RESEARCH ARTICLE Written by London swaminathan

Date: 5 August 2018


Time uploaded in London – 15-47  (British Summer Time)


Post No. 5291


Pictures shown here are taken from various sources such as Facebook friends, Wikipedia, Books, Google and newspapers; thanks. Pictures may be subject to copyright laws.


Camels are referred to in the Vedas, Mahabharata, Panini’s Ashtadyayee, Pancha tantra fables, Katha sarit sagara, Buddhist literature, Amarakosa Thesarus, oldest Tamil book Tolkappiam, two books of Tamil Sangam period, Tamil epic Silappadikaram (???), about 20 slokas of Manu Smrti, in the Bible, folk tales and festivals such as Pushkar camel festival


Camels are of two types. Camels with one hump is found in India and its neighbourhoods. The oldest reference to the camel in literature is found in the Rig Veda, if we believe the dates given to it by Herman Jacobi and Balagangadhara Tilak i.e. 6000 BCE. Even otherwise the camels are referred to in Indian literature continuously for thousands of years. Let me start with Tamil literature:

The oldest book in Tamil language is Tolkappiam, a grammatical treatise dated between first century BCE and first century CE. The third part of the book refers to camels in two Sutras (rules). It describes the naming of a calf of camel and a female camel.


Next comes Akananuru and Sirupanaatrup padai- two books from the 18 major works of Sangam Tamil literature.


Akananuru verse 245 created a debate among Tamil scholars because of the two interpretations.

One interpretation is that the camels ate the dried flowers of silk cotton trees on the rocks which looked like the bones of animals and another interpretation is camels ate bones in the dry and arid areas of Tamil Nadu. Since camels are herbivorous the second interpretation is wrong.


In Sirupannatruppadai (line 154) the Agarwood washed by the sea in the City of Eyirpattinam looked like a camel lying down.

Both are interesting because the camels were found even in the southern most part of India 2000 years ago. Since they mentioned horses in hundreds of places it is no wonder that they were driven from north to south by the merchants.


In the most famous Tamil epic Silappadikaram the hero of the story Kovalan is said to have travelled to the sea side on a mule; but the word used by the poet Ilango is ‘Attiri’ which may mean a camel or a mule according to Tamil dictionary!


The very word ‘Ottakam’ in Tamil is derived from the Sanskrit word Ustra and Usti, both are found in the Rig Veda, the oldest book in the world.


Another interesting thing is the word CAMEL is cognate to Kramela in Sanskrit for camel. It may be derived from gamal of Arabic or Kramela from Sanskrit , subject for research!


Camels in Madurai Temple procession

In my home town Madurai in Tamil Nadu, the temple festivals used to have Elephant, Camel and Bull with a drum on it. God’s procession is always led by these three. I don’t know when this custom came to Madurai Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple.



Both of these words, of which the former is quite rare (RV 18-106) must have the same sense

Roth and Aufrecht hold tha in the Rig Veda and the brahmanas the sense is humped bull or buffalo, but the former thinks in the vs the sense is doubtful, and camel may be meant.

Hopkins is decidedly of opinion that the sense in every case is camel.

Rig Veda 1-138-2


6,48; , 22, 31

Atharva Veda 20-127-2, 132, 13

Vajasaneyi Samhita 13-50

Satapata Brahmana- 1-2-3-9

Aitareya Brahmana- 2-8

The animal was used as a beast of burden yoked in fours—AV 2-127-2; RV 8-6-48


Source- Vedic Index of Names and Subjects Volume-1, AA Macdonell and AB Keith


It is interesting to note that more camel references come from the Eighth Mandala of Rig Veda. It is concerned more with the kings of Iran. This Mandala is full of mysteries and much research is needed. Here are a few references:

RV 8-46-32 says,

Balbhutha and Taruksha have made a gift of 100 camels to the sage. The names Balbutha and Taruksha, both of typical Sanskrit sounds are rare names.

RV 8-5-37 says,

Kashu gives 100 camels and 10000 cows to the priest

Kasu is found in Avestan literature confirming his Iranian descent.

Another reference to Iraninans is 8-6-46 ; here Parshu (Persian Parsa) and Tirinda (Persian Tiridates) gave one lakh gifts. It may be gold or cattle or camels or all mixed.


What is mentioned here can be compared with Mulavarman Sanskrit Inscription of Indonesia, where the Seven Yupa Stambha inscriptions say that the king donated 20,000 cows to the Brahmins with lot of gold. So 10,000 cows in RV need not raise any one’s eye brows!

In Kalidasa

This can be again compared with a reference in Kalidasa’s Raghu vamsa (whom I date first Century BCE on the basis of Sangam Literature similes):-

“Then the seer Kautsa after loading the gold bags on 100 horses and camels , affectionately touched the King Raghu and said the following”- ( Raghu Vamsa 5-32)


Here also we see 100 camels like we see in the Rig Veda. So all these were very common in those days.


When we see Panini’s reference to Camel Corps around Seventh Century BCE, we would be surprised.

–to be continued………………….

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