Kisāgotamī translation Q: whose throat is cut?

In the 3 translations on SC of Kisāgotamī Therī’s poem (Thig 10.1), Ven. @Sujato and Ven. Thanissaro have her saying that some women cut their own throats, while Ayya Soma’s has her saying that they cut their husband’s.

The sentence structure between the translations is also evocatively different, with Sujato suggesting the throat cutting is a reaction to the pain of giving birth, while Ayya Soma separates these into two sentences, shifting the sense of the connection between them.

And then the 3 translations differ in the murder that’s described next. For Ven. Sujato, she’s guilty of murder for killing herself, for Ayya Soma she has killed her husband, and for Ven Thanissaro she and the baby both die because of a breech birth!

I would love to hear some discussion of the translation challenge in these two stanzas that has led to such varied readings.


Ajahn Thanissaro is following the commentary, Bhante Sujato and Ayya Soma are following independent interpretations. Ancient verse is hard and sometimes requires some extra interpretive work due to terse and allusive style. This is actually part of the fun of poetry in general.

From the cmy:

Galake api kantantīti attano gīvampi chindanti.

…she cuts her own throat.

NB in the cmy, the explanation of line “Those who enter the womb are people killers”(Janamārakamajjhagatā) is that the unviable or dead fetus itself is the murderer who destroys two people:

Janamārakamajjhagatāti janamārako vuccati mūḷhagabbho. Mātugāmajanassa mārako, majjhagatā janamārakā kucchigatā, mūḷhagabbhāti attho.

See also this article by Piya Tan.

432-Kisa-Gotamipiya__230217_181418.pdf (406.9 KB)

This of course requires reading majjha (Skt: madhya) as “waist”, and majjhagatā as fetus (=kucchigatā). “Waist” is a legitimate meaning of Skt madhya. As a feminine noun, madhya can also mean a woman who has attained puberty, madhyā. But I have not been able to find majjhagatā as fetus elsewhere.

Ubhopi byasanāni anubhontīti gabbho gabbhinī cāti dvepi janā maraṇañca māraṇantikabyasanāni ca pāpuṇanti. Apare pana bhaṇanti ‘‘janamārakā nāma kilesā, tesaṃ majjhagatā kilesasantānapatitā ubhopi jāyāpatikā idha kilesapariḷāhavasena, āyatiṃ duggatiparikkilesavasena byasanāni pāpuṇantī’’ti. Imā kira dve gāthā sā yakkhinī purimattabhāve attano anubhūtadukkhaṃ anussaritvā āha. Therī pana itthibhāve ādīnavavibhāvanāya paccanubhāsantī avoca.

…destruction on both sides (Ubhopi byasanāni) means, results in undergoing fatal destruction by the death of two persons, both the fetus and the mother.

There is also another interpretation where the kilesas are the murderer.

Bhante @sujato can speak for his own translation. The sudden introduction of the concept of an unviable fetus as murderer in the cmy does seem a little laboured, other readings are definitely possible, and Bhante may wish to comment further. I would have also assumed the women who kill themselves are the subject as majjhagatā would normally just mean “gone among” i.e. she goes among the murderers…

Not really sure what Ayya Soma is doing, but murdering one’s husband does sound like a way to prevent the pain of further pregnancies. Maybe she has read backwards from janamārakamajjhagatā to assume a murder, and that this was of the husband.

Reading this text with my ancient Indian text reading brain (which may have a set of social values from a different time and place), I had thought the murder was that of the fetus. I.e. the woman discovers she’s pregnant, kills herself, the child also dies.

Anyway that is verse for you.


Thanks for bringing this up, and thanks Ayya for your remarks.

It is a difficult pair of verses! The first verse suggests its artificial nature, as it refers to the Buddha as speaker within the poetry, whereas this is usually an inserted line. It’s probably meant to be understood as the Buddha’s speech being reported by Kisagotami.

But that leaves us with an unusual three lines of content in the first verse, leading to the ambiguity noted here. The connection between the fourth and fifth lines is, however, suggested by the use of plural in both. Furthermore, line 5.1 has the particle api, which suggests it follows on and connects. Let me illustrate, removing the line referring to the Buddha:

Dukkho itthibhāvo singular
Sapattikampi hi dukkhaṁ
Appekaccā sakiṁ vijātāyo plural
Galake api kantanti

The pairs of lines are distinguished by number, and connected by the repeated api. So I think the flowing across the verse boundary is justified. Norman does the same thing.

This is possible, but it feels like a stretch to me. I really don’t think an embryo can be considered a murderer. More to the point, vijātāyo is quite unambiguous, it means “those who have given birth”, not those who are pregnant.

More likely we should read:


Where ajjhagatā is to have attained or reached a state, in this case, the state of having committed murder.

Since the women have given birth, there has been no reference to a fetus, and hence the “both” here must refer to “both” the people who have been referred to above, namely the two kinds of women. My former translation “both here and beyond” seems unjustified.

After giving birth just once,
some women even cut their own throat,
while refined ladies take poison.
Being guilty of killing a person,
they both undergo ruin.

It seems the verse is about post-partum depression.


@ayyasoma :pray:t2: might be able to share something about her translation choices for this interesting verse.


The AP de Zoysa Sinhalese translation also seems to be quite independent, reading:

gelada sin̆da ganiti. siyumæli śarīra æti ohu vasa kati. ipadīma maraṇaya atara vūvāhu dedenāma mahat pīḍā vin̆diti.

ipadīma maraṇaya atara vūvāhu= janamārakamajjhagatā
English: those who were in the midst of birth and death

dedenāma mahat pīḍā vin̆diti=ubhopi byasanāni anubhonti
They both undergo great affliction.

They= the ladies mentioned earlier.

He seems to have read janamāraka as an unusual dvanda compound meaning “birth and death” (jana-maraNa)?

Probably like Sanskrit janmāntaragata.

An anonymous source (did not wish to be named) has informed me that mAraka in Sinhala can also be an adjective referring to a dangerous time etc rather than a killer.

Those who are giving birth are said to pass through a “mAraka”. We see a similar use in astrology, where a “mAraka” (killer) planet is a detrimental planet that can cause ill health (as opposed to an actual murderer). This use of mAraka probably also underlies janamAraka as a “pestilence” or “plague”: the core concept is a time of danger. Actually, this use of mAraka is referenced here as “any deadly disease” (condition) Sanskrit - Dictionary

So I also wonder now if the compound janamāraka may refer to the dangers of birth.

It is not clear.


I dunno, manussamāraka and hatthimāraka exist, with obvious meanings, so it seems clear enough and accepted by the dictionaries.āraka

All for looking for esoteric meanings where it is warranted, but this doesn’t seem like the place. We don’t need to be looking for astrology or pestilences for a “killer”, the text has just told us what the killer is.

And majjhagata just doesn’t seem to be attested in the canon in this sense at all. Honestly when I look at the line the whole construction seems obviously to be -'m’ajjhagatā.

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Yes I think you are right, I was just very accustomed to seeing the text a particular way (i.e. the Caroline Rhys Davids way and not the KR Norman way).

I still have some questions about this verse and it does seem like at least from the commentarial period, people have avoided reading it that the woman is a murderer. It’s a bit intense, especially given that the Buddha’s own mother possibly died from childbirth. But then again, “intense female suffering” is a bit of a Therigatha vibe, as a text, the Therigatha definitely has that market niche cornered already.


Thanks both of you for reflections, and Ayya @Suvira for Piya Tan’s essay.

I too prefer your straightforward reading, Bhante @sujato, to what Tan reports from the cmy:

Comy resolves this as –māraka,majjha,gatā, “the killer that has entered the middle (the womb),” but it can also be resolved as –mārakam-ajjha,gatā, “the killer that has entered into … ” Jana,māraka, “people-killer” refers to defilements (kilesa) (ThīA 178). (Tan 2004, 50)

I’m curious about the content of these verses re: Kisāgotamī’s story. Her story doesn’t say she was a co-wife, and while her story is about the grief of losing a child, these verses aren’t—suicidal postpartum depression is something else.

To my ear, the verses seem out of voice for the Buddha, once they get to the throat cutting and poisoning.

Comy says that a yakshini (female nature spirit), recalling her sufferings in previous existences, spoke these 2 verses (ThīA 178). (Tan, n.30)

Would it work to read the yakkhinī quoting the Buddha, “Dukkho itthibhāvo,” but then embellishing that generalization with her own past life story of being a co-wife and committing suicide after giving birth? (Does the cmy give the yakkhinī’s story?)

If we can take these verses as the yakkhinī telling her own story, then the poem contains Kisāgotamī reporting on two other women’s stories of suffering. This rhymes with the teaching in her mustard seed story that if we compare our suffering to that of others we find the common denominator and accomplish the understanding of dukkha of stanza 3.