Svasti - Essays in Honour of Prof. Hampa Nagarajaiah: Remarks on the Cultural History of the Ear in India

Published: 27.12.2010
Updated: 30.07.2015


Remarks on the Cultural History of the Ear in India

Jiṇṇo ‘ham asmi... savanaṃ na phāsu
(Suttanipāta 1120)


Hearing is the first active sense in mammals, in humans even two months before birth,[1] and its great significance in Indian literature compared with other senses, especially seeing, is amply shown by a plethora of associations. Since the R̥gveda one hears either with karṇa, which has no certain etymology, or with various nouns of the root ŚRU-,[2] from which also the word for pupil, śrāvaka, and thereby the adherents of the Jain and Buddhist convictions are formed. Later, śruti “hearing; ear” (MW) also obtains the meaning of “reading”, for instance in duḥ-śruti “faulty reading”.[3] With the Jains, only three bodies of five-bodied beings have ears: the earthly (orāliya), the metamorphic (veuvviya) and the body of transference (āhāraga).[4]


The importance of the ear is manifested by its occurrence as a synecdoche, just as white French in Réunion and the Caribbean are called Zorey (< les oreilles “[red] Ears”),[5] and as in the barbarous bullfight in Spain where infatuated spectators grant a torero an ear of the animal tor­tured to death as a souvenir of his heroic deed.[6] Thus, as a pars pro toto, in the times of the Maitrāyaṇī-Saṃ­hitā the earmarking of cows indicates their be­longing to a deity or sage: cows with the right ear pierced belong to Tvaṣṭr̥; those marked with a pillar (sthūṇā-kárṇa) belong to Vasiṣṭha.[7] Numbers, too, can be branded in the ear of cattle, such as five: pañca-karṇa.[8] In the hereafter animals with marked ears were expected to come to their possessor and thus would not belong to the brahmins who obtained them as dakṣiṇā,[9] the lightning-con­ductor for the offence of killing the sacrificial victim. When a goat or sheep dies through a valid cause, cowherds have to deliver the earmark to the owner as proof.[10]

Once we hear of a dead Tailang brahmin whose ears are stuffed with holy basil (tulaśī) leaves.[11] In this case, and in the next, where in a fairy tale an ugly man becomes a young prince by twisting his left ear,[12] the ear seems to represent the whole person. A good example of this is also the oblation into (the hand of a brahmin or) the right ear of a he-goat (Agni) when the yajamāna’s fire does not spring up.[13] Normally, of course, one would expect the fluid to be poured into the mouth of the animal.


Indra is supposed to hear well: even from afar his ears are near.[14] When in the R̥g­vedic wedding hymn the sun’s daughter Sūryā marries (king) Soma, the ears are the wheels of her chariot.[15] As a termitarium can register sounds very well,[16] it is called an “ear of the earth” in the Taittirīya-Saṃhitā.[17] In the later speculative identifications of the Brāhma­ṇas one finds out the nature of the ear: Indra is the mind, Sarasvatī speech, and the Aśvins as twin deities are the ears.[18] Elsewhere, the Śatapatha-Brāhmaṇa says: heaven created the ear, and the seer Viśva­mitra is the ear, because therewith one hears in every direction and there is a friend of it on every side …..[19] Dying, one passes into the quarters by one’s ear,[20] the association of the ear with the compass directions arising from its indicating from which side a sound emerges.[21] In the Br̥hadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad the gods address the ear as a deity by urging it to chant the udgītha for them.[22] The Buddha has a divine ear (dibba sota-dhātu).[23] In the Kathāsaritsāgara Viṣṇu is the god whose ears are the cardinal points,[24] though he is depicted with only one head, as against the aṣṭa-karṇa Brahmā (MW). Apparently spectacular for their ears are the snake demon Adhikarṇa (MW) and a female ghoul (karṇa-piśācikā).[25]


The ear is also thought to have been created by the eye,[26] as in the human embryo eye and ear separate in the sixth month. Elsewhere eyes and ears appear as a complementary pair; thus the eye and ear of an ox are compared to truth (satya) and cosmic norm (r̥ta).[27] On a royal ride, the eye of a curious woman, expanded by the wish to have darśan of the king, approached the side of her ear, which did not perceive him, in order to inform it,[28] for the ears of a beautiful woman limit her eyes because of the long stroke of black paint.[29] In this way the erotic side of the ear, of women, is touched upon, about which more below.


Johann Jacob Meyer points out the ear as a seat of intelligence, too.[30] Having ears, kaṇṇa­­vat, it says in a Jātaka stanza,[31] means being wise. This may truly be the case for those who can re­collect what they hear only once,[32] though the ears are connected by a channel which would cause the learning matter to go in one ear and out the other.[33] In the Vr̥ṣākapi hymn Indrāṇī angrily snaps at her husband that his boar hound should catch hold of his monkey friend’s ear.[34] Naravāhanadatta saw on his wandering a cowherd with hardened skin on his ears caused by their constantly being beaten by powerful slaps. Budhasvāmin does not explain the reason for this, though.[35] The teacher in the Br̥hatkalpabhāṣya hits with his flat hand on the ear (karṇa-capeṭa) of those novices who cannot learn to show proper respect for him, and may even cause them dangerous wounds.[36] Worse still: King Tripr̥ṣṭha, Mahāvīra’s pre-birth, had hot tin and copper poured into the ears of his forgetful housepriest, because liking their performance, he had not stopped singers at night, as ordered by the king.[37] Yet boxing and twisting the ear to ward off evil - such as when, among the Dhruva Prabhus of Pune,[38] the bride’s brother pinches the bridegroom’s ear - and even redemption are a weakening of the abscission, about which more under 6.3.4.


The importance of the ear is further emphasized by its properties such as complexion, form, etc. in the names of beings.[39] Regarding its colour, the often inauspicious[40] being black-eared dominates, e.g. in the AtharvaVeda “a white, black-eared (horse) does not make a show”.[41] Kāla-karṇī is a name of Lakṣmī,[42] perhaps because fortune is ambiguous. A person desir­ous of rain, it says in the MaitrāyaṇīSaṃhitā, should sacrifice a cow with black ears.[43] In Pāli literature kāla-kaṇṇi is an unlucky figure such as a monk[44] or even a wicked person,[45] and serves as a term of abuse, e.g., for a son who is his parents’ undoing.[46] French rougir jusqu’aux oreilles and German rote Ohren bekommen (lit. to get red ears), “to blush to the tips of one’s ears for shame” has no equivalent in Sanskrit and is expressed by kr̥ṣṇa-mukho babhūva[47] or śyāmaṃ mukhaṃ pidadhāti,[48] but as a sign of mortification the sādhu Dhaṇṇe’s ears were red like the skin of a radish.[49] The Rāmāyaṇa mentions a demon with bright ears.[50]


As to its form we may list the main tragic figure in the Mahābhārata, Karṇa “Longear” (?), and his counterpart in a way, Vikarṇa “With widely extended ears”;[51] Kṣurakarṇī “Sharp-eared” (a female com­panion [mātr̥] in the retinue of Skanda[52]); Kṣemakarṇa “With quiet ears” (?), the composer of the Rāgamālā (1570 AD); Jaratkarṇa “Old Ear” (the author of R̥V 10,76)[53]; citra-karṇa “with speckled ears”, a camel (MW); Bāhya-karṇa “With (big?) outer ears” as the name of a Nāga;[54] loma-karṇa “with hairy ears: a hare”; Vasukarṇa “With good ears” (the author of R̥V 10,65f.); Śroṇa Koṭikarṇa “the lame Prick-eared”, Buddha’s disciple; etc. The ear form is often used for omens.[55] Long ears are a positive mark of Mahāvīra (allī­ṇa-ppamāṇa-jutta-savaṇe, Aup § 16);[56] such people, however, are to be ex­cluded from the sacri­fice to the dead.[57] The monster menacing maritime merchants in the Mallī-jñāta, depicted with long hanging auricles and ear cavities with ugly hairs,[58] is a par­agon of reli­gious phantasy which after all knows of no limits. Ears can be enlarged by magical means.[59]Misers have short ears;[60] men with skinny ears die as criminals,[61] those with flat ears become rich in consumer goods.[62] Women with uneven ears cause misery.[63] Hema­candra makes Mahāvīra’s believers drink the nectar of his speech in handfuls in the shape of ears.[64] It is curious that Somadeva compares a mahout’s ears with old shoes.[65] Men with pointed ears will become kings,[66] but in the description of a cāṇḍāla hunter his pointed ears and big mouth appear as the epitome of ugliness.[67] Buddhist monastic aspirants with small ears such as those of a mouse or bat may nevertheless be ordained.[68]

The Karṇa-prāvaraṇa are a fabulous people of coast-dwellers who use their ears for a covering.[69] In Western India even people with one ear are supposed to live.[70] Women’s ears can be a stereo­type of attractiveness. Thus fleshy, well-proportioned and soft ears which fit closely to the head are much ap­preciated.[71] Śītalā’s ears were as large as a winnowing fan.[72] French sixteenth century poets such as Albert le Grand[73] and Maclou de la Haye[74] extol female ears that are much longer in their blasons.[75]

A cow’s ear is used as a measure: thus it says in the Mbh that some snakes were a mile in length, others no longer than a cow’s ear.[76] Dogs may of course have pricked ears[77] and a pretī is called “with cropped ears”.[78]


Not only human ears, but also those of other animals provide clear evidence of the weight of the parts of the body under discussion for it shows a close observation of them. Thus, in order to express a grazing proximity, a R̥gvedic poet urges Indra and Kutsa to steer their chariot horses near the ear of the Sun’s horse so as to squeeze off the wheel of the Sun,[79] and Rājaśekhara makes a woman shoot, across her ear, sharp and shining side-long glances.[80] We may be somewhat sur­prised that Bhadrabāhu advises a girl (novice?) who panicked at the sight of a lion or elephant to look at a girl her junior seizing or holding the ear of a lion whelp under the eyes of the guards informed beforehand, and not be afraid.[81]


Furthermore, the individuals in the four classes of beings are often designated with names based on animal ears.


Among the gods, Śiva Gajêndra-karṇa (MW) and Go-karṇa may first be men­tioned;[82] further Mārjāra-karṇī as a name of Cāmuṇḍā (MW).

The second division, that of demons, etc. is represented by Hasti-karṇa as a class of Rākṣasas (MW). Go-karṇī and Khara-karṇī are mātaras among Skanda’s attendants; [83] Gaja-karṇa and Varāha-karṇa as the name of yakṣas.[84]


As to humans, we find the author of R̥V 8,9, Śaśa-karṇa “with the ears of a hare”. Then we hear of a virtuous man called Dog’s Ear (Śunas-karṇa) who wanted to go to heaven without previous disease, as we all would like, and so died after the final bath of his soma-sacrifice.[85] A yoginī is called “bear-eared”.[86] A Go-karṇa is stated to be king of Kaśmīr;[87] Jatū-karṇa “Bat-Eared” is the name of a physician,[88] Śārdūla-karṇa is the son of Triśaṅku.[89] Camel-ears are a people in the Mahābhārata.[90]

Except for the old myth of king Donkey Ear the Greek contribution to Indian cul­ture is mostly faded. William Crooke dedicated one of his many papers to this legend and thus preserved a multitude of facts and ideas which would otherwise certainly have been for­gotten.[91] The story[92] we read in Ovid[93] in school probably originated in Anatolia in the eighth century B.C. This is about Midas, king of Phrygia, who was called upon to judge between the lyre of the god Apollo and the pastoral pipe of the Arcadian deity Pan. When Midas pronounced the latter instrument more harmonious Apollo punished him by having ears like those of an ass fixed upon him, which he then tried to conceal with a purple head-dress. His slave discovered the secret, whispered it into a hole in the ground, where reeds grew which, when shaken by the wind, betrayed him.[94] The tale, which was still popular in Greece in Crooke’s time, spread westward over Europe to Ireland and in Asia as far as Mongolia and western India, where the industrious collector found four versions of it: in Gilgit, Mirzapur (U.P.), [95] Santāl(pur, Gujarat?) and Mysore. The last version, of a king of the Cengālva dynasty of Bettadpur[96] in the tenth century, is closest to the original. I won’t speculate why this is so but there was, as we know, an old contact with the Near East and Rome in this part of India.[97] The king’s right ear was like that of an ass. A barber[98] whispers the secret to a sandal-tree under which the Rāja used to sit when being shaved. One day, pleased with the per­formance of some tumblers, he gives the tree to them. They cut it down and make a drum out of the wood, which then utters the omin­ous words. Thus everyone learnt the secret.[99] Professor Hampana writes me an ad­ditional detail, viz. that this Rājan kivi katte kivi, as he is called in Kanarese, liked to over­hear other people’s conversation by hiding nearby. At his request a specialist in spells (mantra-vādin) prepared an auditory pill which the king took and subsequently developed donkey ears.[100] So much for the oral tradition.

The only literary version as far as I have found is, perhaps not accidentally, quoted in Prākrit, maybe from a cūrṇi we no longer have, by the southerner Malayagiri (early 13th century) in a parable of a minister[101] illustrating the word parisrāvin “leaking” in a figurative sense in common language,[102] in which flow of words[103] leaking can easily pertain to a verbal secret. But for the specification of the ear this version largely agrees with Crooke’s story from Mysore. The popularity of the story up to the present day is undiminished, as is shown by a first reading edition for anglophone children.[104]


Some human names with animals’ ears cause us difficulties, e.g. Mayūra-karṇa “Pea­cock-eared”.[105] The bird may be a pendant with this form.[106] In the name Kharjūra-karṇa (MW) the first member of the compound may be the wild date (Phoenix sylvestris) or a scorpion[107] if the latter is meant for magical protection of the ear against spirits, etc. (see below under 7).


Animals and plants can also be named after animal ears. Thus “ox ear” designates the elk, a large species of deer in Ceylon.[108] As for the plants we have, e.g. aja-karṇa for the Terminalia Alata Tomentosa (MW) and aśva-karṇaka for the Vatica robusta tree, so called from the shape of its leaves.[109] The leaves of the Butea Frondosa tree look like mongoose ears.[110] This kind of compound is frequent, cf. Greek muosōtis[111] and in English mouse-ear hawkweed.


A mixed being is Go-karṇa, the son of a cow produced from a fruit given by an ascetic to the childless Ātmadeva, whose wife passed it on to a cow; the boy had a cow’s ear (see below sub 8).[112]


Another category consists of names in which the ear is connected with or defined by an object.


In it, we find among the deities Śruta-devī as a name of Sarasvatī, the goddess of tra­di­tion and science. Further, Ghaṇṭā-karṇa Mahāvīra[113] and the goddess Ghaṇṭā-karṇī “Bell-Eared”.[114] Gaṇêśa’s names Śūrpakarṇa and Śūrpaśruti “with ears of a winnowing basket”[115] are pro­minent because the largest ear is of course that of an elephant.


The ears of demons, etc. may not be overlooked; being disfigured is often their main at­tribute, such as the water-sprite called “sly dog” in the German state of Thüringen.[116] Thus we read of the rākṣasa Kumbha-karṇa, “pot-ear”; Kr̥dhu-kárṇa “with short ears” is a kind of imp.[117] In the northern Mathurā a certain Devila dedicated an inscription in the year 77 at the temple of the Nāga Dadhikarṇa “Milk-Ear”, a curious name for a snake deity.[118]


Men with hairy ears live long.[119] Peoples with elephant’s or horse’s ears are not Āryan.[120]


Pāṇini 8,3,46 calls a cat “with ears (white) like milk, payas-karṇī”. A horse’s ears with curly hair irritate the wife of its owner.[121] The Gonds in Mangwani tell the story of the man whose penance was in vain and who then cursed Śiva. Annoyed, the god turned the man into a sheep and told him: “If anyone ties a shoe to your ear, you will have to lie down on the ground and sleep”. From that day there have been sheep in the world which will lie down and sleep if someone ties a shoe to their ear.[122]


Ears belong to the nine openings of the body. As such they are an entry,[123] e.g. for spirits[124] or Kāma’s arrows,[125] and can also adopt the function of mouth and yoni.


As to the mouth an expression such as “to put the right (Digambara) Doctrine into some­one’s ear” [126] may have helped the idea; when it is one’s own ear it becomes “to take a mental note”.[127]Very frequent is drinking a flow of words with the ears, e.g. when in Hāla someone is urged to say something: “Make my ears drink nectar!” [128] The effect thereof can be like a medicine when by hearing the description of the king’s dream the queens saw their strength restored.[129] A feast for the ear, German Ohrenschmaus, is expressed by karṇa-rasâyana,[130] śravaṇôtsava (vide infra sub 5.1) and śruti-sukha,[131] in Pāli and Prākrit kaṇṇa-sukha.[132] Finally, from greed (for the sweetness of the beauty of Śrīkr̥ṣṇa) ears can grow tongues in Jñāneśvar’s metaphor.[133]


The idea of conception through the ear [134] and aural birth,[135] the shifting from below to above,[136] is no Indian invention. For Molière, birth from the ear is the limit of ignorance when he makes Agnès ask this in his Ecole des femmes,[137] but as late as the German poet Rilke († 1926) Orpheus is made to create a tree in the ear for animals emerging from silence.[138] The ear is a sex object (tarpaṇa):[139] to scratch the ear may conceal a woman’s horri­pilation as an erotic mani­festation.[140]


Crooke tells us a legend of the Bhangī sweepers following which Śiva put his semen into the ears of Añjanā who then gave birth to Hanumān.[141]


In the Śatapathabrāhmaṇa karman is born from the ear,[142] and earlier Prajāpati thus creates the sheep;[143] in the Mbh Brahmā says to the Creator Brahman: “My fourth birth was from your ears.”[144] The sage Jahnu swallows the Gaṅgā in the Rāmāyaṇa and lets her out of his ears.[145] Pr̥thā-Kuntī whom Sūrya touched at the navel and thus inpregnated delivered Karṇa through the ear.[146] Further, the demons Madhu and Kaiṭabha emerged from wax flowing out of Viṣṇu’s ear.[147] In the Buddha’s “twin wonder” streams of fire and water issue from his ears and nose.[148]


The ear often occurs in common sayings and metaphorical use.


As to the former, Kalhaṇa says of queen Diddā that after the death of her husband Kṣemagupta she was confused in her mind and lola-karṇa “listening to everybody”.[149] To this category also Karṇapūraka, Vasantasenā’s servant in the Mr̥cchakaṭika, may belong: filling > deafening people’s ears with talking big.[150] A re­port spreading from ear to ear is gataḥ karṇa-paramparām pravādaḥ.[151] One is easily accessible to calumny (karṇa-durbala) then.[152] A feast for the ear, śravaṇôtsava,[153] is fre­quent, as when Daṇḍin makes prince Darpasāra tell king Candavarman: “Do not delay to give my ears a holiday by sending word that the lovesick swain (the prince Rājavāhana whose wife, Miss Avantī, had turned down the king) has been executed with fancy tortures” (Ryder). As the eye agrees with the ear in Hemacandra,[154] Somadeva lets Naravāhanadatta blame the Creator: “Why did he not make me all eye and ear?”[155] Unpleasant news can burn someone’s ears[156] and king Ādityasena, whose ear was riveted on Tejasvatī’s musical discourse, could not be attracted by the cries of his distressed subjects.[157]

Dakṣa, Pārvatī’s father in a former birth, made a remark to his daughter about her husband Śiva, which was like a venomous needle to her ears.[158] A secret can only be kept by four ears because six ears will break it, but if kept by two ears even Brahmā will not be able to fathom it.[159] As ap­parent proverbs I have noted “what is the use of gold because of which the ear would be cut off”[160] and “something is better than no­thing”.[161] Hindī kān par jūṃ rẽgnā “to prick up the ears” (lit.: “a louse creeps over the ear”). “To pretend not to hear” is expressed by a-karṇa-śrutaṃ vidhatte,[162] in Hindī kān mẽ tel ḍālnā (lit.: “to pour oil into the ears”). Arjuna puts his hands over his ears to ignore Urvaśī’s offer of love: karṇau hastābhyāṃ pidhāya.[163]


The pravargya man has milk pails for ears. The pravargya sacrifice should provide the yajamāna with a head at which the hot milk vessel of the milk oblation to the Aśvins repre­sents, for the yajamāna, the sun in order to share its blazing heat.[164] Śrīharṣa compares Damayantī’s ears to ceremonial cakes to be offered to Kāma and his consort to serve as one more weapon in his armoury.[165] The same poet, in a far­fetched simile, imagines a special kind of marking in the shape of the Devanāgarī number nine carved with a deep-set outline in Damayantī’s ears, indicating the division of the eighteen branches of learning.[166] The lappet of a monk’s robe is called cīvara-karṇa.[167]


Rites & magic are equally of interest in the present topic. “At the emergence of the want for causality man explains to himself the act of hearing from the immediate activity of a demon”. From this basic conception the great majority of rites and customs have come into being in which the ear plays a role.[168] The main rites pertain to whispering into, touching, cutting the ears, and some minor religious ceremonies. As to this, the right or left ear concern the gender of the person or animal referred to.[169]


In order to produce mental and bodily strength in his son soon after birth, the brahmin father performs the medhā-janana, at which he mutters charms through a rolled up middle palāśa leaf into the child’s ear, the leaf taking the place of the sacrificial spoon.[170] In the same way a mantra for longevity is murmured into his ear,[171] as is his secret name.[172] In the course of the long life rites (āyuṣmāṇi) the ears of the new-born are also treated.[173] Further, to give a baby a long life stone balls are struck near his ears.[174] Later, at the upanayana, the right ear of the child into which the gāyatrī verse is repeated is thought to become holy for life.[175] After the ceremony, the mother marks her son’s eye-lashes with lamp-black and makes a smudge of it near his right ear, this being her final chance to safeguard him against evil influences.[176] The Buddha condemns muttering spells on the ears of an opponent to prevent him from hearing something.[177] The adhvaryu and the yajamāna whisper a mantra into the right ear of a horse[178] and a prince murmurs an incantation into the ear of a lion and teaches him the Śvetāmbara Doctrine.[179] Somadeva makes a foolish brahmin with his hands in the shape of a cow’s ear (vide infra sub 8) chant the Sāma Veda with a shrill sound, whereas he had been told to please the woman who should teach him the way of the world, by coaxing (sāma).[180] For king Donkey Ear see above sub

In the citrā ceremony the ears of a this year’s calf are marked with liṅga and yoni by a knife as a magic rite to make the cattle do well.[181] By lauding with the vātsa sāman, Triśoka brought about the opposite, viz hairless and earless cattle.[182] The vr̥ṣôtsarga has to take place in the middle of the Full-Moon sacrifice, an expansion of the ceremony of KauśS 24,19-23 at which oblations for the rain deity Pūṣan are made and a verse muttered in a bull’s ear.[183] At the founding of the sacrificial fire the yajamāna mutters the Tanū mantras in the horse’s right ear.[184] When asked the yakṣa Ghaṇṭika whispers the answer into the ear.[185]


One touches one’s right ear as a protection against impurities or for atonement, and at an asseveration, the former, e.g., when sneezing at a religious ceremony, in order to avoid spirits entering the ear because the Ganges, the Vedas, sun, moon and air live in a brahmin’s ear.[186] Touching the right ear is an easier ritual gesture instead of sipping water while uttering mantras,[187] e.g. before receiving madhu-parka.[188] A different link of ears and hands is found in Merutuṅga’s story of the man who held a she-goat by the ears while his brother killed the animal. The goat was reborn as the killer’s wife, who then struck her husband with a sword.[189]

As to the asseveration, the cat in the Hitopadeśa first touches the earth and then its ears in order to aver that religions despite all differences agree to abstinence from ahiṃsā as the highest duty.[190] In Kānara (formerly the region south of Goa) in the 19th century a Roman Catholic priest baptized children by touching their ears with spittle[191] which may have served to stave off evil from them, the ears thus representing the whole as the children did not yet understand any words.[192] It is unclear to me why a person who with an astrologer touches his ear shows him to have eaten hare’s meat.[193]

When relieving oneself it is necessary to put one’s yajñopavīta, apparently the threadbare rest of the Indo-European toga,[194] over the right ear.[195]


Violence against the ear, apart from slapping, takes the form of piercing, earmarking, incision up to ab­scission.


The painful piercing (karṇa-vedha) of children’s ears[196] with a needle or thorn is done nowadays on the twelfth day after birth, in ancient times in the seventh or eighth month, a thread being kept in the hole till the next day.[197] The father sits facing the east in the morning and speaks the mantra “Oh gods, may we hear bliss with our ears (R̥V I 89,8)” into the boy’s right - or the girl’s left - ear and vice versa. It is done also for protection against diseases[198] and C.G. Jung takes it to be an apotropaeic magic against death, a going into the mother.[199] A stillborn child’s ear is bored with a gold ring to prevent the contagion of death from passing on to the next birth.[200] Adult’s ears are also bored, thus among the Lamāni, a nomadic populace across India, the ears of a groom are bored before marriage as a proof of it, so that he is not buried at death, as are unmarried people, but cremated.[201] Further, karṇa-vedha is sometimes performed to prevent a woman from dying if the birth of a third son be expected.[202] Childless people in Tirupati, apparently as a cohabitation substitute, perform ear-boring on wooden figures in the hope of issue to be born to them.[203]


As earmarking was touched upon above (1.1) in order to present the ear as a synec­doche, we can give here only some more details. Calves are marked in pairs.[204] Cows with defective ears are unfit for sacri­fice.[205] Marking also seems to represent a ritual procedure to increase one’s stock of cattle.[206]

The ears of the earth were dealt with under 1.1.2. Other things can have “ears”, too, such as the Vrātya’s sandals,[207] a drum[208] and a pot.[209] Further, in geometry akṣa-karṇa is a hypo­tenusa, ardha-karṇa is the radius and eka-karṇa is a triangle (MW). The lappet of a monk’s robe is called cīvara-karṇa,[210] a cela-kaṇṇa is a fan,[211] the tip of a ladle is a dabbī-kaṇṇa,[212] the helm of a ship is nau-karṇa (MW), a certain massive battle order is sthūla-karṇa.[213] Of ears in riddles only one could be found: “it has eight feet and four ears; two-faced it faces two other quarters; it roars at the gate of the king’s palace and is neither a god nor a demon” (a four-faced large drum). Here a drumhead is called “ear”.[214]

Aśva-karṇa means a particular fraction of the bones[215] and hasti-karṇa is the name of a big shield.[216]

A striking ear is often compared to a lotus; thus a sword is called the ear lotus of Death.[217] Towns are often mentioned as ear-ornaments of the earth, such as Kauśāmbī.[218]


Ear-splitting takes place with the Kānphaṭ yogins.[219]


Abscission of the ears may originally be a punishment for severe larceny, then also for treason, defamation and adultery, which can be seen as a kind of theft. Thus Merutuṅga has king Pr̥thvīrāja cut off the ears of his minister Somêśvara be­cause he suspects him of favouring the enemy.[220] The wicked yoginī Sulasā is similarly punished for slander and severe misbehaviour.[221] The punishment for adultery varies according to race and caste. A woman’s ears may be cut off for adultery, as occurred to Rāvaṇa’s sister Śūrpaṇakhā when courting Rāma.[222] Among the Pārdhi in Central India in either sex a piece of the left ear is sliced off with a razor.[223] Jain recluses should not say of a person that his ears were cut off as it implies an offence.[224] A Buddhist whose ears were cut into at the ear-piercing can be ordained, if they can be healed.[225] Cropping the ears of dogs is pure human sadism in pseudo-aesthetic disguise.[226] A strange rite is the removal of the placenta after birth by means of the right ear of a living male donkey cut off and dipped in a decoction of plants.[227]

To dream of one’s ear being cut off is interpreted ambiguously: according to AVPar 68,2,10f. one will obtain external embellishment and knowledge, but in Jagaddeva 2,7 it means loss of wealth.[228]


Minor religious rites include a king’s rubbing his ears with earth from a termitarium in order to hear of evil deeds planned against him.[229] A case of calculated sadism is to pour hot oil into a dog’s ear in order to induce Indra to stop torrential rain out of pity for the poor animal.[230] In order to examine the ears of a doll one puts a thread into them.[231] Though not a rite proper the juggler may be mentioned who puts iron balls in his mouth and takes them out through his ear or nose.[232] The ear also plays a role in enigmatic sign language as when a princess rubs her ears to an unknown prince whose companion explains to him that the princess gestured to him that she comes from the city of Karṇālpur.[233]


Since the image of the swaying pendent vibhīdaka fruit in the gambler hymn[234] we know of objects in or on the ear as ornaments; they are flowers or pendants, studs, plugs or large bangles (karṇavalaya),[235] originally meant as a magical protection,[236] tribal identification, personal identity embellishment[237] and such as are put on the ear or inserted into it for medical purposes.[238]


Mostly, however, this involves flowers on the ears of women as an ornament, e.g. white Śirīṣa,[239] red aśoka flowers,[240] blue lotus,[241] Nameru blossoms,[242] Pterospermum acerifolium flowers[243] or jujube berries,[244] but men, too, wear earrings and objects such as a rolled leaf in their ears.[245]

There are, of course, many other kinds of ear ornaments, e.g. the tāṭaṅka of Śiva’s consort Devī, large flat discoid discs with grooved rims where they were inserted in the earlobe.[246] Kālī wears two dangling severed heads for earrings.[247] In the early centuries AD pin or stylet type earrings (karṇôtkīlaka) were prevalent.[248] In Bharhut, Sanchi and Amaravati prākāra-vapra-kuṇḍalas can be seen, consisting of a thick double loop attached to a cubical block.[249] An ascetic can have a rosary on his ear.[250]

In Tamil Naḍu temple dancers have special ear-pendants (tōḍu) which they are no longer allowed to wear when they are too old to dance, and must exchange for the pampadam, the antiquated ear-ornament of Śūdra women.[251] Earrings can also be different (asymmetric);[252] thus at the Vetāla-sādhanā, a Śaiva black magic, the participants wear a white ivory pendant in the one ear and an earring with pearl in the other.[253]

We also hear of a herb for causing change of sex, which the princess R̥ṣidattā put in or on her ear to become a man.[254]

Animals, too, can wear ear ornaments such as elephants with chowries at their ears in Bāṇa.[255]


In order to remove centipedes that entered a king’s head when he slept in the forest, a tube is inserted into his ear leading to a pitcher of water into which the centipedes will fall, driven out by the heat of the head.[256]


The ear is often used in similes. Thus, to scoop the correct amount of water for the smārta ācamana rite, the worshipper holds the spoon in his right hand in what is known as the cow’s ear position, i.e. the first finger is bent over to touch the second knuckle of the thumb.[257] Elephants’ ears are con­sidered a symbol of impermanence in the Avadāna,[258] and Merutuṅga reflects that fortune is as fickle as elephants’ ears.[259] The large ears of the vidūṣaka are an otological meta­phor of his “wisdom”,[260] but they are made of wood.[261]


Diseases of the ears, otalgia, are mentioned since the AV.[262] Suśruta distinguishes twenty-eight types.[263] They emerge when the planet Venus is in the asterism Śravaṇa.[264] Dumb ears can be opened by the invocation (dhītí) of the R̥ta.[265] Scabs at the ear are scratched with a scraper.[266] Pimples on the ears indicate metaphysical science.[267]

Buddhaghosa lists aspirants to the order who may not be ordained because of serious diseases (pāpa-rogī)[268] among which such as elephants’ ears (hatthi-kaṇṇo), ears of a bat (jatuka-kaṇṇo), ears with boils (gaṇḍa-kaṇṇo) or ulcerating and festering ones.[269] People affected with earache resort to ant-hills, pour out milk, cold rice, fruit, etc., thus pleasing the crows, and carry away part of the earth, which they apply to the troublesome member.[270] After a bad dream, too, the ears should be cleaned with earth from a termitarium.[271]

An old dog’s ear is thick with ticks.[272]

Somadeva makes a woman irrigate ears with nectar when she prattles.[273] Finally, a man purges the ear with the sound of his lyre which, like the Ganges, charms with its swift stream of music.[274]


APSŚK = Anandasāgarasūri 1954

AVPar = Bolling & Negelein 1909

BKBh = Br̥hat-Kalpa-Bhāṣya 1932-42

CE = Critical Edition of Mahābhārata

EWAi = Mayrhofer 1991-2001

HdA = Bächtold-Stäubli 1937-42

MW = Monier-Williams 1899

PWB = Petersburg Dictionary 1855-75

Triº = Hemacandra, Triṣaṣṭiśalākāpuruṣacaritra




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* The author expresses his gratitude to Dr John Weaver for idiomatizing his English diction.

[1] Huebotter 1932: 14 in the ninth week, together with the other seven openings of the body.
[2] Native lexica give also some rare synonyms such as kuhara and p(a)iñjūṣa, peñjūṣa (MW).
[3] Williams 1963: 126 note 8.
[4] Aṇuogaddāra sū. 405ff.; Sūyagaḍa-Nijjutti 6; Glasenapp 1999: 195; Schubring 2000: § 62.
[5] Bollée 1993: 571.
[6] Conceder la oreja. Being Christians, the Spanish do not recognize us humans as just another kind of animals.
[7] MS 4,2,9 (p. 347,17), but we hear of earmarked cows as early as ṚV 10, 62,7 (aṣṭa-karṇyyàḥ; see also Delbrück 1896: 49f. and Paudler 1933).
[8] See Pāṇini 6,3,115.
[9] MS 4,2,9 (p. 348,1) na vā etam etā amutrâgacchanti, yā an-akṣitā iti, translated by Delbrück loc. cit. as: “dass das Vieh, welches ungezeichnet ist, im Jenseits (?) nicht zu dem Besitzer kommt, deshalb ist es zu zeichnen”, cf. Gonda 1965: 357.
[10] Kangle on Kauṭilya II 29,25 (where Meyer’s translation in 1926: 206 is declined).
[11] Campbell 1898: 160.
[12] Stokes 1880: 130.
[13] ṢaḍviṃśaBr 4,1,12; considered apocryph in Mbh CE 13,399*.1 post karṇe vâjasya dakṣiṇe (Hopkins 1915: 103 [§ 51] where the oblation is poured on the ear, but this makes no difference for my argument). See also Dandekar 1958: 182ff.
[14] R̥V 6,38,2 dūrác cid á vasato asya kárṇā ghóṣād índrasya …..
[15] R̥V 10,85,11 śrótraṃ te cakré āstām. Soma’s ears are called the r̥tá AVPaipp 2 < Gonda 1965: 324.
[16] Śabda-grahaṇa-sāmarthyâtiśayaṃ (Bhaṭṭabhāskara on TaittBr 1,1,3,4 [König 1984: 114]).
[17] TaittS 5,1,2,5 śrotraṃ hy etat pr̥thivyāḥ yad valmīkaḥ. See also Oertel 1907; Caland 1909 and Krick 1982: 140ff.
[18] R̥V 2,39,6 (Hirzel 1890: 47); Śatapathabrāhmaṇa (ŚpBr) XII 9,1,13; see also Gonda 1965: 427, but not in id. 1974. Cf. TaittS 6,4,9,4 “moving all around, that (he does) for the Aśvins; therefore on all sides he hears with the ear” (Keith 1914). The mantra of R̥V 1,3,1-3 recited for the Aśvins makes perfect the ears of a new-born baby who tries to hear and is attentive (AiBr III 2.7).
[19] ŚpBr VIII 1,2,5f. - The autumn is the ear’s daughter, an association Sāyaṇa does not explain, but śarad eva sarvam (GopBr 5,15).
[20] ŚpBr X 3,3,8; BĀU 3,2,13 diśaḥ śrotram apyeti. In AgniPur 371,3 the soul of a good person leaves the body through its ear (Meyer 1952: 249 note).
[21] Oldenberg 1919: 81f. note 4; Glasenapp 1940: 19.
[22] BĀU 1,3,5 (devāḥ) atha ha śrotram ūcuḥ: “Tvaṃ na udgāyêti”. See Glasenapp 1940: 18.
[23] Udāna III 7 (p. 30,10).
[24] Kathāsaritsāgara (KSS) 54,33 dik-śrotro (Viṣṇuḥ).
[25] MW < Tantrasāra without ref.; Nemicandra 26b 5 on Pavac. Sārod. 113.
[26] ŚpBr X 5,3,7.
[27] AVPaipp 16,139,2 satyaṃ cakṣur r̥taṃ śrotre (Gonda 1965: 324).
[28] KSS 18,15 ekasyāḥ srotsukā dr̥ṣṭir nr̥pâloka-vikasvarā śruteḥ pārśvam a-paśyantyās tad ākhyātum ivâyayau.
[29] Rājaśekhara, Karpūramañjarī I 32 nettāṇã dīhattaṇaṃ kaṇṇehiṃ khaliyaṃ; cf. Sattasaī 323 (Weber) keṇa kaṇṇa-raiyaṃ lakkhijjai kuvalayaṃ “who would have noticed the dark lotus in the ear of a woman with dark eyes?” The proximity of the eyes makes the ear a depository of deceit just as a learned man (śrutavān) becomes corrupt by association with the evil-minded (Sternbach I 1974: 1642). See also Karpūram II 27 and Daṇḍin, Kāvyādarśa 2,339.
[30] Meyer 1937: I 195 with reference to Pañcatantra (ed D. D. Kosambi. NSP, 1950) 4,2, p. 287,8; 1939: 82.
[31] Jātaka II 261,18*; kaṇṇavā ti paññavā (22’).
[32] KSS 2,37 sakr̥c-śrutam ayam bālaḥ sarvaṃ vai dhārayed dhr̥di; 2,66 eka-śruta-dhara.
[33] ŚpBr XI 2,6,4 dakṣiṇaḥ karṇaś caturthaḥ, savyaḥ karṇaḥ pañcamaḥ. Atha yac caturthe prayāje samānayati, tasmād idaṃ śrotram antarataḥ saṃtr̥ṇam.
[34] R̥V 10,86,4 śvá nv àsya (of Vr̥ṣākapi) jambhiṣad ápi kárṇe varāhayúr.
[35] Br̥hatkathāślokasaṃgraha XX 233.
[36] BKBh 5107 viṇayassa u gāhaṇayā kaṇṇâmoḍa-khaḍugā-caveḍāhiṃ | sāvekkha hattha-tālaṃ dalāi mammāṇi pheḍinto || The second line is explained thus: yeṣu pradeśeṣv āhataḥ san mriyate, tāni pariharan ācāryaḥ kṣulla­kasya hastātālaṃ dadāti. Cf. comm. on the vss 2654, 3164 and Bollée 2006a note 23 bottom; further Utt 1,38; Niśītha-Cū 299 (APSŚK); Divyâv 13, 125; KSS 66,139 and Latin aurem vellere, Sa. karṇâghāṭayati (comm. 746,30 on BKBh 2659), Hindī kān umeṭhnā. Ahiṃsā does not prevent pedagogy by slaps as was customary; thus King Yaśodhara’s mother regretfully says to herself that the time is gone when her son could be compelled to carry out her wishes by a box on the ear (Handiqui 1949: 323).
In Germany, especially at establishing a border, boys as witnesses used to have their ears tweaked to make them remember the important act for a long time. - Blows are powers that avert evil (HdA VI 1217; Meyer 1937: I 194) and in the story of the blind man, the deaf man, and the donkey they caused the deaf man to hear again (Frere 1881: 162).
[37] Hemacandra, Triṣaṣṭiśalākāpuruṣacaritra (Tri°) IV 1,881 ~ X 4,619.
[38] Campbell 1898: 159.
[39] In proper names the word -karṇa as the last member of a compound can mean “son” (Kosambi 1963: 195f.).
[40] In Mbh CE IX 45,24 a kr̥ṣṇa-karṇī mātā in Skanda’s retinue is mentioned and these mātaras are called yaśasvi­nayas in vs 2.
[41] AV 5,17,15 in Whitney’s translation. Yet Gālava had to give Viśvamitra one thousand white horses with one black ear as teacher’s fee (śyāma-karṇānāṃ pāṇḍurāṇāṃ tarasvināṃ // sahasraṃ vājinām ekam śulkârthaṃ me pradīyatām, Mbh CE III 115,15). - See also Wackernagel & Debrunner 1954: 376 (§ 246).
[42] MW < Nr̥siṃha-Upaniṣad.
[43] MS 2,5,7 maitrā-varuṇīṃ (sáurīṃ) kr̥ṣṇa-kárṇīm ālabheta vṛṣṭi-kāmo.
[44] E.g. Dhp-a III 31,16 where a hunter seeing a bhikkhu on his begging tour thinks he will not catch anything that day and sets his dogs on the monk to have him devoured and thus eliminated. - Meeting ascetics is considered inauspicious also by Jains, e.g. Samarāiccakahā 268,9 muṇivaro, avasauṇo khu eso, cf. Hemacandra, Tri° IX 2,191 mahā-muniḥ.... a-śakunam, and Christians (HdA VI 475 and VII 322f. sacerdotem obvium aliumve religiosum dicunt esse infaustum), because of the evil eye, etc.
[45] Dhp-a III 38, 20 where a woman is falsely accusing the Buddha.
[46] Ja I 239,1.
[47] Kathākośa /ed Hofmann 353,12; 355,1f.
[48] Hemavijaya, Kathāratnākara 121,11 (see Bollée 2006: 124). For the change of colour cf. Italian vino nero for red wine.
[49] Aṇuttarovavāiya 3, see further Barnett 1907: 117f.
[50] Rām (Bombay, 1930) 7,5,40 Bhāsa-karṇa.
[51] EWAia; Hiltebeitel 2001: 248.
[52] Mbh CE 9,45,24.
[53] In old age the tip of the ear becomes white: munim aikṣata … jarā-dhavala-karṇâgra-saṃśrayiṇyā virājitam (KSS 25,15).
[54] Mbh CE 1,31,9.
[55] AVPar and Varāhamihira; see also Kohlbrugge 1948.
[56] Depicted e.g., in Granoff 2009:161, and 166 where the ears of a 10th century statue from Madhya Pradeś touch its shoulders. Curi­ously, among the thirty-two lakṣaṇas of the Buddha in DīghaN II 18 or III 144 there is no one on his ears (or nose). Bāṇa mentions the hanging ears of Bhairavâcārya (Harṣac NSP 1946: 103,20). - Cf. Plinius, Nat. historia XI 251; see further HdA VI: 1204 where intelligence is mostly connected with long life.
[57] SauraPur 19,8. The ears are also compared to a worthless son in Amitagati 288 when they do not hear salutary speech.
[58] Roth 1983: 90.
[59] GaruḍaPur 176,16f. < Meyer 1937 I 195; Bollée 1977: 35.
[60] GaruḍaPur I 65,61 kr̥paṇā hrasva-karṇakāḥ.
[61] Ibidem karṇaiḥ syuḥ pāpa-mr̥tyavaḥ nirmāṃsaiḥ which Meyer translates as “die an evil death” (1928: 132 note 1).
[62] Ibidem (karṇaiś) cipiṭair bhogāḥ.
[63] Br̥hatsaṃhitā 70,21 kleśaṃ dadhāte viṣamau ca karṇau.
[64] Triṣaṣṭi° X 11,91 śraddadhānāḥ pibanti ye Bhavad-vacana-pīyūṣaṃ karṇâñjali-puṭaiḥ, cf. Veṇīsaṃhāra I 4 śravaṇâñjali-puṭa-peyaṃ … amr̥tam.
[65] Somadeva, Yaśastilaka IV 42,8 a-navânupadīnā-paṭala-sama-śravasam.
[66] GaruḍaPurāṇa I 65,61 śaṅku-karṇāś ca rājānaḥ and Meyer 1928: 133 note 1 refers to demons with such ears.
[67] Mbh CE 12,136,110 śaṅku-karṇo mahā-vaktraḥ.
[68] Mūsika-kaṇṇo (text: mūlika-) vā jatuka-kaṇṇo vā khuddakāhi kaṇṇa-sakkhalikāhi samannāgato ….. pabbājetabbo (Sp 1028,30).
[69] Mbh CE 2,28,44; Rām (Bombay, 1930) 5,17,5.
[70] Apadāna 406: 18 (p. 359,9) Eka-kaṇṇikā.
[71] GaruḍaPur I 65,103 (Kohlbrugge 1948: 69); Bhatsaṃhitā 70,9 karṇa-yugmam api yukta-māṃsalaṃ śasyate mr̥du samāhitaṃ samaṃ. See further, e.g., Paumacariu II 224. - The opposite is the man named Coḍa-karṇa “with projecting ears”.
[72] Auboyer et Mallmann 1950: 215.
[73] “Oreille blanche, clere et nette, oreille un petit rondelette, oreille ne grosse ne grasse, oreille de bien bonne grace, oreille qui n’est point trop grande….”
[74] “ouye assise au chef de la beauté / dedans le clos d’honneste privauté, / et située en deux fosses petites / sous un silence à costé des Charites ….”
[75] Schmidt 1959: 307ff.; A. Saunders, The sixteenth-century Blason Poétique. Bern: Lang, 1981: 13.
[76] Vogel 1926: 69 < Mbh I Poona 1931 52,7 krośa-yojana-mātrā hi go-karṇasya pramāṇataḥ patanty ajasraṃ ¼ vahnāv agnimatām = A.D. I 434*.
[77] Somadeva, Yaśastilaka V 187,4 sv-alpa-tīkṣṇâgra-karṇa; Bollée 2006 note 812.
[78] Petavatthu II 12 Kaṇṇa-muṇḍā (Pv-a 150,29).
[79] R̥V 5,31,9 Índrā-Kutsā! váhamānā ráthená vām átyā ápi kárṇe vahantu.
[80] Karpūramañjarī I 29 mukkā savaṇ’-antareṇa tikkhā kaḍakkha-cchaḍā.
[81] BKBh 6206 kaṇṇammi esa sīho gahio aha dhārio ya so hatthī | khuḍḍalatariyā tujjhaṃ te vi ya gamiyā purā pālā || which Kṣemakīrti explains: hasti-pālāḥ siṃha-pālāḥ... pūrvaṃ pratibodhitāḥ kartavyāḥ yathā: “Asmākam ekā kṣullikā yuṣmadīyaṃ siṃhaṃ hastinaṃ vā dr̥ṣṭvā kṣobham upāgatā. Tataḥ sā yathā muñcati, tathā kartavyaṃ.” Evaṃ teṣu pratibodhiteṣu sā kṣipta-cittī-bhūtā teṣām antike nīyate nītvā ca tāsāṃ madhye yā tasyā api kṣullikāyā laghutarī, tayā sa siṃhaḥ karṇe dhāryate …. Tataḥ sā kṣipta-cittā prôcyate: “Tvatto ‘pi yā kṣullakatarā, atiśayena laghus tayā eṣa simhaḥ karṇe dhr̥taḥ …, tvaṃ tu bibheṣi. Kiṃ tvam etasyā api bhīrur jātā? Dhārṣṭyam avalambyatām” iti. The word kṣipta-citta cannot, with MW, mean “absent-minded” (< PWB zerstreut), but is a synonym of kṣobham upāgata. PSM correctly gives pāgal. - The scarcity of lions in India is responsible for such unrealistic ideas as is also shown by the story of the boy riding on a lion in KSS 6,94.
[82] See Sörensen 1904, s.v., VāmanaPurāṇa Saromah. 26,66f., KSS 22,218 as a statue.
[83] Mbh CE 9,45,25.
[84] Mbh 2, 10,15f.
[85] JaimBr II 167; PVB 17,12,6; ĀpŚS 22,7,21; BaudhŚS 21,17 (Caland 1903: 28 [§ 33]).
[86] Mallmann 1962: 294 and 356.
[87] Rājataraṅgiṇī 1,346.
[88] Meulenbeld 1974: 406.
[89] Divyāvadāna 619,27. Another tiger-eared king could be mentioned in KSS 6,88, but the reading is not certain: instead of Dvīpi-karṇin of Tawney & Penzer I 67 the NSP text has Dīpa-karṇin.
[90] Mbh CE 2,28,48.
[91] Crooke 1911 from which I freely quote. See further Naithāni 2006 Part I, where also Crooke’s Indian co-folk­lorist, collaborator and translator, Pt Ram Gharib Chaube, is rehabilitated.
[92] *F 511.2.2 in Thompson’s Motif Index.
[93] Metamorphoses XI 146-193, cf. Aristophanes, Plutus 287.
[94] Thompson 1932-: D 1316. 5.
[95] Naithāni 2002: 122 states that Crooke’s Mirzapur version in which the king has horns on his head is “the Eastern version of the Greek legend of King Midas”; she did not read Crooke’s article apparently.
[96] A village in Hunsūr taluk, Mysore district, 24 km north of Piriyapatna in South Karnataka.
[97] About 1950 many Roman coins dating to the time of the emperors Augustus and Tiberius were found in Yeshvantpur near Bangalore on the way to the old airport, and various other places; the same pertains to Roman pottery (p.c. Hampana).
[98] Thompson 1932: N 465.
[99] Crooke thinks that in the most primitive forms of the story the tree is the transformed or reborn spirit of the executed barber and speaks through its wood when made into a drum or flute. As an explanation of the legend Crooke proposes a half-forgotten or misunderstood form of ritual in which the worshipper dressed in the skin of the victim and so enveloped himself in its sanctity (Crooke 1911: 196ff.).
[100] Quoted from C. Hayavadana Rao (ed), Mysore Gazetteer VII, 644. The story is not found in Chandran 1973. In KSS 70,108 the donkey represents a-dharma.
[101] Muni Bhadrabāhuvijaya kindly wrote to me (p. c.) that there are many amātya parables, but he has not informed me where they can be found and we regrettably have no list of illustrative parables in the commentaries.
[102] BKBh I on vs 760 laukike bhāvataḥ parisrāviṇi amātya-dr̥ṣṭântaḥ (I, p. 237,23ff.): Ego rāyā. Tassa kaṇṇā gaddabhassa jārisā. So niccaṃ kholāe a-mukkiyāe acchai. So annayā amacceṇaṃ egante pucchio: “Kiṃ tubbhe, bhaṭṭāraya-pādā, kholāe āviddhiyāe acchaha? Na kassai sīsaṃ kaṇṇā ya dariseha?” Rannā sabbhāvo kahio bhaṇiyaṃ ca: “Mā rahassa-bheyaṃ kāhisi” tti. Teṇa a-gambhīrayāe taṃ rahassaṃ aṇ-ahiyāsamāṇeṇa aḍaviṃ gantuṃ rukkha-koṭṭare muhaṃ choḍhūṇaṃ bhaṇiyaṃ: “Gaddabha-kaṇṇo rāyā, gaddabha-kaṇṇo rāyā”. Taṃ rukkhaṃ anneṇa keṇai chettuṃ vāditraṃ kr̥taṃ. Bhaviyavvayā-vaseṇa ya taṃ ranno purao vāiyaṃ. Taṃ vajjantaṃ bhaṇai: “Gaddabha-kaṇṇo rāyā, gaddabha-kaṇṇo rāyā”. Rannā amacco pucchio: “Tume paraṃ eyaṃ rahassaṃ nāyaṃ; kassa te kahiyaṃ?” Amacceṇa jahā-vattaṃ siṭṭhaṃ. Esa lohio parissāvi.
[103] See, e.g. Bollée 2010 on vs 108. In ŚpBr 6,1,2,28 vāg vā agniḥ speech is associated with fire which fits Indian spoken language better (cf. Glasenapp 1940: 19).
[104] Sims 2009. Hampana (p.c.) also points to the boy in Collodi’s Pinocchio who for lying was punished by ass’s ears, but Midas’ ears were the consequence of divine misuse of power.
[105] Commentary on Pāṇini 4,1,112. Cf. BKBh 5227 moraga “little peacock” explained as kuṇḍala “earring” (Bollée 2005: 38); thus Mayūra-karṇa could mean “with a peacock ornament in his ear”. See also Malayagiri IV,3 10a 3ff. in Bollée 2005: 88.
[106] Sternbach VI 10647.
[107] Cf. vr̥ści-karṇī “Salvinia Cucullata”.
[108] Hertel 2007: 90 note 1.
[109] Suśruta 1,32,15 (< PWB).
[110] Vaṇa-dava-ḍaḍḍhaṃ ….. mankusa-kaṇṇa-saricchaṃ dīsai pattaṃ palāsassa (Hāla 781).
[111] De Witte 1948: 144; Liddell & Scott.
[112] Vettam Mani 1975: 293 < Bhāgavata Māhātmya.
[113] Kelting 2009: 183 note 20.
[114] See Mallmann 1962: 62. Large metallic bell-shaped ear-decorations are worn, e.g. by Kami Mazu tribal women (Postel 1989: 300 and 302).
[115] KSS 55,165, cf. 21,1.
[116] Schlitzöhrchen (HdA VI 1204).
[117] AV 11,9,7 and 10,7; see also Wackernagel & Debrunner II,2: 376 and cf. Kuṇḍa-karṇa (MW).
[118] Chatterjee 1978: 63.
[119] GaruḍaPur I 65,61 discussed by Meyer 1928: 133.
[120] Kuvalayamālā 40,26.
[121] Kuvalayamālā 24,5 (Chojnacki 2008:II 96). See further Caland 1911.
[122] Elwin 1949: 228; Thompson-Balys B 782.
[123] Thus Kaliṅgasenā says her mind has been captivated by King Vatsa entering through the gate of her ear: śruti-mārga-praviṣṭena hr̥taṃ tena yathā manaḥ (KSS 31,3).
[124] Crooke 1896: I 242. Among the Dakhan Mhārs at a boy’s initiation the priest performs the ear-cleansing rite (kān phunkane) in order to drive out evil spirits (Campbell 1898: 160).
[125] KSS 51,122 where a Buddhist monk praises the beauteous princess Rūpalatā and his words enter the ears of the smart king Pr̥thvīrūpa with arrows of Love and stick in his heart.
[126] Amitagati, Subhās VII 30 yathârtha-tattvaṃ … nidhāya karṇe.
[127] Kaṇṇe ṭhavei (M IV,2 68b 2 ad VyavahāraBhāṣya 303 (Bollée 2005: 23).
[128] Sattasaī (/ed Weber) 805 kiṃ pi jampasu! piantu kaṇṇāi me amiaṃ! Also, e.g. Samantabhadra, Ratna­karaṇḍaka 108 (see Bollée 2010); KSS 25,224.
[129] KSS 19,10 tat-svapna-varṇanenâiva śrotra-peyena tr̥ptayoḥ tayoś ca vibhavāyâiva jātaḥ svādv-auṣadha-kramaḥ.
[130] Rājataraṅgiṇī (MW supplement, Schmidt 1928; no dictionary has an exact reference); Saddanīti 313,33*.
[131] Guṇabhadra, Utt. 73 vs 168 (Bollée 2007: 130).
[132] Buddhaghosa, Samantapāsādikā 1061,3; BKBh 854.
[133] Skyhawk 1990: 134 note 188.
[134] Jones 1914: 135ff.; HdA II 808; Jung 1971 III 116f., 369.
[135] HdA VI 1205.
[136] See Freud 1968 18 (Index) s.v.
[137] Vs 164. See also Jones 1928: 43 referring to a Buddhist legend in Mongolia.
[138] Zinn 1955 I: 731.
[139] VarāhaGS 12,2; JaimGS 1,4; 5,15.
[140] Kuvalayamālā 159,29.
[141] Crooke 1896 I: 269. See also Kapp 1988: 93 and Narula 1991: 16 where Añjanā figures as a theophany of Viṣṇu.
[142] ŚpBr 10,5,3,8, see Glasenapp 1940: 35.
[143] ŚpBr 7,5,2,6 (Prajāpatiḥ) śrotrād aviṃ (niramimīta).
[144] Mbh CE 12,335,38.
[145] Rām (Bombay, 1930; not in CE) 1,43,38 śrotrābhyām asr̥jat prabhuḥ tasmāj Jahnu-sutā Gaṅgā procyate Jāhnavī (see Crooke 1896a I 36; Glasenapp 1922: 143 and Kosambi 1962-3: 195f.). Cf. Bāṇa, Harṣac 105,7 and Hemavijaya, Kath 75,15. The river is called Jahnu’s daughter because she emerged from his ears.
[146] Haribhadra, Dhūrtâkhyāna 1,83f. The Mbh CE 3,292,4 only speaks of virginal delivery.
[147] MārkPur 81,50; KurmaPur 1,10,2.
[148] Dhp-a III 214,5ff.
[149] Rājataraṅgiṇī VI 193 with Stein’s translation.
[150] Van Buitenen 1971: 274 note 19 calls Karṇapūraka in Mr̥cchakaṭika II a braggart. See also Esposito 2004: 269 note 176.
[151] KSS 24, 212.
[152] Bloomfield 1919: 226.
[153] Daṇḍin, Daś 67,4 tasya kāmônmattasya citra-vadha-vārtā-preṣaṇena śravaṇôtsavo ‘smākaṃ vidheyuḥ, cf. Guṇabhadra, UttP 73,168 śruti-sukha (Bollée 2008: 34).
[154] Hemacandra, Tri° IX 3,181 dr̥k śrutyāḥ saṃvadati.
[155] Vidhātāraṃ nininda saḥ: śrotra-netram ayaṃ kr̥tsnam akarot kiṃ na mām? iti (KSS 35,139).
[156] Daṇḍin, Daś 141,2 śrotraṃ adahāva.
[157] KSS 18,82.
[158] Uvāca giraṃ so (Dakṣo) ‘tha tvat-karṇa-viṣa-sūcikām (KSS I 37).
[159] Pañcatantra (NSP. Bombay, 1950) I 1 vs 108 ṣaṭ-karṇo bhidyate mantraś catuṣ-karṇaḥ sthiro bhavet / tasmāt sarva-prayatnena ṣaṭ-karṇaṃ varjayet sudhīḥ //; BKBh 2088 cau-kaṇṇaṃ hojja rahaṃ, cf. 391. OhaN 791; Ja VI 392,16f. tvaṃ “catu-kaṇṇo me manto” ti maññasi, idān’ eva cha-kaṇṇo jāto, puṇa aṭṭha-kaṇṇo bhavitvā an-eka-sata-kaṇṇo bhavissatî” ti. See also Sternbach 10784.
[160] Hemacandra, Tri° X 3, 228 suvarṇenâpi kiṃ tena karṇa-bhedo bhaved yataḥ.
[161] Badhirān manda-karṇaḥ śreyān (MW > Apte without reference).
[162] Śīlâṅka I 111a 6 on Sūyagaḍa 1,4,1,19.
[163] Mbh (Poona, 1930) III 3,46,36 and Hariṣeṇa, Br̥hatkathākoṣa 57, 284, cf. Mbh CE 13 App. 10 294 karṇau pidhāya hastābhyāṃ. - Tawney-Penzer II 256 mentions the vr̥ka or fire in the stomach which can be heard on putting the fingers in one’s ears, but this could not be found in the reference given, ŚpBr II 1.
[164] Hillebrandt 1897: 135; Gonda 1978: 153. Is this a reason why one occasionally does not bathe one’s head as in Malayagiri IV 10 52a 1 on VavBh 4208 (Bollée 2005: 68f.)?
[165] Handiqui 1956: 97 on Naiṣadhacarita VII 61.
[166] Naiṣadhacarita VII 63.
[167] Dhammapada-a III 106, 12 cīvara-kaṇṇaṃ pattharitvā nipajji, cf. Avadānaśataka II 184.
[168] HdA VI 1205 “Beim Erwachen des Kausalitätsbedürfnisses erklärt sich der Mensch den Vorgang des Hörens aus der unmittelbaren Tätigkeit eines Dämons” (Karutz 1897: 214). Von dieser Grundanschauung sei die große Mehrzahl der Sitten und Gebräuche entstanden, in denen das Ohr eine Rolle spielt.
[169] Negelein I 1931: 286.
[170] MānavaGS 1,7,6 ~ BhāradvājaGS I 23; see Caland 1899: 213 and Krick 1982: 180 on the parṇa = palāśa tree, Butea frondosa.
[171] HiraṇyakeśiGS II 3,9; TaittS 1,3,14 m. Cf. the adhān spoken into the ear of a new-born future Muslim.
[172] HdA VI 1207; Auboyer 1961: 215. Abbott 1932: 39 mentions the rite of kān phunkṇen, i.e. the breathing by a guru into the ears of a child after reciting from a sacred book.
[173] Jolly 1977 § 43.
[174] Hemacandra, Tri° I 2,316; Bhāvadeva, Pārśvac. V 76; Nemicandra 289a 11 on Utt 23,1.
[175] Stevenson 1920: 36.
[176] Stevenson 1920: 40.
[177] DīghaNikāya I 11,20 kaṇṇa-jappana with Sv 97,6ff.
[178] KātyŚS 20,2,9 adhvaryu-yajamānau dakṣiṇe aśva-karṇe japato vibhūr mātrêti.
[179] Kuvalayamālā 111,32 (karṇa-jāpa).
[180] KSS 6,57 go-karṇa-sadr̥śau kr̥tvā karāv ābaddha-sāraṇau tāra-svaraṃ tathā Sāma gāyati sma jaḍâśayaḥ. KSS 18,108 characterizes Sāmaveda brahmins as the home of timidity, boorishness and ill temper (Tawney-Penzer II 57).
[181] KauśS 23,12ff.
[182] Caland 1919 § 203.
[183] AVPar XVIIIc (Negelein I 1909: 117).
[184] Krick 1982: 323 note 845; 336.
[185] Commentary 404,2 on BKBh 1312 Ḍombī tasyāḥ kula-daivataṃ Ghaṇṭika-yakṣo nāma. Sa pr̥ṣṭaḥ san karṇe kathayati, etc. (Jain 1984: 327 note 5 where the reference ĀvCū II 229 could not be found).
[186] Campbell 1898: 160.
[187] Śārṅgadhara, Paddhati 603 < Sternbach VI 10783.
[188] Gonda 1980: 334; Hemādri, Caturvargacintāmaṇi II 1,690f. < Meyer 1937 I 195 note 1.
[189] Prabandhacintāmaṇi 123,22f.
[190] Hitopadeśa, ed NSP (Bombay, 1950) 18,8 (I 3 on vs 63).
[191] Campbell 1898: 159 < Bombay Gazetteer XV 388.
[192] HdA VIII 152.
[193] Br̥hatsaṃhitā 51,34.
[194] Cf. Caland in Witzel 1990: 567f. and 672; Kane II,1 1974: 287ff.
[195] ĀgniveśyaGS 2,6,8; VaikhānasaDhS 2,9,2; Stevenson 1920: 211; Bollée 2008 note 112.
[196] Sternbach 9168* kaṣṭā vedha-vyathā … śravaṇānām. See also Bhattacharyya 1975: 83.
[197] Suśruta, Sūtrasthāna xvi; Kane 1974: 254; Diehl 1956: 181; Gonda 1980: 354 and 377. - On the auspicious moment see Br̥hatsaṃhitā 100,6.
[198] Auboyer 1961: 215.
[199] Jung 1973: V 449; 452 note 97.
[200] Abbott 1932: 208, cf. 221.
[201] Abbott 1932: 92.
[202] Purāṇasarvasva (MW without reference).
[203] Thurston 1912: 159.
[204] Muusses 1920: 54f.; AV 6,141,2.
[205] Amedhyáḥ karṇáḥ (MS IV 2,9). In Pischel and Geldner 1889: 138 karṇá is translated by “mit gestutzten Ohren” (“with cropped ears”). MW, Muusses 1920:39 and Mayrhofer, EWAi render karṇá by “long-eared” (in EWAi also defekt- and taubohrig “with defect ears; deaf”), corresponding to a-karṇa “with short ears” in VS 24,40 (Schwab 1886: xviii). - Earmarked is considered as defect and unfit for buying soma (ŚpBr 3,3,1,16); such cows may be killed (JaimBr II 370). Caland 1919: 207 note 17 states that the purpose of the marking is unknown and then asks if perhaps thereby beef cattle would be indicated.
[206] See Gonda 1965: 357.
[207] Lāṭyāyana 8,6,23, see Hauer 1927: 107.
[208] Cp 1,9,24 kaṇṇa-bheri “a double drum” (Cp-a 85,11 yugala-mahā-bheri).
[209] Malayagiri 152b 7 on PiṇḍaNijjutti 549 piṭhara-karṇa “handle of a pot”, cf. bhāṇa-kaṇṇa in OhaNijjutti 290.
[210] Dhammapada-a III 420,2.
[211] ĀyāraṅgaNijjutti 170; Haribhadra, Samar 549,14 vīāvio cela-kaṇṇehi “cooled by fans”.
[212] Dhp-a I 371,6 dabbī-kaṇṇena thokaṃ piṭṭhaṃ (thus read for piṭṭhiṃ) gahetvā “taking a little dough with the tip of a ladle”).
[213] Kauṭilya 10,6,16 and 42 (marching out with the centre with wings like big ears [Kangle])
[214] Sternbach 1975: 56 no 56.1 < Subhāṣita-ratna-bhāṇḍāgāram 185, 22 (non vīdi). No dictionary states karṇa in the sense of “drumhead”.
[215] Suśruta, Nidāna 15,5 one of twelve kinds of kāṇḍa-bhagna.
[216] Kauṭilya 2,18,16. Kangle: “board used as a cover”.
[217] Bāṇa, Harṣac. 107,20 (mahâsiḥ) karṇôtpalam iva Kālasya.
[218] KSS 9,5 Kauśāmbī ¼ bhūtatasyêva karṇikā, cf. 11,31 for Ujjayinī.
[219] Briggs 1938.
[220] Prabandhacintāmaṇi 117,22 (nigr̥hīta-karṇa). In German: Ehrverlust macht Ohrverlust (“loss of honour causes loss of ears”).
[221] Kathākośa ed. Hofmann 277,24. See also the story of Dhanaśrī in Bollée 2010: [53].
[222] Rāmāyaṇa (NSP. Bombay, 1930) 3,18,21, see also Kane 1973: III 395 (adultery with a lower-caste man who then was sentenced to death). Schubring 1932: 108 wrongly translates Dasaveyāliya 8,55 (“a monk should avoid contact with a man whose ear or nose have undergone a [pathological] change”). It is still practised, e.g. in Afghanistan where the horrible custom is pilloried in Time 176 (August 9.2010).
[223] Russell 1916: IV 364.
[224] Āyāranga 2,4,2,1.
[225] Samantapāsādikā 1026, 19 yassa pana kaṇṇâviddhe (kaṇṇā) chijjanti sakkā ca hoti saṃghāñetuṃ, so kaṇṇaṃ saṃghāñetvā pabbāje­tabbo.
[226] E.g. Pāṇinī 6,1,115; Petavatthu 24:10 kaṇṇa-muṇḍo sunakho. See further Bollée 2006b: 19 et passim (sub­ject index).
[227] Jolly 1977, § 42. An explanation for the donkey ear is not given.
[228] Nāsā-śruti-karttanaṃ ca bhavati yasya, ¼ tasya vasu-nāśaḥ.
[229] König 1984: 115.
[230] Bollée 2006b: 24 and 100. As against Śiva, we do not hear of a particular relationship of Indra with dogs. He only knows Saramā (R̥V 10,108,10).
[231] Hemavijaya, Kath. 245,20.
[232] VavBh I, p. 116 < Jain 1984: 264 note 5 (the place could not be found in my edition).
[233] Naithāni 2002:164.
[234] R̥V 10,34,1 prāvepá, see Geldner’s note 3 and Roth 1896.
[235] Nāṭyaśāstra; see also Postel 1989: 169.
[236] See e.g., Neumann 1955: 39. Therefore there are makara-kuṇḍalas (Sivaramamurti 1956: 108), sīhamukha-kuṇḍalas (Ja V 438,30 and Bollée 2009: 106), ear ornaments shaped like angry sharks (Tiruttakkatēvar, Cīvakacintāmaṇi vs 168), etc. Perhaps Sītā’s śva-daṃṣṭrau earrings which I discussed in 2006b: 24ff. as not having a connection with dogs, yet belong to this category of dangerous animals. Śiva has earrings with snakes (Vettam Mani 1975: 725a line 9 from below).
[237] Karpūramañjarī I 31 rūveṇa mukkā vi vihūsayanti. Tāṇaṃ alaṃkāra-vaseṇa sohā “even when lacking beauty they put on ornaments. (Then) their charm rests on the ornaments”. Also Sternbach II 3973 “by the earring on her ear, all the ornaments have been subjugated”.
[238] Campbell 1898: 159f.; Postel 1989: 5f.
[239] Karpūramañjarī IV 7; Śākuntala VI 18; see further Syed 1990: 590 and Chojnacki 2008 II: 20 note 2 (Albizzia lebbek).
[240] Bāṇa, Kādambarī 547,3. See Syed 1990: 77f.
[241] R̥tusaṃhāra 3,19.
[242] Kumārasambhava 1, 56 (Elaeocarpus ganitrus, dedicated to Śiva).
[243] R̥tusahāra 6,5 karṇi-kāra.
[244] Hāla 419 (Weber) kaṇṇe kāūṇa bora-saṃghāḍim.
[245] E.g., Jambū leaf in Hāla 180 (Weber).
[246] Śaṅkara, Saundaryalaharī 28. They are pictured in Sivaramamurti 1956 plate VIII nos 1,2 and 23; Postel 1989: 169f.
[247] Kinsley 1975: 81.
[248] Nāṭyaśāstra 23,24f. See also Postel 1989: 169 and 172.
[249] See Postel 1989: 170.
[250] Kālidāsa, Kum. 3,46; 5,11 et passim; KSS 25,15 munim aikṣata.… akṣa-mālayā jarā-dhavala-karṇâgra-saṃśrayiṇyā virājitam.
[251] Tawney-Penzer I 1924: 262. - In Bāṇa, Harṣac 132,1 dancing dāsīs have chaplets around their ears (karṇa-pallava).
[252] Bāṇa, Harṣac IV, p. 135,7f. ekenêndra-nīla-kuṇḍalâṃśu-syāmalitena śarīrârdhenêtareṇa ca tri-kaṇṭaka-muktā-phalâloka-dhavalitena. See also Bopearachchi 2003: 154 no 146 and plate on p. 168. Kubera in Pabhosa near Allahabad wears a coil in his left ear only (vāmâika-kuṇḍala-dhara), see Postel: 1989: 170.
[253] Agrawala 1969: 83.
[254] Kathākośa /ed Hofmann 267,18 tām oṣadhīm ānīya karṇe dhr̥tvā tasyāḥ prabhāvād akasmāt puruṣatvaṃ prāptam.
[255] Harṣacarita 145,12 and 216,12.
[256] KSS 29, 146f. - The earth-snake (Typhlops braminus) is known as ear-snake, because it is supposed to enter the ear of a sleeper on the earth and cause a certain death (Thurston 1912: 96). See also Dhp-a II 8,1 mama kaṇṇa-mūle āsīvisaṃ pi gacchantaṃ na jānāsi. In KSS 69.68 a poisonous snake is put into an elephant’s ear and kills it.
[257] Stevenson 1920: 216 > Diehl 1956: 73; Krick 1982: 143 note 374.
[258] Avadāna 1,144,9.
[259] Prabandhacintāmaṇi 123,26 kari-karṇa-tāla-taralāṃ kamalāṃ vimr̥śya, cf. Bilhaṇa (late 11th century A.D.), Vikram 4,58 jānāmi kari-karṇânta-cañcalaṃ hata-jīvitam.
[260] Rājaśekhara, Karpūramañjarī I 21 where a slave-girl is to be dressed like vidūṣaka, with a mask with a long beard and large ears (esā vā duṭṭha-dāsī lamba-kuccaṃ ṭappara-kaṇṇaṃ (Comm. vistr̥ta-karṇaṃ) paḍisīsayaṃ daiya).
[261] Upadhye 1932: 793 referring to Paumac 1,19 and 2,28.
[262] AV 9,8,1-2 karṇa-śūlá. Cf. Honko 1967: 122 and 197. - For auditive errors in reciting the Veda see Minard I 1949, § 588a.
[263] Zysk 1998: 161; Suśruta, Utt 20,3 and 6. See also Jolly 1977, § 84.
[264] Varāhamihira, Br̥hatsaṃhitā IX 33.
[265] R̥V 4,23,8; see Glasenapp 1940: 12.
[266] Jacobi 1886: 55,16 (kaṇḍūyaṇaga).
[267] Br̥hatsaṃhitā 52,3 piṭakaḥ ¼ śrotre tad-bhūṣaṇa-gaṇam api jñānam ātma-rūpam, cf. the ear seeking after the ātman in ŚpBr 10,5,3,7.
[268] Samantapāsādikā 1027,30ff.
[269] Samantapāsādikā 1029, 2f. sa-bhāvo yeva hi so tassa kaṇṇa-bhagandariko vā nicca-pūtinā kaṇṇena samannāgato.
[270] Thurston 1912: 134. In our classical antiquity formic acid was known as a medicine (König 1984: 136).
[271] BhavPur 1,23,17 > König 1984: 153 note 96.
[272] Sternbach I 8816*.
[273] KSS 47,112 ālapanty amr̥tenêva kācid āsiñcati śrutim, cf. KSS 44, 21 uccacāra gaganāt … vacaḥ śudhā-varṣaṃ śravaṇayoś … mahī-bhr̥taḥ.
[274] KSS 49,23 sa vāditavān gāthān … Gaṅgām ivâugha-subhagāṃ karṇa-pāvana-niḥsvanām.
[275] Abbreviations follow the system of Monier Williams for Sanskrit, Schubring for Jain texts and the Critical Pali Dictionary for Pāli literature.


SVASTI - Essays in Honour of

Prof. Hampa Nagarajaiah
for his 75th birthday 7.10.2010

Editor: Prof. Dr. Nalini Balbir.

Publisher: Dr. M. Byregowda
K.S. Muddappa Smaraka Trust
Krishnapuradoddi #119, 3rd Cross,
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Bangalore - 560 104 Karnataka
Ph: 080-23409512

Edition: 2010

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