There is no living being or thing that is not called by a name. The trees of the forest and the mountains are the business of the country folk. For they, on being asked ‘What tree is this’? say the name they know, such as khidira or palāsa. Even when they do not know the name of a tree they will say ‘That is a no-name tree.’ And further, that will be accepted as the name for that tree. And it is the same for fish and tortoises in the ocean, and so on.

Atthasālini 392


Akka. Swallow Wort or Giant Milkweed, Calotropis gigantea (Vin I 306). A small stout shrub with a beautiful purple or sometimes white flower. The juice of the leaves have medical properties, floss from the seeds is used as stuffing and in ancient times fibre from the stem was used to make bowstrings (M I 429).

Agaru. sometimes agalu or akalu. agarwood, Aquilaria malaccensis (Ja VI 144; 510; 530). This slender straight tree has bright green leaves, snow-white flowers and can grow up to 20 metres high. The resinous heartwood, also called agaru, is prized for its fragrant smell and the oil extracted from it is widely used in traditional medicine. As with sandalwood, aloes was ground into a paste on a stone and then rubbed on the limbs as a perfume (Ja IV 440; Mil 338). The gods are described as being ‘draped in garments of red and gold and fragrant with aloes, piyaṅgu1 and sandalwood’ (Vv-a 235).

Agārasappa. Common Wolf Snake, Lycodon aulicus. The Pali name means ‘house snake’. The colour and markings of this snake are variable but it is usually light to dark-brown with yellow crossbars and it can grow up to 765 millimetres. Of all Indian snakes this is the one most commonly found in human habitation, whether in rural areas or crowded cities. It hides during the day and comes out at night to hunt geckos, skinks, mice, cockroaches and birds nesting in roofs. Although non-venomous, the wolf snake closely resembles the very dangerous krait and is often mistaken for it. Its discovery in a house usually causes consternation. The Jātaka describes a man carrying an unlucky robe on a stick ‘as if he were carrying a house snake’ (Ja I 372).

Aṅkola. Sometimes aṅkolaka, Alangium salviifolium, (Ja VI 535). A small thorny bushy tree with oblong leaves, an ellipsoid black succulent fruit and beautiful white flowers. The flowers were used to make garlands (Ja IV 440). Today, the bark and roots are used as a medicine for jaundice and the fruit is eaten.

Aṅgahetuka. A type of bird (Ja VI 538).

Accha. Sloth Bear, Melursus ursinus, also called ikka (Ja V 70; 197, VI 538). This medium-sized bear has a shaggy black coat, a white v-shaped mark on its breast and a long white snout. It has a slow lumbering gait but can attack swiftly and without provocation. Sloth bears could attack forest-dwelling monks (A III 100). Monks were allowed to have a bear skin mat for wiping their feet (Vin II 174) and to use bear fat as a medicine (Vin I 200). Sloth bears have black hair and one cannot escape them even by climbing a tree (Ja VI 507). One Jātaka story describes villagers finding a bear near their village and attacking it with arrows, sticks and staffs to drive it away (Ja IV 327).

Acchiva. A type of tree (Ja VI 535).

Aja. Domestic Goat, Capra hircus, also ajaka and ajiya (It 36; Ja II 278; V 241; M I 344; III 167). Goats are medium-sized mammals related to sheep with backward-sloping horns and short tails. They were kept for their milk, meat and wool. We read of goats being slaughtered at sacrifices, of long-haired goat getting caught in thorn bushes (S II 228) and of a man keeping goats, living on the milk and making smoke to protect them from mosquitoes (Ja III 401). There is an unusual Jātaka story in which an abandoned child is suckled by a goat (Ja V 429).

Ajagara. Indian Python, Python molurus (Ja III 484), sometimes ajakara. This powerful constrictor is marked with distinctive irregular brown saddles over yellow or grey and can grow up to 5 metres in length. The Pali name means ‘goat-eater’ and indeed the Indian Python can grow big enough to kill and swallow goats, calves or small deer. The comment was made that ‘pythons are not poisonous but they are very strong. Any man or animal who comes near they wrap their coils around and crush’ (Ja VI 507).

Ajamoda. Ajowan Caraway, Trachyspermum ammi. It is an erect branched annual herb with grooved stems and small white flowers. The small fruits, often incorrectly called a seeds, are small, pale brown, oval-shaped schizocarps widely used in cooking because of their aromatic smell and pungent taste. They are also eaten raw and taken as a medicine. In the Vimānavatthu commentary ajamoda is said to be one of the pungent spices along with asafoetida, cumin and garlic (Vv-a 186).

Ajjaka. Hoary Basil, Ocimum americanum (Vin IV 35) also ajjuka. A slender erect, aromatic herb with a four-angled stem and elliptic leaves covered with fine hairs.

Ajjukaṇṇa. A type of tree (Ja VI 535).

Ajjuna. Terminalia arjuna, sometimes also kakudha. A large tree sometimes attaining a girth of 3.6 metres and a height of 30 metres and commonly found growing on the banks of rivers (Ja VI 518). It has pale greenish or grey bark, long inclined branches and white flowers. The bark is sometimes boiled in water to make a tonic. After washing his robe, the Buddha climbed out of the Nerañjarā River by grasping a branch of a kakudha tree (Vin I 28). The Mahāvastu gives the name as kakubha and describes the tree as being beautiful and having wide-spreading branches (Mvu III 302). The past Buddha Anomadassī attained enlightenment under an ajjuna tree (Bv VIII.23).

Ajjhohāra. A large and probably fantastic marine creature (Ja V 462). See Timi.

Añjanarukkha. A type of tree (Ja I 331). The name means ‘black tree’ or ‘collyrium tree.

Aṭṭhikadali. A type of banana tree (Ja V 406). See Kadali.

Atimuttaka. Uncertain, but perhaps Hiptage benghalensis. A large woody shrub with showy white flowers (Ja IV 28; 440). According to the Jātaka it is a type of vine or creeper (Ja V 422). Together with lotus and jasmine the flowers were used to make garlands (M I 32).

Ativisa. Monk’s Hood or Friar’s Hood, Aconitum palmatum, A. ferox, and or A. spitacum (Vin I 201; IV 35). These hardy perennial plants grow in the Himalayas between an elevation of 3000 and 5000 metres. They have dark-green glossy leaves, a fleshy spindle-shaped root and purple helmet-shaped flowers that grow in erect clusters. The leaves, stem, flowering tops and particularly the root are poisonous and all have numerous medical uses. In ancient times arrow heads were coated with the poison.

Adda. See Siṅgivera.

Adhipāta. See Kīṭa.

Anojā. A type of plant with red flowers (Ja I 9; VI 536).

Andhaka. See Kīṭa.

Aparaṇṇa. A general term for raw cereals (Vin III 50). See Dhañña.

Apphoṭā. A type of creeper (Ja VI 336).

Amarā. Eel, a scaleless, snake-like fish of the order Synbranchiformes, of which there are nine species in northern India. The most common and widespread eel in northern India is the Mud Eel, Monopterus cuchia. Growing up to 60 cm in length and weighing as much as 1 kg, the mud eel is greenish or chestnut brown with black spots and has an elliptical head, small fins and a flat stumpy tail. The mud eel is found in rivers, swamps and paddy fields situated near rivers. The Buddha referred to teachers who equivocated when asked a question as ‘eel-wrigglers’ (D I 24; M I 521).

Amba. Mango, Mangifera indica. A large evergreen tree of which there are about 700 varieties in India and which is cultivated mainly for its delicious fruit. The fruit can be nearly round but are more commonly elongated and turned up slightly at the end and are yellow colour when ripe or ‘the colour of fine gold’ (Ja II 104). The fruit was eaten with relish and it was also made into a drink (Vin I 246) and when mixed with sugar was taken as a medicine (Ja II 393). Mango peel was put in curries (Vin II 109). The colour of monks’ and nuns’ robes were compared to that of the mango (Th 197). Groves of mango trees were, and indeed still are, found outside many villages in India. People planted such groves to provide fruit and to picnic in during the spring, and wandering ascetics often used to reside in them. The monk Meghiya described one such grove thus: ‘Truly lovely and delightful is this mango grove; a good place for one wanting to meditate’ (Ud 34). Several mango groves are mentioned in the Tipiṭaka; Pāvārika’s Mango Grove at Nālandā, Cunda’s Mango Grove at Pāvā, the Grove of Wild Mangoes at Macchikāsaṇḍa and Jīvaka’s Mango Grove which was outside the east gate of Rājagaha (A V 263; D I 47; S IV 281).

One who wants mangoes will knock them out of the tree by throwing a mango at them (Mil 189). The famous trick where a mango seed is made to apparently sprout, grow leaves, flower and then bear fruit, all within a few minutes, was already being performed by conjurers during the Buddha’s time (Ja IV 324). See also Kosamba.

Ambakamaddarī. Eurasian Golden Oriole, Oriolus oriolus. A thrush-sized bird, golden yellow with black wings and tail and a black streak through the eye. The bird’s Pali name is probably due to both its ripe mango colour and the fact that it arrives in northern India in spring just as the mangoes ripen, although in some areas it is resident. The Eurasian golden oriole is arboreal and feeds on fruits, berries and nectar. The Buddha mentioned that its harsh screeching call is not as impressive as that of the domestic fowl (A I 188).

Ambāṭaka. Hog Plum, Spondias pinnata (Th 466). A common medium to large tree with smooth white bark and small white flowers. The yellow ellipsoid plum-sized fruit is unpleasantly astringent but becomes edible just as it ripens. The leaves have a distinct mango-like smell.

Ambuja. See Maccha.

Ambusevāla. A type of moss or aquatic plant (Th 113).

Araññabiḷāla. See Biḷāla.

Ariṭṭha. The Soap Nut Tree, Sapindus mukorossi, a large deciduous tree which bears small white flowers. Its fruit is called ariṭṭhaka. When ripe it is ovoid and covered with a soft rusty-coloured flesh which contains saponins, a type of natural detergent. When rubbed with water it produces a rich lather which is used as a substitute for soap. Ariṭṭha was also the name given to a type of alcoholic drink used as a medicine although it is not clear if this was made from the soap nut tree (Vin IV 110).

Alagadda. See Sappa.

Alattaka. A red substance women used to dye their feet with (M II 64; Th 771). This may have been an alternative name for lac (Ja IV 114). See Lākhā.

Alābu. Bottle Gourd, Lagenaria siceraria, also alāpu, lāpu, lābu. An annual climber with a large white flower and a fruit that can take various shapes, sometimes dumb-bell-shaped or round with an elongated top (M I 80). The fruit contains an edible thick, white pulp and when dried its shell becomes hard and is commonly used as a container. There is mention of honey being kept in such a container (Ja VI 528). The shell of the fruit is very hard and is used as containers and for the body of musical instruments (Ja I 158; V 37). When the Buddha commented that human bones resembled bottle gourds laying scattered in the autumn he was probably referring to the fruit’s resemblance to a skull (Dhp 149). The monk Soṇṇakontarika washed the Buddha’s feet with water he had collected in a bottle gourd (Ap II 389). The Buddha said that he sometimes wore robes made out of cloth ‘as soft as the down on a bottle gourd leaf’ (M II 7). The Jātaka mentions a man clearing a patch of ground and cultivating bottle gourds and other vegetables (Ja I 312).

Avāka. Blyxa aubertii. A short, tufted aquatic plant often found growing in paddy fields (Ja III 522).

Asana. Terminalia elliptica (Ja VI 535). A very common large tree with its bark cracked into oblong segments and with elliptic or sometimes oblong leaves.

Asoka. Ashoka Tree, Saraca asoca (Ja V 188). One of India’s most beautiful trees, the Asoka is a small erect evergreen producing bunches of fragrant orange or orange-yellow flowers which gradually turn red. The pulp of the fruit is used as a cure for dysentery.

Assa. Horse, Equus caballus, also called haya. The horse is a large herbivorous mammal adapted for running and which has been domesticated for at least 5000 years. A thoroughbred was called assājāniya (A I 77; M I 124), a nag assakhaluṅka (A I 287), a mare vaḷavā (M II 153) and a foal assapotaka (Ja II 288). The finest horses were imported into northern India from Sindh (Dhp 322) and were called bhojjha (Ja I 180) or sindhava (Ja I 175; II 96; III 287). The Kathiawari, India’s indigenous horse, was probably derived from the cross-breeding of Sindh and Arab horses in the 12th century. Horses were too expensive to be used for ordinary transport and were reserved mainly for royalty, to pull chariots and for cavalry during war. Chariots and cavalry were two of the four branches of the army. How many horses were used to pull chariots is not mentioned in the Tipiṭaka, but the half dozed or so chariots depicted on the gateways of the Sānchi stupa (circa 150 BCE) are drawn by two horses, except for one on the front of the northern gateway which is a four-horse chariot. The importance of horses in ancient India is suggested by the space given to their care, maintenance and training in the Arthaśāstra.

A horse fit for a king was expected to have eight qualities: to have a good stud line; when given food whether green or dried it should eat it carefully and not scatter it about; it will not lay in its own dung; it should not fight with the other horses; it should show itself as it is to its trainer; it is able to carry even heavy loads; when galloping it does not swerve from one side to the other; and it should pull the carriage properly (A IV 188).

Horses were trained using gentle means, harsh means and a combination of both (A II 112). The Aśvaśāstra, an ancient treatise on horses, also advises that a combination of gentleness, rewards and punishment is the best way of training horses. Training took place in special grounds, and the horses were penned either in stables or in circular corrals and fed steamed rice (Vin III 6). We read of the best three-year-old rice fed to a king’s Sindh horse (Ja I 178). A good horse would respond even to the shadow of the whip (A II 14) and a thoroughbred was expected to be endowed with beauty, stamina, speed (A I 244) and be finely proportioned (A I 288). A highly-strung horse would not move when urged on, upset the carriage, kick up its hind legs and break the shafts of the carriage, rear up in the air and pull at the bit (A IV 190–94).

Ropes and cords were made out of horsehair (A IV 129; S II 238) as were sieves (M I 229), brushes (A I 208) and bird snares (Ja V 362), and couches were stuffed with it (Vin II 170). Being able to judge a good horse was a respected skill and horsemanship was an art taught to princes (A III 152; 326). The Vedic horse sacrifice (assamedha) was still being performed by kings (A II 42; S I 76) and fights between stallions were arranged for entertainment (D I 7). Horses’ tails were sometimes plaited (D I 105). The Tipiṭaka mentions the castration of animals and the men who preformed this job, although there is no specific mention of this being done to stallions (Ja IV 364; M I 383). The Buddha urged his disciples to imitate the well-trained good horse: ‘Like a well-bred horse touched by the whip, be eager and swift’ (Dhp 144). King Asoka’s 5th Pillar Edict mentions that branding horses and cattle was banned on certain full-moon days. According to the Jātaka, the Bodhisatta was once reborn as a Sindh horse (Ja I 178).

Assakaṇṇa. A type of tree (Ja II 161; VI 528). The name means horse ear. Some ancient sources say that this is an alternative name for the sāla which has longs sepals enclosing the flowers resembling a horse’s ear. However, in many Pali and Sanskrit sources the two names are listed separately, suggesting that they are different.

Assatara. Mule, the hybrid of a horse and a donkey, combining the size of the first and the endurance of the second (A I 229; S II 241). Mules were used as pack animals and to draw carts and chariots (S I 211). The best mules were bred in Kamboja in north-west India (Ja IV 464). The ancient Indians knew that mules were sterile (M II 153). The Buddha once said: ‘Well trained mules are excellent as are thoroughbred Sindh horses and noble tusked elephants; but better still is he who has trained himself’ (Dhp 322).

Assattha. Bodhi Tree, Ficus religiosa. This species of fig has large spreading boughs with leaves ending in a characteristic pointed tip. The assattha sometimes grows on other trees and stunts them (S V 96). It can also grow on the walls of buildings causing them great damage. Like other figs, it grows from a tiny seed into a huge tree (S V 96). It was said that a mother’s heart beats on seeing her son ‘as the tender leaves of the assattha tremble in the breeze’ (Ja V 328; VI 548).

The assattha was considered sacred in India centuries before the Buddha and is represented in seals from Mohenjodaro dating from before 1000 BCE. The Buddha stated that he had attained enlightenment at the foot of an assattha tree (D II 4) and the actual one he was sitting under at the time was sometimes called ‘The Tree of Knowledge’ (Jñānadruma, Bc XIII.65). This tree is referred to in the four Nikāyas as ‘The Tree of Awakening’ (Bodhirukkha) although it is only mentioned twice (D II 4; Ud 1 repeated at Vin I 1) in the earliest part of the Tipiṭaka. Before the Buddha’s enlightenment, the area around the Bodhi Tree was covered with silvery sand without a blade of grass growing on it and all the surrounding trees and flowering shrubs were bending as if in homage towards it (Ja IV 233).

According to the Nidānakathā, the Buddha spent his second week at Uruvelā (i.e. Bodh Gaya) gazing at the Bodhi Tree out of gratitude for the shelter it had offered him (Ja I 77). The same text adds that as the Buddha sat meditating beneath the Bodhi Tree, aṅkura the colour of red coral sprinkled down on him as if they were an offering (Ja I 75). Aṅkura usually means a shoot but here it must refer to the glossy crimson sheathing stipules that are cast off as the new leaves of bodhi trees develop.

In the early centuries of Buddhism, the assattha tree became a symbol of the Buddha and in the sculptures of both Bharhut and Sānchi he is depicted as such. In the Mahāvastu, he is actually given the epithet ‘Great Tree’ (Mahādruma, Mvu II 280). A branch of the Bodhi Tree was brought to Sri Lanka by the nun Saṅghamittā, the daughter of King Asoka, in the 2nd century BCE and is believed to still grow in Anurādhapura. A distant ancestor of the original Bodhi Tree grows behind the Mahābodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya.

Ahicchattaka. Mushrooms, toadstools and fungi of the classes Hymenomycetes and Gasteromycetes. The Pali name mean ‘snake umbrellas’ (Ja II 95) as does the Hindi for mushrooms, sarpchatr. There are over 50 species of edible mushrooms in India, some of them growing in the north. They were, according to the legend, the first plants to appear after the formation of the earth (D III 87). See Bhūmipappaṭaka.


Ākucca, also ākuccha. A type of lizard (Ja VI 538).

Ākhu. See Mūsika.

Āṭa. A bird described in the commentaries as dabbimukha, ‘spoon-mouth’ (Ja VI 539). If this is correct it must refer to the Eurasian Spoonbill, Platalea leucorodia, a large bird with a long neck and legs, pure white plumage and a distinctive spoon-shaped bill. The spoonbill is seen either individually or in flocks feeding in marshes, mudflats and estuaries.

Ānandamaccha. A large and probably fantastic marine creature. See Timi.

Ābhujī. See Bhujapatta.

Āmanda. See Āmalaka.

Āmalaka. Indian Gooseberry, Phyllanthus emblica, (Ja IV 363; VI 529; Vin I 201; 278; II149), also āmanda. A medium-sized tree with greenish-grey bark, yellow flowers and a pale-green sour fruit with a large hard fluted seed. Together with harītaka and vibhītaka this fruit is one of the triphala or ‘three fruits’, long credited in traditional Indian medicine with powerful curative properties. It contains high concentrations of gallic acid and is rich in vitamin A, C and iron and either fresh or dried is taken for diarrhoea and dyspepsia. It is also used in tonics or eaten dried, pickled or made into a tasty marmalade. Wood chips from the tree are used to clarify muddy water and wood cutters and honey gatherers working in the forest often take the fruit to suppress their thirst.

Āli. See Maccha.

Āluka. Sometimes ālu. This is used generally to mean a tuber, and may have also been a name for Dioscorea alata (Ap 17; Ja IV 371; 373; VI 578), the Purple Yam, a stout climber commonly cultivated for its large edible tuber.

Āsītika. Possibly the Sea Bean, Entada rheedii (M I 81). A huge woody climber with cream-coloured flowers and large pods. The central stem of this climber can attain a girth of 1.5 metres and has pronounced flanged segments sometimes with cork-screw-like projections. The Buddha said that when he was practising austerities before his enlightenment he became so thin that his limbs looked like a āsītika stem (M I 245).


Ikka. See Acchaka.

Ikkāsa. See Jatu.

Indagopaka. Red Velvet Mite. An arthropod of the family Trombidiidae (Ja IV 258; VI 184; 497; Th 1063) of which several species live in northern India. The Pali name for these small creatures means ‘Indra’s herdsman’ and was probably related to the fact that they emerge from the ground during the rainy season (Indra was the Brahminical god associated with thunder and storms). These mites have a bright-red rounded body with a velvety appearance and are parasitic on spiders and insects. We read of a monk who made a round hut out of red clay which looked ‘beautiful, lovely and pleasing like a little red velvet mite’ (Vin III 42). A type of cloth made in Gandhāra and used to upholster chariots was said to be the colour of these mites (Ja VI 500).

Indavāruṇi. Bitter Apple, Citrullus colocynthis (Ja IV 8). An attractive grey-coloured creeper covered with small rough hairs and with green and white flowers and climbing by means of simple tendrils. The cucumber-like fruit is bitter, acidic and poisonous if taken in large amounts.

Indavāruṇika. A plant with leaves, flowers or perhaps fruit in some way similar to the indavāruṇi (Ja IV 8).

Indasāla. A type of tree (Ja IV 92). According to tradition, a cave in the mountains around Rājagaha where the Buddha used to stay was so named because one of these trees grew at its entrance (D II 263).

Isikā. See Naḷa.

Isimugga. Unknown (Ap 16; 193). Perhaps a type of bean related to Green Gram. See Mugga.


Ukkaṇṇaka. See Vitacchikā.

Ukkapiṇḍaka. Uncertain. The name means something like ‘finding food in a house’. Perhaps it is a general term for commensal animals such as sparrows and pests like rats and mice. Once some monks put food out to dry and it was eaten by these creatures (Vin I 211).

Ukkusa. A type of raptor (Ja IV 291; 397), possibly another name for the kurara. It is described as living on the edge of a lake and the king of the birds. The commentary describes it as a black fish eagle and if this is correct the ukkasa could be Palla’s Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus leucoryphus). This large bird has a dirty white head and beast and a dark brown or black wings, back and tail. It is often seen patrolling lakes and waterways where it feeds on fish but also wading birds. According to the Jātaka, the Bodhisatta was once reborn as one of these birds (Ja IV 392).

Uccāliṅga. A type of arthropod or caterpillar. It is mentioned together with the scorpion, the centipede and the spider, as an example of a multi-legged animal (Ja II 146). It is also said to be one of the things that can cause an erection in males (Ja II 146; Vin III 52; 112). The Kāma Sūtra mentions a procedure men used to enlarge their penis. The soft but irritating bristles of a particular caterpillar were rubbed on the organ and the resulting swelling would become permanent. There may be some connection between this caterpillar and the uccāliṅga.

Ucchu. Sugar Cane, a tall perennial grass with sharp-edged leaves and a purplish segmented stem from which a sweet juice can be extracted (Vin III 59). Many recent hybrid varieties of sugar cane grow in India today. Carakasaṃhitā mentions two types of sugar cane, Suśrutasaṃhitā mentions twelve while only one type is specifically named in the Tipiṭaka, ucchagaṇṭhikā. (Ja I 339; VI 114). One type grown in northern India since ancient times and was probably known to the Buddha’s contemporaries is Saccharum barberi.

To make sugar, cane stems were crushed in a mill and the juice reduced by boiling (Ja I 339). We read of the creaking sound made by the sugar mill (Bv II.168). It was said of a particularly oppressive king that he ‘crushed the people like sugar cane in a press’ (Ja II 240). Three by-products of the juice are mentioned; phāṇita, guḷa and sakkharā (Ja I 50). The first is molasses, the second jaggery and the third crystallized sugar. Molasses was sometimes mixed with water and drunk (Ja III 372; Vin II 177), and when mixed with hot water was taken as a medicine (S I 175). Jaggery was rolled into balls (guḷapiṇḍa, Vin IV 112) and crystallized sugar was referred to as granulated or powdered sugar (sakkharā-cuṇṇa, Ja IV 17). The Saddharmasmṛtyupasthāna Sūtra [1] describes the whole process thus: ‘…the sugarcane juice is put in a vessel and boiled over a fire. During the first stage it is separated from impurities and is called phāṇita. At the second boiling, it becomes thicker (or more heavy) and is called guda. When boiled the third time it becomes white and is called sarkarā.’ During the first stage of the processing flour and ash were added (Vin I 210), the flour probably to thicken it and the ash as a clarificant, something that is still done in village sugar production.

Ambila, meaning tart, sour or piquant, was one of the six tastes according to Indian reckoning. It was also the name given to a type of vinegar. As today, this vinegar was made from fermented sugar cane juice and was no doubt used in cooking and pickling. In the Jātaka ascetics living in the Himalayas are often said to leave for the lowlands in the winter to procure salt and vinegar (loṇambila, Ja I 361; II 72; IV 23). Tipplers would sip vinegar, eat dried pungent fish (pūtimaccha) or lick salt while drinking strong spirits, much as people today bite into a lemon while drinking vodka or tequila (Ja I 252; 349).

Rice porridge with ghee and sweetened with sugar was a popular food (Ja IV 39), and there was a type of confectionary called sugar cake (suguḷa, Ja VI 524). An alcoholic beverage was made from sugar cane juice (Ja IV 161; Vin IV 109). There is a reference to a caravan transporting 500 jars of sugar (Vin I 224). Ripe sugar cane could be struck by a disease called mañjiṭṭhika (A IV 279). Sugar cane was usually propagated from a segment of stem but also from seeds (A I 32). See Mañjiṭṭhikā.

Uṇṇā. Wool, sometimes unnā, the hair of sheep, goats or camels which can be spun into thread and then woven into cloth (D II 188; Vin II 174) or made into felt (Vin I 315). Woollen cloths and blankets were necessary to keep off the cold of the Indian winter. Monks were not allowed to wear certain types of woollen clothes (Vin II 108) nor sandals made out of wool (Vin I 190). Despite being soiled by children and chewed by rodents, a good woollen rug could last for five or six years (Vin III 227). Young women were expected to be good at spinning and weaving wool (A III 37). Knitting was unknown in ancient India.

Udakakāka. Both the Great Cormorant, Phalacrocorax carbo, and the Little Cormorant P. niger. The Pali name means ‘water crow’ and the two birds are called pan kowwa in Hindi which has the same meaning (Ja II 441). Both these cormorants are black with a small patch of white on the throat. The main difference between them is their size, the first being about as big as a domestic duck and the second about half that size. Also, the great cormorant has a yellow beak while the little cormorant’s is black. Both birds are commonly seen singly or in small flocks on lakes where they hunt fish by diving and chasing them underwater. According to the Jātaka, the Bodhisatta was once reborn as a cormorant (Ja II 149).

Udakadeḍḍubha. See Deḍḍubha.

Udakapicchillo. See Paṇṇaka.

Udakasappa. Checkered Keelback, Xenochrophis piscator (Ja II 238; III 275), sometimes also udakāsīvisa. A snake with an oval head, slit-like nostrils and five rows of black spots on its yellowish brown-coloured body. It grows up to 175 centimetres long, the tail making up to one fourth of its total length. The checkered keelback is India’s most common freshwater snake and frequents lakes, ponds, river banks and paddy fields where it feeds almost exclusively on frogs and fish. It is also an aggressive snake, striking rapidly, with great determination and holding on to its prey tenaciously.

Udakāsīvisa. See Udakasappa.

Udumbara. Cluster Fig, Ficus glomerata. A large tree with a buttressed trunk, dark-green ovate leaves and which produces reddish mildly sweet figs that grow in clusters on short branches. A spendthrift or a wastrel was called an ‘udumbara eater’, i.e. one who shakes all the figs out of the tree and then only eats a few (A IV 283). There was a grove of these trees near the Bamboo Grove at Rājagaha where wandering ascetics used to stay and where the Buddha had a discussion with the ascetic Nigrodha (D III 36).

Like several other species of Indian figs, this one was an object of curiosity to the ancient Indians because it appeared to produce fruit without first bearing flowers. The Buddha said that one cannot find an essence in existence any more than one can find a flower in a cluster fig (Sn 5; Vv-a 213). The Mahāvastu says: ‘It is no easier to win sight of the Buddha, great in glory, empathy, compassion and beneficence, than it is to see a flower in a cluster fig’ (Mvu I 270). In fact, the fruit of the cluster fig itself is the flower. The head of the flower turns inward to produce a vase-like fleshy casing inside which are numerous tiny flowers. The previous Buddha Koṇāgamana was enlightened under a cluster fig tree (D II 4).

The wood of the cluster fig had a special significance in Brahminism and certain ritual objects were made of it. The staff Brahmins carried were made of the wood as was the seat a king sat on during his coronation (Ja IV 450; S I 117).

Udda. Otter, also called uddārakā, (Ja III 52; V 416). Of the three species of otter found in northern India the most common is the Smooth-Coated Otter, Lutrogale perspicillata. This creature has a long graceful body with short legs and a beautiful smooth, shiny, chocolate-brown coat with a lighter underside. Otters live in rivers and streams and feed on fish, crustaceans, frogs and birds. Slippers were sometimes made out of otter skin (Vin I 186). One of the most famous Jātaka stories concerns two otters who ask a jackal to arbitrate a disagreement between them (Ja III 333).

Uddārakā. See Udda.

Uddālaka. Hairy Sterculia, Sterculia villosa, sometimes also uddāla, (Ja IV 301; V 199; VI 269). A large tree with grey bark, large leaf scars on the branches and with a red or crimson flower. This deciduous tree is usually found growing on the cool side of hills. The crushed root is administered as a cure of dysentery and the bark is believed to have contraceptive properties.

Uddhumāyikā. This Pali name means ‘one that swells up’ (M I 143) and probably refers to a genus called Uperodon, commonly called balloon frogs or globular frogs. A common example of this genus is the Indian Balloon Frog (Uperodon globulosus). Grey or dark brown in colour and growing up to 65 mm this frog feeds on termites and ants and needs damp soil, usually near riverbanks or swamps to live. When threatened it blows itself up to almost twice its size and makes a huffing found as if angry.

Undura. Rat, sometimes undūra, (Ja III 123). The rat is a small mammal with an elongated body, a moderately pointed snout, approximately equal-length legs and a long sparsely-haired tail. The two most common species of rat in India today are the House Rat, Rattus rattus, and the Brown or Norwegian Rat, R. norvegicus. Both rats live in houses and barns but also in fields, jungles and along the banks of waterways. They chewed holes in clothes (Vin I 109) and rugs (Vin III 227) and sometimes overran monasteries (Vin I 209).

Upacikā. Termite. Sometimes called white ants, termites are small soft-bodied insects of the order Isoptera that eat wood and live in large colonies (M I 306; Vin I 284; II 113). The Pali name means ‘mound builder’. Snakes and monitor lizards are often described as living in holes in termite mounds, vammika. Winged termites, called makkhikā or vammika-makkhika are virgin queens and drone males that sometimes swarm, particularly after rain (Ja I 480; 488). At such times lizards and other animals gorge themselves on them (Ja I 480–81). Termites move from one place to another only after having built a tunnel in which to conceal themselves (Mil 392). The Buddha said that a diligent layman’s wealth will grow like a termite’s mound (D III 188).

Upayānaka. An aquatic animal, perhaps a type of crab (Ja VI 530).

Uparibhaddaka. A type of tree (Ja VI 269).

Uparopa. A general name for plants meaning ‘that which grows up’ (Ja II 345; IV 359; Vin II 154).

Uppala. Blue Water Lily, Nymphaea nouchali (Vv-a 196) sometimes also indīvara. The rhizome of this plant grows in the mud of ponds and swamps and its rounded leaves float on the surface. The large flowers have numerous spear-shaped petals spiralling out from the bright yellow stamen and are a beautiful deep blue but sometimes crimson, white or pink. Their perfume was said to last for a week (Ja VI 536) and a starry night sky is compared to their colour (Ja V 92). The eyes of a beautiful woman were compared with a water lily bud (Thī 382). Inhaling the perfume of the water lily was believed to have a curative effect (Vin I 279). Very similar to the blue water lily is the Small White Indian Water Lily, Nymphaea esculenta, with its white or sometimes yellow flower (Vv-a 200). Water lilies are often incorrectly called and confused with the lotus. See Sogandhika.

Uppāṭaka. Fleas are small rust-coloured wingless insects of the order Siphonaptera. They feed on blood and have enlarged muscular hind legs adapted for leaping. Fleas can infest human habitation, hiding in bedding and clothing. In one place we read of a blanket being covered with fleas (S I 170). See Pāṇaka.

Ummāpuppha. See Khoma.

Ulūka. Brown Fish Owl, Ketupa zeylonensis (Ja II 353; V 120; VI 500), also ulūkasakuṇa. A large brown bird with a lighter breast covered with vertical black streaks, prominent tufts or ‘horns’ on its head and large yellow staring eyes. The fish owl favours thick jungle near water and feeds on crabs, fish, frogs, mammals and birds, and like all owls they are silent and stealth creatures (A V 289). According to one Jātaka story an assembly of all the birds once selected the owl to be their king but finally decided against it when the owl’s serious and sour expression was pointed out (Ja II 352). Some ascetics made coats out of owl’s wings or feathers (A I 241; D I 167), and sandals were made out of their skins (Vin I 186). Owls could be observed sitting on the branch of a tree waiting for prey and giving the appearance that they were ‘meditating, contemplating, ruminating, speculating’ (M I 334). When owls appear during the day they are mobbed by crows (Ja II 208). See Kosika.

Usīra. See Bīraṇa.

Uhuṅkāra. Perhaps a generic word for owls or a the name of a particular type of owl (Ja VI 538). See Kosika.


Ūkā. Head Lice, insects of the order Anoplura. Head lice are a small flattened blood-sucking insect found in human hair. There are many references in the Tipiṭaka to people asking others to pick the lice or their eggs out of their hair (Ja I 453; II 324; III 393; V 298). One of the reasons Buddhist monks and nuns shaved their heads was probably so they could not get and therefore did not have to kill head lice. One ancient Indian system of measurement took as its basic unit the louse’s egg, likkhā. Seven eggs equal the length of one louse.


Eṇi. Also eṇeyyaka and eṇimiga (A I 48; D III 143; 157; Ja V 416; Thī 1135), synonyms for the Blackbuck. One of the 32 special characteristics of a Mahāpurisa is that he has legs like an eṇi. See Miga.

Eṇeyyaka. See Miga.

Eraka. Sometimes eragu. A type of coarse grass which could be used for making coverings (Vin I 196; IV 88).

Eraṇḍa. Castor Oil Shrub, Ricinus communis, (M II 152), sometimes elaṇḍa. A tall perennial with large blue-green leaves and which produces spiky pods containing seeds from which a colourless oil can be extracted. Castor oil is used as a lubricant, in lamps and the oil extracted from the seeds was used as a medicine (Vin III 250). The castor oil tree was considered the lowest of all trees (Ja II 440). According to the Jātaka, the Bodhisatta was sometimes reborn as a god living in a castor oil tree (Ja I 423; II 440).

Elambaraka. A type of creeper or vine, sometimes also elambāraka, eḷambaka or elamphuraka. The perfume of the flower was said to last for seven days (Ja VI 536).

Elāluka. See Kakkārika.

Eḷaka. Domestic Sheep, sometimes eḷahā, elakā or elikā (A I 252; D I 9 Ja I 166; III 480; S II 228), hollow-horned ruminants of the order Ovis, of which several species and breeds are found in northern India. Ewes were called uraṇi (Ja V 241) and rams meṇḍa or urabbha.

Sheep were known for their long fleece which was used to make cloth and carpets (S II 228; M I 228). Mutton must have been eaten too because there is mention of sheep butchers (M I 343; S II 256). Bows were sometimes made out of rams’ horns (Ja II 88; V 130; VI 68). The Buddha considered sheep to be gentle harmless creatures, like cows (Sn 309). A group of monks who spent the three months of the rainy season without doing any spiritual practice other than maintaining strict silence were rebuked by the Buddha as being like dumb sheep (Vin I 159). In the Jātaka, there is a story of a proud Brahmin who was flattered when a ram lowered its head to him only to find that it butted him rather than paid him reverence. See Uṇṇa.

Eḷagalā. Sickle Senna, Senna tora (Ja III 222; S III 6). An erect herb growing up to 2 meters high with bright green leaves and small yellow flowers. The long seed pods contain numerous oblong brown seeds. Generally considered a weed it is nonetheless used a fodder for cattle, its leaves and seeds can be eaten and also used as a medicine.


Ojā. See Jatu and Rukkha.

Oṭṭha. Camel, Camelus dromedarius (Vin III 51). A sturdy ungainly animal with a long curving neck and a humped back that thrives in dry and arid habitats. Camels were used for transportation and also for their wool, milk, meat and hides and were probably introduced from Persia centuries before the Buddha. The Buddha said that when practising austerities before his enlightenment, the dry and calloused skin on his buttocks came to resemble a camel’s hoof (M I 245). Pāṇini mentions bags made out of camel wool and containers made from their leather and intestines.


  1. Zhengfanian chu jing,正法念經, “Sūtra on the Establishment of Mindfulness of the True Dharma”, Taisho edition of the Chinese Tripiṭaka, T17n721,p.17. The San-skrit name is a reconstruction from the Chinese.