“Elephants” are still shy beasts to the Ṛg-vedic people

One word for many or many words for one

I will be presenting few cases on whether synonymical existence of Elephants, Lions, and Beasts on four legs from Ṛg-veda stands good for just synonyms or they are names of different species altogether. The case is very unique here in the sense that Ṛg-veda is under the spell of drought on its database of metaphorical words. For e.g., Rishis gave away their own names to the mantras as adjectives like Angirasa gives away Angirastama, then we find groups of single words which may mean many things for e.g., Ari (friend and enemy; later to become only enemy), Arya, Asura (deity and demon; later to become only demonic)  etc., to name them few. Therefore, it appears to me very critical to understand an animal will be given more than one word under scarcity of words, at least in the Ṛg-veda. I am doubtful. How to see through, how to resolve this problem.

“The climate and the surroundings influence the entire mental and emotional experience of a race, and on this the new formation of religion and its progress or decline depends.”—J. W. Hauer

J. W. Hauer

Elephant is called hastin in classical Sanskrit texts and is probably one of the most ancient names coined for elephants which comes from Ṛg-vedic “mṛga-hastin”. Etymologically, Mṛga comes from root √mṛga-anveṣaṇe , generally would mean search, explore etc. By onomastic approach it would rather appear to mean only chasing and hunting, even few birds from Ṛg-veda are assigned to this word. It thus implies for the beasts and earliest figures in the sky which appeared like chasing and thus Sanskrit gives us this name for predators/ beasts with a hand like extension for elephant. The word Hastin, though not in a pure compound sense, appears in 4rth mandala which is ascribed as a middle mandala.

We will take three cases of Elephants- 1. Mṛga Hastin; animal with a hand), 2. Ibha-fearless and 3. MṛgaVāraṇa.

1. Mṛga-Hastin; Beast identified with a Hand

म॒हि॒षासो॑ मा॒यिन॑श्चि॒त्रभा॑नवो गि॒रयो॒ न स्वत॑वसो रघु॒ष्यद॑: । मृ॒गा इ॑व ह॒स्तिन॑: खादथा॒ वना॒ यदारु॑णीषु॒ तवि॑षी॒रयु॑ग्ध्वम् ॥ ऋ० ००१।०६४।००७
सूर॑ उपा॒के त॒न्वं१॒॑ दधा॑नो॒ वि यत्ते॒ चेत्य॒मृत॑स्य॒ वर्प॑: । मृ॒गो न ह॒स्ती तवि॑षीमुषा॒णः सिं॒हो न भी॒म आयु॑धानि॒ बिभ्र॑त् ॥ ऋ० ०४।०१६।०१४
In the Ṛg-veda, Mṛga Hastin (animal with a hand) occurs in Ṛg-veda 1.64.7 and Ṛg-veda 4.16.14.

The ‘animal with a hand,’ is mentioned for the elephant is meant, but concludes that the compound name is a proof of the newness of the elephant to the Vedic Indians. It is still an untamed beast in these above mantras also.

2. Ibha; Fearless

Ibha is a very special word. Overall I found different meanings of ibha within the Rg Veda. Bringing all of them under one roof.

इभ  m. (?√इ, Uṇ. iii, 153 ) servants, dependants, domestics, household, family, ṚV..  ([böhtlingk and roth sanskrit wörterbuch ])
an elephant, Mn. ; Bhartṛ. ; Ragh.  &c. [ID=29301][Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary, 1899]
fearless ([Sāy. ]) [ID=29300][Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary, 1899]
Servants, servants, servants; Housekeeping, familia NIR. 6, 12. कृ णु ष्व पाजः प्रसितिं न पृ थ्वीं या हि राजे वामवांं इभेन ṚV. 4, 4, 1. कस्तो काय क इभायो त रा ये ऽधि ब्रवत्त न्वे ३ को जनाय who intercedes for children, for house and property, who for himself and his people? 1, 84, 17. आ तुग्रं शश्व दिभं द्योतनाय मा तुर्न सी मुप सृजा इ यध्यै 6, 20, 8; see. by the way u. स्मदिभ. As adj. The word would have to be expressed in the meaning of surrounded by servants (court) in the passage: स मर्मृजा न आ युभि रिभो राजेव सुव्र तः ळ्ह् श्ये नो न वंसु षीदति 9, 57, 3. Therefore, the assumption that here the original The expression would be distorted and, for example, to be established: इभे राजेव सुव्र ते like a prince among his devoted servants, whereby सुव्रत would also come to its proper meaning. Whether इभ m. U.N. 3, 151 belongs here or to 2. इभ cannot be decided. – See इभ्य.
m. Elephant NIR. 6, 12
related word ibhya 1) belonging to the servants, servants: इभ्या न्न राजा वनान्यत्ति as a prince (overcomes) his servants, so (overcomes and) consumes {Agni} the trees ṚV. 1, 65, 7 (4). – 2) rich (rich in servants and housework) AK. 3, 1, 10. H. 357. an. 2, 346. MED. y. 6. उषस्तिर्ह चाक्रायण इभ्यग्रामे प्रद्राणक उवास ळ्ह्ळ्ह् स हेभ्यं कुल्माषान्खादन्तं बिभिक्षे CHĀND. UP. 1, 10, 1. 2. इभ्यकुमार DAŚAK. 72, 2. इभ्य = इभमर्हति {gaṇa} दण्डादि to P. 5, 1, 66. इभ्य ŚĀNT. 1, 5.

The elephant  with the proto-form *leHbho-nth– or *ḷHbho-nth– is found in at least four branches: Indo-Aryan íbha-, Greek eléphas (Mycenean Greek erepa), Italic (Latin) ebur is given by Shrikant Talageri. I did find coptic emu in etymology online–Latin eboreus “of ivory,” from ebur (genitive eboris) “ivory,” probably via Phoenician from an African source (compare Egyptian ab “elephant,” Coptic ebu “ivory”). Anyways, Panini does give that Pa=Pha=Ba and Bha as the consonant, are replicable with each other and that could be seen in different languages for the same word, and is apt even in todays time within the frames of PIE. Egyptian ȝbw (metathesis) “elephant”, Berber, Tuareg elu “elephant”, Cushitic, Galla arba “elephant”, Eastern Cushitic *ˀarb– “elephant”, Central Chadic *arp– “elephant”, Eastern Highland Cushitic, Burji árb-a “elephant”;27 Hebrew śārāp “poisonous snake”, Egyptian sȝbt “colored snake”( just a coincidence that Sanskrit naaga also is applied to both, snake as well as elephant, probably due to the sense of similar visual of flexible trunk and it’s nasal look alike with hood and fangs of snake ). Coptic: (Ⲉ)ⲓⲏⲃ (Ə)iêw) is an island on the Nile for Elephantine Island suggest that this word is the earliest word used for Elephant- genus in particular and is very similar to Sanskrit name इभ -𝘪𝘣ʰ𝘢. It is not new to name places by animal’s importance. One such is also found in India as river name Vaarini, a tribunary of Ganges. I have many a times tweeted about the old map of Ireland where the tribes name and the areas inhabited by people mostly bear pure sanskritic names like Nagnati, Gangani, Erdini, Darini, Avteri( avatari). We have lost these tribe’s name to deep antiquity. We do not find them even in Rg veda. They usually cannot be taken under PIE root system as Eurasian names. Likewise it appears that Afro-asian-Egyptian ȝbw for Ivory and Island has a direct loanword from इभ -𝘪𝘣ʰ𝘢. I find Old English heofonhefn, heaven, from Germanic *hibin‑, “the stony vault of heaven,” more interesting for it reminisces with elephant’s loftiness as a stony vault. Nevertheless, Nirukta has specifically described इभ to be “the elephant”.

The Mṛga in todays time are only referred to Deers and Antelopes, and we hardly call elephant a Mṛga, are much amiable and not the beasts. One can sense the diachronic change in the word Mṛga from chaser- hunter- the fearless beast becoming simple chaser but rather chased and hunted, for e.g., Mṛgavyādha. They still are deemed wild animals. Ṛg-veda has Mṛga- four legged dangerous beasts which is yet wild and untamed, especially in 4rth mandala.

Ibha- on the other hand gives handful of information. The beast is fearless and yet untamed in Ṛg-veda. It’s name gives us an imagery of its presence from Asia to Africa sharing same name as Ibha from Ṛg-vedic times. We already noted about Coptic (Ⲉ)ⲓⲏⲃ Eelephantine island on river Nile. This is not a coincidence but only possible if the habitation was dominated by elephants, e.g., River Vārīṇi,  tributary on Ganges.  This can fortify a case as that of cohabiting the land with Pleistocene lions from India till Africa. We already have seen how human migrations were happening to and fro from India to Africa. This is ruled out by Dr. Premendra Priyadarshi in one of his talk in IIT Kanpur. If his theory is applied then it is very much plausible that the word Ibha travelled to far off places.

Special case 1Ṛg-veda 4.4.1, 9.57.3 (where “the people deck him like a docile king of elephants”), 6.20.8; Talageri, Shrikant (2000)

कृ॒णु॒ष्व पाज॒: प्रसि॑तिं॒ न पृ॒थ्वीं या॒हि राजे॒वाम॑वाँ॒ इभे॑न । तृ॒ष्वीमनु॒ प्रसि॑तिं द्रूणा॒नोऽस्ता॑सि॒ विध्य॑ र॒क्षस॒स्तपि॑ष्ठैः ॥

हे सेना के ईश ! [आप] (राजेव) राजा के सदृश (अमवान्) बलवान् (इभेन) हाथी से( yaa "ke saatha"?) (याहि) जाइये प्राप्त हूजिये (प्रसितिम्) दृढ़ बँधी हुई (पृथ्वीम्) भूमि के (न) सदृश (पाजः) बल (कृणुष्व) करिये जिससे (प्रसितिम्) बन्धन और (तृष्वीम्) पियासी के प्रति (अनु, द्रूणानः) अनुकूल शीघ्रता करनेवाले और (अस्ता) फेंकनेवाला (असि) हो इससे (तपिष्ठैः) अतिशय सन्ताप देनेवाले शस्त्र आदिकों से (रक्षसः) दुष्टों को (विध्य) पीड़ा देओ ॥१॥

इस मन्त्र में उपमालङ्कार है । हे राजसम्बन्धी जनो ! आप लोग पृथिवी के सदृश दृढ़ बल करके, राजा के सदृश न्यायाधीश होकर, पिपासित मृगी के पीछे दौड़ते हुए भेड़िये के सदृश दुष्ट डाकू जो कि अनुधावन करते अर्थात् जो कि पथिकादिकों के पीछे दौड़ते हुए, उनका नाश करो ॥१॥ [Swami Dayanand saraswati]

Put forth thy strength, Agni, as a fowler, spreads a capacious snare: proceed like a king followed by his followers on (or alongside?) his elephant:thou art the scatterer( of thy foes):following the swift moving host consume the Rakshasas with thy fiercest flames. [By HH Wilson.Ṛg-veda 4.4.1] 

My version is --Put forth thy strength, Agni, as a fowler, spread a capacious snare: Proceed king like followed by his followers alongside his elephant...thou art the scatterer( of thy foes):following the swift moving host consume the Rakshasas with thy fiercest flames. Since Nirukta gives Ibha to elephant I will stick to it for an elephant like creature.

This makes sense. 

Here the case3 of vibhakti for Ibhena-इभेन need attention (read below in end note 1). I am presenting an aerial imagery of the surge of Agni and group of elephants, which look like Agni during Yajna for this particular mantra for more clarity. Basically Agni of Yajna flame is compared with the elephants with its foremost elephant which leads like a king with its followers. This becomes clear from the later mantras of the same sukta where Agni is (provoked) invoked with the help of ladle of oblation. Elephants still remain wild, Agni is in the process of being tamed.These mantras are special since they are dealing with the sense of evacuation of Rakshasa who are not like Vedic people, but entirely different clan or species.

Special case 2 Presence of Ibha and Mṛga hastin in 4rth mandala

Elephant mentioned asRishi and ṚV. Mantra
Ibha-इभेनRishi Vamdeva ऋषि:वामदेवो गौतमः ṚV. 4.4.1
Mṛga-hastin Rishi Vamdeva ऋषि:वामदेवो गौतमः ṚV. 4.16.14
Elephant species present in India during late Pleistocene times till their extinction during 24,000y BP

Ibha and Mṛga-hastin, both are written by the same Rishi, and he himself has not yet coined the pure word “Hastin” as a noun instead uses as an adjective to Mṛga-beast. Thus, to me it appears doubtful that Ibha is also purely used for any kind of elephant, in ṚV. 4.4.1, as a purely coined word. The same rishi would not identify then unidentify the similar animal. It appears that they did start differentiating between various species they were observing on Vedic land. And there comes Palaeoloxodon namadicus which is actually a beast, dangerous, invincible and cannot be tamed, for his huge height with huge straight fatal ivory tusks. A late record of its find from 56 kya BP is known from the Ganga plain in India. Asian straight-tusked elephant, was a species of prehistoric elephant that ranged throughout Pleistocene Asia, from India (where it was first discovered) to Japan. It also lived in Sri Lanka. In 2015, a study based on extensive research on fragmentary leg bone fossils suggested that P. namadicus may have been the largest land mammal ever greater than close genus Paraceratherium from Africa. Possibly due to its bigger and straight tusk Rishis gave away the word Ibha, [ibha>ȝbw (Ⲉ)ⲓⲏⲃ>aba>arba>ebur>ivory,] which found its way to the word ivory. A beast, invincible, non-tamable known for its bigger tusk ( in Ṛg-veda) appears to be from deep antiquity. Ibha was definitely not coined for tusks by Ṛg-vedic people. Why they didn’t name this creature for its tusk is intriguing. I find only one answer, many saber-toothed animals must have been present apart from mammoth, mastodons etc. However, it appears that Ibha continued to be remembered for its ivory tusk till later times.

Ibha > ȝbw > (Ⲉ)ⲓⲏⲃ > aba > arba > ebur (genitive eboris) > ivory

Later texts like Ramayana etc do not use the word “Ibha” but has described three different species with different breeding processes, in which Mṛga, which is ferocious, is used for the Wars.

भद्रैः मन्द्रैः मृगैः च एव भद्र मन्द्र मृगैः थथा |
भद्र मन्द्रैः भद्र मृगैः मृग मन्द्रैः च सा पुरी || १-६-२५ 
नित्य मत्तैः सदा पूर्णा नागैः अचल सन्निभैः |
That city is always full with vigorous and mountain like elephants bred mainly from three classes viz., Bhadra, Mandra and Mṛga. And inter-bred among these three main classes are Bhadra-Mandra, Mandra-Mṛga, Bhadra-Mṛga and the like. [1-6-25-26a] Rāmāyaṇa

3. Mṛga-Vāraṇa; shy and forbidden

Another term that may mean elephant is “Vāraṇa” (ṚV. 8.33.8; ṚV. 10.40.4). According to Macdonell and Keith, “Vāraṇa” refers to elephants, the descriptive term Mṛga-Vārana, the wild or dangerous animal,’ the adjective Vārana similarly to Hastin becomes synonyms for noun ‘elephant’ in the later texts. This also appears to be different species recorded by Ṛg-vedic people.

दा॒ना मृ॒गो न वा॑र॒णः पु॑रु॒त्रा च॒रथं॑ दधे । नकि॑ष्ट्वा॒ नि य॑म॒दा सु॒ते ग॑मो म॒हाँश्च॑र॒स्योज॑सा ॥ऋ० ०८।०३३।०८

यु॒वां मृ॒गेव॑ वार॒णा मृ॑ग॒ण्यवो॑ दो॒षा वस्तो॑र्ह॒विषा॒ नि ह्व॑यामहे । ...ऋ० १०।०४०।००४
shy, wild, ṚV. ; AV.  (with मृग accord. to some = elephant, ṚV. viii, 33, 8; x, 40, 4 )
dangerous, ṚV. ; ṢaḍvBr
forbidden, AitBr.
all-resisting, invincible (said of the Soma and of Indra’s elephant), ṚV. ix, 1, 9 
probably comes from वरण  m. a rampart, mound…

What can be concluded of all these emperical informations

Well, from the analysis of the three words it appears that the elephant genus like Asian elephants, P. Namadicus, Mammoth or Mastodon were known to Ṛg-vedic people some of them were not yet tamed in Ṛg-veda. Furthermore, few like Ibha were completely untamed and Mṛga-Vāraṇa described as dangerous, invincible and forbidden by Aitereya Brahmana which is a Ṛg-vedic Brahmana. Ramayana on the other hand record yet three types and in Arthashastra there are mentions of eastern and western elephants yet different form Ramayana. Ramayana record inter bred species which is absent in Ṛg-veda. I leave it to future researchers to explore further. We see that the majestic Lions and P. namadicus mark their extinction by 24,000 BP, and both are much present in Ṛg-veda. In later blogs I will discuss Snakes, Saline desert or cold desert and savannah like situation- IriNa and Snow in Arbuda. These study of various evidence from Ṛg-veda will bring more clarity on when Ṛg-veda stopped any addition of mantra in it.


As I already conjectured and gave my thoughts that the elephants are still in the verge of getting their proper name in Ṛg-veda, in this course of journey Atharva has the fledged name “Hastin”. I was brought to notice by Achāryavarya Shri Ganesha ji. He says, “One finds a reference to ‘हस्तिनि’ in KYV Udaka Śanti mantras. With slight modification, the same mantra is found in Atharva Veda too in 6.38.2: या हस्तिनि द्वीपिनि या हिरण्ये त्विषिरप्सु गोषु या पुरुषेषु । इन्द्रं या देवी सुभगा जजान सा न ऐतु वर्चसा संविदाना In KYV, we say: या हस्तिनि द्वीपिनि या हिरण्ये त्विषिरप्सु पुरुषेषु गोषु। इन्द्रं या देवी सुभगा जजाना सा न आगन् वर्चसा संविदाना॥ ~ The energy of elephant, panther, And of gold,waters,men & of kine, May that auspicious Devi, who begot Indra, come to us with all vigour & strength!. Thus we see that Hastin word has appeared in proper sense for the elephants. The energy of the elephants were gauged by then.

——————————————————

End notes

This mantra is tricky to understand. Case 3 of vibhakti captures the idea of the English word “with,” in two senses of the word “with.” The two senses are: means, as in “I hit the coconut with my hammer” and accompaniment, as in “I hit the coconut with my friend.”

गजेन गच्छामि, go by means of (with) the elephant

गजेन गच्छामि, I go alongside (with) the elephant

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