A Literary Review on Vedic Serpent Mythologies and its Cultural Semantics Reflected in Indigenous Medical Texts in Sri Lanka

D. L. Perera


The serpent is a universal symbol in mythologies that prevail in all civilizationsand folklore throughout the world from prehistoric times. Vedic cosmological legendsdescribe the sacred mythical serpent icons and the heavenly genesis of nectar (amrita)and venom (visha) in the war between the gods and demons (Sura-asura) where withthe help of the great celestial serpent (vasuki) a churning of the ocean of milk tookplace. In this study the main objective is to understand roots of Vedic mythologiesfabricated in indigenous medical literature and demonstrate its cultural semanticsreflected in such literary sources. Baseline data were collected from authentic ancientmedical textbooks written in Sinhala and unpublished sources like palm-leafmanuscripts and handwritten documents. Several semi-structured interviews withindigenous snakebite healers were conducted for data verification and data analysis wascompletely based on textual references published by anthropologists or historiansrelated to scholarly works on Vedic literature and proto-Indo-European mythology.

Anthropological knowledge, attitudes and practices of indigenous medicine is mostly acultural repertory embedded in belief systems which have been influenced by IndianAyurveda as a medical science. In indigenous medical literature this influence isreflected in many ways and Ayurvedic fundamentals and basic theories, in turn, areincluded in the Sri Lankan tradition. Findings of this study show that the Vedicmythology has a direct influence on indigenous medical lore in description ofprimordial serpent venom, origin of celestial serpents, effect of venom, classification ofcobra, mythicalrecites, rituals, beliefs etc. Ethos related to deities and divine powersadministered in snake venom treatment processes are also acculturated from Vediclegends. Epistemology and cultural traits of Vedic serpent mythologies reflected inindigenous medical literature can be found in community belief systems as well.

Key words: Vedic mythologies, Serpent, Indigenous medical literature, Culturalsemantics

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