Author Archives: Michael

Sanskrit Transliteration Keyboard on Linux

I have created an X keyboard layout that serves as a Linux equivalent to Toshiya Unebe’s “EasyUnicode” keyboard layout.


It allows one to easily type all the standard letters with diacritical marks for roman transliteration of Sanskrit, Pali, and some other Indic languages.  To get “ā” for example, one can just hold the Windows key and press “a”.  For “Ā” one holds the Windows key and shift and types “A”.  Use the layout picture below to view the location of available characters.  I also added a combining under ring for those who prefer to use that for vocalic r and l.  For this, first type “r” or “l”, then hold the Windows key and type “b”. This produces “r̥” or “l̥”.


  • Unzip the attached file and place it in /usr/share/X11/xkb/symbols
  • Add the following code to the layouts list section of /usr/share/X11/xkb/rules/evdev.xml

<description>Sanskrit (IAST)</description>

  • Log out and log back in
  • You should now be able to add the keyboard in your Input Devices or Keyboard Layout system settings.
  • Confirmed working on the latest versions of Manjaro (KDE), Debian (XFCE), Linux Mint (Cinnamon), and Ubuntu (Unity).


See this useful guide.  One can easily edit the keyboard file to reassign keys or choose a different keyboard shortcut to activate the different keystrokes.

Snake-related News Pieces

A fascinating piece from 1904 on snakes’ reputed power to hypnotize their prey: Aaron Ullrey

Nag Pancami controversy over worship of live snakes: Courtesy Lance Nelson (RISA Listserv)

Recent audio story from BBC Outlook about an out-of-work snake charmer from Bangladesh: Courtesy Alexander von Rospatt

BBC report on the Million Death Study in India, including reference to the latest reliable estimate of snakebite deaths in India: Courtesy Alexander von Rospatt

A new biomedical development for treating snakebite (somewhat over-hyped though): Courtesy Robert Bloodgood

Support my Tantric Medicine Book Project

I have launched a project page on Kickstarter to help me get my book on the Garudam medical tradition finalized and sent to a publisher this summer.  Please consider supporting this effort, and let people know about who might be interested in it.  But please do not post it unsolicited to any email LISTSERV, which is against the rules of Kickstarter.

Thank you for the support!

Podcast on Curing Scorpion Sting with Mantras

Dr. Lakshminaryanan tells the story of being envenomed by a scorpion sting as a child, and the miraculous mantra cure by a village “faith-healer.”  This is a modern-day Gāruḍika cure, and it is interesting to speculate with Dr. Laksminarayan on the possibility of mantra-mediated placebo effects.

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Thanks to Rebecca Grapevine of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor for sharing this with me.

Jain Tantra: The Jvālāmālinīkalpa and Bhairavapadmāvatīkalpa

In the medieval period, the Jains developed their own fascinating traditions of Mantra Śāstra, including useful sources that are closely related to the Gāruḍa and Bhūta Tantras.

I am pleased to be able to offer digital etexts of the Jvālāmālinīkalpa (input by Aaron Ullrey) and its descendent, the Bhairavapadmāvatīkalpa (input by Michael Slouber).  The former is based on a very faulty edition with Hindi translation (the only one available to my knowledge).  It deserves to be edited, but that would be a project that both Ullrey and myself do not have the time to take on at the moment.  The edition of the Bhairavapadmāvatīkalpa is much cleaner, therefore the digital text of that is more standardized.

The Jvālāmālinīkalpa even mentions Khaḍgarāvaṇa—a mantra-form of Śiva invoked in the Bhūta Tantras to overcome demonic possessors.  For more on Khaḍgarāvaṇa, see this post.

Jhaveri, the editor of much Jaina tantric literature, informs us that Vidyānuśāsana is the source of both texts, so digitizing that text should be our next endeavor!

Biting the snake that bites you

The BBC recently reported that a man in Nepal bit to death the cobra that bit him because he had been told by a snake charmer that it would prevent the harmful effects of the venom. Here is the link: <>.

What few people know about this odd practice is that it is ancient and spans the subcontinent.  The Kāmaratna, a medieval and worldly tantra on a variety of topics says: “When a brave man who is bitten by a snake bites that same snake that bit him, he is freed upon the snake’s death and becomes free of the effects of the venom.” sarpadaṣṭo yadā vīras taṃ sarpo daṃśate svayam / mukto ‘sau mriyate sarpaḥ svayaṃ nirviṣatāṃ vrajet //  (p.117 of the Indrajālavidyāsaṃgraha collection edited by Vidyasagara 1915).  The Rasaratnākara says the same thing with better grammar (p.837, 1909 edition), as does the modern Keralan composition Viṣavaidyasārasamuccaya, a text that I have digitized and described in another post.

This seems to be a classical folk remedy—it is not typically part of the repertoire of the professional snakebite healer (gāruḍika).  It does, however, appear to be related to a practice more commonly mentioned of using a mantra to force the snake to come back and remove its venom from the victim via a second bite.  One can see a staging of this in the film Sree Krishnaparunthu (displayed in this blog post) at 1:21.

Well, the Nepalese man in the BBC story survived his bite, so with the press it has gotten, perhaps this old remedy for the brave/foolhardy victim will continue well into the 21st century.

क्षिप ॐ स्वाहा on the web

The Vipati mantra became the Gāruḍa mantra par exellence by the tenth century.  I discuss its early and elaborate ritual system at length in my impending dissertation, and here I collect the web references to it that I cite.  Each is given some amount of explanation there, but here I simply list:

There are even more links and references, but these are representative.


Gāruḍikas in the Cinema

IMDB Entry:

This 1984 Malayalam film by directors P. Bhaskaran and A. Vincent features actor Mohanlal as a neophyte Gāruḍika who battles various temptations from human and supernatural women while perfecting the famous Gāruḍa mantra.  His descent into debauchery and evil magic is long and dramatic, and only remedied at the end with the help of a mature mantravadin.  If only I understood Malayalam, there would be so many fascinating details to relate from this film.

I devote the better part of a chapter in my dissertation to the five-syllable Gāruḍa mantra, so I was delighted when Pondicherry scholar S.A.S. Sharma pointed out this film to me.  It reinforces my thesis that the mantra, and of course this entire profession, is important and well known, yet not acknowledged or understood by the scholarly community.


Haro vva Taṃḍavio

Photo from Flickr page of Prasad R.N.

“The violently shaking bite victim is like Hara dancing in a heap of ashes knocked loose by the shrieking hisses of Vāsuki [in as much as] his face is radiant with all of the [white] syllables [and since he] becomes free of the negative effects of the venom.”

A verse from the 9th century Saṃhitāsāra of Śaṅkuka, a work inspired by the Gāruḍa Tantras.  I am editing selections of it with Harunaga Isaacson.

Garuḍadaṇḍaka and Garuḍapañcāśat


I recently came across these two poetic compositions by the 14th century Śrīvaiṣṇava luminary Vedāntadeśika.   He was an initiate of the five-syllable “Garuḍa Mantra,” about which a chapter of my dissertation is largely devoted.  I have been scouring the web for modern knowledge of this mantra, which I had thought was long forgotten, and have been pleased to discover that it is quite widely known–just not among scholars.  In another post I will discuss some of the other interesting sites where this mantra surfaces on the web, but here I want to point out that the majority of hits for search terms like “garuda mantra” return results related to Swami Desikan.  These two pieces are dedicated to Garuḍa, and make special mention of his five-syllable mantra in the beginning and end.  The five divisions of the Garuḍapañcāśat correlate to the five syllables of the mantra.  Deśika’s consummate skill as a poet is evident in verses like:

kiṃ nirghātaḥ kim arkaḥ paripatati divaḥ kiṃ samiddho ‘yam aurvaḥ
kiṃsvit kārasvarādrir nanu viditam idaṃ vyomavartmā garutmān /
āsīdaty ājihīrṣaty abhipatati haraty atti hā tāta hāmbeti
ālāpodyuktabhillākulajaṭharapuṭaḥ pātu naḥ patrināthaḥ // 15 //

I have typed in each text in Unicode and uploaded them to my Etexts page.  Below are links to the ebook versions which have English explanations of the verses, background about Swami Desikan, and many nice pictures.  The last link is to an audio recording of Sunder Kidambi reciting the Garuḍadaṇḍakam. Enjoy!

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Amṛtavarṣī Garuḍa” by Sri. P. Chandradasan From the cover of the 2006 edition published by Ullannoor Mana Trust.


I am pleased to be able to offer an etext of the Viṣavaidyasārasamuccaya, perhaps the most recent Sanskrit composition on the topic of curing poison.   It was written by Cherukulappurath Krishnan Namboodiri from Kerala (1879–1966).  The current edition is enriched by the commentary of his disciple Valloor Sankaran Namboodiri (b.1917) and a translation by Dr. K.P. Madhu.  The translated forward, life sketches, and introductions are a pleasure to read and help the scholar to understand the context of this still living tradition of poison healing, therefore serious students of our topic will want to seek out the printed edition.  I received two copies from Dr. Madhu and have deposited one in the UC Berkeley library.  It should be available for interlibrary loan in the coming months.

The text is primarily a compilation of previous works aiming to give students a unified textbook that covers the basics of viṣavaidya.  It does, however, have some unique features and formulas and is anyhow based on a body of literature that is difficult to come by outside of Kerala.  It is divided into two sections, a purvārdha and an uttarārdha, however the verse numbering restarts part way through the uttarārdha so I label it as sections two and three in the etext.  The introduction by Ashtavaidyan Vaidyamathom Valiya Narayanan Namboodiri (translated from the 1961 Malayalam edition) says that the pūrvārdha treats viṣavijñāna whereas the uttarārdha treats viṣacikitsā.  This is not accurate.  The first half of the pūrvārdha is indeed more theoretical and discusses such classic matters as determining if a case is curable or incurable, questioning the messenger, omens, vital points, levels of envenomation, and types of snakes.  The latter half of the pūrvārdha, however, is focused on treating the bites of the cobras, vipers, and kraits, clearly a matter of viṣacikitsā.  The first part of the uttarārdha (section two in the etext numbering) is about healing the bites/stings of various animals other than snakes: that of rodent, scorpion, spider, rabid dog, mongoose, cat, etc.  We need not be surprised by the non-venomous animals in the list; infection caused by any bite, especially deep punctures, can lead to symptoms effectively similar to envenomation.  The third section in the etext (latter part of the uttarārdha) describes various multi-purpose remedies and first aid measures.

The 2006 edition comes with five useful appendices.  The first gives the recipe for a drug called Kāñcī, synonymous with Dhanyāmla, which is mentioned but not explained in verse 1.103.  Appendix II gives metric equivalents for the weights and measures used in the text and Appendix III is on denaturation of some poisonous ingredients.  Appendix IV is on using the viṣahārilehya to diagnose the type of snake responsible for a bite.  The last appendix lists the medicinal plants mentioned in the text by Sanskrit name, Sanskrit synonyms, Latin name, and Malayalam name.

Suśruta on Determining Envenomation Status of a Patient

The most common argument doctors, herpetologists, and global health authorities use against traditional medicine is that it only seems to work because most of the time the snake doesn’t inject a lethal amount of venom.  The implication, of course, is that traditional doctors are completely ignorant of this fact, or know it and don’t let on in order to trick their patients with false success stories.  Unfortunately this initially persuasive argument has little basis in reality and can easily be turned around by saying that antivenom only seems to work because most of the time a lethal amount of venom is not injected.  I am well aware that in an ideal world the doctor will only use antivenom when signs of envenomation are present, when the snake species is identified as one treatable by the available antivenom, and when it has been determined that the patient will not have an acute allergic response to the antivenom.  Unfortunately we don’t live in such an ideal world.  A recent report on snakebite in Cambodia (linked) revealed the shocking news that NONE of the antivenom available and IN USE in Cambodia as of 2009 is valid for Cambodian snakes.  The article also featured a chart on the outcomes of snakebite cases in the few hospitals in Cambodia keeping records of it, and usually the death rate was fairly low (<10%) to medium (20%).  Since they were using the wrong antivenom in many cases, and the doctors were often unsure about how to use the antivenom, how many of the deaths might be attributed to allergic reaction to the “medicine”?  Not an ideal world at all.

My point here is NOT to argue that one shouldn’t go to the hospital for antivenom treatment, but at the same time we cannot accept invalid arguments from a medical industry in which things like the Cambodia example can happen.  Dismissing traditional medicine out of hand, which is to say without having any knowledge of it, is unscientific. Scrupulous scientists will agree and desire to test the various medicines used in a given traditional pharmacology.  See my preliminary list of some such evaluations here.

For my part, let me start by pointing out a striking passage in the Suśrutasaṃhitā, dating back at least 1,800 years and still in use among physicians of Āyurveda.  This passage nicely illustrates the awareness of determining envenomation status in a spiderbite victim:

5.8.75| lūtāviṣaṃ ghoratamaṃ durvijñeyatamaṃ ca tat |
            duścikitsyatamaṃ cāpi bhiṣagbhirmandabuddhibhiḥ ||
5.8.76| saviṣaṃ nirviṣaṃ caitadityevaṃ pariśaṅkite |
             viṣaghnameva kartavyamavirodhi yadauṣadham ||
5.8.77| agadānāṃ hi saṃyogo viṣajuṣṭasya yujyate |
             nirviṣe mānave yukto ‘gadaḥ saṃpadyate ‘sukham ||
5.8.78| tasmāt sarvaprayatnena jñātavyo viṣaniścayaḥ |
             ajñātvā viṣasadbhāvaṃ bhiṣagvyāpādayennaram ||

“Spider venom is extremely vehement and difficult to diagnosis, and it is nearly impossible for dim-witted doctors to cure it. Thinking ‘Is the patient envenomed or not?’ he wavers on which poison-destroying medicine could be used without causing problems.  Indeed, the use of antidotes is indicated for one who is envenomed, [but] an antidote used on a person that is not envenomed will cause trouble. Therefore all efforts should be used to settle the diagnosis of envenomation.  If the doctor does not know the true state of envenomation, he might kill the man.”

Summary of the Kāśyapasaṃhitā/Garuḍapañcākṣarīkalpa

A Russell's Viper (गोनस)


The Kāśyapasaṃhitā, aka Garuḍapañcākṣarīkalpa, is unique in that it is the only long text to survive that is exclusively about Gāruḍa Medicine.  It is a Pāñcarātra saṃhitā, and is included in canonical lists of the 108 scriptures of the Pāñcarātra school of tantric Vaiṣṇavism.  Notably it is shameless to admit  that it is a recast of Śaiva Gāruḍa material (1.10–15).  Vaiṣṇava elements are present, but only few and far between.  Conspicuously absent are the usual mantras to Śiva in his many forms.  The text is valuable for the many details it gives about Gāruḍa mantras and ritual procedures.  I made this summary for my own research purposes, but perhaps it will be useful to others too.   My 2008 etext of the whole text can be downloaded from the Centre for Tantric Studies.

•    Chapter 1      Core mantras
•    frame dialogue
•    3–6, the various types of mantras
•    7–10, frame, attributed to Śiva
•    11–15, frame, specific location and context of Śiva teaching it to Dhara.
•    16–28, the five-syllable mantra of Garuḍa and its many uses
•    29, the teaching has specifically Vaiṣṇava elements here
•    30–31, karanyāsa on both hands
•    32–33, varying order of nyāsa for different effects
•    34–42, aṅgamantras
•    43–44, Gāruḍa gāyatrī
•    45–50, mudrā, with mantra and visualization
•    51–56?, piṇḍa mantra
•    57–63, pada mantra, aka Kūṭagāruḍam
•    64–65+mantra, mantrapāṭha
•    66–67+mantra, another mantra or mantrapāṭha continued?
•    68–end, stutimantra, several specifically Vaiṣṇava epithets used here.

•    Chapter 2     Navakoṣṭhadhyāna
•    1–2, constructing the 9 koṣṭhas as a Māhendra maṇḍala, god (Garuḍa) in the middle
•    3, colors used for nyāsa in the practitioner’s body
•    4–10, visualization of Garuḍa with bhūṣaṇas, etc.
•    11–16ab, visualization of Viṣṇu and Śrī, also in the middle koṣṭha with Garuḍa
•    16cd–17, the eastern koṣṭha with Suparṇa
•    18–20, the southern koṣṭha with a 16 armed Garuḍa
•    21–22, the western koṣṭha with Vainateya
•    23–24, the northern koṣṭha with Tārkṣya
•    25–26, the southeast with Lakṣmī
•    27, the southwest with Kīrti
•    28, the northwest with Jayā
•    29, the northeast with Māyā
•    30, all four goddesses should be meditated on as equal to Lakṣmī
•    31–32, instructions for use
•    33–34, five primary yantras of Garuḍa introduced
•    35–42, vahniyantra
•    many details
•    40–41, wear the yantra for all-purpose protection
•    42, prose chunk of more details about the structure and use of the yantra
•    43–45, “anyayantra” for healing envenomation
•    four petaled lotus
•    46–48, (another yantra or another possible configuration?) used for viṣasaṃkramaṇa
•    śaṅkāviṣārteṣu
•    49–end, ārādhanavidhi
•    51, nyāsa of Viṣṇu on Garuḍa
•    53, yāga for ādhāraśakti
•    54, worship of various gods, followed by worship of the “pañcārṇamanu” (vipati).

•    Chapter 3     Uses of the Mantra
•    1–3, the viniyoga of the mantra (vipati-pañcārṇa and ancillary)
•    4–25ab, various diseases and conditions one can cure or effect based on what type of material is used for the homa fire.
•    25cd– 27, procedure for causing uccāṭana
•    28–29, procedure for maraṇa
•    30–31, procedure for jvarakaraṇa
•    32–36, procedure for mohana
•    37–40=end, procedure for rakṣā/all purpose yantradharaṇa

•    Chapter 4      Snakes and Poisons 101
•    1–2, homage and question
•    3–4ab, the five types of poison taught by Śambhu: sthāvara, jaṅgama, kṛtrima, grahaja, and śaṅkāviṣa.
•    4–5 list of chapter topics:
•    symptoms and stages of poison
•    vital points
•    messenger types
•    good and bad locales
•    the thirteen omens
•    one who knows these basics is a vidvān
•    6, the eight divine nāgas
•    7, the four types of earthy snakes
•    darvīkara, maṇḍalin, rājila, vaitaka
•    8–13, the behavior and appearance of snakes presided over by each of the eight nāgas
•    14–15, the four caste groups of the eight nāgarājas
•    16–18, other facts about snakes
•    19, where they live
•    20–22, the marks of ordinary snakes
•    23, the doṣas aggravated by each type
•    24, probably about the conditions under which a snake will bite
•    25–26ab, there are thirty-six types of cobras, sixteen maṇḍalin, thirteen rājila, eleven vaitaka
•    26cd–27ab, the months of gestation
•    27cd–28, baby snakes and their gender
•    29, the qualities of snakes born in certain months
•    30, fangs come in after they open their eyes and see the sun
•    31, the four main venomous fangs and their names
•    32, after a month they leave the mother, after six months they are a hand in length and slough their skin
•    33, animals that prey on snakes, lifespan of 100 years if not killed
•    34, two-hundred and forty non-venomous teeth, four venomous
•    35–39, astrological periods of the day and week assigned to each nāga and Gulika.
•    40, snakebite is fatal during these periods (just times of Gulika?)
•    41ab, the practitioner should not do rituals for people bitten during inauspicious times
•    41cd–43, the four types of bite
•    43ef–44, the eight reasons a snake will strike
•    45–52, the symptoms of bites by each type
•    45, bhīta
•    46, unmatta
•    47, kṣudārta
•    48, ākrānta
•    49, viṣadarpa
•    50, sthānārthin
•    51, vairin
•    52, kālacodita
•    53, symptoms of a saviṣa bite, otherwise nirviṣa
•    54–59, symptoms of a fatal bite (kāladaṣṭa)
•    60–61, divination for diagnosis of curability
•    62, kāladaṣṭa summary in Maṇḍākrānta meter
•    63–70, stages of envenomation ending in kāladaṣṭa (so a less severe bite can progress to the point of incurabilty, not necessarily incurable from the beginning)
•    71–73, inauspicious places to be bitten by a snake
•    74–75, vital spots on the body in which a snakebite is deadly/dangerous (nindita).
•    76, signs of an auspicious messenger
•    77–82, signs of an inauspicious messenger
•    83–84, general pointers about handling messengers
•    85–90, the nāgas paired and assigned to the directions
•    this seems to be used as a divination tool, the spot the messenger decides to sit on is used to determine things about the snake and the victim
•    91, words that come up in conversation with the messenger and their portent
•    92–93, reading the movements of the messenger as omens
•    94–100, more about reading between the lines of what the messenger says
•    101–107, more omens
•    108, bad asterism to be bitten under
•    109, bad days of the month
•    110 (end), bad times of day to be bitten

•    Chapter 5    Specific operations with the Vipati, Herbal remedies
•    1, opening praise
•    2, in praise of the mantra (?)
•    3–8, operations with the vipati mantra by varying order of the syllables
•    9, Kurukullā mantra
•    10, installation of the element maṇḍalas in the body of the practitioner
•    long prose mantra, mainly involving invocation of eight nāgas
•    mantra where syllables are assigned to each of the eight nāgas
•    11, sarpākārṣaṇamantra
•    12, sarpoccāṭaṇamantra
•    13, long mantra section, Vaiṣṇava, good for the four aims of man
•    14–15, paramārādhanakrama (long mantra section, ritual prescriptions, Vaiṣṇava elements)
•    includes mantras to use with the navakoṣṭha layout in chapter 2.
•    mantras in homage to each element (bhūta)
•    mantra in homage to each of the eight nāgas, also asks them to remove the poison
•    ends with a statement that it is to be done daily and makes the practitioner “śrīgaruḍavat” for all ritual actions, i.e. empowers him to act as Garuḍa.
•    16–24, back to the astrological topic of Gulika’s position in chapter 4.
•    25, prathamayantra, sarvarakṣākaram
•    26, dvitīyayantra, asādhyaviṣaharam
•    27, tṛtīyayantra, vikhaṇḍitakṣvelaharam
•    28, caturthayantra, saṃkrāmaṇakṛd
•    29, pañcamayantra, use not specified, but it is drawn on water and applied to patient by chanting
•    30, sarpoccāṭanayantra
•    kurukullā vidyā included
•    31, phaṇivadha
•    32, viṣasaṃhāra
•    kurukullā vidyā included
•    eṣa sudarśana gāruḍo viṣasaṃhāraḥ
•    33–35, prescription for gathering herbs (mantra)
•    34, another mantra, sounds Vedic
•    36, Aṅgadūṣaṇīvidyānyāsavidhi
•    37, for Rats (against rat-bite)
•    this tag “ākhūṇāṃ”, is doubtful, seems to be about snake poison
•    38, mantra for removing swelling
•    39–45, ākhuviṣanāśana mantras
•    46, vṛścikamantra
•    47, gardabhāśvādiviṣāpaha
•    48, Krimikīṭādiviṣāpaha
•    mantra begins with homage to Viṣṇu
•    49–50, sthāvaraviṣāpaha
•    51–52, yantrāntaravidhāna
•    Kurukullā vidyā used.
•    51, sarpoccāṭana yantra
•    52, stobhaka saṃhāraka yantra
•    53–55, descriptions of the element maṇḍalas
•    56, using the earth maṇḍala for stambhana
•    57, using the water maṇḍala (for nirviṣīkaraṇa)
•    58, using the fire maṇḍala for viṣa(stobha)
•    59, using the wind maṇḍala for saṃkrāmaṇa
•    60–61, using the space maṇḍala for sarpasaṃhāra
•    62, summing up uses of the element “yantras”
•    63ab, a mantra in code
•    63cd, uses of said mantra
•    64ab, a mantra in code
•    64cd, uses of said mantra
•    65ab, a mantra in code
•    65cd, uses of said mantra
•    66ab, a mantra in code
•    66cd, uses of said mantra
•    67ab, a mantra in code
•    67cd, uses of said mantra
•    68, summing up
•    69–80(end), Tārkṣyahasta

•    Chapter 6    Medicinal herbs, mantra/yantra, snake charming
•    1–2, seems to be about vital points, some doubts
•    3–7, seems to be about the phases of the moon in relation to efficacy of herbs, some doubts.
•    8–19, procedure for gathering herbs
•    10, nice verse about origin of medicinal herbs
•    11–18, mantras used for gathering herbs
•    20–36, nāgākṛṣṭi
•    21–31, yantra and mantras calling on nāgas and Garuḍa
•    34, having been drawn there, one can command them to take back their own poison and they will do it.
•    35, this vidyā is like an obedient wife when perfected
•    36–44, sarpoccāṭanamantra
•    involves the Vipati mantra
•    45–48, sarpasaṃhārayantra
•    uses Kurukullā vidyā
•    throw it in the snake’s hole
•    49–78(end), snake charming
•    mantras
•    59, smearing body and hands with medicinal herbs
•    61, a mudrā for paralysing the snake
•    63, making the hand into the shape of a cobra hood
•    68, the Kurukullā vidyā

•    Chapter 7    Mantras for the Eight Nāgas
•    1–4, Anantahṛdaya mantra, and statement that it is effective at removing the poison of one bitten by a snake of Ananta’s class.
•    5–7ab, Vāsukihṛdaya mantra
•    7cd–10, Takṣakahṛdaya mantra
•    11–13, Kārkoṭakahṛdaya mantra
•    14–16, Padmahṛdaya mantra
•    17–20ab, Mahāpadmahṛdaya mantra
•    20cd–24, Śaṅkhapālahṛdaya mantra
•    25–28ab, Gulikahṛdaya mantra
•    28cd–31(end), general procedures

•    Chapter 8    Darvīkara
•    1ab, introduction to the next three chapters stating the 4 types of snakes
•    1cd–3ab, symptoms of cobra bite
•    3cd–31, herbal medicines for cobra bite
•    thus, herbal remedies vary by species, while mantras do not, or vary according to the spiritual class of which nāga presides over the earthly snake.
•    several recipes are good for both plant and animal poisons
•    these are taken nasally and as ointments, where the next section is only as ointment
•    32–40, herbal medicinal ointments (añjana)
•    40–47, herbal medicinil ointments (lepana); what is the difference between añjana and lepana?
•    48–51, medicinal drinks
•    48–49, mentions wide efficacy, not just cobra bite
•    52–53, medicinal eatables
•    54–58, medicinal pills

•    Chapter 9    Maṇḍalin
•    1–3, symptoms of viper bite
•    4–49, herbal preparations for viper bite
•    5, a drink
•    6, an eatable
•    7, an ointment
•    16, a fumigant
•    50–65, mantras for viper bite
•    66–67, formula for constipation and retention of urine
•    68–86 (end), more herbal formulas for viper bite

•    Chapter 10    Rājila
•    1–2ab, symptoms of Rājila bite
•    odd in its brevity
•    2cd–13, herbal remedies for Rājila bite
•    14, mantra
•    16–45(end), herbal remedies

•    Chapter 11    Medicine for the Sixteen Rats
•    The divisions between sections is difficult to discern, so I have only made a tenuous first guess based on where the name is given.  Only 14 rats are named.  Some symptoms and herbal formulas are given for each.
•    1–6ab, Kulacandrasya
•    6cd–7, Bhayānakasya
•    8–9, Karaghnasya
•    10–11ab, Krūrasya
•    11cd–13, Ugrasya
•    14–15, Bhṛtakasya
•    16–18ab, Tīkṣṇasya
•    18cd–20ab, Meghanādasya
•    20cd–22ab, Kumudasya
•    22cd–26, Siṃhāsyasya
•    27–28ab, Sunāsasya
•    28cd–30, Sudantasya
•    31–32, Sulabhasya
•    33–34, Sugarbhasya
•    35–67, general purpose formulas for ākhuviṣa
•    68–76ab, mantra for ākhuviṣa called “Śṛṅkhala” (chain)
•    76cd–77ab, rodenticide formula
•    77cd–82, mantra
•    83–89 (end), herbal formulas

•    Chapter 12    Spiders, scorpions, gardabha, rabid dog, frogs, lizards, cats, etc.
•    3–5ab, mantra
•    Vipati mantra used
•    mantra seems to be called “Bhānu”
•    5cd–11ab, herbal formulas

•    11cd, scorpion sting medicine starts
•    12–15ab, mantra
•    14, mantra to Viṣṇu
•    15cd–17ab, herbs for scorpion sting

•    17cd start of gardabhāśvādi section, (or gardabha-śvābhyāṃ as in 21a?)
•    18–21ab, mantra
•    22cd–26ab, remedies for catbite and wildcat bite
•    26cd, jackel
•    27ab, centipede
•    27cd, frog
•    28, fish poison
•    28cd, mantra to Viṣṇu for “kṛmikīṭādika”
•    30, kīṭaviṣa
•    33–34, the classic rabid dog mantra
•    35–42, rabies formula
•    43–66 (end), plant poison antidotes
•    43–51, mantras, several parallels with Aṣṭāṅgahṛdaya and others
•    52–66, herbal antidotes to plant poisons

•    Chapter 13    Abhiṣeka
•    2, it is secret
•    3, it removes all sin, is beneficent, allows one to control people
•    4, removes all disease, cures possion, poisons
•    5, good for infertility too
•    6, astrological timing
•    7, choosing an auspicious location
•    8–11, setting up a complete and ornamentd maṇḍapa
•    12, eight pots, rice, yantra
•    13, yāga, yantrārcana
•    14–15, more vidhis
•    16, involves recalling the Vainateya-manu
•    18–19, gems required
•    20–23, plant materials offered
•    24–25, music and singing offerings
•    26–27, visualization of Garuḍa
•    34, gāruḍa mantra recitation 1,008 times
•    35–43 (end), more specific instructions

(end of text; edition follows with a long passage attributed to Nārāyaṇīya 3, but differs from that)

Jayatu Khaḍgarāvaṇaḥ

A Japanese sword deity invoked by exorcists. Distant relative to Khaḍgarāvaṇa?


I have decided to make my 2007 MA Thesis available for download and I’d like to use this entry to introduce it.  The first 17 pages introduce the cult of Khaḍgarāvaṇa and the principal source of my thesis, the Kriyākālaguṇottara.  I consider this introduction and the theories I advance in it useful, but not the strongest part of the thesis.  In particular, my understanding of the nature of the KKGU and of the Bhūta Tantra genre has shifted considerably in the three years since I wrote this MA thesis.

More current are my studies of the manuscripts themselves and the critical edition and translation of the ninth chapter of the Kriyākālaguṇottara that form the larger part of the thesis.  Chapter 9, 10, and 11 of the KKGU form the “Khaḍgarāvaṇakalpa”, and are the most detailed source on this interesting figure that survive, to my knowledge.

In the future I would like to do a detailed study on the relationships between the Bhūta and Gāruḍa tantras.  I don’t think it is as simple as published comments make it sound, i.e. that they both deal with pragmatic magical topics and so were typically found together by default.  In fact many ritual procedures are identical for exorcism and countering poison, and differ only in the principal mantra employed by, or rather called on to possess, the practitioner.  More to come.


Bearded Vulture


Bheruṇḍā is an old, now obscure Gāruḍa goddess invoked to cure snakebite. She is part of a family of female deities with avian associations whose worship was widespread. Some “sisters” in this family are Tvaritā/Troṭalā, Kurukullā (Śaiva and Buddhist versions), Jāṅgulī, and Mahāmāyūrī. The history of this now obscure family remains an open question. Bheruṇḍā, Tvaritā, and Kurukullā’s names often come up in lists of the (usually) nine Nityā goddesses, a cult which also is practically unstudied but the scriptures of which survive in several Nepalese manuscripts.

The word Bheruṇḍā also refers to a type of bird, which Dave (1985: Birds in Sanskrit Literature) identifies as either a Bearded Vulture, Adjutant Stork, or Dodo (397–399). The first two are pictured above and both seem quite possible.

Adjutant Stork


Some Sanskrit texts that have passages on Bheruṇḍā include Saṃhitāsāra (unpublished Nepalese manuscripts), Gāruḍapurāṇa, Nāradamahāpurāṇa, Brahmāṇḍapurāṇa, Yogaratnāvalī (unpublished, but manuscripts widespread), Mahāyāgakrama (Muktabodha etext), the commentary to Bhairavapadmāvatīkalpa (Jhavery 1944), and Svacchandapaddhati (Muktabodha etext). Sanderson 2009: 48fn15 has a few useful comments and references on the Nityā cult.

An Important Distinction

Viṣṇubhaktagaruḍa with Malla king in Bhaktapur


I am usually thrilled to be able to work with old manuscripts.  The older it is, the more excited I get!  But excitement aside, we really need to be clear on the following distinction: the age of the manuscript is almost never equivalent to the age of the text it contains.  Hypothetical example:  A text was penned in the 10th century, but the original is lost.  What survives are a 12th century palm leaf manuscript and an 18th century paper manuscript.  At first thought, one may suppose the palm leaf manuscript to be closer to the original text than the one copied 600 years later, and this may be, but it is not necessarily so.  We don’t know how many times the manuscripts that survive were copied.  It is possible, therefore, that the 12th century manuscript was the result of a copy of a copy x 10 of the original.  It is also possible that the 18th century manuscript is a direct copy of a 10th century copy of the original.  I exaggerate a bit to highlight the point that just because a manuscript is recent does not mean that the text it contains is recent and likewise just because a manuscript is old does not mean the text it contains is older than a more recent manuscript.  Each needs to be evaluated on its own merits.

File Searching Speed

Torana over entrance to Śāntipura, Svayambhunath, Kathmandu

Noticing that some of my colleagues get results for their GREP searches almost instantly, I began to wonder why my searches of all my Sanskrit etexts took close to 2 minutes.  They use grep from the command line (Terminal on OSX), and attributed the speed to that.  Not wanting to drop my one-stop application BBEdit, where I can edit the files returned when I search them right then and there, I decided to run a test with a colleague who had a similar machine and etext collection.  The same search on his was finished in just 20 seconds, while mine took almost 2 minutes.  He attributed it to having converted most of his files to have Unix line breaks.  Not having luck with batch converter applications, I realized I would have to go through every folder individually and batch convert on a smaller scale.  This allowed me the chance to see what was there and clean out non-text files.  I moved several hundred megabytes of web-archives and PDFs out of the etext collection and reduced my number of files and size of the collection by about 25%.  In the process I converted everything to have the ending .txt, whereas before there was a plethora of endingless files and files with many different types of extensions.  I haven’t gotten to converting the line breaks yet, but now I can search all of my Sanskrit etexts in around 20 seconds, and have them ready for editing instantly in the results window of BBEdit.  This is a huge improvement, because now I can search more freely, whereas before I often limited the searches to specific folders to keep the speed within reason.


A well cared for Ākāś-Bhairab mūrti in Kathmandu


My interest was piqued by Goudriaan and Gupta’s description of the Ākāśabhairavakalpa whose main deity, Ākāśabhairava, is “a fearsome winged deity, a manifestation of Bhairava, who is invoked in various ways–of course by means of mantras–for the sake of exorcism.” who “manifests [himself] in three forms, viz. Ākāśabhairava, Āśugāruḍa, and Śārabha…” (Hindu Tantric and Śākta Literature 1981: 115)  Given my research interests, I thought the second form sounded promising, and was further spurred to seek out this text by a posting on the Mānasataraṅgiṇī blog where the blogger mentions the text as “a combination of the bhairava srotas with the earlier garuḍa-srotas” (“A Discursion on the Sanatkumārīya Pañcabrahma (siddha-śaṅkara) Tantra and the Early Evolution of the Dakṣiṇaśaiva System” January 5, 2010).  The staff of the NGMCP graciously allowed me to view copies of several Nepalese manuscripts of the text.  For my own purposes of scoping out the text for Gāruḍa material, I have made a list of the chapter titles:

Chapters 1–71 are from NGMPP reel number A 144/13

Chapters 72–81 are from a different manuscript, A 145/9

<> indicates that the title was not given or illegible.  I occasionally checked uncertain words against the other MS.

1: utsāhaprakrama (–f.2r)

2: yajanavidhi (–f.3r)

3: utsāhayajana (–f.4r)

4: utsāhābhiṣekavidhi (–f.5r)

5: mantrayantraprakrama (–f.6r)

6: citramālāmantra (–f.7v)

7: vaśyākarṣaṇaprayoga (–f.8r)

8: mohanadrāvakaprayoga (–f.8v)

9: stambhavidveṣaprayoga (–f.8v)

10: uccāṭananigrahaprayoga (–f.9r)

11: bhogaprada (–f.9v)

12: āśutārkṣyavidhi (–f.10v)

13: āśugāruḍaprayoga (–f.11v)

14: āśugāruḍakavaca (–f.13v)

15: śiṣyācāravidhi (–f.15r)

16: <śarabhasāluvapakṣirājakalpa*> (–f.16v) = title of ch.81?

17: śarabheśāṣṭakastotramantra (–f.18r)

18: <mālāmantra> (–f.20r)

19: <nigrahaprayoga> (–f.20v)

20: <homaprabhedaprayoga> (–f.22r)

21: <(no title)> (–f.23r)

22: rakṣābhiṣekhavidhi (–f.24r)

23: balividhāna (–f.25v)

24: <sadācāravidhi> (–f.28r)

25: māyāprayogavidhi (–f.29r)

26: ācāravidhi (–f.29v)

27: mātṛkāvarṇana (–f.32v)

28: bhadrakālīvidhi (–f.33r)

29: auṣadhavidhi (–f.35r)

30: śūlinīdurgākalpana (–f.37r)

31: śūlinīvidhi (–f.41v)

32: vīrabhadrakalpa (–f.42v)

33: jagatkṣobhaṇa<mālāmantra> (–f.45r)

34: <bhairavaprayoga> (–f.46r)

35: balividhi (–f.47v)

36: kṣetrapālavidhi (–f.49v)

37: vaḍavānalabhairavavidhi (–f.50v)

38: dikpālavidhi (–f.51v)

39: vyādhikalpa (–f.52r)

40: mṛtyuvidhi (–f.52v)

41: śarabhakavaca (–f.57v)

42: manmathaprayoga (–f.59v)

43: cāmuṇḍāvidhi (–f.60v)

44: mohinīvidhi (–f.61r)

45: drāviṇīprayoga (–f.61v)

46: śabdākarṣiṇīprayoga (–f.62r)

47: bhāṣāsarasvatīmantraprayoga (–f.63r)

48: mahālakṣmīprayoga (–f.63v)

49: māyāvidhi (–f.64r)

50: pulindinīvidhi (–f.64v)

51: mahāśāstāvidhi (–f.68v)

52: saṃkṣobhiṇīvidhi (–f.69r)

53: dhūmāvatīvidhi (–f.69v)

54: dhūmāvatīprayoga (–f.70r)

55: nadyuttāraṇavidhi (–f.71r)

56: citravidyāvidhi (–f.72v)

57: deśikastotra (–f.74v)

58: duḥkhasvapnanāśanamantravidhi (–f.75r)

59: pāśavimocana (–f.75v)

60: gaṇapatividhi (–f.76v)

61: auṣadhamantravidhi (–f.78r)

62: mūlikāvidhi (–f.79v)

63: kālamantravidhi (–f.80r)

64: ṣaṇmukhamantravidhi (–f.80v)

65: bhairavavidhi (–f.81r)

66: tvaritāvidhi (–f.82r)

67: vīrabhadravidhi (–f.82v)

68: vaḍavānalabhairavaprayoga (–f.83r)

69: brāhmīvidhi (–f.83v)

70: māheśvarīvidhi (–f.84r)

71: kaumārīvidhi (–f.84v)


72: vaiṣṇavīvidhi (–f.32r)

73: vārāhīvidhi (–f.32v)

74: nārasiṃhīvidhi (–f.32v)

75: indrāṇīvidhi (–f.33r)

76: cāmuṇḍāvidhi (–f.33r)

77: sāluvabhujaṅga (–f.34r)

78: śarabhahṛdaya (–f.35v)

79: śarabhāṣṭottaraśata (–f.37r)

80: śarabhasahasranāma (–f.44r)

81: śarabhasāluvapakṣirājakalpa (–f.46r)

Unfortunately I didn’t notice any Gāruḍa material in my brief look through the text.  If anyone reading this knows of something there I overlooked, please let me know.  The Āśugāruḍa form of Bhairava seems to be more of a general purpose kavaca procedure.  The Tvaritā chapter (66) mentions nothing about poison or snakes, only giving her mantra (notably the word vidyā is not used) in an encoded form.  There seems to be an abundance of references to exorcism (in the tradition of the Bhūtatantras), which accords with what Goudriaan and Gupta wrote, quoted above.  It certainly would be a boon to have this typed in and edited, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to get to that for some years to come.

Sample XeTeX/LEDMAC File

I am attaching a sample file, MinimalExample.tex, containing only one verse, for newcomers to experiment with.  To typeset it one needs to have previously downloaded all of the packages listed in the first several lines: ledmac, fancyhdr, xunicode, and SDVerseMG.sty.  The last was kindly made available by Somadeva Vasudeva in order to easily reference variants in the critical apparatus by verse number and pāda, rather than just line number.


One further procedure is necessary to have the convenience of typing the source file as unicode roman, and having the typeset version come out in Devanagari.  For this you need to install TECkit, available from SIL International.  Once you have TECKit, go to Dominik Wujastyk’s blog “Cikitsa” and see this entry.  Some of the links are now dead, but one from Somadeva Vasudeva’s blog “” is here.  Following his instructions, I hope you will be able to successfully compile the sample file.


I should also say that this is meant to work on a Mac, using the Apple font DevanagariMT.  In theory one should be able to use it on any system and simply substitute another unicode devanāgari font.  I welcome questions and comments, and I’ll revise the instructions if I have omitted any steps.

Lightbulb Moment

Clip from my MA edition of the 9th chapter of the Kriyākālaguṇottara. Shows what I had marked as a corrupt pāda.

When I was editing the 9th chapter of the Kriyākālaguṇottara for my MA thesis, I spent several hours trying to figure out pāda 25d, which I ended up marking as corrupt.  The palmleaf manuscript, oldest of the group, was indeed corrupt and hypometrical: kimedaṃ vikaryate.  I speculated about taking edaṃ as some kind of prākṛtic pronoun, effect of non-standard sandhis, anything that would help me draw some sense out of it.  In retrospect, the corruption of the palmleaf manuscript lead me astray in transcribing the other manuscripts, and the true reading was further obscured by several things: lack of word division in the manuscripts, lack of discrimination between va and ba akṣaras, use of anusvāra for any nasal, and the inconsistent differentiation of pa and ya.  In error, I transcribed the reading of the “Beta” manuscripts thus: kimetadaṃ vikāpate.  I reviewed the passage with my advisors–some of the world’s leading Sanskritists–to no avail, they too were misled because of my interpretation, my “transcription.”  Transcription is usually thought to be a fairly cut and dry affair.  You put into roman or typed devanāgarī exactly what is written in the manuscript, and faithfully record that in your critical apparatus and even if you choose the wrong reading then at least future scholars can disagree and accept a variant reading from the critical apparatus.  In fact, it is always an interpretation.  How do you transcribe a letter that looks like a hybrid pa/ya?  I am not aware of any critical edition that list variants without any spaces between words, but I am seriously considering adopting this convention for my own work.  The real reading for the pāda, in the Beta manuscripts now seems so obvious: “kimetadaṃvikāpate” or formally “kim etad ambikāpate.”

Critical Edition Typesetting Notes

This is how my source files currently look. There has been progress.

This is how my source file looked two years ago. What a mess! Luckily the results are the same once you compile the PDF, see below.

For my editing work, I am using XeTeX and ledmac, typeset in TeXshop on my Mac.  XeTeX is a modern incarnation of LaTeX, itself builing on TeX, that lets one type virtually any unicode script or font directly into the source file.  With the help of Somadeva Vasudeva’s handy character mapping converter, one has the advantage of typing transliterated Sanskrit into the source file and still having perfectly rendered devanāgarī on the other end.  I include the above screenshots lightheartedly, but they illustrate an important point: LaTeX may seem hopelessly complicated in the beginning, but it really isn’t; one just needs to master the basic principles.  Eventually, sooner if anyone is interested, I will post a full sample file that beginners can use as a template to typeset their own texts.  I have spoken with colleagues who type their critical apparatuses by hand in Microsoft Word.  The beautiful thing about TeX systems is that they automate almost everything so that the writer can concentrate on writing, or in this case editing.  In the top example, you can see that variant readings are called by the command \var{}.  The command \dn{} is how I tell the program to typeset the enclosed text in devanāgarī (\dnnote{} signaling the footnote sized font), and the commands \P, \prb, and \Dc are telling the program to print my predefined sigla for each manuscript.  This is all automated with keyboard shortcuts, so when I have a variant I copy the word(s) from the main text and paste it into the variant field called up at a moment’s notice with a quick shortcut stroke.  The command \p (lowercase mind you) stands for the end of a pāda, and \v for the end of the verse.  This is all the program needs to label each variant entry with the correct tag: 3c if the variant occurs in the third pāda of the third verse, and so on.  Everything in TeX is customizable, but it does get technical very quickly and I must admit that I do very little experimenting now that I have figured out the basic system.  Perhaps in a few more years I’ll be enough of a TeXpert to write my own fancy code and create that long sought after parallel edition, but now I am content to pick up the small gems offered by more experienced scholars:

Somadeva Vasudeva’s Blog has several useful entries on typesetting issues.
Daniel Stender’s Blog has a special category for LaTeX
John Smith’s programs page
Dirk-Jan Dekker: Typesetting Critical Editions with LaTeX

Visit to the Red Cross Snake Farm, Bangkok

Banded Krait

In transit to Nepal, my wife and I spent a few days in Bangkok and had the chance to visit the fascinating Red Cross Snake Farm in the Silom area of Bangkok.  Here they farm the most venomous snakes for venom extraction in order to make antivenom.  There is a nice lower level with specimins in glass cases and an upper level with video and poster displays.  We especially enjoyed the snake-handling show, although it was a bit intimidating to be sitting in the front row when they set the twin King Cobras on the ground.  I suppose there’s no better place to be bitten than at the antivenom lab.

Upper right is the Russel’s viper (gonasa in Sanskrit), Siamese variety.  It belongs to the maṇḍalin family of snakes in Sanskrit typology.  Very venomous, it is one of the “Big Four” species of snakes that cause the most deaths in South Asia, the others being the cobra (darvīkara, lower left), krait (rājila), and saw-scaled viper (also maṇḍalin). The lower right shows a green pit viper, exact species unknown to me.