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Conundrums in Indology

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II. Zum achtbeinigen Śarabha

image of Indo-Iranian Journal

A Śarabha is generally understood as an eight-legged monster, surpassing even elephants and lions in strength. A closer inspection of the sources reveals that the evidence for such a one-sided determination is entirely lacking. The notion of a Śarabha has a complex history. Its earliest attestation as a monster occurs only in late strata of the Mahābhārata. Despite this fact, the monstrous nature of a Śarabha was projected in an anachronistic manner indiscriminately onto other literatures as well. Starting, however, from the Atharvaveda, all texts previous to, or uninfluenced by, the Smārta tradition – in particular Buddhist, but also Jain ones –, keep to a different conception, one of an ordinary animal. The present article deals with the original zoological identity of the Śarabha as Mārkhor (Capra falconeri Wagn.) and with the misconceptions that motivated its gradual development into a monster.

Affiliations: 1: Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg


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