“No work on any of the Hindu science compares with Zimmermann’s in range, grasp, or implications... I count it among this century’s most important intercultural achievements of scholarship. Zimmermann writes precisely and gracefully, sometimes with delicate irony or satire, often with telling conceptual detail.”
—MCKIM MARRIOTT, The University of Chicago
—RICHARD TUCKER, The Journal of Asian Studies
—ARJUN APPADURAI, University of Pennsylvania
—DAVID PINGREE, Brown University
—MARK NICHTER, University of Arizona
The theory of humors, vital fluids whose proportions in the human body determine its health and temperament, is far from outdated. And what we sometimes think of as a modem concern with ecology and alternative medicine is really as old as the traditional medical techniques of the classical West and of South Asia. It is to the latter that Francis Zimmermann turns his attention, in a remarkable evocation that combines Sanskrit studies and anthropology. He reconstructs and exposes the linkage between humors, persons, and soils in classical Hindu medicine. His work will interest those involved in the areas of medical anthropology, medical history, philosophy of science, philosophy of language, and South Asian studies. It will also be valued for the vivid and accurate descriptions it offers of a few basic ideas our time has borrowed from Hindu culture: flower power, vegetarianism, non-violence, and the comic dimensions of the human body. In classical Ayurvedic medicine, a comprehensive view of the whole human person included the patients humoral integration into the surrounding soil. The Jungle was the most crucial environment, and the Jungle was—and is — the dry land of the Punjab and the Delhi Doab, an open vegetation of thorny shrubs. The polarity of dry lands and wet lands framed not only the whole Ayurvedic materia medica but also the more general conception of a comic physiology governed by Agni (the sun) and Soma (the dispenser of rain). Clearing the land and draining the body were two aspects of one and the same art of managing the transactions of all sorts of vital fluids, saps, juices, savors, and humor. Medicine in the context of thought and practice associated with the Jungle was, and still in modem India, a kind of agriculture.
Francis Zimmermann teaches South Asian anthropology at EHESS, the School of advanced studies in social science, Paris. A sophisticated specialist in the culture of Ayurvedic and related Indian medial tradition, he blends the perspectives of various Hindu knowledge systems with environmental history.
This is a book about the jungle in ancient India. If I may right away venture such an exorbitant request, let us please forget Kipling for a while! Not that they were unfaithful, the images with which Kipling enchanted our early days: the lianas, bamboo brakes, and the sweet flower of the mohwa which ripens in the shade of the teak trees . . . but that is the monsoon forest, its undergrowth, its clearings that is not the jungle. Let us first record the fact (and presently we shall seek to account for it): An extraordinary misunderstanding has over- taken the history of this word. Jangala in Sanskrit meant the “dry lands,” what geographers would call “open” vegetation cover, but in the eighteenth century the Hindi jangal and Anglo-Indian jungle came to denote the exact opposite, “tangled thickets,” a luxuriant growth of grasses and lianas. Let us agree to abandon that misunderstanding for the time being.
Dryness, a flat terrain, sparse, scattered trees, mainly thorny ones: such are the physical features of the jungle given in the Sanskrit texts. They are not empirical observations, but norms. Every physical characteristic forms part of a binary opposition: the “dry lands” (jangala) and the “marshy lands” (anupa), the plain and the mountains, the savanna and the forest, thorny shrubs and palms, antelope on flat terrain and buffalo in the marshes. So many criteria which make it possible to set up oppositions between different soils within the same territory.
Whether it be a matter of large-scale ecological variations—over the entire Indus-Ganges plain, for example—or simply a particular micro- climate, a hierarchy of the different regions within a given space always exists. The space is polarized, in two principal ways. First, a polarity exists between west and east. A key example, crucially important in our enquiry, is the polarity between the Indus and the Ganges: the superiority—repeatedly affirmed in traditional geography—of the dry lands, the jungles of the west, and the relative inferiority of Bengal, which is marshy. Second, a polarity exists between the center and the margins: agricultural civilization flourishes in the central plain, “the jangala bursting with cereals,” while the non-Aryan tribes are progressively driven out to the periphery, into forests and mountains. In the classical texts, the jungle thus appears as the positively valued pole within the framework of a normative ecology: the dry lands are better from every point of view. Salubrious, fertile, and peopled by Aryans, the jungle is the soil of brahminity.
This enquiry started from a few pages in a Sanskrit medical treaties—a catalog of meats—where animals are classified in two groups: jangala, “those of the dry lands,” and anupa, “those of the marshy lands.” The meats of the jungle are light and astringent; those of the marshy lands heavy, unctuous, and liable to provoke fluxes. There is no zoology
in ancient India, only catalogs of meats. The division of the various branches of knowledge favors the “utilitarian” or anthropocentric disciplines such as medicine and devalues the “pure” sciences: the Rudi merits of zoology and botany are literally dissolved into pharmacy. But that pharmacy in its turn presupposes a cosmic physiology: the world
seen as a sequence of foods and a series of cooking operations or diges- thins at the end of which the nourishing essences derived from the soil are exhaled in the medicinal aroma of meats. The polarity between the dry lands and the marshy ones thus reappears at various levels. First, in the inventory of flora and fauna: acacias and coconut palms, antelopes and elephants, partridges and wild ducks; then in the field of therapeutics, as a polathy between the savors and the humors: astringency and the predominance of wind, acridity and the bilious temperament, unctuously and a superabundance of phlegm. Eventually, medical doctrine fits into the Brahminic tradition in general: the polarity between .Agni and Soma, fire and water; the aridity of the jungles scorched by the sun is now associated with, now opposed to, the nourishing unctuosity of the rain. I have tried to describe here this curious wrapping of the
various layers of knowledge in one another.
The purpose of these pages is thus twofold. First, it is to trace and explain through the history of collective sensibility the reversal in our (that is, modern man’s) idea of the jungle, from arid and fallow land to luxuriance and tangled forest. This reversal is similar to the one Americanists have described about the prairie in the history of the United States. In our collective imagination, the trapper has usurped the position of the farmer. But we should not be duped by this Far-West mythology bequeathed to us by two centuries of romantic literature and the early years of the cinema. Literature (Fenimore Cooper, Longfellow, Thoreau, and so on) should not obscure the historical truth which, as early as the late eighteenth century, the “philosophers” clearly perceived. Crevecoeur and Benjamin Rush despised the trapper, the frontiersman, and the man of the woods; they considered the true hero—the one who made America—to be the farmer struggling against the forest, never ceasing his labors until he had replaced it by pasture and Arabic land. In short, our ideas need reversing: Kipling’s jungle and Fenimore Cooper’s prairie are part and parcel of one and the same mirage of exoticism and primitivism. To dissipate that mirage while at the same time attempting to preserve its evocative powers is our first objective.
But in doing so, by means of a kind of archaeology of collective representations, we shall reveal the jungle in the ancient sense, to wit a system of legal and medical rules, a traditional ecology in the form of a doctrine, which the Sanskrit texts set out in detail. We shall then endeavor to reconstruct this doctrine, trying out first one, then another of a number of different keys: biogeography, linguistics, and a few comparisons to Greek medicine. The jungle is a medical concept. The drainage of the human body (medicine) and the cultivation of the dry lands (the jungle) make up a single, identical theme or cluster of primary images.
Looking back on it, I see this book mirroring, in its very composition, the layering of different levels of knowledge, a distinct feature of the Hindu tradition. First, it attempts to map out the jungle, distributing the flora and fauna within its space: so the first register is geography. Since ancient science, however, was interested only in the dietetic and therapeutic virtues of the jungle and its fauna, the enquiry then has to be pursued on the register of pharmacy. Chapter 4 thus embarks on an analysis of the aroma, savor, or bouquet of a particular soil and of its inhabitants, taken as potential remedies. It is an essentially linguistic analysis since it addresses not the medical substances themselves, but the phraseology used to describe them, the grouping of the adjectives which indicate their virtues. But again, the use of these remedies leads on to a superior register, tackled in chapter 6, that of physiology, in the ancient sense, which governs the circulation of fluids in the surrounding world, the rise of saps in plants, the aroma that is given off by the cooking of different kinds of meats, and finally, the interplay of the humors within the human body. By way of conclusion, we return to the agricultural images that provided our starting point: the dry and fertile terrain, drainage, the sublimation of nourishing fluids – images ultimately applied to an analysis of the human body.
Before Francis Zimmermann published this book in the early 1980s, first in French in 1982 and then in English translation in 1987, scholarship on classical Indian medicine had for the preceding century been more or less confined to cataloguing of some description. We had books listing the literature of ayurveda, we had books listing its chief theories, we had books listing its surgical instruments, and we had some translations, which could be considered lists of its narrative content.
A small number of serious scholars had read Zimmermann’s articles and had, as a direct result of contact with his ideas, begun to think in far more creative and far-reaching ways about the issues and problems raised by the history of the medical ethnosciences of India. But with the publication of Jungle, the field was moved decisively forward and changed forever. Zimmermann brought a completely new level of interpretative sophistication to the study of ayurveda, and showed just how much more meaning there was to be discovered in this wonderful subject, if only one had eyes to see it. Zimmermann drew freely on intellectual materials developed in the contexts of French structural- ism and anthropology, but also displayed a dazzling command of the European traditions of philosophy, logic, and classical medicine: These formidable tools were brought to bear on the original source materials on Indian medicine, preserved in Sanskrit and interpreted over the millennia by many generations of scholars and physicians.
His discoveries, interpretations, and musings have demonstrated to all – and it needed to be demonstrated – that ayurveda is one of the most important and valuable of the ancient Indian disciplines (sastras) for the understanding and interpretation of Indian social history and culture. An early reviewer of this book called it “among this century’s most important inter-cultural achievements of scholarship,” and it has deservedly become one of the most widely cited studies on classical Indian medicine in the contemporary literature of Indian cultural and historical studies.
It is a pleasure and honour to be able to present Francis Zimmermann’s The Jungle and the Aroma of Meats: An Ecological Theme in Hindu Medicine to a new readership through this edition in the Indian Medical Tradition series.
‘What we in Europe, in the classical period; called “the chain of being” is presented in India as a sequence of foods. Right at the end of the sequence, meats are cooked by fire, and that cooking is the last mediation, the last predigestion of foods before they are consumed by man. Inserted into this sequence, in between the plants (which they eat) and cooking (which renders them eatable), animals—eaten eaters, at once flesh and meat—are in an ambiguous position that reflects life’s natural violence. “Immobile beings are the food of those which are mobile, those without teeth are the food of those with teeth, those without hands are the food of those with hands, and the cowards are the food of the brave.” To account for the subordination of some classes of beings to others, it is not enough to say that animals eat plants and man eats meat. In the animal kingdom and then the human one, the dialectic of the eaten eater introduces further divisions between the strong and the weak, the predator and his prey, the carnivore and the vegetarian.
Vegetarianism—a brahminic ideal and a social fact in India—precisely calls into question that fateful dialectic in which every class of being feeds on another. The prohibition of flesh, which became increasingly strict in brahminic society, was one way to break the chain of all this alimentary violence and affirm that it is not really necessary to kill in order to eat. To that end, a new type of opposition between men was introduced. It was no longer a matter of courage and fear, domination and servitude; it was instead an opposition between the pure and the impure and a hierarchy of castes. Abstention from eating meat became a criterion of purity. Such is our context, what I am inclined to call the overall Hindu tradition, the principles of which are essentially juridical and religious.
However, I am interested in a particular discipline within that tradition, one which, confronted as it constantly is with physical diseases and urgency, tends more than any other to contradict the tradition’s orthodoxy and ritualism. It is medicine, Ayurveda, “knowledge” (veda) for (prolonging or saving) the “continuation of life” (Jyus). The Ayurvedic doctors superimpose upon the religious principles of purity and hierarchy others of a different order: after all, seen from a biological point of view, flesh does nourish flesh. And the nourishment which is more fortifying and restorative than any other, for an anemic or consumptive person, is not just meat but the meat that to a brahmin is the most disgusting of all: the meat of animals that eat meat, a medication which the state of the patient sometimes renders indispensable, even if it must be disguised by being mixed with other foods and even if the patient must be told lies in order to overcome his disgust. Later, I shall illustrate this use of deceit in a good cause.
First, the medical treatises record the simple observation of a biological fact, to wit that animals compose a series of hostile couples: her bivores and carnivores, game and beasts of prey, the antelope and the lion, the partridge and the crow, and so on. Furthermore, the doctor makes use of this natural violence for therapeutic ends, and that is why hostile couples constitute one of the most important of the classificatory schemata in the nomenclature of meats. The doctor, then, cannot be free from violence, a fact which, within the civilization that invented nonviolence, ahimsa, the “absence of the desire to kill,” inevitably entailed a slight lowering of his social status. We shall return to this point. We are concerned to analyze the social issues connected with this ani4 mal pharmacopoeia together with its logical structures.
Within a given area, the animals and plants share the same circumstances, climate, land relief. The existence of one group is conditioned by the presence or numbers of another, as in the following patterns of relationships: reversals of position (the eater will be eaten), reduplication (the flesh of eaters of flesh), coupling (the predator and its prey), and the sequence (moon-water earth-plant). The chain of being is thus present in its entirety within a given landscape with its climate, land relief, trees, birds, and so on. Each of the animal or plant species characterizes a particular type of landscape and is at the same time part of an ecological community in which it either feeds off others or feeds them. Thus, living creatures can be distributed over two dimensions. Their stratification on a number of biological levels overlaps with their geographical distribution. They make up a table, they set up a tableau:
The contrasting species—the acacia and the coconut palm, the wild partridge and the wild duck, the gazelle and the elephant—characterize the bioclimatic polarities between the arid and the marshy regions (figure 1). Teak and sal indicate two variants of a landscape that is more or less dry, ranging from tropical to deciduous forest; and in a similar fashion, the gazelle and the antelope mark out the difference between the semiarid plains and the tree-covered savanna. But in a single landscape, thorny shrubs, bushes, and gazelles may be associated, or again, a teak forest may shelter lions and antelopes. The first chapters of this book will be devoted to charting this distribution. Animals and plants are distributed in accordance with a particular typology of soils, or biosensors, if I may borrow the word used by ecologists today to refer to communities of living creatures that share the conditions of life in a given place. In ancient India, this typology did not result from empirical observation but stemmed initially from a revelation. It was the in, the first sages close to the gods, the seers of Vedic times, who noted what cannot be seen in the landscape: the hidden properties of materials, their savors, or rasa, and it was they who taught of these things both by word of mouth and in their writings. Tradition then carries on perception so that in the landscape that nature presents to the eye each element can be named or described by the doctors and poets who know the science of the tasa. Although this book borrows numerous illustrations from tropical geography and contemporary studies of flora and zoology, the reader should not be misled. Its point of departure is not observation but a study of the texts; not geography or the natural sciences but a corpus of traditional notions into which it became possible to subsume the empirical data. I have tried to compare what the texts say with what is taught today by geographers and naturalists, in the hope of discovering what was at stake in Hindu scholasticism – the demands, conflicts, and world vision to which the Sanskrit texts bear witness. For a Hindu, what these texts say represents reality, reality as perceived from inside a tradition which is closed on itself. If the interpreter is not himself to become imprisoned within this tradition, he must – when faced with the words that express it – retain a sense of their strangeness. Take the word jangala: however many the glossed, in the final analysis it remains untranslatable. Let us start by determining the terrain that it covers.
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