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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Rishi Atri rescues Surya from the demon Svarbhanu

Verses 5 to 9 of Hymn 40, Mandala V contain an unmistakeable account of a solar eclipse.

The demon Svarbhanu by his magical powers pierces Surya through and through with darkness. The result is total darkness that leaves all creatures in a bewildered state, and in the words of the composer of the hymn, “knoweth not the place where he is standing”.

RV 5.040.05
O Surya, when the Asura’s descendant Svarbhanu, pierced thee through and through with darkness,
All creatures looked like one who is bewildered, who knoweth not the place where he is standing.

The utterly confused masses must have turned their rishi for help – in this case, Rishi Atri.  Verses 8 and 9 attest that the rishi was able to establish the eye of Surya in heaven once again and caused the magic of Svarbhanu to vanish. That the rishi found the sun again, and that none besides him had the power to do so.

RV 5.040.08 – 09
The Brahman Atri, as he set the press-stones, serving the Gods with praise and adoration,
Established in the heaven the eye of Surya, and caused Svarbhanu’s magic arts to vanish.

The Atris found the Sun again, him whom Svarbhanu of the brood
Of Asuras had pierced with gloom. This none besides had power to do.

So how does the Rishi manage to vanquish Svarbhanu and rescue the sun? The answer may be found in verse 6. The rishi took recourse to prayers (possibly to Indra) and by the time he had reached his fourth prayer, discovered Surya concealed in gloom and unable to perform his routine functions.

RV 5.040.06
What time thou smotest down Svarbhanu’s magic that spread itself beneath the sky, O Indra,
By his fourth sacred prayer Atri discovered Surya concealed in gloom that stayed his function.

For good measure, the composer seems to have included a role for Indra in this rescue act as well. We can infer that the eclipse “lasted” no more than four prayers. Given the average size of most of the hymns in the Rig Veda, that could have lasted several minutes, but then this is pure conjecture.

While these verses clearly reveal an eclipse, they tell us nothing about when it might have occurred or its significance/consequence. The purpose of these verses seem to be an attempt of its composer to glorify his ancestor – Rishi Atri. And since the involvement of Rishi Atri is indicated, we can once again conjecture that the eclipse must have occurred during his lifetime.

Science & Technology in the Rig Veda

Note: This article is based on the findings and analysis of Mandala VI only, and therefore does partially captures the tools and technologies mentioned on the Rig Veda.

The Pusan Hymns in Mandala VI, 53 to 58, contain interesting clues on tools and transportation.

Tools & Implements

The awl was an important implement as was the goad. So much so that, these were the associated with Pusan, their pastoral deity as his weapons, in the same manner that Indra is associated with the thunder-bolt. The goad is particularly made with a horny point and was used to guide the cows.

Transportation

Chariots (ratham) were in use as well. Again, just on the basis of the Pusan Hymns in Mandala VI, we cannot draw any inferences on the sophistication of these chariots. They were aware of the ocean and had a word for it – samudra. And they did navigate the waterways – using boats or ships (navo).

Horse riders rode their horses complete with reins, bit and bridle.

RV 6.002.04
Fierce is his gait and vast his wondrous body: he champeth like a horse with bit and bridle,
And, darting forth his tongue, as ’twere a hatchet, burning the woods, smelteth them like a smelter.

They must have undertaken journeys and probably constructed paths. Infact, Pusan is the Lord of the Paths (Pathas pate) and Hymn 53, Mandala VI, is a prayer that was recited before embarking on a journey,

Medicine

A fleeting reference to medicine is made in RV 6.074.03

RV 6.074.03
Provide, O Soma-Rudra, for our bodies all needful medicines (bhesajani) to heal and cure us.
Set free and draw away the sin committed which we have still inherent in our persons.

The deities, Soma and Rudra are asked to provide for needful medicines to heal and cure the bodies, probably of those injured in battle.

Artificial limb replacement during vedic times

Concept of Time

A year was measured in terms of time taken for a season to repeat, most often winter or autumn. The modern equivalent of “may we live a hundred years”, would have been “may we live a hundred winters (satahimah)”.

Interestingly, the word for winter is himah (also, snow or ice).  Even more interesting, the slavic term for winter is “zima”.

There is a specific term for month (mAsA) and is found in RV6.024.07. The same verse also has a term for autumn (sarad).

6.024.07
That Indra whom nor months (mAsA) nor autumn (sarad) seasons wither with age, nor fleeting days enfeeble,-
Still may his body Wax, e’en now so mighty, glorified by the lauds and hymns that praise him.

No further inferences can be drawn from Mandala VI to extend basis concepts of time to their calendar system or knowledge of astronomy. That will need to wait for analysis of other books, especially book I.

Numerical System

The numerical system was decimal. There were words to represent 1 to 10. There were unique words for hundred (sata) and thousand (sahasra).

RV 6.008.06
Do thou bestow, O Agni, on our wealthy chiefs, rule, with good heroes, undecaying, bending not.
So may we win for us strength. O Vaisvanara, hundredfold, thousandfold, O Agni, by thy help.

The numbers 3 and 7 were very significant.

There were three “places” or “dwellings” – Heaven, Earth and the intermediate space.

Their Gods were of three ranks, corresponding to the three places.

RV 6.051.02
The Sage who knows these Gods’ three ranks and orders, and all their generations near and distant,
Beholding good and evil acts of mortals, Sura marks well the doing of the pious.

Seven was significant as well. The ancient, most respected rishis/sages/seers are seven in number.

RV 6.022.02
Our sires of old,. Navagvas, sages seven, while urging him to show his might, extolled him,
Dwelling on heights, swift, smiting down opponents, guileless in word, and in his thoughts most mighty.

Indra’s chariot was harnessed by “sevenfold” reins.

The mighty Sarasvati is “seven-sistered”. Was this a figure of speech, or did at some point in time, the river did have seven tributaries that fed into her and make her mighty, is not clear.

RV 6.061.10
Yea, she most dear amid dear stream, Seven-sistered, graciously inclined,
Sarasvati hath earned our praise.

Did they have zero? Hmmm, not sure, needs further investigation.

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