Yava. Barley, Hordeum vulgare (S V 10; Vin III 15; IV 264). An annual erect tufted grass resembling wheat and producing an edible grain. Cattle had to be prevented from wandering into barley fields and eating the crop (S IV 195). After harvesting, it was tied into sheaves and beaten with flails (S IV 201). Barley was used as food, fodder and in brewing. A popular preparation was called yāvaka (Ja VI 373) which Pāṇini says was made by pounding barley in a mortar to remove the chaff, boiling it in either water or milk and then adding sugar. Barley meal, called sattu, was prepared as a gruel or made into a dough and baked (Ja III 343; Vin IV 80). The Buddha’s first meal after his enlightenment was barley gruel and honey balls offered to him by the merchants Tapassu and Bhalluka (Vin I 3).

Another popular preparation made from barley or sometimes from mugga also was called kummāsa, a type of porridge or gruel (Ja III 405–06). When the Bodhisatta gave up self-mortification he regained his strength by eating boiled rice and kummāsa (M I 247). When Ven. Raṭṭhapāla returned to his home to beg for alms after having become a monk, his parents, failing to recognize him, refused to give him anything. Seeing the household slave about to throw away the remains of the previous evening’s meal of kummāsa and asked her if she would put it in his bowl (M II 62).

Apart from being a porridge apparently this preparation could also be boiled in a small amount of water so that it was became thick enough to be made into lumps. The Kummāsapiṇḍa Jātaka mentions a lump of dry (sukkha) unsalted kummāsa being offered to an ascetic (Ja III 408). According to the Carakasaṃhitā, kummāsa can be put in a pot and allowed to ferment and then taken as a medicine. Kummāsa was considered a low quality food. The Chāndogya Upaniṣad mentions villagers eating it after their crops had been destroyed by locusts.

Monks put barley meal in their needle cases to prevent the needles from rubbing together and becoming blunt (Vin II 116). In ancient India the width of a barley corn was used as a unit of measurement.

The Buddha mentioned that the awn (sūka) of a barley corn if positioned wrongly, could pierce the hand or foot and draw blood (A I 8). A proverb said that a person could get irritated the way a barley awn irritates the eye (Ja VI 294). The Buddha mentioned another type of barley without naming it: ‘When a barley field is ready, the contamination, the chaff, the rubbish of barley may appear, its root, stalk and leaf the same as true barley but without the same head. Only when the head forms do the farmers know “This is the contamination, the chaff, the rubbish of the true barley” and knowing this they pull it out by the roots and throw it outside the barley field. And why? Because they think “Let it not contaminate the true barley”.’ (A IV 169). This probably refers to Wild Barley, Hordeum spontaneum, the ancestor of H. vulgare, which looks very similar to it except that they has a shorter stem, narrower leaves and a smaller head. Wild barley competes with cultivated barley, lowers yields and is considered a weed.

Yūthikā. Jasminum auriculatum, sometimes yodhikā (Ja IV 440; VI 537). An erect bush with simple ovate leaves and a beautifully perfumed white flower. It is often cultivated in gardens but also grows wild. See Sumanā.

Yodhikā. See Yūthikā.


Rattasālī. See Nīvāra.

Ravihaṃsa. A type of water bird (Ja VI 539). The name means ‘sun goose’ or ‘sun duck’.

Rājahaṃsa. King goose or duck (Ja III 55). It is not clear whether this refers to an individual bird recognized by the others as their ruler or a particular species of bird. In Hindi the name raj hans is used for the Greater Flamingo, Phoenicopterus ruber, the Greylag Goose and the Bar-headed Goose. The greater flamingo is a long-legged, long-necked bird with white plumage and a large down-turned bill. The legs, parts of the wings, bill and naked area around the eyes are bright pink. The flamingo is occasionally seen in northern India feeding around lagoons, salt pans and estuaries. For the other two birds see Haṃsa and Kādamba.

Rājāyatana. Chirauli Nut Tree, Buchanania cochinchinensis (Ja IV 363), sometimes also piyāla. A medium-sized straight tree with rough bark and dense pyramid-shaped clusters of white flowers. The globose black fruit is very palatable and was eaten (Ja V 324) and today is widely used in confectionery. A light-yellow oil with a sweet aroma similar to almond oil is extracted from seeds. During his stay at Uruvelā, the Buddha spent seven days sitting at the foot of a rājāyatana tree. While there, the merchants Tapassu and Bhalluka became his first disciples (Vin I 3).

Rājikā. The dark-brown oblong seed of the Mustard plant, Brassica juncea. The plant itself is a slender, long-leafed herb with a bright yellow flower. It grows wild but is also sometimes cultivated for the pungent oil extracted from the seeds. These seeds were used as a unit of weight for measuring gold (Ja VI 510; Th 97). See Sāsapa and Siddhatthaka.

Rukkha. Tree, also duma, jagatāruha, ‘earth grown’, pādapa, ‘foot drinker’ and viṭapin (A III 43; Bv IX.28; Ja I 216; VI 178). Trees are perennial erect plants usually with a single woody stem from which branches bearing leaves extend. The Jātaka say: ‘It is called a tree because it has branches. Without branches it’s just a stake’ (Ja IV 483). The Tipiṭaka mentions many types of trees and trees in general. Some of the structural components and other parts of trees referred to include the roots (mūla), trunk (daṇḍa or khandha), the periderm or outer bark (papaṭikā), the phloem or inner bark (taca), sapwood (pheggu), heartwood (sāra), branches (sākhā), twigs (pasākhā), leaves (paṇṇa or patta) and crown (agga, M I 193–96). Some trees also have thorns. Plant morphology makes a distinction between thorns, spines and prickles, but the Pali word kaṇṭaka is used for all three without distinction.

Roots, those parts of trees and other plants that anchor them and absorb and transport water and nutrients, are discussed in detail in the Tipiṭaka. Some of the different root systems mentioned include woody roots which could be either long or short (dīghamūla, rassamūla, (Ja II 346), tap roots and lateral roots (mūlāni ahogamāniyāni tiriyaṅgamāni), feeder roots (nāḷi), spreading roots (mūla-santānaka), hair roots (mattāni, S II 87–8; III 155), and in the case of some other plants, tubers (āluka or āluva, Ja IV 46) and bulbous roots (kanda, D I 101). The aerial roots of banyan trees were called ‘trunk-sprung’ (khandhaja, Sn 272). It was understood that roots absorb moisture and nutrition from the soil and that the sap (ojā) moves upwards through the trunk into the branches and leaves. The Visuddhimagga says:

‘When a great tree is growing on the earth, nourished by the essence of humus and, with that as condition, its roots and trunk, branches and shoots, foliage, flowers and fruit grow so it fills the sky and continues the tree’s species until the end of the aeon, one cannot say that the essence of humus is only found in the roots but not in the trunk or in the fruit but not in the roots, and so on. And why? Because it spreads throughout the whole tree from the roots upwards.’ (Vism 688)

The Buddha said:

‘Just as a tree that has been cut down can grow again if its root is undamaged and complete, in the same way this suffering returns again and again if the tendency to craving is not removed.’ (Dhp 338)

However, it was observed that some plants, palm trees in particular, could not grow again if they were ‘cut off at the root.’ (A I 137) Other trees and plants will send up shoots and regenerate themselves when cut down. This ability to grow back would have been a serious problem for those clearing forests to make way for agricultural land. The Buddha described a man cutting down a māluvā creeper, then digging up and pulling out the roots, even the small ones, and burning them all to guarantee that the unwanted plant did not regrow (A I 204).

There were still large forested tracts in northern India during the Buddha’s time. The Mahāvana or Great Forest, extended almost unbroken from the outskirts of Vesālī to the lower Himalayas. Once, the Buddha stayed in a forest near the village of Pārileyya where an elephant looked after him (Ud 42). Other forests visited by the Buddha were the Dark Wood near Sāvatthi (S I 130), the Forest of Offering at Kusinārā (A V 78), the Gosiṅga Forest at Vesālī where many sāla trees grew (A V 134) and the Cool Forest to the west of Rājagaha near the city’s charnel ground (A III 374). Very large and majestic trees were sometimes called vanaspati or vanappati, ‘forest lords’ (Ja IV 229; S IV 302; Vin III 47).

The Buddha encouraged monks and nuns to seek solitary lodgings in the forest (A II 250), ‘at the roots of trees, mountain slopes, a glen, a hill cave, a cemetery or a scrubland’ (M III 3). He said: ‘The one who wears rag-robes, who is lean, with protruding veins and who meditates alone in the forest; him I call a true Brahmin’ (Dhp 395). When King Pasenadi visited a quiet park and saw the roots of the trees, they reminded him of the Buddha (M II 117). Some monks tried living in hollow trees and in the fork of trees (Vin I 152). A forest-dwelling monk was advised not to settle down at the foot of a tree on a border, one used as a shrine, one from which resin or fruit was collected, one in which flying foxes roost, a hollow tree or one growing in a monastery (Vism 74).

However, forests could also be frightening places; they were the abode of dangerous animals and bandits, and travellers could get lost in them (A I 153; Ja I 320; S II 98). The Buddha commented that when he lived in the forest before his enlightenment sometimes at night ‘an animal would prowl around, a peacock would snap a twig or the wind would rustle the leaves’ and he would be filled with terror (M I 21–2). A Brahmin who encountered the Buddha in a forest expressed surprise that he could maintain his serenity in such a lonely and menacing place. ‘Having entered the empty and desolate forest, deep in the jungle where many terrors lurk, with body still, stable, steady and lovely, you meditate so beautifully, oh monk. In the forest where no serenade or music is heard, I think it amazing that you, oh sage, having resorted to jungle solitude, to the forest, live with a joyful mind’ (S I 180–81). Those entering the forest had to be careful of what fruit they ate as some was poisonous (Ja III 200). Some woodlands were thorny, unpleasant and difficult to walk through without getting cut or scratched (S IV 189).

Trees, whether wild or cultivated, provided people with many useful products; the main ones being fuel for fire and material for building. People gathered fire wood in forests (S I 180) and a Jātaka say: ‘Forests are made of [potential] fire wood’ (Ja I 289). Once the Buddha met King Pasenadi’s minister of works while he was supervising the cutting of timber in a sal forest (S I 179). The Bhaddasāla Jātaka makes the interesting comment that all the royal palaces in India were supported by numerous columns, some of which must have been wooden. It seems that the king of Benares wanted to construct a magnificent palace supported by a single column and commanded his officers to find a tree trunk big enough for the purpose. They went to the forest and located enough such trees but the state of the roads, they reported to the king, would not allow for the transportation of such a huge log (Ja IV 153).

Fences and kraals were made out of the branches of thorn trees (Vin II 154). The leaves of certain trees were used to make various household articles such as baskets, fans and plates and were used as wrappers for food (Ja VI 510; S V 438). Parasols could also be made out of leaves (Ja III 79). The seed pods (sipātikā) of some trees contained down (tūla) which could be used to stuff pillows and pad furniture and saddles. We read of wooden tubs (Ja I 250) and of a canoe being made out of a single large log (S I 106). Forest-dwelling ascetics built themselves leaf huts (paṇṇakuṭi, D III 94; S I 226: Ja II 72; 273) to live in.

Another product of trees that a use was found for was the bark (taca, vāka or vakkala, A I 152; D I 167; Ja II 13; M I 198). Household articles like fans and ropes are occasionally mentioned as being made out of bark (Ja III 204; Vin II 130). Ascetics are often described as being dressed in vakkala (A I 240; Ja II 272). Although this is usually taken to mean a type of cloth made from bark this may not be the case; more likely it was made out of fibres from the phloem or inner bark of some type of tree or trees. Vakkala clothing made a rustling noise as the wearer moved (Ja II 274). The commentary to the Nidānakathā mentions some of the benefits of this unusual type of clothing: It is cheap, it can be made by oneself, it is hard to get dirty and easy to wash, it is easy to mend, it is not difficult to get a new one when the old one is worn out, it is suitable for the ascetic life, thieves do not bother to steal it, it does not beautify the wearer, it is light to wear, it is conducive to contentment, it can be obtained by righteous means and if it is lost it causes no regret (Ja I 9).

There are occasional references to ascetics wearing bast or wood fibres (dāru), which might be an alternative name for vakkala (Ud 6), or wearing phalaka, which may have been wooden slats or even wood shavings (Vin I 305). These and similar unusual clothing are described as the ‘characteristic of ascetics of other sects’ and were not allowed to be worn by Buddhist monks (Vin I 305). It is difficult to identify the trees, the bark or bark fibres of which was used to make cloth. However, some modern Hindu ascetics wear cloth made from the bark of Careya arborea, the trees and bushes of the Hibiscus genus, particularly Hibiscus tiliaceus and H. collinus, and also from banana trees.

The Buddha encouraged the planting of fruit trees along roads to offer both shade and food for travellers (S I 33). We read of a man tapping tree trunks with his axe to find hollow ones to use as water pipes (A IV 171) and another doing so to find hollows where bees might be nesting (Ja III 200). Sometimes as an act of merit, people would repair roads by filling in pot holes, removing large stones and cutting down the trees that might strike the axles of passing chariots and carts (Ja I 199). Certain trees were cultivated for their fruit, flowers, foliage and timber. To grow successfully, a sapling had to have its roots cleared of weeds from time to time, be fertilized with humus (paṃsu) and be regularly watered (S II 89).

People believed that gods (ārāmadevatā, rukkhadevatā, vanadevatā, A III 369; M I 306; S IV 302) lived in medical herbs and trees, particularly very old, gnarled or beautiful ones. They lived in the hollow of trees or in their crowns (Ja I 405; 423). We read of a woodsman making offerings to what was believed to be auspicious trees (maṅgala-rukkha) and informing the gods living in them that they intended to cut the trees down (Ja I 442; IV 153). Such auspicious trees were worshipped and given offerings because the gods were believed to grant wishes. Milk and water were poured on the roots, garlands were hung in the branches, lamps of scented oil were burned around them and cloth was tied around their trunks (Ja II 104). There is the occasional mention of animal and even human sacrifices being made to trees. The victim’s blood was poured around the foot of the tree and the entrails were draped over the branches (Ja I 260; III 160).

It was believed that trees would give their bounty on condition that they were treated with a degree of respect and the Buddha told a story that illustrates this point. Long ago, the mythical King Koravya had an amazing banyan tree in his realm which bore fruit of exceptional sweetness. Everyone in the realm enjoyed the fruit freely and so there was no reason to guard the tree. But one day a man ate his fill of the fruit then broke a branch and went away. This act of ingratitude so incensed the tree god that it caused the tree to bear no more fruit (A III 369–70). As with other popular beliefs and superstitions the Buddha did not endorse tree worship. He said: ‘Gripped by fear people go to sacred mountains, groves, parks and trees. But these are not a safe refuge, not the best refuge. By going there one is not freed from all suffering’ (Dhp 188–89). However, the Buddha did respect the beliefs of others and when a certain monk cut down a tree worshipped by local people to make way for a monastery he severely rebuked the monk for doing so (Vin III 156).

Some of the most beautiful passages in the Buddhist literature of all traditions relate to trees. The Buddha said of a kindly hospitable person that he was ‘like a great banyan tree growing on the side of roads that welcomes weary travellers with its cool shade and soothes their tiredness’ (Ja VI 526). The general Buddhist attitude of respect for trees is expressed in these words from the Petavatthu: ‘Of the tree in whose shade one sits or lies, not a branch of it should he break, for if he did he would be a betrayer of a friend, an evil doer… Of the tree in whose shade one sits or lies, not a leaf should he injure, for if he did he would be a betrayer of a friend, an evil doer’ (Pv-a 114). The Milindapañha says that the diligent disciple should try to be like a tree: ‘As a tree makes no distinction in the shade it gives, like this, the meditator should make no distinction between any beings, but develop love equally to thieves, murderers, enemies and to himself’ (Mil 410). The Buddhacarita compares spiritual practice to a tree ‘the fibres of which are patience, the flowers virtue, the boughs awareness and wisdom, which is rooted in resolution and which bears the fruit of Dhamma’ (Bc XIII.65). The Mahāvastu says: ‘The meritorious person grows like a banyan tree, while the person of meagre merit becomes stunted like a tree planted in the roadway’ (Mvu II 423). In his Bodhicaryāvatāra, the poet Śāntideva wrote of his longing for the peace of the forest life in these words: ‘The trees do not speak harsh words nor do they try to please by artifice. When shall I have the opportunity to dwell with those happy to live with the trees?’ (Bc VIII.26).

Rukkhakoṭṭasakuṇa. See Koṭṭha2.

Rukkhasunakkha. The name means ‘tree dog’ (Ja V 12; VI 538). What animal this refers to is uncertain, but it could be an alternative name for the flying fox, tuliya. Likewise it might refer to the several species of flying squirrels native to northern India.

Ruru. A type of deer (Ja IV 256; V 406; 416). The name may be an onomatopoeia of the call of the Swamp Deer, the rohita1. The commentary says the ruru has a golden colour, which might be a poetic way of describing the swamp deer’s red-brown coat.

Ruhaṃghasa. Blood-eater, also ruhugghasa, probably a term for leopards and or tigers (Ja III 481). See Dīpi and Vyaggha.

Romā. A type of bird (Ja VI 538).

Rohicca. See Rohita1.

Rohita1. Swamp Deer, also known as Barasingha, Rucevus duvauceii (Ja I 170; VI 537), also rohicca (Ja VI 512). This name means ‘the red one’. This large animal has a light reddish-brown coat in the summer, turning darker in the winter, and a creamy-white on the rump, chin and throat. Stags have the biggest spread of antlers of any deer in tropical Asia and can have up to twelve prongs. Swamp deer favour thick forest bordering pools and swamps. Huge herds of swamp deer used to inhabit the flood plains of the Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers but in this region the animal is now restricted entirely to the Dudhwa National Park bordering on Nepal. See Ruru.

Rohita2. Rohu Fish, Labeo rohita (Ja II 433). An edible carp found in the Ganges and its tributaries, the rohu is orange-brown on the back becoming silvery on the sides and abdomen. Sometimes there is also a red mark on each scale. It can grow up to 91 cm long and is commonly netted in rivers and propagated in artificial ponds. It was believed to be good luck to see or touch one first thing in the morning (Ja IV 72–3). One of the most well-known Jātaka stories concerns two otters quarrelling over the ownership of a rohu fish (Ja III 333).


Laṅghi. A type of animal, perhaps a deer, that moves in a series of jumps. It is mentioned together with the yak (camara) and the calani (Ja VI 537).

Laṭukikā. A type of bird, probably a quail, of which several varieties live in northern India (Ja III 174; M I 449). See Lāpa.

Latā. A general word for creepers, climbers and vines. The Buddha compared craving to the fast growing and entangling creeper: ‘The streams (of desire) are always flowing and the creeper (of craving) sprouts and grows. Seeing this creeper, cut it off at the root with wisdom’ (Dhp 340).

Labuja. Bread-fruit Tree, Artocarpus lacucha (Ja IV 363; Vv-a 159). A medium-sized deciduous tree with large leathery leaves covered with a soft rusty-coloured down. The tree produces a round yellow fruit which can be eaten either cooked or pickled (Vin III 60). King Ajātasattu mentioned to the Buddha that when he asked Pūraṇa Kassapa questions he could not get a straight answer from him. ‘[It was] just if on being asked about a mango he were to describe a bread-fruit, or on being asked about a bread-fruit he would describe a mango’ (D I 53).

Lasuṇa. Garlic, Allium sativum, also ativisā (Vin IV 258). An onion-like herb emitting a strong odour, the bulbs of which can be eaten. Because of the strong smell garlic leaves on the breath which others could find offensive, the Buddha forbade monks and nuns eating it, although he allowed it to be taken for medicinal purposes (Vin II 140, IV 259).

Garlic was sometimes also known as Māgadhaka, ‘of Magadha’, apparently because it was commonly grown in that country (Vin IV 259). Indians have long considered garlic to be detrimental to both physical and spiritual well-being. The Manusmṛti says that a Brahmin will lose his caste if he eats garlic. After travelling through India in the 7th century, the Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang wrote: ‘Onions and garlic are rarely grown and few people eat them; if anyone uses them as food they are expelled beyond the walls of the town.’ See Nādiya.

Lākhā. A resinous secretion produced by the Lac Insect, Laccifer indicola (Ja VI 55). The tiny red larvas of this insect settle on the young shoots of certain plants and secrete lac to protect their bodies. This is collected, processed and then made into various objects or used as a paint or dye. Lac is red in colour (Thī 440) and was used to make coins, tokens (Vin III 237) and paint (S II 101; III 152). Women painted the palms of their hands and the soles of their feet with lac dye (Ja VI 269). See Alattaka.

Lāja. See Dhañña.

Lāpa. Quail, sometimes also lāpasakuṇa (S V 146 and Ja II 59). The Pali name means ‘chattering bird’ probably because of the squeaks, whistles and nattering sounds quails exchange when in flocks. Six species of quails are found in northern India, all of them very similar and the most common being the Common Quail, Coturnix coturnix. About the same size as a dove, this squat, plump little bird has light brown plumage covered with pale yellow-brown spear-shaped streaks and mottles, a white band around the front of its neck and above its eyes. Like other quails, it is often seen in pairs or large flocks in grasslands and cultivated fields. Quails could be seen running amongst the clods after the fields had been ploughed (Ja II 59; S V 146).

Once, when the arrogant young Brahmin Ambaṭṭha was visiting the Sakyans, he got the distinct impression that they were whispering about and laughing at him. Later he complained of this to the Buddha who defended his kinsmen by saying: ‘But Ambaṭṭha, even the quail, that little bird, can talk as she likes in her own nest’ (D I 91). According to the Jātaka, the Bodhisatta was once reborn as an elephant and became leader of a large herd. A quail made her nest in the elephant’s feeding ground and the Bodhisatta stood over it to prevent it being trampled by the other elephants (Ja III 174). Again according to the Jātaka, the Bodhisatta was once reborn as a quail (Ja II 59). See Laṭukikā, Kapiñjala and Vaṭṭakā.

Lāpu. See Alābu, Lāpu.

Lābu. See Alābu.

Lāmajjaka. Cymbopogon jwarancusa. A tall densely-tufted grass with a very aromatic root. This root is used to soothe fever and also to flavour food. The Buddha was once offered a meal of rice gruel cooked with jujube and sesame oil and mixed with pepper, garlic and lāmajjaka (Vv-a 186).

Lepa. See Jatu.

Lodda. Symplocos racemosa (Ja V 405). A small evergreen tree with dark grey, oblong elliptic leaves and white flowers gradually turning yellow.

Lohapiṭṭhā. A type of bird (Ja VI 538). This name means ‘copper back’ which would be a good description of the Crimson Sunbird, Aethopyga siparaja. The male of this sparrow-sized bird has a glistening crimson back and a metallic green head and tail, while the slightly smaller female is a dusky olive green. It is found throughout India in moist-deciduous and evergreen forests flitting from flower to flower as it drinks nectar. It also eats insects.

Lohitasālī. See Nīvāra.