Vedic Namuci and Buddhist Māra

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.

Yes, śak (dhātu/verb-root) + raK (pratyaya/affix) = śakra (one who is powerful, competent or able). ‘Able’ is probably not the meaning that makes the most sense for Indra, ‘Powerful’ should make better sense.

The Abhidhānappadīpikāṭīkā gives this definition: “asure jetuṃ sakkuṇātīti sakko”

I think here purandara is being used as the adjective for śakra - as adjective(s) normally precede the substantive they seek to describe.

Since there are not regular phonetic/sound shifts that show etymological relations between purandara (Skt) and purindada (Pali), I looked at the kharoṣṭhi script forms - and sure enough they look close (attested shapes in inscriptions show the syllable ‘ra’ being written like ‘da’ by some scribes historically). Thus purandara > purindada is not a dialectal change but an orthographic change.

The first word below is purandara (Sanskrit), the second is purindada (canonical pali).


Even in Latin characters they look nearly identical. The idea that there is influence from manuscripts in Pāli is of course undisputed. The idea that it goes back to the beginning really has no basis as I see it.

Just imagine: the Buddha spoke some MIA language which was compiled and memorized, then passed down for a few centuries. At a certain point, it was written down, and ever since then there have been word forms which seem to be related not to phonological shifts but shifts in the manuscript. In fact, this is one of the arguments Karpik makes in his article contra Levman — the idea of some prakrit lingua franca “behind pali” due to word form variation can often be reduced to the manuscripts and copying mistakes, not phonological change. And he uses this to maintain that something close to Pāli and the Ashokan edicts was spoken and memorized, not that it is merely some orthographic convention when people are perfectly capable of writing proper Sanskrit.


  1. Pali canonical texts have lexical variations for some words - fact
  2. Some of them can be explained by looking at the same words written in Kharoṣṭhi script - this is what I am showing here, here and here apart from the above post. They look similar enough to be misread, and such spelling mistakes have actually happened in historical inscriptions written in Kharoṣṭhi. Even Ashoka mentions the existence of such spelling mistakes in his inscriptions in his Rock Edict 14 (“dipikarasa va aparadhena” i.e. “mistakes committed by the writers”)
  3. Kharoṣṭhi spelling mistakes affecting vocabulary in extant Pali manuscripts cannot have happened anytime in the last 2000 years, it would really have to go back to the very first Pali manuscripts that were ever written - only they could have relied on pre-existing Kharoṣṭhi manuscript sources for their spellings.
  4. So your disagreement is incomprehensible.

There is no need to imagine those things - as they are not an answer to the issue of lexical variations attested in Pali canonical texts. The Pali canon was not written down from any oral tradition but from pre-existing Kharoṣṭhi manuscript sources. The evidences I am presenting explain exactly how the lexical variations in Pali words that I have mentioned would have arisen as a result of confusions arising from using the Kharoṣṭhi texts as canonical sources for the Pali canon.

Such lexical variations or confusions do not exist in Brāhmī script (in which Pali was originally written) - the shapes of letters in Brāhmī are very different from the shapes of letters in Kharoṣṭhi - so your speculation that they arose somehere along the line rather than at the beginning of the manuscript tradition doesn’t appear logical - as Kharoṣṭhi script went out of use around 250 CE (i.e. it was not used thereafter) and orthographic confusions in Brāhmī script (canonical pāli’s earliest native script) from a later date would not explain these specific lexical variants.

Each script has its own peculiarities (Kharoṣṭhī is written from right to left, while Brāhmi is written from left to right) - and mistakes that can happen in one script do not normally happen in other scripts (or in oral traditions), and vice versa. For example, the letter u & v can possibly be confused in the roman script - but in Brāhmī, it would probably never happen - as the shapes 𑀉 (u) & 𑀯𑁆 (v) are entirely different. So similar looking lexical variants in Kharoṣṭhi would not necessarily look similar in Brāhmī - so we can reasonably estimate which script those variants emerged from (and in which century - as shapes of letters in each script evolves across each century of use).

I think you might be overlooking the more specific and older parallel, exemplified by the Greek Antaeus or Norse Baldr, of a character being protected under circumstances that in their initial phrasing seem universal, until their opponent finds the one situation that wasn’t covered by the invulnerability. This fits within your idea of the victory of “brains” but is narrower, seemingly addressing what we today would call “out of the box” thinking.

Also, these stories, being present from end to end of the Indo European cultural sphere, and in the basic mythological strata, likely have a common origin or parallel in Porto-indo-European myth, whereas Odysseus is a literary character who comes from a later strata more in line with the elaborated version of the Ramayana (even if those have no elements of common origin / exchange, both were composed in societies that had reached a different stage of development than PIE nomads, e.g. genuine interstate warfare, and are preserved in the genre of epic poetry).

Yes, that’s true. Perhaps we should see the Trickster archetype as an early or childish manifestation of the wisdom character.

True, although curiously enough there are some details in the Pali canon that rather specifically recall Odysseus.

But it was more about a parallel development.