Parasika Or How to Waste Time

Posted by sepoy on July 29, 2004 · 6 mins read

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

In the Raghuvamsam of Kalidasa, king Raghu encountered the Parasikas, who were westerners in his digvijaya undertaken on the land route. Kalidasa tells us that Raghu 'could not bear the flush caused by wine in the lotus faces of the Yavana women; that a fierce battle took place between him and the westerners who had cavalry for their army; that he covered the earth with their bearded heads, severed by his arrows, that the survivors put off their helmets and sought his permission, and that his soldiers beguiled the faigue of conquest with wine in vineyards covered with choicest skins'p. 31

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, though a native of the Himalayas, was probably unknown as a medicine to the ancient Hindu physicians."Parasika-yamani" and "khorasam-yamani," the names which it bears in some recent Hindu books, indicate its foreign source. Mahometan writers call it "banj," an Arabic corruption of the Persian "bang." They say it is the "afeekoon" of the Greeks, the "azmalus" of the Syrians, and the "katfeet" or "iskeeras" of the Moors. They also add that in the Deilami dialect it is called "keer-chak," because the capsules resemble a little basket with a cover, such as the Arabs make out of date leaves and call "kafeer." Meer Muhammed Husain's description of "banj" in the "Makhzan-ul-adwiya" agrees well with the genus Hyoscyamus. He says there are three kinds, white, black and red, and that the white is to be preferred. He mentions the preparation of a sun-dried extract from the juice of the fresh leaves, and says that the leaves are also pounded and made into a paste with flour, out of which small cakes are formed, which when dry retain their medicinal properties for some time.
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:

Sleeping within mine Orchard, My custome alwayes in the afternoone; Vpon my secure hower thy Vncle stole With iuyce of cursed Hebenon in a Violl, And in the Porches of mine eares did poure The leaperous Distilment; whose effect Holds such an enmity with bloud of Man, That swift as Quick-siluer, it courses through The naturall Gates and Allies of the body; And with a sodaine vigour it doth posset And curd, like Aygre droppings into Milke, The thin and wholsome blood: so did it mine; And a most instant Tetter bak'd about, Most Lazar-like, with vile and loathsome crust, All my smooth Body.

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?


Brian Ulrich | July 29, 2004

Wild goose chases are part of the fun of being a dissertator - especially for those of us who like to play around in the 8th century.

sepoy | July 29, 2004

the sad thing is that once you end the wild goose chase, you dont want to go back to the material. all i wanna do now is read dailykos and that is just not right. when is the weekend coming? and you are right. i should have chosen something sexy in the modern period. i have to go decipher baladhuri now. just like u.

Nitin | July 31, 2004

Sepoy, Far more meaningful results may be achieved if one conducts the same research under the influence of bhang :-) But hey, this is interesting stuff. I have a question; what did the 8th century Muslims call themselves?

sepoy | July 31, 2004

Nitin, please do not tempt me with even more time-wasters... will answer your question monday. cheers