Artificial limb replacement during vedic times

Among the many acts of healing attributed to the Asvin twins (vedic gods of healing and medicine) is the replacement of Vispala’s broken leg with an artificial one.

The backdrop is an impending battle in which Vispala has a major role to play. The battle is between a prince Khela on the one hand and an unknown opponent on the other. The night before the battle, tragedy strikes and Vispala, his horse, breaks a leg.

RV 1.116.15
When in the time of night, in Khela’s battle, a leg (caritra) was severed like a wild bird’s pinion,
Straight ye gave Vispali a leg of iron that she might move what time the conflict opened.

The injury as described is grevious – the horse’s leg is severed in the manner of a bird’s wing.

RV 1.112.10
Wherewith ye helped, in battle of a thousand spoils, Vispala seeking booty, powerless to move.
Wherewith ye guarded friendly Vaga, Asva’s son,-Come hither unto us, O Asvins, with those aids.

The stakes are high – a thousand spoils to be gained or lost – and Khela is now confronted with a crippling situation as Vispala is powerless to move.

Khela, like any other king, prince or ordinary person of that time, turns to his high priest for help. The priest is none other than the famed Agastya who in turn seeks help from the Asvins.

RV 1.117.11
Hymned with the reverence of a son, O Asvins ye Swift Ones giving booty to the singer,
Glorified by Agastya with devotion, established Vispala again, Nasatyas.

As legend has it, the Asvin twins appear and help restore Vispala’s leg with an artificial limb perhaps made from iron or copper/bronze. The “operation”, if one can call it that was performed in time that Vispala could move BEFORE the conflict opened (presumably the next morning).

RV 1.116.15
When in the time of night, in Khela’s battle, a leg (caritra) was severed like a wild bird’s pinion,
Straight ye gave Vispali a leg of iron that she might move what time the conflict opened.

To my mind this is a simple and straight account of the practice of artificial limb replacement in the ancient world. We will never be able to discern the complexity or determine the exact nature and details of how they did it from the Rig Veda itself. Personally, knowing that this was practiced is in itself gratifying.

Author’s note: Unfortunately, there is considerable debate on who Vispala is – woman or horse. But in this article, I have chosen not to touch upon it and take it up only should the need arise.

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