Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Asvamedha Horse of India

Posted below are some messages from various yahoo groups regarding the Vedic horse used in the royal asvamedha sacrifice.

This sacrificial horse is described as having 17 rib pairs which sets it apart from more commonly known horses of Central Asia. In Vedic literature, the horse is strongly linked with sea and the Sun.

--- In, "S.Kalyanaraman" wrote:


> > Any photographs, Paul, of the southern Asian horse of neolithic

> times? Any scientific reports on the ribs, lumbar vertebrae of this

> horse?


A complete description of Equus sivalensis can be found in:

FALCONER H. and Cautley, Fauna Antiqua Sivalensis, Being the Fossil Zoology of the Siwalik Highlands in the North of India, 1849, London.

A Pliocene horse skeleton with 17 rib pairs.

Although sivalensis is declared to have gone extinct this is based on a sparse data negative argument. For example, there are those who believe that the latter Equus namadicus is related or indistinguishable from Equus sivalensis.

The following pdf is of a dated work but it demonstrates that some researchers found remnants of E. sivalensis is various modern breeds:

The article has some good discussion on sivalensis dentition and cranial shape with images.

"Recently Mr. Lydekker has pointed out that some Arabs have the face bent downwards on the
cranium, the premaxillae long, the first premolars large, and the anterior pillar of the upper molars
unusually short.

"In other words, Lydekker now realises that all the modern breeds are not characterised by longpillared
molars, and says that there is a probability that Barbs, Arabs, and Thoroughbreds are
descended from Equus sivalensis."

This contention is based on some isolated preservation of E. sivalensis traits. However, rather fully-sivalensis types have been described from Neolithic strata (8000-4000 BCE) at Lemery, Batangas in the Philippines together with dog remains.

PATERNO, Judith, "The Indigenous Horse," Filipinas Journal of Science and Culture 4, 1981.

ALBA, Elenita, "Archaeological evidences of animals as trade goods: A preliminary survey," National Museum Papers v. 4, 1994.

Alba mentions that these E. sivalensis features are still found in horses of the so-called "Sulu Horse" and its relatives in Borneo, Sumatra and Malacca.

The next pdf has some good discussion and photos on E. sivalensis dentition:

Notice the profiles in the ancient images of Indian and Indonesian horses:

From Konarak

From Sangeang

From Sanchi

The horses of Southeast Asia, both mainland and insular, show great tropical adaptability. For example, there are "wild" forest horses in Sumba and Timor. This is likely evidence of very long residence in such type of climate. These horses also show some of the highest mtDNA diversity in the world.


Paul Kekai Manansala


Original post:

Hello Rajarshi,

--- In, "munnubanerjee" wrote:


> In earlier exchanges between you and Witzel I remember him stating

> that sivalensis traits are not relevant as far as mordern horses are

> concerned since it was long extinct.


> You have now brought forward evidence contradicting this. But at the

> same time sivalensis traits in western europe north africa etc do not

> help in localizing the vedic horse based rituals to south/southeast

> asia asia since such traits seem to be diffuse.


> Is there evidence supporting that central asian breeds never had

> sivalensis traits.


Well the important thing with E. sivalensis, and also E. namadicus, is that if their lines persisted into modern horses it would suggest that southern Asia has always had Equus species.

It's not like we have horse remains from every 100 years of strata over different epochs. In fact there are only few bits of evidences over large regions for many vast time periods, so it's really impossible to say with certainty when if ever E. sivalensis vanished or mutated/mixed into something very similar.

The early evidence that I'm aware of does not suggest that Central Asian horses going back several thousand years ago were of sivalensis type. However, we have much confirmation in the artwork that Indian horses were of this type based mainly on the depiction of the convex skull profile and pre-orbital depression.

> Do any historic and prehistoric horse remains from india show six

> lumbar vertebrae and 34 ribs. Would be interesting to see pictures of

> mordern horses that have these traits.


Unfortunately I don't know of full horse skeletons from early India. They may exist, but I just haven't tracked them down yet. Also I don't have pictures of modern Indian horses of this type, although it seems likely they exist.

They are described over broad regions of Insular Southeast Asia, particularly the "Sulu Horse" is said to have these characteristics. And the same type appears in the early archaeological record here.

What makes this doubly interesting is that the horse in Vedic literature is strongly connected with the sea. I don't know of any similar Iranian or Central Asia beliefs.

The closest thing is the myth of Poseidon as the creator and/or tamer of horses, but this deity is said to have "Pelasgian" (non-IE) origins.

The horse's association with the East is probably at least due in part to it's relationship with the Sun. Not only do horses pull the Sun's chariot, but the Sun God's wife was said to have changed into a horse.

When the Sun God found his wife, who had fled because of his brillance, he also turned into a horse and mated with her producing the twin children Yama and Yami. The former, of course, is the Earth's first king and lord of the Underworld.

Paul Kekai Manansala