Matangalila and Hastyayurveda (study)

by Chandrima Das | 2021 | 98,676 words

This page relates ‘Elephants in Myths and Metaphors (Introduction)’ 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.

Elephants in Myths and Metaphors (Introduction)

Indian mythological tradition is replete with references to elephants. There are numerous metaphors which are related to elephants this reflects the importance of this animal in day to day human life in early India. Here in this chapter we have tried to look at the different myths and legends pertaining to elephants mentioned in various literary texts and also in the epigraphic records.

We have taken into consideration Buddhist literature and Jātakas have been chosen for a detailed data extraction. From among the epics, both Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata have been taken into consideration and as a representation of Brahmanical literature Purāṇas have been taken into account, some Jain secular literature has also been consulted. According to Coomaraswamy Indian mythology is not a subject of antiquarian research and disquisition yet it permeates the whole life of the people as a controlling influence.[1]

Texts like Mātaṅgalīlā which deal with the science of elephants have several such embedded myths. These have several myths related to origin and life circle of elephants. In fact all the known texts agree in attributing the science of elephantology to a mythical sage Pālakāpya whose supernatural origin is narrated in a bizarre story recorded in the Mātaṅgalīlā (i, 1718)[2]. In this narrative a hierarchy or order of relaying the myth is also found which is repeated in several texts. He reveals this elephant-lore firstly to an apparently mythical Romapāda, king of Aṅga, whose name is not otherwise known. It is interesting to note that all the three texts Gajaśāstra, Mātaṅgalīlā and Hastyāyurveda, were composed in the form of dialogue between these two personages.

Footnotes and references:


A. Coomaraswamy & Nivedita, Myths of the Hindus and Buddhists, New York: Dover Publications, 1967, p.4.


Franklin Edgerton. The Elephant-lore of the Hindus, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1985, p.3.

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