Gautama Vajracharya

Unicorns in Ancient India and the Utilization of Their Horns for Making Vedic Ritual Implements

According to Ṛśyaśṛńga’s story found in the Sanskrit epics and Buddhist literature, ṛśya was an animal with a single horn.
Atharvaveda tells us that parῑśāsa is an object which is closely associated with the ṛśya’s physique and can be chopped off above its skin. Vedic people collected the objects to make lifting sticks or a pair of tongs to lift a cooking pot out of the burning sacrificial fire. They called the implement parῑśāsau or śaphau. Previous scholars’ view that parῑśāsa is a strip of the ṛśya’s skin cannot be accepted as correct because it is not possible to make lifting sticks out of the skin. On the other hand, if we compare this Vedic information with the Mahābhārata and Buddhist statement regarding a ṛśya having a single horn it becomes abundantly clear that parῑśāsa is the single horn of the unicorn.

We made an image placing crosswise two horns of the two different unicorns depicted in the Indus seals. The image closely resembles the stylized representation of bovine hoof or footprint known to the ancient artistic tradition of India as nandῑpada. Thus, if our view that parῑśāsa is the horn of a unicorn is correct the Vedic implement has to look like a nandῑpada that we see in ancient Indian art coins. Fortunately, we do have evidence to prove that the implement did look like a nandῑpada. We mentioned earlier that the implement was also known as śaphau, which is indeed a Vedic synonym for nandῑpada because both these words, śaphau and nandῑpada, literally means bovine hoof or footprint. It is auspicious because people in Ancient India believed that when the footprint of a bull is filled with rainwater the drought is over. More detail at the lecture.