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In the aforementioned dictionary (page 710), the meaning of the word (Salaa) is stated to be "a certain bitter tree or noxious plant; a sort of aloe." But the Arab botanist Abu Hanifeh, in his Book of Plants, has described it to be a plant which has long green leafless shoots, grows near a tree, then attaches itself to it, and climbs upon it by twining its slim stems round the branches thereof. *It bears black berries. It has, therefore, been thought that salá must be a parasitic plant, most likely a species of Cuscuta or Dolder, which is called, in the Indian vernaculars, ākāśavalli ("sky-creeper ") and ākāśamūlī ("a plant having its roots in the sky"). It is used in medicine but, so far as I am aware, is not employed either in Indian rain-compelling ceremonies or in the worship of the Sun.
Then again in the said dictionary (page 856), ie (ushar) is defined to be "a certain tree containing inflammatory matter, emitting better fire than any other kind. It is used in making bolsters; and from its blossoms and branches a certain kind of sugar is made. There is a bitterness also about it." But ushar is stated to be the Arabic and Persian name for the gigantic swallow-wort (Calstropis gigantea), though the author of the Burhan says that it is a Persian name for all plants which exude milky juices.*
This identification of ushar with the Calotropis gigantea is supported by Davy's statements that it is used in making bolsters and that there is also a bitterness about it. It is now well known that the coma of hairs or floss from its seed-capsules forms one of the so-called vegetable silks or silk-cottons which have been extensively used in India from the remotest times in the manufacture of silk-cotton textiles, and in stuffing quilts, pillows and cushions with for the purpose of making these latter very cool and refreshing. That the floss of the gigantic swallowwort was (and is still occasionally) used in the manufacture of beautiful textiles" Cloths of herbs", is borne out by the testimony of Cæsar Frederike who, writing about 1563-7 A. D., *Op. cit., Vol. II., page 210.
refers to "a kinde of silke which groweth amongst the woodes without and when the bole thereof is growen labour of any round as bigge as an orenge, then they take care onely to gather them". Then again, Ralph Fitch, who travelled in Orissa about 1585 A. D., speaks of "great store of cloth which is made of Grasse which they call yerua"-a word which is stated to be a corruption of the vernacular name used in Orissa and the Karnataka, even at the present day, for the swallow-worts. The "Hearbe Bengalen " mentioned by Linschoten also appears to be a textile manufactured from the floss of this plant.
The correctness of Davy's statement that there is also a bitterness about this plant has been verified by recent chemical investigations made upon it, as will appear from the fact that it is used in the treatment of intermittent fevers especially if they are accompanied with eczematous eruptions and of dysentery. Now this medical property is due to the presence in this plant of an acid and bitter resinous matter. *
But Davy's statement that a kind of sugar is made from its blossoms and branches appears to be incorrect, for recent chemical researches made upon it have failed to detect the presence in it of any saccharine matter.
Now, on a consideration of the foregoing remarks made by Sir George Watt, M. Cl. Huart, the Arab and Persian lexicographers about the use of the swallow-worts in the ritual of the Hindus and of the Pre-Islamitic Arabs, the following question arises :
Whether the Calotropis or swallow-wort was used in the alleged pagan Arab worship of the Sun or in the rain-compelling ceremonies of the Hindus and the Pre-Islamitic Arabs?
In answering the preceding question, I shall have to discuss the origin and the functions of the Maruts in the hierarchy of the Hindu gods.
Now Diti was a daughter of Daksha Prajapati, who became one of the wives of Kasyapa, and mother of the Daityas.
Watt's The Commercial Products of India (London edition of 1908), p. 208.
She is called the general mother of the Titans and all malevolent beings. Having lost her children, she prayed to her husband, the sage Kasyapa, to grant her a son who should possess indomitable courage and destroy Indra. He granted his wife the prayed-for boon, subject to one condition, namely that she should be enceinte for one hundred years, and strictly perform all religious rites during the whole period of her pregnancy. She agreed to do so and, during the whole time of gestation, rigidly observed all the rules of mental and bodily purity. Indra got information of her intentions and made up his mind to frustrate the same. His deityship bided his opportunity for doing so. At last, in the last year of the period of pregnancy, the opportunity presented itself. One night, Diti turned in to sleep without performing the prescribed ablution of her feet. Finding her fast asleep, Indra divided the fetus in her womb into seven portions. Thus mutilated, the child wept bitterly. Not being able to hush it to silence, bis deityship again subdivided each of the seven parts into seven bits, and thus engendered the swift-moving deities called Maruts or the Winds. They derived their name from the words with which Indra tried to silence the mutilated child in Diti's womb, namely, "Marodih " i. e., Do not weep". ". Thereafter they became forty-nine godlings subordinate to, and the associates of, Indra the wielder of the thunderbolt.
Whenever the rains hold off, and the stricken denizens of this earth appeal to Indra-the Jupiter Pluvius of the Hindu Pantheon-for sending down the life-giving showers, he "hurries off escorted by troops of Maruts, and sometimes attended by his faithful comrade Vishnu, to encounter the hostile powers in the atmosphere, who malevolently shut up the watery treasures in the clouds. These demons of drought, called by a variety of names, as Vrittra, Ahi, Sushna, Namuchi, Pipru, Sambara, Urana, etc., armed, on their side also, with every variety of celestial artillery, attempt but in vain, to resist the onset of the gods. Heaven and earth quake with
affright at the crash of Indra's thunder. The enemies of Indra are speedily pierced and shattered by the discharge of his iron shafts. The waters released from their imprisonment, descend in torrents to the earth, fill all the rivers amd roll along to the ocean. The gloom which had overspread the sky is dispersed. "*
It will thus be seen that the Maruts, or the Winds, actively co-operate with Indra in the production of rain-in releasing the pent-up waters of heaven and causing the same to drop, in the form of gentle rain, upon the earth below. It has been said that "their share in the production of rain, and their fierce and impetuous nature are figurative representations of physical phenomena."+
We should, therefore interpret Sir George Watt's statement that the "Calotropis is associated with the observances of the Maruts or Winds, the demigods of Rudra" as meaning that it is used by the Hindus in the ceremony for rain-compelling. [Dr. Dymock, however, says that, in the Vedic period, the leaves of the swallow-worts were used in the worship of the Sun (but unfortunately, no authority has been cited by him in support of the foregoing statement), and that, even at present, in Western India, the Maruts are worshipped on Saturdays with the offering of wreaths made of the flowers of this plant] But I cannot accept as correct Sir G. Watt's statement to the effect that it was associated by the pre-Islamitic Arabs with Sun-worship, as he has not cited any authority which bears out its correctness. On the other hand M. Cl. Huart has quoted several passages from the writings of some pre-Islamitic Arab poets which describe the rain-ceremony in which the plant Calotropis procera was tied by the pagan Arabs to the tails of cows and set fire to, and then the animals were taken to the mountains.
* A Classical Dictionary of India. By John Garrett, Madras, Higginbotham and Company, 1871, p. 265.
+ Op. cit., page 387.
Vide the Journal of the Anthropological Society of Bombay, Vol. II, p. 210.
This ceremony of the pagan Arabs was known as the Taslia and its prevalence among them is also conclusively proved by the testimony of the Arab lexicographers and Davy's Persian-English Dictionary.
The swallow-worts possess the peculiarity of growing upon barren lands, and the capability of thriving thereupon and bearing bunches of lovely flowers and the cotton-yielding capsules, even without being irrigated with water. Presumably they were used in the rain-compelling ceremonies of the Hindus and the pre-Islamitic Arabs to symbolize the fact that, just as these plants flourish without being watered, the people suffering from drought may, in like manner, thrive even though the rain-god may not vouchsafe to give them rain.
This pre-Islamitic Arab ritual for rain-compelling should be compared with the very curious ceremony performed by the ancient Romans on the occasion of the festival of Cerealia which used to be performed on the 19th A pril, in honour of the Earth-goddess Ceres which was specially connected with the growth of corn. It was the tying-up of burning fire-brands to the tails of foxes which were then let loose in the Circus Maximus. This is surely an instance of sympathetic magic most likely symbolizing, as Wissowa thinks, the continuance of sunshine, the wakening-up of the vegetation-spirit to stimulate the growth of the crops. The incident of setting fire to the branches of the swallowworts tied to the tails of or upon the backs of wild oxen or kine is closely parallel to the custom which is stated to be current among the Hindus of burning the arka or the calotropis as one of the kinds of samadh on fuel on the occasion of performing the Samadhhoma or the sacrificial ceremony of burning fuel before the fire-god † [Here again no authority has been cited in support of the preceding statement].
Then again, the purple-flowered swallow-wort (calotropis giganten) is used in the marriage-ritual of the Hindus at the * Vide Warde Fowler's Social Life at Rome in the Age of Cicero (Edition of 1908), pp. 303-301.
+ Vide the Journal of the Anthropological Society of Bombay, vol. II, p. 210°