Vedic Namuci and Buddhist Māra

While Māra plays a prominent role in Buddhist texts, he does not seem to appear before Buddhism, at least under that name. However there is another entity who is pre-Buddhist and who shares a name with Māra: Namuci.

Namuci appears as a name of Māra in three or four Pali suttas, usually as commander of an army. He is clearly identified with Māra at AN 4.13:2.4 and SN 2.30:14.3, implicitly at Thag 5.5:2.3, and may in fact be a different individual at DN 20:12.8.

Vedic Namuci is an enemy of Indra. Namuci’s name is explained (in both Pali commentaries and Pāṇini 6-3, 75) as na-muci, “not letting go”, which in the Vedic tradition refers to his capture of the soma and by extension the life-giving waters, while in Buddhism it refers to being trapped in transmigration.

Like most Vedic figures, Namuci’s nature is obscure, except for the fact that he opposed Indra. He is called dāsa, “enemy”, “adversary”, and may have been a general of the native peoples who fought off the Aryans. But the Vedas also are full of astronomical symbolism, so Namuci may have been a god of the dark clouds before the rain, especially in the transition between the dry and rainy seasons. When he is “killed” the waters are released and the soma flows. Or, perhaps more likely, he was both.

Vedic Namuci is a Titan (namucāv āsure, Rig Veda 10.131.4a), while Buddhist Namuci is also a Titan (DN 20:12.8). In this sutta, Māra appears in a separate passage later on. Normally, of course, Māra is believed to be a deva, so Namuci’s appearance here among the Titans suggests that in this context they are not to be identified.

Vedic Namuci was a wily trickster (māyin, Rig Veda 1.53.7c) who was nonetheless outsmarted by Indra (Rig Veda 5.30.6c), having ineffectual armies reliant on women (Rig Veda 5.30.9a). Buddhist Māra was a wily trickster (passim) who was nonetheless outsmarted by the Buddha and his followers (passim), possessing ineffectual armies (DN 20:21.3, AN 4.13:2.3, Snp 3.2) who sent his daughters to do his dirty work (SN 4.25).

As to how the trickster was tricked by Indra, the story goes that Namuci captured Indra and before releasing him made Indra swear not to kill Namuci by wet thing or dry thing, in the night or in the day. Namuci took advantage of his protection to steal the soma from Indra. Indra was powerless until he came up with an ingenious solution: to dismember him with foam (Rig Veda 8.14.13) at dawn (Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa

  • (This story fulfills a specific role in the evolution of the mythological hero, a role played in Greek myth by the “wily” Odysseus. Odysseus was not the greatest warrior, but it was due to his wisdom and cunning that Troy was overcome. The Trojan horse was his idea—a horse that is not a horse, an offering that is not an offering, a sign of repentance that was . These stories are pivotal in that they show the victory of brain over brawn.)

As a result of his theft of soma, Vedic Namuci is said to be “wicked” (pāpmā vai namuciḥ, Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa 12.7.3, Maitrāyaṇī Saṃhitā 4.4.4), while Māra’s most characteristic epithet is “Wicked One” (māro pāpimā).

Having defeated Namuci, Indra severed his head. But this created a further problem, for Namuci’s head contained blood mixed with soma, something revolting to the gods (Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa, Maitrāyaṇī Saṃhitā 4.4.4). In doing so, Namuci introduced death (mṛtyu), i.e. blood, to the deathless (amṛta) soma. This is a precursor to his epithet Maccurāja, “King of Death”, and indeed to the name Māra, “Murderer”.

There is, further, a striking verbal equivalence, for the defeat of Namuci opened the way for “the progress of Manu” (manave gātum, Rig Veda 5.30.7c). Here, the progress of Manu refers to the spread of the Aryan peoples who were Manu’s children. In the suttas, Namuci’s defeat is celebrated by a god with the unusual name Māṇavagāmiya (SN 2.30:15.1). Here, gāmiya can be read as a secondary derivation from gama, “going”, yielding the sense, “The Progress of Manu’s Children”. Here the term can have the Buddhist sense of the path of the Aryans. But the use of this name in this context surely requires the Buddhist author to be familiar with the specific Vedic passage.

A further parallel emerges much later, for the Pali commentary says that an epithet of Māra was Pajāpati, “lord of the generations”. Mahābhārata (Ādi Parva, Chapter 65, Stanza 22) says that Namuci was in fact the son of Prajāpati Kaśyapa by his wife Danu.

There are many stories of both Namuci and Māra, and doubtless a further search would identify more in common. However this is more than enough to show that the Buddhist conception of Māra is largely drawn from Vedic Namuci, and indeed Māra can be considered the Buddhist evolution of the same entity, most commonly referred to by a different name, just as his arch-nemesis Indra is called Sakka in Buddhism.

One attribute of Mara that I cannot trace in Namuci before the Buddha is his role as arch-sensualist. This is emphasized occasionally in later Sanskrit texts, where multiple Māras appear as deathly acolytes of the God of Sex, or may be identified with the same god (Gītagovinda 3). Indeed, even in the suttas his sensuality is not as prominent as one might imagine. In any case, it is unclear whether such references are influenced by Buddhism. Perhaps his sensuality is a secondary feature derived from the fact that, as the the murderer, his main job is to trap people in transmigration, and sensuality is a prime tool for achieving this end.


Nonviolence is topmost but according to the laws of nature and transmigration, one swift blow of death and mara won’t be coming back.

So, when can we expect Bhante Sujato’s “Buddhist and Vedic studies”?

But the titans were devas. The idea that the asuras belong to the lower realms is commentarial, whereas in the suttas everything points to the deva realm. The late Bhikkhu Hye Dhammavuddho wrote a paper on this, I recall.

So manussa, “human being”, literally means “of manu”?


Thank you for this! I’ve been curious about the details of Namuci.

One thing I would be interested to learn more about is the depiction of the Buddha as Indra. I think there’s an interesting dynamic where the role of Indra is split between the Buddha and Sakka in the suttas. There are some places where Sakka gets some of the Buddha’s role, such as in his battle with Vepacitti where Vepacitti’s bonds are identification, conceit and proliferation that Sakka vanishes from. There the king of asuras also parallels Māra, perhaps related to Namuci being an asura.

It seems the cosmology was split, one end remaining literal but taking on a the role of presenting Buddhist ethical principles (Sakka and Namuci), while the other side was embodied via metaphorical connections and representation in the Buddha and Māra.

Also: Any idea who Sambara and their sorcery is that Sakka’s forbidden from learning (SN 11.23)? Some piece of Vedic mythology seems present in this interesting dynamic. There’s mention of him as lord of the titans at SN 11.10, and very strange but intriguing portrayals. Same with ‘verocana’ (who says the best of pleasures is ‘sampyoga’), etc.

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True, and perhaps that is the wrong detail to focus on. But in that sutta Namuci and Māra are treated in separate passages and nothing connects them. I’m not really arguing that they are separate, just that the context allows for it.

Indeed, yes. Originally with the sense, “civilized peoples”, “people of the book”, i.e. followers of the Vedas, similar to Ariyan.

Indeed, I was noticing this as well, but haven’t looked in detail.

The Vedic Index says:

śambara Is the name of an enemy of Indra in the Rigveda. He is mentioned along with śuṣṇa, Pipru, and Varcin, being in one passage called a Dāsa, son of Kulitara. In another passage he is said to have deemed himself a godling (devaka). His forts, ninety, ninety-nine, or a hundred in number, are alluded to, the word itself in the neuter plural once meaning the ‘forts of śambara.’ His great foe was Divodāsa Ati- thigva, who won victories over him by Indra’s aid. It is impossible to say with certainty whether śambara was a real person or not. Hillebrandt9 is strongly in favour of the theory that he was a real chief as enemy of Divodāsa: he relies on the statistics of the mention of the name to show that, whereas he was conceived as a real foe in the hymns of the time of Divodāsa, later texts, like those of the seventh Maṇdala, make him into a demon, as a result of the change of scene from Arachosia to India. As a matter of fact, apart from this theory, śambara was quite possibly an aboriginal enemy in India, living in the mountains.

He’s mentioned alongside Namuci in a list of mighty demons.

Given this, and since they are both leaders of the dāsa who may well be native chieftains, there’s certainly a connection there. But I haven’t looked into this in detail.

If you want to look further, my normal starting place is a search on

Then follow up especially if they suggest references in early texts like Rig Veda and Satapatha. Which they do, at least RV:

A couple of dozen mentions, eg. RV 4.30.30:

And you struck Śambara, the Dāsa son of Kulitara,
down from the lofty mountain, Indra.



Thanks, bhante. I looked for ‘Sambari sorcery’ and this came up for Shambari. Apparently she was a juggler, magician, sorceress. I see no references to her in earlier material on Wisdom Library, so either the Buddhist is the first attestation or, more likely, it’s tucked away somewhere.

The word is from śambara , a demon famous for his magical skill.


“Some of the earliest descriptions of magicians outside of the Vedas are located in a Prakrit register, and an avadāna in a collection from Gandhāra, dated to the first half of the first century C.E. is of especial interest.”
Lenz (2010): Avadāna 6
Thus, it was heard. In the city of Pāṭaliputra, a magician displayed magic. There were two kinds of magic: the magic of Śambara and the magic of Indra. Then, that person displayed the magic of Śambara. And another magician arrived in that place. He (*displayed) the magic of Indra … He said: “Do you have a desire (*to see a magic display)?” Magic was seen: (*it was) excellent. Mount Sumeru was bought into view by him. In detail, all (*should be said) up to “the darkness overshadowed the sun by the power of magic.” The complete expansion should be according to the model.

Looking deeper, I come across Namuci again:

Instead of Soma offerings and hymns, the enemy had something else: RS 4,16,9 “the Dasyu who has magic powers but is without holy hymns has perished.” Māya, ‘magic or illusory power’, is even elsewhere associated with the Dāsas and Dasyus, and must have been an important component of their religion. Thus according to RV 10,73,7, Agni has slain Dāsa Namuci and taken away his magic power. …
In the older books of the Rgveda, the
word asura- is an epithet of many of the gods as well, but especially of such gods who
possess the magic power of māya, the first and foremost of them being Varuna…

I was interested in the mentions of ‘Verocana, lord of titans’ and looked up Vairocana to see earlier references. That was leading me to ‘virocana,’ who is said to be lord of asuras in some Vedic texts. In particular, there’s an interesting passage in the Chāndogya Upanisad which parallels Buddhism, Section 8.7.

[1] Prajāpati once said: ‘The Self is free from sin, free from old age, free from death, free from sorrow, and free from hunger and thirst. It is the cause of desire for Truth and for commitment to Truth. This Self has to be sought for and thoroughly known. The person who has sought for and known the Self attains all worlds and all desires’.
[2] Both the gods and the demons came to know from people what Prajāpati had said. They said, ‘We shall search for that Self, by knowing which we can attain all the worlds and whatever things we desire.’ With this object in view, Indra among the gods and Virocana among the demons went to Prajāpati, carrying fuel in their hands. But they did not let each other know their plans.

The section goes on to describe how the asura was satisfied with the teaching that the self is just the body, and how people today obsessed with their appearance are called asuras because of this. But Indra questions this on his way back, returns to Prajāpati, and asks for more—resulting in 101 years of secrecy and waiting to get the real answer.

The Sakka Samyutta has many parallels to the contemplative passages like this in the Upanisads, where a deva and asura approach risis and ascetics, and the asura tends to be downplayed somehow as lesser than the wisdom of Indra.

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So perhaps the German “Mensch” (Old High German “mennisco”) comes from the same root? Similarly “Mann” (engl. “man”).

In the Suttas we find

Furthermore, Rāhu, lord of titans, receives water in his hand and tosses it in the ocean. This is the third obstacle to rain …

Follow-up question for Veda researchers: What’s the relationship between Māra and Rāhu?


Possibly. While there’s no dispute about the derivation of Mensch and Mann from Proto-Germanic mannan-, there are two opinions on the relationship between mannan- and Indic lexemes: those of the Indo-Europeanist Ringe and the Slavicist Berneker.

Guus Kroonen’s overview:

(Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic. 2012)

And these are Kroonen’s sources…

Don Ringe:

(From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic. 2006)

Erich Berneker:

(Indogermanische Forschungen; Zeitschrift für Indogermanistik und allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft. 1898)


It seems the name, Namuci, is not found in the corresponding Chinese versions, particularly the SA 1308 and SA2 307 (= SN 2.30)?

Śakra (pāli spelling Sakka) is also his name in the Ṛgveda. Indra is his epithet.

In Pāli to disambiguate the word sakka from its other possible homonyms (caused due to the gemination), the phrase “devānam indo” (devānām indraḥ) is usually found suffixed adjectivally, and this tendency to give near synonyms right next to each other is also found in other places in the Pali canon - for example addhāna-magga (Sanskrit: adhvan & mārga - both words mean ‘road’) in DN1; isipatana-migadāya (in sanskrit: ṛśyavṛjana & mṛgadāva - both mean deer-park) etc.

No, manuṣya (pali spelling: manussa) is not the genitive case form of the word ‘manu’ - they are independent words, and are both pre-Ṛgvedic in origin, as they are found in the Ṛgveda-saṃhitā:

catvā́ri vā́k párimitā padā́ni tā́ni vidur brāhmaṇā́ yé manīṣíṇaḥ
gúhā trī́ṇi níhitā néňgayanti turī́yaṃ vācó manuṣyā vadanti (ṚV 1.164.45)

nū́ ma ā́ vā́cam úpa yāhi vidvā́n víšvebhiḥ sūno sahaso yájatraiḥ
yé agnijihvā́ ṛtasā́pa āsúr yé mánuṃ cakrúr úparaṃ dásāya (ṚV 6.021.11)


What is the basis for determining what is the ‘real name’ and what is merely an ‘epithet’? Looking at various Sanskrit dictionaries, they call ‘Śakra’ an epithet. There are other words like Maghavan in the Rgveda which also appear in Pāli as names for Sakka; it doesn’t seem clear there’s one real name and other epithets. Why is ‘Indra’ what most of us know this god by outside the Buddhist context?

Also, tangentially, do you have a recommended resource for understanding the early Vedic gods, their particular mythological roles and functions, and the practices or attitudes related to them?

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Yeah Śakra is also originally an epithet (in the Vedas that is). However, by the Buddha’s time I think it was used only for Indra, so it had sort of become his proper name. Even in the Ṛgveda, I haven’t come across it being used in an adjectival sense to refer to anyone else.

The word Indra also often referred to him alone (when the context does not indicate otherwise, as for example in Snp2.7), however

  1. he was also called devendraḥ (or devānām indraḥ - devindo / devānam indo in pāli, see AN7.62).
  2. He is also called tridaśānām indraḥ (pāli spelling: tidasānam indo) i.e lord of the thirty devas at ja470.

the word Indra is however in common use to describe others as well – both in sanskrit texts and pali texts:

  1. Rāhu is called asurendraḥ i.e. asurāṇām indraḥ (pāli spelling: asurindo, see SN2.9),
  2. the buddha is called manujendraḥ (manujānām indraḥ - where manuja means offspring of Manu i.e. humans) - spelt manujindo in pali, see MN92.
  3. he (the buddha) is also called dvipadendraḥ i.e. dvipadānām indraḥ (pali spelling: dvipadindo, see tha-ap18) i.e. indra of the bipeds/humans.
  4. he (the buddha) is called munīndraḥ i.e. munīnām indraḥ (pali: munindo, see thi-ap28), meaning ‘chief among the munis/sages’.
  5. the bodhiśākta (bodhisatta) is called vānarendraḥ (pāli: vānarindo, meaning lord of the vānaras/monkeys) at mil5.4.7.
  6. There is the word bhujagendraḥ i.e. bhujagānām indraḥ (pāli: bhujagindo), meaning lord of the bhujagas/snakes used at mil8.
  7. Also there is the word janendraḥ i.e. janānām indraḥ (pāli: janindo), meaning lord of the people, used several times at ja505
  8. The sthavira Aniruddha calls himself manuṣyendraḥ i.e. manuṣyāṇām indraḥ (pāli: manussindo), meaning lord-of-humans i.e. king at thag16.9.

Regarding Śakra and Māra in early Buddhism, the following articles by Choong Mun-keat may be relevant:

"A comparison of the Pali and Chinese versions of the Sakka Samyutta , a collection of early Buddhist discourses on ‘Sakra, ruler of the gods’ ", in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society , vol. 22, issue 3-4, October 2012 (Cambridge University Press), pp. 561–574.

“A comparison of the Pali and Chinese versions of the Mara Samyutta , a collection of early Buddhist discourses on Mara, the Evil One”, The Indian International Journal of Buddhist Studies’, vol.10, 2009, pp. 35-53.

If the name, Namuci, is not found in the corresponding Chinese versions, then one may need to consider why it appears only in Pali suttas.


Ha ha, yes I just learned this from Levman’s book as it happens!

Isn’t mānuṣya the abstract from mānuṣa?

Hmm, although two of the four cases are in Thag and Snp that have no Chinese parallels, so I’m not sure what we can infer from two instances. What about Chinese parallels to DN 20?

Sort of. Mānuṣya can be derived grammatically from either mānuṣa or manuṣya.

Pāṇini says in the sūtra manorjātāvañyatau ṣuk ca (Aṣṭādhyāyī 4.1.161) that

  • the word mānuṣa is formed by applying the pratyayas (affixes) ṣUK & aÑ to manu (the aÑ causes a vṛddhi (i.e. lengthened grade ablaut) to the initial vowel so the ma in manu becomes mā);
  • the word manuṣya is formed by applying the pratyayas ṣUK and yaT

where the resulting word is for jāti-nirdeśa (i.e. where the sense denotes a ‘class who are the progeny of manu’, and not in the sense of patronymic used for an individual).

The word mānuṣya is formed by either

  • adding the pratyaya aṆ to manuṣya, where the sense is ‘manuṣyasya bhāvaḥ’ (the nature of a manuṣya) i.e. like humane is formed from human - or in a few other senses, or
  • adding the pratyaya yaT to mānuṣa (with the same meaning as above).

Apart from these there are other taddhitas and compounds possible from Manu, such as:

  • manuja (manu + ja) - meaning manoḥ jātaḥ (progeny of manu)
  • mānava (manu + pratyaya aṆ) - same meaning as above

There are many more epithets of Indra - the Amarakośa lists these names:

indra, marutvat, maghavan, biḍaujas, pākaśāsana, vṛddhaśravas, sunāsīra, puruhūta, purandara, jiṣṇu, lekharṣabha, śakra, śatamanyu, divaspati, sutrāman, gotrabhid, vajrin, vāsava, vṛtrahan, vṛṣan, vāstoṣpati, surapati, balārāti, śacīpati, jambhabhedin, harihaya, svārāj, namucisūdana, saṅkrandana, duścyavana, turāṣā, meghavāhana, ākhaṇḍala, sahasrākṣa, ṛbhukṣin, kauśika, ghanāghana, parjanya, hari

As you can see above, namuci-sūdana (destroyer/slayer of Namuci) is one of his epithets as well. Some of these epithets are also attested in the Pali canon (and other EBTs) at different places.

I know a few other epithets apart from the above (i.e. not listed in the Amarakośa), such as śatakratu, amareśa, nākanātha, jambhadviṭ etc. There are some more.

Pehaps because

  • modern-day Indologists don’t use the other names when they refer to him, and
  • most people don’t/can’t read the originals
  • translators mostly translate the epithets too without mentioning the original-word, or highlighting that it is an epithet
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This detailed exploration of the parallels between Vedic Namuci and Buddhist Māra is fascinating. Drawing connections between their roles as tricksters, defeated by clever strategies, adds depth to the understanding of these mythological figures. Indeed, the textual evidence suggests a complex interplay between Vedic and Buddhist traditions.

As a sidenote, I am curious how you view the ‘Out of India’ (OIT) alternative theory instead of Aryan invasion? As interpretation of cultural interactions and migrations continue to evolve, and whether you have considered exploring alternative theories, contributing to a different understanding of the subcontinent. While mainstream scholarship often leans towards other models, the ongoing debates within the academic community showcase the dynamic nature of historical interpretations.




This book has some explanation on the realation between Mara and Namuci too.

This is not a serious theory, it’s nationalism disguised as scholasticism. The Aryan incursion is an accepted fact of the field, supported by a vast range of multidisciplinary evidence, the most recent of which is genetic.


Just noticing that it is in fact translated by Jamison/Brereton as “able one”.

And in MN 56:29.37 we find of the Buddha:

Purindadassa sakkassa,

Showing the use of sakka as epithet.