya mandajātyasya cāṣṭamī I Dvādaśī bhadrajātyasya paramāyurihocyate II” (v. 6), Ibid., p. 12 and p. 61, respectively.

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