South Asia

Organized Panel Session

1 - The Cipher of the Gene: Narratives of Sex Determination, Winning, and Heredity in Early Sanskrit Medical Literature

Saturday, July 7
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: Willow, First Floor

In this paper, I will present close readings of excerpts from the śārīra-sthānas – the “Chapters on the Body” – found in the two earliest extant medical compendia in Sanskrit, the Caraka-saṃhitā (circa second century C.E.) and the Suśruta-saṃhitā (circa mid-third century C.E.).  Both texts contain passages that appear to exhibit early understandings of “cell division” at the moment of conception, as well as language that seems to suggest sophisticated ideas about “genes” and “chromosomes” (leading several translators to back-read modern scientific notions about genetics into the texts and to produce misleading translations).  We find said “genes” and “chromosomes” intermingled with notions of karma and the passing on of physical and psychological traits from mother to fetus through the membranous relationship of the mother’s body with the world outside her.  Elements in the mother’s environment pass through her, are remade in the womb, and incorporated into the body and personality of the fetus through multiple sets and series of homologies.  In order to square up these very different notions of traits and heredity, I will examine passages on the formation of embryos, the phenomena of twins and multiple births, fetal mortality, and anatomical and sexual non-normativity.  I will argue for a classical theory of heredity not based on perceived “genetic” alterations of substance, but on early Āyurvedic ideals grounded in notions of biomorality.

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1 - The Cipher of the Gene: Narratives of Sex Determination, Winning, and Heredity in Early Sanskrit Medical Literature



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Send Email for The Cipher of the Gene: Narratives of Sex Determination, Winning, and Heredity in Early Sanskrit Medical Literature