The Majestic Lions in Ṛg-veda, and Curious Case of Absence of Tigers in Ṛg-veda; What do these suggests…

Where do we fit Ṛgvedic Flora and Fauna in the timescale and regions

There can always be a debate that all the materialistic things, plants, animals, flora and fauna, geography, rivers, asura- devas, manushya, different tribes or panchajanaaH within “a tribe”, Rishis, Rishikaas, the Arsha language, chanda, drying of vedic Saraswati, every mentioned things in Ṛgveda can fit in the duration of maximum 3000 BCE till 1900 BCE. But they forget that the same can be reconstructed for the span of last 200,000+ years. What 3000 BCE till 1900 BCE cannot answer is what I am trying to see through.

During the Pleistocene Epoch (2,600,000 to 11,700 years ago), (cave) lions ranged across all of North America and Africa, through most of the Balkans, and across Anatolia and the Middle East into India. Genetic studies suggest that the lion evolved in eastern and southern Africa, diversifying into a number of subspecies—such as the Barbary lion (Panthera leo leo) of North Africa, the cave lion (P. leo spelaea) of Europe, the American lion (P. leo atrox) of North and Central America, and the Asiatic lion (P. leo persica) of the Middle East and India—starting about 124,000 years ago.

One cannot write about how majestic the Ṛgvedic lions were until you go deep into antiquity. We already saw that Panthera Leo subsp got extinct during 24,000 y BP. The abrupt LGM beginning from this duration may have seen much upheaval and catastrophic changes due to sudden abrupt LGM. But before that lets understand the taxonomy of lions. Within modern lions, we found 2 main lineages that diverged ca. 70,000 y ago, with clear evidence of subsequent gene flow. There are two diverged species- Northern and Southern are estimated to have genetically diverged between 245,000 and 50,000 years ago. Further, Central and West African lions diverged about 186,000–128,000 years ago from the melanochaita group in East and Southern Africa. We will be more concerned about what had happened to Northern lions. Panthera leo leo is a lion subspecies, which is present in West Africa, northern Central Africa and India. In West and Central Africa it is restricted to fragmented and isolated populations with a declining trajectory. It has been referred to as the ‘Northern lion’. However fragmentary evidence of Lions are found in North and northwest India, which appears to be reginal accumulation and distribution during last 4000 monarchial years.

White lions of Timbavati and RV Mantra 7.087.006

The white lion is a rare color mutation of the lion, specifically the Southern African lion. It is specially found in Timbavati. In the ancient African Tsonga language, “Timbavati” means “the place where the star lions came down.” Legends tell how they came to exist when the sun took the form of a lion. African elders say white lions have lived wild in the area for many centuries (the oral memories always succumb to just centuries unless they are well documented even in oral tradition. Indian oral tradition is different from the rest of the world’s, they have been difficultly and authentically composed within the confines of grammar. Nevertheless, the oral story of Timbavati is regarded as divine by some African cultures. There is a similar interesting context to white lions in Ṛgvedic mantra which has been used as a metaphor to Varuna. Interestingly, Timbavati has a cognate in sanskrit – तम्ब्  cl. 1. °बति, to go, (kavikalpadrum of Vopadeva). Timbavati is the river name, mostly the river names are very ancient to the extent that it is very difficult to find the etymological reference to it. Just like Indian Rgvedic geography was identified by their river names (place names had not yet started appearing in the Rgveda is also one of my conjecture) likewise Timbavati region had been named after Timbavati river fauna.

Rgveda 07.087.006

Like Varuna from heaven he sinks in Sindhu, like a white-shining spark, a strong wild creature(श्वे॒तो मृ॒गस्तुवि॑ष्मान्). Ruling in depths and meting out the region, great saving power hath he, this world's Controller.

The white lions are southern population of Africa of the melanochaita group. West Africa- a melting pot of lion ancestries, where the southern and northern lineages possibly overlapped and admixed after their isolation~ 70,000y BP. Greater extent of allele sharing between Asiatic lion and the southern lineage compared to North Asian Lions ( 18.5% from southern population. There is a geneflow between southern and asiatic lions and reason could be admixture between North African lions and an extinct Ghost Lion population.

On “The Golden Manes; हिरण्यकेशः”

The evolutionary history of the lion Panthera leo began in Pliocene east Africa, as open habitats expanded towards the end of the Cenozoic. During the middle–late Pleistocene, lions spread to most parts of Eurasia, North America, and may have eventually reached as far south as Peru. Lions probably evolved group-living behaviour before they expanded out of Africa, and this trait is likely to have prevailed in subsequent populations. The first lions were presumed to have been maneless, and maneless forms seem to have persisted in Europe, and possibly the New World, until around 10,000 years ago. The maned form may have appeared c. 320 000–190 000 years ago, and may have had a selective advantage that enabled it to expand to replace the range of earlier maneless forms throughout Africa and western Eurasia by historic times: ‘latest wave hypothesis’. Now, only one mantra of RV i.e., 01.079.001 offers us हिरण्यकेशः. and the other is used as Keshin (used for Horse as well as Lions) in , 10.136.001, 10th mandala. Both of these are new mandala as per Shri Shrikant Talageri.

Quite a coincidence, if it is !!!!

Now lets understand the construct of Rgvedic mandalas

Shrikant Talageri divides Ṛgveda into Books 6,3,7 as the Oldest Books, 4,2 as Middle Old Books and 5,1,8,9,10 are New Books. He has taken utmost care to make us understand the AIT or OIT theory or at least has provoked a spark into us to see why these are so arranged. I am trying to see into them through the anthropological taxonomy data point of view. If his POV is correct then also all the other pieces should fall in place.

RV with Lion MetaphorDescription of LionRV categorized
Talageri et al
Description of Tiger
01.140.006(भीमः) भयङ्करःNew VedaNone in RgVeda
01.174.003सिं॒हNew Veda-”-
01.190.003मृ॒गःNew Veda-”-
02.034.001मृ॒गाःMiddle Ṛg Veda-”-
03.002.011सिं॒हमि॑वOld Ṛg Veda-”-
04.016.014 सिं॒हOld Ṛg veda-”-
05.015.003, 05.083.003, 05.074.004सिं॒हम्New Veda-”-
07.018.007(विषाणिनः) विषाणमिव तीक्ष्णा हस्तेनखा येषान्तेOld-”-
07.018.017सिंह्यम्Redacted Hymn
09.097.028सिं॒ह, भीमःNew Veda-”-
10.028.010सिंहःNew Veda-”-
Saam.Uttara.Mantra. the inhabitor of cave; lion
(गिरिष्ठाः) पर्वतगुहानिवासी (मृगः न) सिंह इव (भीमः) दुष्टानां भयङ्करः,
Overall conclusion is that the Lion is present almost in all the mandalas but no Tigers as dual or singular metaphor for strength, Tiger is conspicuously absent in Rg-veda suggesting that the area inhabited by Rg-vedic people were not observing this animal, see here and here where it shows that M3(Begal tiger) to M6 represent later waves of dispersals from approximately 50–10 kya towards Central Asia. Had it been seen the tiger observed during this time in vedic region the word for this majestic creature would have been taken place in Rg veda itself. It is much absent in the vedic land of Sindhu, Saraswati, Drishadvati upper regions.

Refer to the table given by Shri Shrikant Talageri as below…

Old Ṛgveda (280 hymns, 2368 verses)Redacted Hymns (62 hymns, 873 verses)
II. 1-31, 33-40 (39 hymns, 394 verses).II. 32, 41-43 (4 hymns, 35 verses).
III. 1-25, 32-33, 35, 37, 39-47, 49-50, 54-61 (48 hymns, 428 verses).III. 26-31, 34, 36, 38, 48, 51-53, 62 (14 hymns, 189 verses).
IV. 1-14, 16-29, 33-36, 38-47, 49, 51-54 (47 hymns, 456 verses).IV. 15, 30-32, 37, 48, 50, 55-58 (11 hymns, 133 verses).
VI. 1-14, 17-43, 53-58, 62-73 (59 hymns, 449 verses).VI. 15-16, 44-52, 59-61, 74-75 (16 hymns, 316 verses).
VII. 1-14, 18-30, 34-54, 56-58, 60-65, 67-73, 75-80, 82-93, 95, 97-100 (87 hymns, 641 verses).VII. 15-17, 31-33, 55, 59, 66, 74, 81, 94, 96, 101-104 (17 hymns, 200 verses).

Transition of Lion metaphors to Tiger metaphors

Now lets look at Ramayana reference to tigers.

Note that Ramayana has two pole star reference, one as Agastya, the south pole star and another as Brahmaraashi as the north pole star. This takes Ramayana time to late Pleistocene time 13000 BCE~12000 BCE (refer to Shri Nilesh Oak’s books and blogs). You will find many tiger reference in Ramayana and here, it has been taken as an adjective to powerful or any pre-eminently strong or noble person, ‘a tiger among men’ (cf. ऋषभ, सिंह)

  • र्ताः प्रजा नर व्याघ्र क्व नु यास्यन्ति निर्वृतिम् || ४-६६-७.
  • कैकेय्या पुरुष व्याघ्र बाल वत्सा इव गौर् बलात् || २-४३-१८.
  • समंतात् अभिसंपत्य सिंह व्याघ्र मृग द्विजाः |अन्वधावन् तदा रोषात् सीताम् छाया अनुगामिनः || ३-५२-३६,
  • आरोह त्वम् नर व्याघ्र स्थिताम् नावम् इमाम् शनैः |सीताम् च आरोपय अन्वक्षम् परिगृह्य मनस्विनीम् || २-५२-७५,
  • अयम् स पुरुष व्याघ्र द्वारि तिष्ठति ते सुतः |ब्राह्मणेभ्यो धनम् दत्त्वा सर्वम् चैव उपजीविनाम् || २-३४-६,
  • हृदये हि नर व्याघ्र शुभम् आविर्भविष्यति |तत् आगच्छ गमिष्यावः पंपाम् ताम् प्रिय दर्शनाम् || ३-७५-६

व्याघ्र  m. a tiger (not in RV. , but in AV. , often mentioned with the lion; accord. to R. iii, 30, 26 , Śārdūlī is the mythical mother of tigers; but in Vahni-Purāṇa they are said to be the offspring of Kaśyapa’s wife Daṉṣṭrā; cf. चित्र-व्य्°), AV.  &c. &c.

But we do not find any reference or tiger word used in RV. There is an interesting word vRRika-in the mantra 01.105.007

अ॒हं सो अ॑स्मि॒ यः पु॒रा सु॒ते वदा॑मि॒ कानि॑ चित् । तं मा॑ व्यन्त्या॒ध्यो॒३॒॑ वृको॒ न तृ॒ष्णजं॑ मृ॒गं वि॒त्तं मे॑ अ॒स्य रो॑दसी ॥वा च्छन्दसि सर्वे विधयो भवन्तीतीयङभावे यणादेशः लेट्प्रयोगोऽयम् । (आध्यः) समन्ताद्ध्यायन्ति चिन्तयन्ति ये ते (वृकः) स्तेनो व्याधः । वृक इति स्तेनना० । निघं० ३ । २४ । [स्तेन  m. (prob. fr. √ स्ता) a thief, robber, RV.  &c. &c] .(न) इव (तृष्णजम्) तृष्णा जायते यस्मात्तम् । अत्र जन धातोर्डः । ङ्यापोः संज्ञाछन्दसोर्बहुलमिति ह्रस्वत्वम् । (मृगम्) (वित्तं मे०) इति पूर्ववत् ॥७॥

(वृकः) चोर वा व्याघ्र. Tigers do hide in the water for their prey, or their shoving of prey towards the water hole . It has been equated to thief by the commentator Dayanand Saraswati. I will dwell on it for a while since the preying from व्य्—अन्त a  mfn. “separated, remote” matters. It appears that etymology of व्याघ्र can offer us a great detail of how its technique of preying was changing the metaphor in Indic texts. We just saw that Sinha is present in every mandala including the old ones, but curiously the later पुरुष व्याघ्र, नर व्याघ्र or even dual metaphors like सिंह व्याघ्र मृग द्विजाः is missing in Ṛgvedic texts. Tigers are not shy animals that its attention could had been ignored at large by the Ṛgvedic people. Tiger comes once in Atharva veda. But the text as old as Ramayana from 12000~13000 BCE has a dominating tiger references which shows tiger’s distribution across India till Shrilanka.

A second extinct big cat, tentatively considered to be a tiger (Panthera tigris), is recorded from Sri Lanka for the first time from a fossil left lower carnassial found in alluvium near Ratnapura in 1962 and a sub-fossil right middle phalanx 14 C dated to ~ 16,500 ybp, discovered in 1982 in a prehistoric midden at Batadomba Cave, near Kuruwita. The species is diagnosed from the only other big cats known from Sri Lanka, Panthera pardus and the extinct P. leo sinhaleyus Deraniyagala, 1938. This record significantly advances the timing of dispersal of tigers into the Indian peninsula. Tigers appear to have arrived in Sri Lanka during a pluvial period during which sea levels were depressed, evidently prior to the last glacial maximum ca. 20,000 years ago. The lion appears to have become extinct in Sri Lanka prior to the arrival of culturally modern humans, ca. 37,000 ybp. Note that Shrilanka was a part of Indian Peninsula, i.e., the same continental shelf. Other than that it appears that the Tigers started entering by the time monsoon intensified and dense forestation changed the savannah conditions. Overall one has to understand why tigers are curiously absent in Rgveda, and why it started appearing in later texts. That the majestic ghost ( Indian?) species of lion eloped, which had populated Asiatic and Timbavati lions. Their color could have had been more whitish than todays lions (Pleistocene environment does offer genetic pigment selection, if such condition prevailed for millenniums), and curiously enough these are mentioned in Rgveda, if one deeply see through.

What is the takeaway of this discussion?

We will continue on this subject when some more evidence shed clear light on how to look into Rgvedic texts. In todays discussion we can safely say that the absence of tiger in Rgveda itself can be an evidence to Rgveda’s completion much before LGM. Tiger adjectives and metaphors also corroborate that Ramayana didn’t happen before LGM times. This lone word has many implications on our history.

8 thoughts on “The Majestic Lions in Ṛg-veda, and Curious Case of Absence of Tigers in Ṛg-veda; What do these suggests…

  1. Rupa-ji,

    Thanks for the analysis as it opens up a new direction of thinking for me. Just a question – can you look up at the presence of Tiger, Continent or area wise, as you have done for lions ? It is possible that the people who wrote RgVeda did not venture in those areas inhabited by tigers ?

    Regarding Vyaghra (tiger), it has been proposed that this word comes from Vya (vishesh, special) + GhraaNa (smell) – animal with special power of smell. Some people propose that the word Viking has same roots in an indirect way as they associate it with wolf.




  2. Hi Rupa, nice to find your thoughts on animals on Rigveda. i just have a question, where in Varuna is connected with white lion in Rigveda, if you could provide me the exact mandala and its hymn, it would be of great help.


  3. Respected Rupa ji, Namaskar,
    It was a great pleasure and an enriching experience to read your blog post on lion references in Rig Veda! As a great lover of nature and of India’s Vedic heritage, understanding these two displines together has been one of my endeavours. In this context, your above article was an absolute treat for me knowledge-wise. As a person engaged in public relations, content development and environment education for many years, such information goes a long way in helping me understand and communicate the linkages between nature and Vedic knowledge better. I look forward to more such insightful articles on your blog. Best wishes and regards, Atul Sathe


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