महामांस विक्रय (Sale of human flesh) in Sanskrit Literature

In the हर्षचरित of बाणभट्ट, one of most surprising references which one can find is of महामांस विक्रय and its connection with Mahakaal. Had it been an isolated event recorded in Sanskrit literature, it could have been ignored but as S K Dikshit* has shown in his paper, there are other references of the practice available from different authors. The gist of the story mentioned by बाणभट्ट in हर्षचरित is as follows: During the festival of Mahakaal in Ujjain, Kumarasena (son/brother of Pradyota) was killed by a Vetala who was a member of the Taalajangha tribe, when Kumarasena had become too talkative during the bargaining of the sale of human flesh.

The second reference of the sale of human flesh incidentally comes from हर्षचरित itself. In this case, when Prataap-vardhana–the father of Harsha-vardhana was on his deathbed–the princes and chieftians were engaged in the sale of human flesh with the possible objective to save his life. Another reference of महामांस विक्रय as identified by S K Dikshit is from Panchatantra. In the story in which four Brahmin brothers were keen to do anything to get rid of their poverty, they embarked on a journey for reaching Ujjain. In Ujjain, they met an ascetic named Bhairavananda who provided them the option to do many rituals, out of which one was the sale of human flesh.

The next reference identified by Dikshit comes from the Sanskrit play मालतीमाधव written by the great भवभूति. In this one, when the hero of the play Maadhava realized that Maalti had been promised to someone else, he concluded that the only way to get her was to perform the ritual of महामांस विक्रय. Maadhava ended up with performing this ritual in the cemetery where Vetaala and other being were also present. One more reference identified by Dikshit of the practice comes from Sanskrit play प्रबोधचन्द्रोदय written by Krishna Mishra. In this case, a Kaapalika Saadhaka who was the devotee of Mahabhairava had offered human flesh as part of the ritual that he had performed which also involved drinking wine from the skull of a Brahmana.

Looking closely at the above references, we can infer that such practice was probably associated with certain Shaiva/Shaakta saadhaka-s who used to perform such intense rituals including असुर-विवर saadhana mentioned by बाणभट्ट. A thorough study of Tantra texts can throw more light on this practice which was not undertaken by Dikshit in his paper. It should also be noted that by the time of Harsha-vardhana, Ujjain was already established as the city of Mahakaal.

*:Dikshit, S. K. (1947). “MAHĀMĀMSA-VIKRAYA” (THE SALE OF HUMAN FLESH). Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, 10, 102–109.


Published by Satish Verma

Read. Contemplate. Write.

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