Dāsidāsa translated as "male and female bondservants"

Asking pardon in advance if this is very basic. I’ve come across this translation in quite a few suttas. The Pāli phrase “Dāsidāsa” is translated as male and female bondservants, for example in MN101 sec 32.17 we can see the Pāli phrase:

Dāsidāsapaṭiggahaṇā paṭivirato hoti.

translated as

male and female bondservants, (… avoid receiving …)

However, dāsi is feminine and dāsa is masculine. The PTS dictionary at the same link also indicates that “paṭiggahaṇa” applied to dāsi or dāsa means slave-trading. Would the phrase “Dāsidāsapaṭiggahaṇā” not translate to something like “female & male slave trading”?

The word dāsa is an old one. And if you look at a Sanskrit dictionary you’ll see it has a wider range of meanings. It seems to originally refer to some kind of demon. It’s used with senses “demon, enemy, stranger”.

Vedic speakers used for the word to refer to the local inhabitants of India. In this sense it seems to mean something like “barbarian”. Not a compliment in any case.

By time that Pāli is attested (around the 5th century CE, ~a millennium later) dāsa has come to mean “a person of low class” (= śudra), and “servant”, “slave”. It seems perhaps that the distinction between servant and slave was not so clear that they needed two different words. In the caste system of modern India being a member of a servant caste is something that one is born into and has little choice over. So the śudras (who were probably the remnants of the indigenous culture) really were slaves. (Dr Ambedkar believed that the modern Dalit groups were the remnants of Buddhist populations, marginalised by Brahmins because they ate beef - take this with a grain of salt).

Some of the early British translators seem to have been nervous about translating dāsa as “slave” for fear that it might reflect badly on Buddhism (which they were busy promoting as an alternative to Christianity). A term like “bond servant” is simply an old-fashioned euphemism for “slave” (though I see that, unusually, Sujato has perpetuated this anachronism in his translations). Ironically, around this same time, the British East India Company made extensive use of indentured labour (another form of slavery) in India, especially in the opium growing industry. Plus ca change.

It seems that slavery was common: … *Evameva kho, bhikkhave, appakā te sattā ye dāsidāsapaṭiggahaṇā paṭiviratā; atha kho eteva bahutarā sattā ye dāsidāsapaṭiggahaṇā appaṭiviratā …pe…. * (SN 56.87).

Dāsidāsa is a dvandva compound, translated as two words linked by “and”. One need not labour the gender of the slaves. It is simply a quirk of Pāli to constantly over state the case. In English, the word “slave” is not gendered and doesn’t imply only one gender in the way that both dāsa and dāsi do (contrast with “actor” and “actress” for example).

I can’t see how paṭiggahaṇa means “trading”. The word means “acceptance, reception”, “taking”. Dāsidāsapaṭiggahaṇā would seem to mean something like “accepting (the labour of) slaves” or perhaps “accepting (the institution of) slavery”.

All that notwithstanding, dāsa is a common element in Buddhist names. I guess the sense is that knowing what we know, Buddhists are bound to serve the Dhamma?

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That is a (very out-of-date) misunderstanding first proposed in the 19th century by Max-Muller, current understanding of the word has advanced since then - as you can read at dāsa.

The Dāha (in Old-Iranic) and Dāsa (in Vedic Sanskrit) were a non-Indian tribe located somewhere in the North-West of Afghanistan and North-East of current-day Iran - who after many centuries from the early-Vedic period, followed Iranic customs and became Zoroastrians. A closely related tribe called the Dasyu (Old-Iranic: Dahyu) were a related tribe living close to the Dāsas (Old-Iranic: Dāhae).

They were initially opposed both to the Indic (Vedic) and the Iranic tribes and the Vedic texts mention wars (in North-Western India in and around Gandhāra, today’s Northern Pakistan) between the Vedic and Dāsa tribes. In the map below you can see their approximate location (although they may have actually lived further north-east of Iran, closer to northern-Afghanistan).

However, there is no evidence that within India, non-Vedic Indians were all (or even predominantly) grouped under this term (in any period). In the Buddha’s lifetime, dāsas had become a common-noun (in the Rgveda it is the proper name of a specific tribe) to refer to people of low repute generally employed as household servants and menials within Indo-Aryan (late-Vedic & early-Buddhist era) society - i.e. those who lived together in the same household as their masters as domestic helpers. Whether they were slaves or not in the Buddha’s time is a different subject, however they are not viewed as being from a different ethnicity - as the Buddhist canonical texts don’t show them speaking a different language or following foreign customs. The name ‘Dasyu’ in the Buddha’s time (within India) also became a common-noun meant something like dacoit/robber/thief.

Also see

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As to the order of the two words, it’s quite common in Pali to use the female first in a compound, such as matāpitu, “mother and father”.

Whether this is maintained in translation is a matter of taste. In this case i keep the normal English sequence.

As to “bondservant”, there was slavery at the time. We can get some idea of it from the Tipitaka and jatakas, and more details are supplied in the Arthasastra. But the general idea seems to have been that people would enter slavery or bondage either as a captive in war, or due to debt. The Arthasastra gives quite a lot of detail as to the rights such people had, for example their wealth and caste was restored, they were protected from sexual harassment, and the like.

Thus while it is a kind of slavery in that they did not have legal independence, in many ways it was similar to what we would regard as a prison term, except lived in the community.

Generally speaking, what is conjured up by the word “slave” is a much harsher and more abject condition, which I don’t see justified in Indic texts of that time. So I used “bondservant” which has basically the same meaning but with fewer connotations.


Thank you Bhante. I suppose this is why we see other translations in a similar vein, for example MN26 has this part in sec 6.2:

Puttabhariyaṁ, bhikkhave, jātidhammaṁ, dāsidāsaṁ jātidhammaṁ, … …

here translated as: “Partners and children, male and female bondservants, …” though a very literal translation would be something like “Children and partners” rather than “Partners and children”.

The way it’s translated now makes it less jarring to read for an English-speaking audience.

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Beyond the general unreliability of Wikipedia, the India pages are mostly edited by Hindutvaka and are thus extremely unreliable. I have no idea why anyone would recommend such pages, but I won’t be wasting my time looking at them.

A more reliable source of information is the 2014 R̥gveda translation by Stephanie W. Jamison and Joel P. Brereton, which reflects the state of the art (my Sanskrit teacher Eivind Kahrs has nothing but praise for it). The word dāsa is discussed at some length, especially 54-57.

However, dāsá can mean “servant, slave” already in some R̥gvedic passages. According to VIII.56.3, a man named Dasyave Vr̥ka, “Wolf to the Dasyu,” has given to the poet “a hundred donkeys,” “a hundred wooly ewes, a hundred slaves (dāsá), and garlands beyond that” (cf. also VII.86.7, X.62.10). These dāsás were obviously not enemies of the Āryas, at least not as long as they were subordinate to them. [emphasis added]

The R̥gveda also shows less insistence on the Dāsas’ cultural difference from the Āryas than on the Dasyus’—Dāsas are not described as akarmán, amantú, anyávrata, ámānuṣa, and the like. However, the poets sharply distinguish between Āryas and Dāsas (V.34.6, VI.25.2, X.86.19) and worry that the Dāsas have wealth that should belong to Āryas (II.12.4). Yet they also can have ties to the Āryas. In VIII.46.32, a dānastuti verse, the poet mentions a wealthy Dāsa named Balbūtha Tarukṣa, from whom he says he received a hundred camels. Although Balbūtha’s name is not Indo-Aryan and although he is called a Dāsa, he had apparently employed the poet, presumably to compose hymns and to sacrifice for him. Therefore, he must have had one foot in Ārya culture, if not quite in the Ārya community.

In summary, the Dasyus and Dāsas are overlapping categories of peoples opposed to the Āryas, and the poets call on the gods to defeat them for the sake of the Āryas. However, sometimes Dāsas may have been rivals to the Āryas or may even have been at the fringes the Ārya community rather than inevitable enemies of Āryas. For a thorough discussion of the attestions of dásyu, dāsá, and dā́sa in the R̥gveda and later Vedas, see Hale (1986: 146–69). The above summary is very much indebted to Hale’s work, but Hale is inclined to see a racial distinction between the Āryas and the Dasyus or Dāsa that is not justified by the evidence.

This is a more nuanced view, but not different in its essence from what I wrote above. And I was not wrong at all about how the word is used in Pāli.

Since we are making corrections, however, we know that the extant Pāli literature is not related to “the Buddha’s time” at all but to the time of Buddhists of the Mahāvihāra in Sri Lanka, ca 5th century CE. You have no idea how any words were used “in the Buddha’s time” and no one does. Because it is indisputable that writing was not used in India for several centuries after that putative period.

If you are going to make a stand on historical facts, then you have to drop the fundamentalist religious rhetoric and accept the facts as they are.


Your personal phobia of Hindutva is not enough justification to invent the conspiracy theory that Wikipedia pages on India are mostly controlled by Hindutva. The articles I mentioned (except “Vedic Period”) are not even India pages to begin with. I was trying to draw your attention to comments (among others) of people like Max Muller, Asko Parpola and Michael Witzel - which those Wikipedia articles contained - if you cared to read the content - they are not representatives of Hindutva.

The content youve quoted from Jamison and Brereton above nowhere supports your assertion that “Vedic speakers used for the word to refer to the local inhabitants of India” or that “It seems to originally refer to some kind of demon.”

Jamison and Brereton (your authorities) actually offer evidence to the contrary – of wealthy (II.12.4 ; VIII.46.32) Dāsa patrons who are praised by poets in the early Rgveda. In the case of the Dāsa named Balbūtha Tarukṣa , who gives a hundred camels as reward, and was the patron, not the servant/slave, of the Vedic poet, you probably didnt even realize that camels originally were not native to India and had to be imported from Bactria, which is where Balbūtha Tarukṣa was evidently located - it must have been a place where wealth was measured in heads of camel . That place could not have been the home of the people of India as a whole. Besides the entire locus of the R̥gveda was limited to North-Western India and therefore the references to dāsas in the R̥gveda could not be references to the entire local population of India (in the Indic texts of no later era is there such a connotation either). So the dāsas & dasyus mentioned in the Rgveda as living outside India or in the north-western peripheries of the Indian subcontinent in the early-Vedic era, whose cognate names Dāha & Dahyu are also found in Iranic sources - were evidently not who you think they were. So your reliance on outdated Victorian era misinterpretations of Vedic texts and not being able to substantiate them when challenged, resorting instead to verbal nastiness (calling dissenting opinions “fundamentalist religious rhetoric”) shows you are not to be taken seriously.

Writing was in use in India from the time of the Buddha himself (although it was not widespread until the time of Ashoka). We have voluminous vedic-sanskrit (non-Buddhist) texts of many centuries before and after the Buddha of which only the most ancient hymns were transmitted orally, the rest of the prose texts were written texts from the beginning (and have known no oral transmission tradition from any period). References to the use of writing and names of specific scripts exist from the 4th century BCE onwards. Kharoṣṭhī was itself a pre-Ashokan (pre-3rd century BCE) script used in North-western India derived from the still earlier Aramaic script, which was also in use since pre-Ashokan times in the same region (Gandhāra) since at least the 4th century BCE. Even the name of Kharoṣṭhī originates from Khara-*vuṣṭhī (etymologically originating from the compound khara-pr̥ṣṭha “literally donkey’s back” or donkey-hide, which the early manuscripts were written on). The vast bulk of the Pali canon are indisputably written texts from the time of Ashoka (3rd century BCE) or thereabouts, a small part of them may be from even the 4th century BCE (and Pali itself as a linguistic register belongs to the same literary tradition as Gandhārī, and Gandhāri was a linguistic register used to write the Ashokan edicts). From the 4th century BCE Gandhāra, we have Panini’s grammar (which itself mentions earlier written texts by name not only in Classical Sanskrit but even in Vedic Sanskrit), its voluminous written commentaries and subcommentaries datable to 3rd century BCE and 2nd century BCE mentioning Ashoka and his predecessors and successors (and even the Buddha’s brahmin contemporaries mentioned in the Pali canon) by name, still exist even today. That the bulk of the Pali canon (and other early Buddhist canons in Sanskrit and Gandhari) didnt exist as written collections by the start of the Christian era is a complete and utter impossibility. But there is no point me trying to convince you, is there?