Critical analysis of Armour-Varma in Rg-Veda, and Kaṇṭaka-kāra in the Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa

Rupa Bhaty
6 min readDec 8, 2022


Sewing of huge armours and hides

Lexicon gives a huge imagery of hides and their tanning processes. Hides were just not tanned but eventually stitching the cut pieces also came in as a technique to survive in the late pleistocene times. There are evidence to needles used by different Homo-species. History of tailoring and the word Tailor is very interesting to read about. Tailoring means “to cut”and equally so is interesting the word “to sew” means “to stitch”. There are taperecordings on sewing huge armour in Rg-Veda.

Sewing of Huge Varman in Rg veda

व्र॒जं कृ॑णुध्वं॒ स हि वो॑ नृ॒पाणो॒ वर्म॑ सीव्यध्वं बहु॒ला पृ॒थूनि॑ — Rig 10.101.008 (वर्म सीव्यध्वम्) वर्माणि-कवचवस्त्राणि रचयत “सीव्यन् रचयन्” [ऋ० २।१७।७ दयानन्दः]

vra॒jaṃ kṛ॑ṇudhvaṃ॒ sa hi vo॑ nṛ॒pāṇo॒ varma॑ sīvyadhvaṃ bahu॒lā pṛ॒thūni॑ — Rig 10.101.008 (varma sīvyadhvam) varmāṇi-kavacavastrāṇi racayata “sīvyan racayan” [ṛ0 2।17।7 dayānandaḥ]

(व्रजम्) हे मनुष्यों ! देश को (कृणुध्वम्) बनाओ-बसाओ-सम्पन्न बनाओ (सः-हि वः) वही तुम्हारा (नृपाणः) मनुष्यों का रक्षक है (बहुला पृथूनि) बहुत महान् विशाल (वर्म सीव्यध्वम्) कवच वस्तुओं को सीवो-तथा प्रकोटे रचो (आयसीः) लोहमय दृढ़ (अधृष्टाः) अबाध्य (पुरः) नगरों को (कृणुध्वम्) करो (वः) तुम्हारा (चमसः) भोजनागार तथा अन्नभण्डार (मा सुस्रोत्) कभी स्रवित न हो-रिक्त न हो (तं दृंहत) उसे दृढ़ करो ॥८॥

The above mantra says to sew huge armours to safeguard the barriered enclosures. The barriers were made of Ayas (probably iron-ore mud, cf ayomandita mountains of Ramayana) beyond the sewen armours made for the protected enclosure to strengthen the enclosure more, so as to safeguard the kitchen food chambers and food stores to never get emptied.

But do you know that there were community of sewing during late vedic times

कण्टकीकारी; Kaṇṭakī-kārī, ‘worker in thorns,’ is mentioned as one of the victims at the human sacrifice (Puruṣamedha) in the Vājasaneyi Saṃhitā,xxx. 8. Note that Vājasaneyi Saṃhitā belongs to Shukla Yajurveda. The name Vājasaneyi is derived from Vājasaneya, the patronymic of Yājñavalkya, and the founder of the Vājasaneyi branch. In one of the blogs I have discussed the astronomy from Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniśad where Yājñavalkya utterance of Samvatsara in Aditi was taken as one of the evidence. We had also learnt that Yājñavalkya started the school of Shukla Yajurveda, as he had to give away all the Vedas in an incident and he felt empty handed in Knowledge. Read here.

Back to Kaṇṭakī-kārī, ‘worker in thorns,’ apart from Vājasaneyi the word kaṇṭaka-kāra comes in Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa, iii. 4, 5, 1, too, in masculine form.

shrubbery- Carissa carandas Image source- Alamy

The Sanskrit Kaṇṭaka, (Thorn), is also used for the needle. But in no distant memory we have this retained in our customs, traditions, and culture that we used the thorn for sewing purposes. Though we have retained the memory of śilnoḍā (Bangli term for pestle)- Rg vedic “Upara” stone implement which is still extensively used in marriage rituals of Bengal, etc, or a nāpita ( Sanskrit and Bangla term for a barber ) who would come and cut the nails of the bride, which is performed as a customary ritual. Showing the bridegroom the pole star/point and Sapatarishi together became a ritual in the guise of marriage knot philosophy, yet few things go amiss in huge time-lapse like astronomy behind the ritual. Thus, we can apparently see that Kaṇṭaka, the Thorn may have been used as a needle and this word “Kaṇṭaka” continued for the metal needle as well. Every word has a precursor in the backdrop of the word formation. This is now apparently clear.

Note that Kaṇṭaka, as a word, is still absent in Rg-Veda and as a pure sense it started appearing in Ramayana for pin, etc. (a fish-bone, R. iii, 76, 10 etc).

Now we come to a term kaṇṭaka-kāra from Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa as noted above. Then who were these kaṇṭaka-kāra? How old is this tradition of sewing in India?

We just noted above that the Rg veda is already seeing sewing in 10th Mandala. We have already noted that King Brihadratha of Rg-Veda (in 1st and 10th mandala) and Maitri Upanishad goes back to 34500 BCE. As the huge Varman to be sewed comes in 10th mandala, so the sewing should be atleast that much old. And do you know about the oldest needle found?

According to the Siberian Times, the little needle was likely created by an extinct species of human known as the Denisovans. The needle is made of an unidentified bird bone, measuring just under three inches long, and is thought to date back some 50,000 years.

Below is the image from Medieval James’s blogs. He has described about the thorn being used as needles by the peasant class.

The Thorn Needle used by middle age peasants from the world of Ozark medieval castle

Like today, however, the quality of the tools a person has depends upon how rich he is. In the Middle Ages, the wealthy had metal needles and the peasants had thorn or bone needles. Native Americans used porcupine quills and bone needles. By the time of colonial America, needles were metal and highly valued. — Medieval James

Though we don’t have any evidence of thorn being used as a needle in our tradition even from the medieval period then how to reconcile on when did we start sewing. Archeological proof is absent. But can this absence of evidence ascertain that Indians never used needles? Ironically, the Australian Aboriginals used needles to sew Possum skin cloaks and this can be a very ancient memory of stitching, just like the Scientific America has documented the memory of Sea level rise in the form of folklore by the Australian aboriginals to be 10000 year old. They don’t remember when they crossed over ocean/land to reach Australia but with the help of new sciences we know when the Australia got inhabited over 50,000 years ago and there were multiple migrations since then.

Possum skin cloaks
Kangaroo skin cloaks

The etymological concerns

Lets understand the word Sew and its etymology first. Instantly you may visit and there you will find a long list of influences which culminated in the word “Sew”. There you will find that Sanskrit सीव्यति is mentioned instead of root सिव्. Sew is a direct cognate of sanskrit “siv”. Cf. the root from Dhatupāṭha below in ref. My observation is that many words are direct cognate of roots mentioned in Sanskrit Dhatupāṭha. We just noted above that the Rg-Veda mentions “siv”.

Scientific story telling

Rg-Veda is the oldest extant. Interestingly, Aboriginal society which has preserved memories of Australia’s coastline dating back to 11000–5300 is more scientific than our records of Maitrayāṇi Araṇyaka Upaniśada which states the receding of sea-levels and vernal in Maghā dated 34500 BCE. If ours is an oral tradition then we have received many such stories via Purāṇās as well where the ‘Agastya drinking the ocean’ story is also an oral record of receding of sea-level event. How much more scientific our ancients could had been in recording all the events in a crispier folklore.

Let our stories be heard…they are human evolution histories…

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०४.०००२ (कौमुदीधातुः-११०८); सिव्षिवुँ तन्तुसन्तानेदिवादिः, परस्मैपदी, सकर्मकः, सेट्कर्तरि लट्लकारः (परस्मैपदम्) प्रथमपुरुषः एकवचनम् (to weave, to sew) (सीना, सिलाई करना)



Rupa Bhaty

Architect and Adjunct Assistant Professor at School of Indic studies, Institute of Advanced Sciences, MA, USA