Penser, dire et représenter l'animal dans le monde indien [Book Review]

Author:  Image of Signe KirdeSigne Kirde
Published: 02.03.2012
Updated: 30.07.2015

Penser, dire et représenter l'animal dans le monde indien. Textes réunis par Nalini Balbir et Georges-Jean Pinault. Paris: Honoré Champion, 2009. (Bibliothèque de l'École des Hautes Études, Sciences Historiques et Philologiques, No. 345). 927 pp., Ill. ISBN 978-2-7453-1903-6. EUR 140,00.

The voluminous compilation Penser, dire et représenter l'animal dans le monde indien assembles twenty-nine contributions of articles from the conference proceedings of the École Normale Supérieure, University of Paris in cooperation with the École Pratique des Hautes Études of Section des Sciences historiques et philologiques, Paris, in March 2002. With the title, "Penser, dire et représenter l' animal dans le monde indien", the chief editors, Nalini Balbir and Georges-Jean Pinault, seem to feel obliged to approach the theme of the conference, the relation of human animals and animals in the mirror of Indian religious thought, from various sides. [1]

At the conference contributers from the fields of Philology, Western and Oriental Art, Religious History, Anthropology, Ethnology and Sociology tried to define and discussed what human beings in ancient India did to animals and with animals, and what people at all levels of society thought about the creaturely world. The chief editors though making concessions to the cross-relations in the different approaches in the introduction grouped the contributions into different sections. In a the introduction, the editors give a short French summary and evaluation of the special academic interest and the context of each article. The languages of the contributions are French and English. From some French articles also English summaries are available. The volume is provided with an index by Raman Moreau. The period which is treated in the articles covers nearly 2700 years, from pre-historic (Vedic) India to the 20th century CE. The contributors are scholars from the fields of Religious and Art History, Anthropology and Ethnology, Linguistics and Philology: Nalini Balbir, Marie-Luce Barazer-Billoret, Claudine Bautze-Picron, Bérénice Bellina, Philippe Benoît, Jean Bouffartigue, Sylvain Brocquet, Florence Burgat, Georges Chapouthier, Colette Caillat, Bruno Dagens, Chantal Delamourd, Jean Fezas, Ian C. Glover, Jan E.M. Houben, Michel Jacq-Hergoualcíh, Stephanie W. Jamison, Klaus Karttunen, Vincent Lefèvre, Mudagamuwe Maitrimurthi, Danièle Masset, Ronan Moreau, Daniel Negers, Jean-Claude Nouët, Jean-Pierre Osier, Georges-Jean Pinault, Marie-Claude Porcher, Arion Roşu, Marie-Caroline Saglio-Yatzimirsky, Lambert Schmithausen, Kenneth G. Zysk. Two of the contributors, Colette Caillat (1921-2007) and Arion Roşu (1924-2007), passed away in the time the conference proceedings were forthcoming. All articles are augmented by a full bibliography and extensive footnotes.

The diversity of attitudes, which are found in the twenty-nine contributions do exactly reflect the various scholarly positions regarding the relationship of man and beast in India, and the approaches of Indian authors from different religious traditions itself. In some cases it is necessary to broaden the idea of “Indian thought” and extend our view to geographical and cultural related areas, such as Persia, Ceylon, Nepal, South-East Asia,China, Central Asia, and Tibet. Nearly the first 200 pages of the first section reflect the relationship of man and nature from different philological and philosophical viewpoints and introduce some technical terms. Jan E.M.Houben’s “Penser les êtres - plantes et animaux - ‘à l’indienne’” (pp. 21-45), Lambert Schmithausen’s and Mudagamuwe Maithrimurthi’s “Attitudes towards Animals in Indian Buddhism” (pp. 47-122), Colette Caillat’s “Les jaina et le règne animal” (pp. 123-155), Georges Chapouthier and Jean-Claude Nouët’s “Vers une sensibilité orientale de l’animal en Occident?” (pp. 157-172), and Jean Bouffartigue’s “Les pratiques indiennes d’après le livre IV du De Abstinentia de Porphyre” (pp. 157-172) convey a

general idea of the styles of thought and the methods of classifications of animals and plants in Ancient India and the origin and limits of those classifications. Jan Houben discusses fundaments of thinking in ancient India and characterises methods, in which animals are represented in abstract categories and their ramifications in Ancient Indian text. Some texts show a scientific approach, but are not free from didactic and religious tendencies. Various texts cover the issues of ecology and medicine. Houben makes use of comparison with Greek classical works such as Aristotles’ “Generation of Animals” (De Anima 413ff.). He rightly refers to F. Zimmermann’s monography La jungle et le fumet des viandes: Un theme écologique dans la médicine hindoue (Paris 1982, translated as The Jungle and the Aroma of Meats, 1987), a fascinating book that has become one of the standard reference works on the subject of Asian Human animals and animal studies. The article discusses amongst other things two aristotelian positions that are studied in Zimmermann’s work, the idea of hierarchy, and the idea of continuity.

Colette Caillat’s “Les jaina et le règne animal” (pp. 123-155) contribution consists of two parts. In the first part the author introduces recent developments of Jain schools and sects to stimulate the contemporary discussion on ecological and ethical aspects regarding man and nature. The second part mainly discusses and evaluates classifications of animals and plants in ancient Jain literary texts (pre-Christian or canonical texts) up to medieval literature (post-canonical texts). Jain formulations such as sabbe sattā (from canonical texts) or parasparôpagraho jīvānām (the last: “souls renders service to one another” quoted from the Tattvârtha-sūtra of Umāsvāmin/ Umāsvātin V.21) take all beings under consideration. Jains have contributed with associations from various schools and sects of Buddhist, Christian, Moslem, Hindu and others to the Assisi Declaration on Man on Nature (1986). Furthermore, a Jain Declaration on Nature (edited by L.M.Singhvi) was issued in 1990. Caritative foundations and campaigns for vegitarian diet and animal care are regularly done promoting jiv daya (“compassion with living beings”). Jains have for centuries discussed the use of sterilizations clinics, sanctuaries and medical care for animals (p. 126). In the second part Madame Caillat refers to two standard works that deal with the origins of non-violence and Karma theory in India, “The Origin of Ahiṃsā” by Hanns-Peter Schmidt (1968) and “Ahiṃsā and Rebirth” by the same author (1997). [2] In Jain canonical and post-canonical (mainly Digambar) literature, as Madame Caillat points out, different classifications of nature are prevalent comprising various ideas to define and contrast human animals, animals and plants. Citing Klaus Bruhn, “the classification of beings is a complex subject. […] There is a pluralism of ‘doctrines of beings’” (p.146). In canonical literature we find for instance the sixfold category of life that refers to the lower realm and the “five-fold classifications” that pertains to the upper realm. The term (Sanskrit) jīva “living being” is employed either for living entities, or for the principle of life, which is otherwise often translated into English “soul” (French “âme”) or “self”. The jīva is characterised by cognition or sentience. The sixfold category is found in canonical texts such as the UttarajjhāyāXXXVI, and the Jīva-vicāra. The five-fold classification of nature, which appears also in the Tattvârthasūtra chapter II, pertains to the diversification of animals regarding to their sense organs.

In “the Function of Animals in the Rig Veda X.28” (pp. 197-218) Stephanie W. Jamison draws the attention of the reader to narrative and didactic passages in early Vedic literature. Animals were sometimes classified as wild (āraṇya) and domestic (grāmya). Wild animals, their shape and the description of their behaviour, played an important part in Indian classical poetry, too. Similes and metaphors with animals as pairs (of opponents or compliments such as jackal and bull or jackal and lion) have served various didactic aims. While they appear in the Veda with regard to ritual functions as symbolic figures, some elements were taken up and applied by the poets and artists in

the literary classical traditions (4th century CE). Two articles, “Les animaux dans le kāvya” (pp. 219-242) by Marie-Claude Porcher and Sylvain Brocquet’s “Le bestiare de Kālidāsa” (pp. 243-286) examine the representation of animals in Sanskrit poetry. Certain animals may have served as symbols of the realm of subconscious emotions, some others may have symbolized the kingly or secular spheres, or stood for the pleasures of family life, intimacy and the erotic sentiment. Taking for instance the bees, they play a role in many major themes of classical love poetry and are generally associated with the celebration of spring. It is fancied that the god of love carries a bow made of sugar cane or flowers such as Mango, Aśoka, or Navamallikā that possess a sweet fragrance. The flowers are used as arrows, while the black bees act as a string, their buzzing is the twang of the bow. Furthermore, the objects of the wild nature serve as an emblem of fruitful love and symbol of true woman- and malehood. Animals and their behaviour must have stimulated psychological literature, too, as shown by Kenneth G. Zysk. In the essay “Animal Usage in the Sanskrit Traditions of Lovemaking, Lawful Conjugal Love, and Medicine” (pp. 287-304) we find the author’s observation that in the ancient Sanskrit śāstras, by Zysk recipes with manifold animal ingredients in folk medicine as aphrodisiac prescriptions, which contain meat, body liquids, testicles, fats, are prominent. Secondly, the symbolism and charisma of animals and their metaphorical characteristics found entrance to the literature of match-making and marriage.

In Arion Roşu’s contribution “Sur le kuṇḍalinīyoga et les charmeurs de serpents” (pp. 305-308) various symbolic meanings of the snake and the origin of the regional cults in the medieval Tantra- and śakta-traditions are discussed, for example the practices of the tārā-pīṭha in Bengal and Assam. In Birghu district in West Bengal, some Hindu temples are dedicated to the goddess Tārā, who might be regarded as an aspect of the Hindu “Devine Mother”, bur bears bears features of Himalayan and Central Indian tribal cults. In “On a toujours besoin d’un plus petit que soi ou les animalcules (nigoda) au service de l’équilibre cosmique” (pp. 309-328), Jean-Pierre Osier examines cosmological conceptions in medieval literary traditions of the Jains. Osier is concerned with the intertwining of the concept of “liberated souls” and the subtle beings,which neither belong to the realm of animals, not to that of plants, “les animalcules”, as Osier characterises them. As has been shown in the contribution of Madame Caillat, we find several attempts to classify nature within a hierarchical structure of life within Jain religious thinking. If I understood his arguments rightly, Osier states that in most systems of Indian thinking, especially in the Hindu and Jain religious doctrines, the “soul” (ātman or jīva) is defined in contrasts with double terminations. The “soul” is either characterised from the standpoint of its wandering in the circle of transmigration, or whether it exists in a body of a plant, animal, human animal, heavenly or infernal sentient being. Or otherwise, the “soul” is characterised from the standpoint of its true and pure nature (nature proper, p. 310) abd the opposite. The term “Les animalcules” denotes the subtle beings, which are not destined to take evolution in the state of transmigration, or stay beyond the circle of existences, the nigodas. Osier states that these beings could be determined as a counterpart of the “liberated souls” (siddhas). This is a consideration that has been brought up originally by Schubring in his Doctrine of the Jainas. [3] Different from the position that appears in the classical Jain doctrine, the positions of the late Vedic Upanishads could be characterised as being ambiguous, bearing different notions. We find here the assumption that “souls” go to the moon after death and as well as the idea that “souls” travel to the world of the ancestors, and “souls” of the pious men that take rebirth as Brahmins, warriors etc, and “souls” of “evil-doers” that take rebirth as dogs, pigs, birds, and members of the lowest social strata of Indian society (p. 313).

In the 6-9th centuries we find instances of a Jain doctrine of predestination (bhavyatva versus abhavyatva). The nigodas (“soul aggregates”, literally “clumps”, “clods” or “dumplings”) are characterised by authors as the “souls” of heretics and evil-doers without repentence. They have no

beginning and end and take shape in the “middle world” of the Jain universe. Some are determined to take part in the evolution, and some not. As an interesting narrative source Osier also refers to the “legend of Kālaka”, which could approximately be dated (according to Leumann) into the 10th century CE. (p. 321). [4] Finally, Osier discusses the theoretical question, whether all the “les animalcules” (nigodas) - as formulated by authors such Mallisheṇa and Hermacandra - would threaten, if they becoming free from the karmic bondage - the stability of the Jain universe, the cosmic balance (“équilibre cosmique”).

George-Jean Pinault’s “Elephant man: Sur le nom de l’éléphant en tokharien” (pp. 447-498) examines the traces of the elephant in Buddhist legends in the two Tokharian dialects. Tokharian is considered as a Indo-Aryan languages that was used by the eastern speakers of Indo-European dialects in the Tarim Basin. Since this region is no natural habitat of the elephant, it is noteworthy to mention, as Pinault points out rightly, that the Tokharian coined more than two loan-words and linguistic creations for this animal. The reason for it might be its immense symbolism in Buddhist religious thinking and ritual cult. Pinault shows by analysing phrases in the “Prabhāsa-Avadhāna” and the “ṣaḍdanta-Jātaka”, among others, that the linguistic innovations in Tokharian do not always follow the patterns, which are common in Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit.

Klaus Karttunen questions, how two animals of prey, the lion and the tiger, were discerned and depicted in Indian literature in his contribution “Simhair iti vyāghraih” (pp. 431-446). Jean Feza’s contribution, “La place de l’animal, et plus particulièrement des bovines” (pp. 743-743), is concerned with the representation of the buffalo in literature and art. Beast, mythical beasts and winged creatures stand in the focus of Bruno Dagen’s article “Les animaux dans l’architecture du temple indien” (pp. 333-361) and Marie-Luce Barazer-Billoret’s “Le bestiaire de Śiva: de Paśupati à Śarabha” (pp. 499-521). Some Indian protector deities are represented as sea monsters (makaras), beast that are half elephants, half lions or tigers and have wings (śarabhas) in early Indian art and inscriptions. We can find indications of the human-animal interface in painted tiles, plastic relief models on stones and other material, in types of mortuary art and in literary descriptions. Though much of this art and literature definitely belong to the elite strata, surely paintings of hunting scenes do in large measure reflect the way common people actually related to both, domesticated and wild animals, and to death and transition.

Ian Glover’s contribution “The Archeo-zoological Evidence for Animal and Cultural Transfers between South and Southeast Asia” (pp.363-382) and his second contribution (with Bérénice Bellina), “The Earliest Iconographic and Archaeological Evidence for Animal and Cultural Transfers between South and Southeast Asia” (pp. 383-401), and Michel Jacq-Hergoualc’h’s article, “Figurines animals, témoins des premiers échanges entre l‘Inde et l’Asie du Sud-Est au tournant de notre `ere” (pp. 403-408), evaluate various sources for the occurrence of the horse, tiger, lion and some other animals in Europe, Central Asia, China, India, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia and the evidences of early cultural exchange.

Four articles touch historical and philological aspects of the concept of non-violence (ahiṃsā) in India, Caillat’s, Balbir’s, Schmithausen/Maithrimurthi’s, and Burgat’s. There is a well-known saying: ahiṃsā paramo dharma: “non-violence is the ultimate law”, which has found entrance to the Mahābhārata (VII.246) and has become proverbial in India, since non-violence comprehends and embraces all aspects of life.

In Madam Balbir’s article “Attitudes indiennes vis-à-vis de l’animal domestique” (pp. 811-858) we find an evaluation of reflections, what human animals in ancient India did to and did with animals. Balbir examines and compares literature from different sections of Indian society and gives a survey of the ideas of what people from different religious communities, such as Jains, Hindus, Muslims, thought of domestic animals through the centuries. With reference to Jain literature, the importance of the domestic animal in the economic life of Indian communities is obvious, which can be shown by certain regulations found in the different medieval textual traditions such as Jain narrative literature, and Jain manuals of ethical conduct that were written by educated monks for the laity. [5] In the manuals of the Jains (as examples Hemacandra’s Yogaśāstra and Ratnaśekharasūri’s Śrāddha-vidhi-prakaraṇa among othersare cited) we find that the commitment, not to consume and trade products of the cow and others animals, as well as not to engage in animal fighting, brandmarking, castration, overloading of animals. Freetime leasures such as hunting and cock fighting are condemned. The authors of Jain medieval texts do not assign to the cow the leading role in ritual, which it has in other Indian traditions. Jain monks rather expand the idea of compassion embracing all living beings (incuding cattle), a thought that is translated into action by the foundation and maintenance of many animal hospitals (panjrapole / pinjrapole (pp. 837ff.), which are found in North and Central India as early as in the time of the reigns of the Moghuls or even earlier. Another interesting feature that Madame Balbir discusses in this article is the ethical provision in times of crisis (war and famine = āpad-dharma). By evaluating Hindi and Gujarati textual sources from the early19th and 20th century such as Premcand’s Kāyākalpa and Bhishon Sahni’s Tamas it becomes obvious, how the subjectivity of the authors’ observations of the cultural difference of Hindu and Muslim is mirrored in the attitude towards animals in daily life and in the behavious towards animal companions in the time of seasonal festive activities.

Lambert Schmithausen’s and Mudagamuwe Maithrimurthi’s “Attitudes towards Animals in Indian Buddhism” (pp. 47-121) is a revised version of the article “Tier und Mensch im Buddhismus”. [6] The article treats mainly three ethical aspects regarding man and nature in ancient Buddhism. The ethical norms are mainly discussed with reference to the text of the ancient Theravāda Buddhism. The problems of practicability of ethical norms are also refered to with taking into consideration the contemporary Theravāda Buddhism in Sri Lanka (pp. 67ff.). The theoretical reflections in this comprehensive article do serve well to give impulses for a discussion on Buddhist moral standards and patterns, which could be turned into practice for example in cases of the contemporary “Animal Companions Studies” or the “Non-property Status of Human Animals and Animals Studies”, etc.

Modern problems such as vivisection and experiments with primates in human science in India and Sri Lanka are not dealt within this article. The second part discusses the status of animals in the Buddhist doctrine of emancipation. Nature has been classified by Buddhist monks with regard to the rebirth in the circle of existences (pp. 79ff.). In the Buddhist texts we find the statement that like other living beings animals are suffering by illness, old age and death (Millindapañha 267ff.). It is not easy to denote the exact status of animals in Buddhist traditions, since we find various classifications. There are of cause rituals of animal slaughter considered under the aspect that the killing takes place with the wish that the animal shall be born as human in the next life. Otherwise, in some Himalaya traditions referred to by the authors animals are highly revered as incarnations of tantric gods and goddesses.

In the third section, Schmithausen and Maithrimurthi give an analyzis of the animals classifications in the Pāli tradition, their status between plants and human animals, and their assignment to species such as mammals (quadrupeds), birds, reptiles, fish, worms and insects, etc.

Florence Burgat’s article “L’extension du devoir de non-violence aux animaux dans la pensée de Gandhi” (pp. 713-741) is focused on breeding cattle and husbandry reflected in the thinking of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20 th century. Buddhism stands also in the focus of the contribution of Claudine Bautze-Picron: “Antagonistes et complémentaires, le lion et l’éléphant dans la personnalité du Buddha” (523-571), and Danièle Masset’s “Le chien a-t-il la nature de bouddha” (pp. 573-597). The concept of the “Nature” or “spirit” of the Buddha is widened in medieval literature and the spirit of enlightenment is assigned to some selected animals such as the dog, the lion and the elephant. While the elephant and the lion seem to have embodied royal and cosmological aspects (heaven /earth), the dog is often mentioned as a “particularly disgusting example of the vices and negative tendencies” (p. 597). On the first glance the dog’s characteristics seem to stand in opposition to the spiritual progress. But, tantric didactic traditions give some interesting examples of the process of enlightment and overcoming of dualism by telling a story of a yogi and a bitch. Both companions complement each other and help to develop the supreme “Buddha nature”.

The parrot stands in the focus of Vincent Lefèvre’s “La jeune fille au perroquet: un theme iconographique ambigu” (pp. 599-621). The animal in proverbs are discussed in Philippe Benoît’s “Représentation et function de l’animal dans les proverbs Bengalis” (pp. 889-907). The representation and symbolism of animals in modern literature in South India is discussed by Chantal Delamourd’s “L’animal révélatuer des rapports de l’homme au monde dans le romans de Nanjil Nadan publiés de 1977-1998”. The cock-fight in South India is especially discussed with much material by Daniel Neger’s contribution “À l’étude des combats de coqs en Inde du Sud” (pp. 623-710). Animal slaughter and its religious and sociological dimensions is discussed in Marie-Caroline Saglio-Yatzimisky’s article “L’abattoir de Deonar (Mumbai, Inde): centre industriel u autel sacrificial” (pp. 791-810). The author (same as Burgat) can show convincingly by evaluating various sources the effect of the modern food industry and the acting of multinational companies to modern Indian society and ecology (“Macdonaldisation”, pp. 740ff.).

The contributions in this volume range from detailed evaluations of the industrialisation and its effects on life style reflected in literature of the last centuries to theoretical sociological and anthropological studies of ancient Indian ethics and the history of cultural exchange of animals and their status in ancient Asian cultures. We find in this volumes enough “food for thought” towards the historical origin of the different attitudes regarding the man and nature in Asian cultures, the relation of humans and human animals mirrored in art and inscriptions, practical ecological problems of the life style in villages and cities, the actualisation of medieval ethics, as well as various topics related with motifs and themes of Indian poetry and religious art. To my knowledge, only the ape and monkey and its representation in Indian literature and art seem to have been neglected, although references are found here and there. Houben (pp. 21ff.) mentions that the ape (Skt. vānara) is classified as a being residing on trees. Especially the Langurs, the myth of Hanuman as a transmitter of knowledge of folk medicine in the Rāmāyāna, the monkey and its representation in narrative literature of Hindu, Buddhist and Jains might have be worth discussing and evaluating in more detail. The monkey for example can serve as a symbol of human cleverness, and the human desire for perfection in Indian parables is sometimes referred to by making use of the motif of the transformation of human animal (ape) into animal and vice versa.

By reading the various scholarly contributions much can be gleaned about what the vast majority of the populace might have thought about animals even from traditionally transmitted and archaeologically recovered texts. There is for example the bee. With regard to the bee and their religious and economical importance in India, the editors direct the attention of the reader to Mike H. Pandey’s film production “Honey-hunters of the Blue mountains” (2002) in the introduction. Gathering honey, exchanging or selling it was an important part of the barter-economy. An ethnological study of the most imporatan religious and social aspects of the gathering of honey was done by Zvelebil 1979. [7] There are mainly two or three types of honey coming from the rock bee (Apis dorsata) or forest bee. The high-quality type of honey of the rock bee is mainly used in worship of ancestral deities. In tribal use, honey is an ingredient of intoxicating drinks. A different approach is the symbolic use of the bee in classical Indian poetry (cf. “Les animaux dans le kāvya”, pp. 219-242 by Marie-Claude Porcher and Sylvain Brocquet’s “Le bestiare de Kālidāsa”, pp. 243-286). I hope, the future conferences of the École Normale Supérieure and the Department of the Historical Sciences and Philology at the University of Paris will bring forward something more, which stimulates the cross-cultural study of the human-animal interface in Asia.

Signe Kirde 19.6.2011


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  1. Ahiṃsā
  2. Anthropology
  3. Assam
  4. Aśoka
  5. Bal Patil
  6. Body
  7. Brahmins
  8. Buddha
  9. Buddhism
  10. Colette Caillat
  11. Cooperation
  12. Dharma
  13. Digambar
  14. Ecology
  15. Ernst Leumann
  16. Hemacandra
  17. JAINA
  18. Jaina
  19. Jean-Pierre Osier
  20. Jiv
  21. Jīva
  22. Karma
  23. Klaus Bruhn
  24. Leumann
  25. London
  26. Ludwig Alsdorf
  27. Mahābhārata
  28. Mumbai
  29. Nalini Balbir
  30. Nigoda
  31. Non-violence
  32. PK
  33. Panjrapole
  34. Penser, dire et représenter l'animal dans le monde indien
  35. Pinjrapole
  36. Sanskrit
  37. Sattā
  38. Schubring
  39. Science
  40. Signe Kirde
  41. Tamas
  42. The History of Vegetarianism and Cow-Veneration in India
  43. Tārā
  44. Upanishads
  45. Veda
  46. Vedic
  47. Vegetarianism
  48. Walther Schubring
  49. West Bengal
  50. Willem Bollée
  51. Yoga
  52. siddhas
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