Matangalila and Hastyayurveda (study)

by Chandrima Das | 2021 | 98,676 words

This page relates ‘Elephants in the Kingdom and as a Royal Asset’ 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 the Kingdom and as a Royal Asset

Elephants were also acquired through royal exchanges between two monarchical powers involved in royal courtesy exchanges, transactions or as a result of war. The Arthaśāstra does not give us a summary statement of the modes of acquisition. But it does give such a summary statement in respect of horses, so it will be useful at this point to return to the matter addressed in Chapter I concerning the complimentary distribution of horses and elephants in India, and the king’s problems with securing their supply.[1]

Elephants on the other hand were royal asset that is both essential and abundant, that is native to India; and whose geography is complimentary to that of horses. It seems likely that elephants circulated among kingdoms by the same/ similar channels as horses. Elephants and horses formed the foundation of the ancient ideal of the fourfold army, and of the threefold army of the medieval and early modern periods.[2] Procuring and maintaining elephants demanded the appointment of large staff as we have already mentioned that elephant reserves were state property hence the state had to appoint regular officials for the maintenance of the elephants.

The keeping or rearing and/or breeding of war and riding elephants entail a large establishment of government servants. As we have seen, in the elephant forest we have an overseer (nāgavanādhyakṣa) with staff divided among a fair number of special functions table 1 shows this as follows:

[Table 1: Staffs under Nāgavanādhyakṣa]

Sl. No. Staffs Term
1. Forest people Aṭavi
2. Guard Nāgavanapāla
3. Elephant keeper Hastipaka
4. Foot chainer Pādapāśika
5. Border guard Sainika
6. Forest ranger Vanacaraka
7. Attendant Pārikarmika

[Table 2: In connection with the stables and the overseer of elephants (hastyādhyakṣa) we find mention of these occupational specialities]

Sl. No. Staffs Terms
1. Physician Hasti-vaidya
2. Trainer Anīkastha
3. Rider Ārahaka
4. Driver Adhoraṇa
5. Guard Hastipa
6. Decorator Upacārika
7. Cook Vidhāpācaka
8. Fodder giver Yāvasika
9. Foot chainer Pādapāśika
10. Stall guard kuṭīrakṣa
11. Night attendant Upaśāyika

Elephants were thus state property and so were elephant reserves. Forest people āṭavikas were involved in guarding material forests and elephant forests. In Arthaśāstra elephants are described as forest produced animal. More over Kauṭilya ordered to the Director of forest produce that he should cause forest produce to be brought in by guards in the produce forests and he should start factories for forest produce (Book 2, Chapter 17, v.1, 2, 13).[3] Thus this leads us to understand the situation that both elephants and by products were given equal important and there were two layers of procurement of such commodities. One the natural forests from which the elephants might have been procured directly and the other one would be the palace where they were brought after capturing them. Then they become a direct commodity for their usage in warfare and trade. The by-products procured from the elephants also became an important commodity directly for trade.

Finally, for further information on the place of elephants and their human handlers in the overall structure of the kingdom a critical appraisal of the salaries of state servants given in the Arthaśāstra can be of some help.[4] Such an exercise has been already done by Trautamann (omitting the highest ministerial levels):

[Table 3: Showing work payment structure: analytical tabulation]

Posts related to Elephants Salary (per annum) Similar posts with same salary
Commandants of elephant 8,000 paṇas Heads banded troops, Horse and chariot corps and Magistrates.
Overseers of elephant corps 4,000 paṇas Overseers of infantry, Overseers of cavalry, Overseers of chariot
Wardens of elephant forests. 4,000 paṇas Wardens of materials
Elephant trainers and Physicians 2,000 paṇas Charioteers, Horse trainers, Carpenters, Breeders of animals, Physicians
Assistants to overseers 1000 paṇas Diviner (kārtāntika), Soothsayers (naimittika), Astrologers (mauhūrtika) Chroniclers (paurāṇika), Bards, and Panegyrists, Assistants to the Chaplain (purohitapuruṣāḥ)
Musicians 250 paṇas Markers of musical instruments.
Artisans and Craftsmen working on ivory 120 paṇas Artisans and craftsmen in general
Guards of quadrupeds, Foremen of labourers Attendants Elephant Riders 60 paṇas Servants in general, Helpers, Attendants, Guards of quadrupeds and bipeds, Foremen of labourers, Bandits, Mountain diggers supervised by āryas, All attendants

According to Trautmann on the basis of the above pay structure one might surmise that:

“…. military personnel are ranked high, and so are the upper levels of the elephant staff. The highest paid in this list are the commandants in battle of the four limbs of the four fold army next to them, at half their pay, are the overseers of the four limbs, along with the warden of the elephant forest. The next lower step is occupied by the elephant trainer, physician and horse trainer the three ranks for whom the king is to give land in the village–an important sign of distinction. It is noticeable that the elephant trainer ranks very much higher than the māhuts and other staff who are at the lowest pay level, several steps below. The expertise of the trainer seems to be considered superior, and the Arthaśāstra singles him out as the one whose knowledge of the qualities of individual elephants is to govern the process of capture. On the whole the upper grades of the elephant staff are very well compensated”.[5]

We would like to further add to the above interpretation a few important observations. Elephant staff had a clear cut hierarchy which can be divided into an upper and lower band on the basis of their pay structures. Some of them enjoyed a very respectable position and were paid premium salaries like the top level military officials. This shows the utility and demand of the elephants in the state structure. The commandants in battle managing the elephants are one of the highest paid which clearly points out that the animal was a major part of Indian warfare. This is further proved from the various metaphors and myths related to elephants as noticed from epigraphic and literary sources already discussed in previous chapters. Procurement of the elephants from their natural abode was one of the most important tasks and hence the salary of the overseers of the elephants and the warden of the elephant forest was also in the higher segment. Though placed below the overseer and warden of elephant forest the elephant trainer and elephant physician were imperative part of the ancient society and this is proved from the fact that besides their salary they were also provided residential facility and the king gave them land in the village. The elephant trainer’s not only would have trained the elephants for warfare but also were experts in identifying their type and tasks and hence could identify which one to retain for the royal and military purpose. Arthaśāstra especially mentions their role in the process of capturing of elephants as an expert in selection of the animal to be retained or captured.

Footnotes and references:


Thomas R. Trautmann. Elephants and Kings An Environmental History, Ranikhet: Permanent Black in association with Ashoka University, 2015, pp. 157-159.


Ibid., p. 160.


R.P. Kangle. tr. The Kauṭilīya Arthaśāstra, Part II, pp. 148-149.


Ibid., Book 5, Chapter 3, pp.350-351.


Thomas R. Trautmann. Elephants and Kings An Environmental History, pp. 168-169.

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