For various reasons I have been reading Chattopadhyaya’s Representing the Other? Sanskrit Sources and the Muslims. One of the strains that I am trying to trace are the terms occuring in epigraphical evidence for Muslim invaders. The earliest references to Muslims occur far too late in the 8th century to make me happy (c. 730s). The terms used are Tajika and Parasika. After the ninth century those terms are replaced by Mleccha and Yavana. These last well into the 16th century. The hindi/urdu word Maleech meaning dirty or subhuman is an obvious descendant of Mleccha. It is Parasika that caught my attention and led me on what is called “wild goose chase” to lighten up a dull thursday:
Parasika during c. 300-700 refers to “an inhabitant of Pars, the ancient Persis”. As Chattopadhyaya writes
Hmmm…”flush caused by wine”, I say to myself. So, I look around to see if the Parasikas had a reputation for good wine and partying. Then, I discover (ah, google) of a herb called Parasikas-Yamani aka Henbane. In 1880, wrote W. Dymock in the American Journal of Pharmacy:
Henbane is described by eastern writers on materia medica as intoxicating, narcotic and anodyne. Amongst the many uses to which it is put the following may be mentioned as peculiar to the East: A poultice of the juice with barley flour is used to relieve the pain of inflammatory swellings; the seeds in wine are applied to gouty enlargements, inflamed breasts and swelled testicles. About 1/2 drachm of the seeds with 1 drachm of poppy seeds are made into a mixture with honey and water and given as an anodyne in cough, gout, etc. Equal parts of the seed and opium are used as a powerful narcotic.
A wine that acts as a narcotic! BHANG? Can’t be. Because Bhang was made with cannabis. Parasika-Yamani must have been an earlier usage, I thought. And the Yamani reference makes the connection to Khat used extensively in Yemen to this day. Except that Qat/Khat is made from leaves of Celastrus Edulis.
So, I am stumped. I turn to the English word Henbane, which I learn comes from Central Asia instead of the Himalayas and is mentioned in Hamlet:
That does NOT sound fun at all. I conclude that W. Dymock was full of shit – neither Bhang nor Khat used the herb he is describing and the effects of Henbane are not conducive to partying (having “bane” in the name is not an endorsement). Except that he wrote a 3 vol.Pharmacographia Indica (1890-91) which is more than I have ever done. I further conclude that Google is evil.
In all this, I had wasted away most of the morning instead of working on my syllabus and I guess I learned something – of very dubious academic value but good for conversations on Saturday night, no?