Research Article Written by London swaminathan

Date: 6 August 2018


Time uploaded in London – 14-10  (British Summer Time)


Post No. 5294


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“The organisation of the army included a camel corps. Camels are referred to in the Vedas as being native to the soil but there is no specific mention of fighting camels. Camels are of two varieties, the single humped one, now seen in upper India and in Arabia, (where it was probably introduced from India) and the double humped Bactrian camel which was later introduced in the Middle East and North Africa.

Panini is familiar with the camel corps known in his time as Austraka or Ushtra-sadi (ushtra =camel). A mixed corps of camels and mules (asvatari) , was known as ushtra-vani. It would appear that the camels were mostly used as army transports over the difficult sandy terrain, frequently come across in the Indus basin and in Rajaputana

Source, Arya Tarangini ,page 342; Volume one, A Kalyanaraman , Asia Publishing House, 1969



Camel in Mahabharata

We find an interesting story about camel in the Shanti parva of Mahabharata. A lazy camel did not want to go out to get food. So it stayed in a place and prayed to Brahma. He gave him a long neck so that it can eat all the plants up above the trees without much effort. The lazy camel tried that way and in greediness it protruded its neck into a cave. A fox inside he cave bit the head of the camel and killed it.


This is to teach a lesson to the lazy people, probably included in the Mahabharata at a later date.


Camel Vahana

Camel Fair in Pushkar is famous in Rajastha. It attracts a large number of local people and foreign tourists.


Though camel is found only in desert areas. strangely it became the vahana (mount) of Hindu god Anjaneys (Maruti). There are some local stories to justify it. We can see such camel figures in Chennai Hyderabad and other Hanumar temples.


One of the Ashta Dik Devatas ( Eight Gods in charge of Eight Directions) is Naitruti in charge of South West. Camel is the Vahana of Naitruti.


Camel in Manu Smrti



These slokas must be read with interpretation or in the right context. What I can say is that Manu has used camels in nearly 20 places. He even spoke about the fence up to a  height of a camel. That means camels were well known and very widely used and they were like common domestic cattle. Even Brahmins were riding on the camels which we know from Manu’s ban on reciting Vedas sitting on a camel. If we look at each sloka or its commentary, we can make a picture of the society during Manu’ days.


Following are couplets From Manu smrti (2-204 means second chapter 204th sloka)


2-204. He may sit with his teacher in a carriage drawn by oxen, horses, or camels, on a terrace, on a bed of grass or leaves, on a mat, on a rock, on a wooden bench, or in a boat.


3-162. A trainer of elephants, oxen, horses, or camels, he who subsists by astrology, a bird-fancier, and he who teaches the use of arms, (DON’T ENTERTAIN THEM IN SRARDHA)


4-115. A Brahmana shall not recite (the Veda) during a dust-storm, nor while the sky is preternaturally red, nor while jackals howl, nor while the barking of dogs, the braying of donkeys, or the grunting of camels (is heard), nor while (he is seated) in a company.


4-120. Let him not recite the Veda on horseback, nor on a tree, nor on an elephant, nor in a boat (or ship), nor on a donkey, nor on camel, nor standing on barren ground, nor riding in a carriage.


5-8. The milk of a cow (or other female animal) within ten days after her calving, that of camels, of one-hoofed animals, of sheep, of a cow in heat, or of one that has no calf with her,(AVOID THEM; DON’T OFFER IT TO GOD)


5-18. The porcupine, the hedgehog, the iguana, the rhinoceros, the tortoise, and the hare they declare to be eatable; likewise those (domestic animals) that have teeth in one jaw only, excepting camels.


8-146. Things used with friendly assent, a cow, a camel, a riding-horse, and (a beast) made over for breaking in, are never lost (to the owner).


8-239. (The owner of the field) shall make there a hedge over which a camel cannot look, and stop every gap through which a dog or a boar can thrust his head.


8-296. If a man is killed, his guilt will be at once the same as (that of) a thief; for large animals such as cows, elephants, camels or horses, half of that.


9-48. As with cows, mares, female camels, slave-girls, buffalo-cows, she-goats, and ewes, it is not the begetter (or his owner) who obtains the offspring, even thus (it is) with the wives of others.

11-69. Killing a donkey, a horse, a camel, a deer, an elephant, a goat, a sheep, a fish, a snake, or a buffalo, must be known to degrade (the offender) to a mixed caste (Samkarikarana).

11-138. But for killing carnivorous wild beasts, he shall give a milch-cow, for (killing) wild beasts that are not carnivorous, a heifer, for killing a camel, one krishnala.


11-155. A twice-born man, who has swallowed the urine or ordure of a village pig, of a donkey, of a camel, of a jackal, of a monkey, or of a crow, shall perform a lunar penance.

11-157. The atonement for partaking of (the meat of) carnivorous animals, of pigs, of camels, of cocks, of crows, of donkeys, and of human flesh, is a Tapta Krikkhra (penance).

11-200. He who has been bitten by a dog, a jackal, or a donkey, by a tame carnivorous animal, by a man, a horse, a camel, or a (village-) pig, becomes pure by suppressing his breath (Pranayama).

11-202. A Brahmana who voluntarily rode in a carriage drawn by camels or by asses, and he who bathed naked, become pure by suppressing his breath (Pranayama).


12-55. The slayer of a Brahmana enters the womb of a dog, a pig, an ass, a camel, a cow, a goat, a sheep, a deer, a bird, a Kandala, and a Pukkasa.

12-67. For stealing a deer or an elephant a wolf, for stealing a horse a tiger, for stealing fruit and roots a monkey, for stealing a woman a bear, for stealing water a black-white cuckoo, for stealing vehicles a camel, for stealing cattle a he-goat.

Camel in The Bible

St Augustine, 354-430 CE, made the camel a symbol of humble Christian shouldering life’s burden without complaint.

In images of Magi the camel appears as a beast of burden.
A camel began to speak in support of the wish of St. Cosmos and St Damian that they may be buried in the same grave; the Devil however, assumed the form of a giant camel to plague Macarius the Egyptian.
It has been that a mistranslation may have produced Christ’s statement that “ it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of god” . Mathew 19-24
In Aramaic gamla means camel and rope.
It seems camel is more correct, when we look at another image.
In the Babylonian Talmud a similar image is used in reference to those who achieve the impossible: they make “an elephant pass through the eye of a needle “.


In Asian mythology, camel joined the water buffalo, the elephant and the tiger in mourning the death of Gautama Buddha.

Symbolism of camel

“The animal by its largely undemanding nature, made it possible for humans to cross the steppes and the deserts of North Africa. The camel became a symbol of moderation and sobriety.

Because of its physiognomy, which appears to the human eye appears haughty, it also came to symbolise arrogance and selfishness. Because it would accept only those burdens that it could actually carry, the camel came to stand for discernment. It stood for laziness too. Its ability to kneel obediently was taken as a positive characteristic”.

Dictionary of Symbolism. Hans Biedermann, 1989



1.From the days of Rig Veda Hindus know about camels

2.Camels were also part of gift/Daana like cows.

3.Camels have been used for transport

4.Oldest Tamil book also mentioned camels in addition to Sangam Literature

5.English words and Tamil words might have been derived from Ustra and Kramela (Sanskrit words for camels)

6.Camels are also shown as Vahana of Hindu Gods giving it some sanctity.

7.Camels were part of Pancha tantra fables and Katha Sarit Sagara stories and so even children knew about it.

7.Panini who lived 2700 years ago mentioned Camel Corps and so it was part of Hindu Army.

8.Mahabharata story about camels show that it was part of epic literature.