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The Tantric Period

(From 1000 A. D. to circa 1300 A.D.)


Chemistry In Rasarnava

[In Rasārnava, as in all other Tantras, knowledge is imparted in the shape of a dialogue between Bhairava (Siva) and his consort Pārvatí.]

Extracts from Book IV—On Apparatus and the colour of Flames

Sri Bhairava said:

"The rasas, the uparasas (see p. 79), the metals, a piece of cloth, vidam (see p. 72), a pair of bellows, iron implements, stone pestles and mortars, the apparatus known as Koshtī (see p. 69), mouth blow pipe * * cow-dung, substantial wood (as fuel), various kinds of earthen apparatus (e. g. crucibles &c.), a pair of tongs and earthen and iron vessels, weights and balances, bamboo and iron pipes, the fats, the acids, the salts and the alkalies, the poisons—all those are to be collected and chemical operations begun."

Dola Yantram

As r. r. s.[1] borrows the description of this apparatus verbatim, it is unnecessary to repeat it here.[2]

An Apparatus for Killing Metals

"Make two iron crucibles each 12 digits in length, the one with a narrow, orifice containing sulphur is inserted into the other holding mercury; below the mercury is placed water [in a separate vessel]. The mercury and the sulphur should be carefully moistened in garlic juice, which has been filtered through a cloth. The apparatus is now lodged in an earthen pot and another placed over it, the rims being luted with cloth previously smeared with earth * * now cow-dung fire is urged. After continuing heating for three days the apparatus is taken out." [This description, in almost identical recension, occurs in r. r. s. under the name of जारणायन्त्रम्. The language is faulty and the meaning not very clear.]

Garbha Yantram

"I shall now describe the Garbha Yantram for reducing pistikā[3] to ashes. Make a crucible 4 digits in length, and 3 digits in width, with its mouth rounded. Take 20 parts of salt and one of bdellium and pound them finely, adding water frequently; rub the crucible with this mixture. * * Make a fire of paddy husks and apply gentle heat. In the course of one to three days the mercury is reduced to ashes." [Vide Illustrations.]

Efficacy of the Apparatus

"For killing and colouring mercury, an apparatus is indeed a power. Without the use of herbs and drugs, mercury can be killed with the aid of an apparatus alone; hence an expert must not disparage the efficacy of the apparatus."

Hamsapāka Yantram

"Take an earthen dish and fill it with sand and place another over it; apply gentle heat. Now digest in this apparatus [the ingredients] with the five alkalies (cf. pp. 45 and 69), the urines (see p. 30), and the "vida" (see p. 72). This is known as Hamsapāka Yantram by the adepts."[4]


"Earth of black red, yellow and white colour * * burnt husks of paddy, soot, earth from the ant-hill, well burnt excrements of the goat and the horse * * rust of iron" * * [varying proportions of the above ingredients are used for making crucibles, retorts, &c.]

"There are two kinds of crucibles, viz., open and covered (lit. blind) * * * the covered one resembles the nipple of a cow and is fitted with a lid, which has a raised head.

"For the purification of silver, the crucible is best made of two parts of the ashes of schrebera swietenoides, and one part each of brick dust and earth."[5]

Colour of Flames

"Copper yields a blue flame.........that of the tin is pigeon-coloured; that of the lead is pale-tinted[6]......that of the iron is tawny; ...that of the "peacock" ore (sasyaka) is red."[7]

Test of a pure Metal

"A pure metal is that which, when melted in a crucible, does not give off sparks nor bubbles, nor spurts, nor emits any sound, nor shows any lines on the surface, but is tranquil like a gem.[8]

Koshtī Apparatus

"For extracting the essence of metals a koshtī apparatus [Vide Illustrations] is preferred, which is 16 digits in width and 2 cubits in length."

Colophon to Chapter IV.

"Here ends Chapter fourth of Rasārnava, which treats of apparatus, crucibles and the colour of flames."

The Alkalies

"The three alkalies are the borax, trona (natron) and Yavakshāra (carbonate of potash). The ashes of sesamum, achyranthes aspera, musa sapientum., butea frondosa, moringa pterygosperma, mochika, (schrebera swietenioides), raphanus sativus, zingiber officinale, tamarindus indicus and ficus relig., respectively are regarded as the standard plant ashes (वृक्षक्षाराः)। VII. 12-13

The Maharasas

"Bhairava said:—"mākshika, vimala, silā, chapala, rasaka, sasyaka, darada (p. 78) and srotonjana,—these are the eight mahārasas." [Vide p. 79 and "Explanatory Notes on Minerals."] VII. 2-3

Copper from the pyrities.

"Mākshika, repeatedly soaked in honey, oil of ricinus communis, urine of the cow, clarified butter and the extract of the bulbous root of musa sapientum, and heated in a crucible, yields an essence in the shape of copper." VII. 12-13

"Vimala, digested with alum, green vitriol, borax and the watery liquid expressed from moringa pter., musa s., and finally roasted in a covered crucible in combination with the ashes of schrebera swiet, yields an essence in the shape of chandrārka[9] (lit. copper of gold-like lustre.)"

Chapala: [See under r. r. s. Bk. ii.] VII. 20-21

Brass from Calamine and Copper Mistaken for Gold.

"Rasaka: There are three, kinds of it; namely of yellow colour, of the appearance of treacle, and of the colour of stones. What wonder is it that Rasaka mixed with [certain organic matters] and roasted three times with copper converts the latter into gold?" VII. 31-34

Extraction of Zinc from Calamine.

Rasaka, mixed with wool, lac, T. chebula and borax and roasted in a covered crucible, yields an essence of the appearance of tin: of this there is no doubt." VII. 37-38

Sasyaka. VII. 41-44

[These couplets have been borrowed word for word by r. r. s. Vide Bk. ii; hence repetition is unnecessary.]


Saurāshtri, alum, distillation of: (See under r. r. s., which has also borrowed this description verbatim.) VII. 73-74

The Metals.

"O goddess! listen now to what I say about the metals.

'Gold, silver, copper, iron, tin and lead' these are the six metals and their resistance to waste [i. e. rusting] is in the order in which they have been mentioned." VII. 89-90

The Killing of Metals—"Vida."

"Hear attentively as I shall now speak of the killing of metals.

"There is no such elephant of a metal which cannot be killed by the lion of a sulphur." VII. 138-148

Bhairava said: "Kāsisa[10], rock-salt, the pyrites, sauvira[11], the aggregate of the three spices[12], sulphur, saltpetre, the juice expressed from mālati[13]—all these moistened with the juice of the root of moringa pter., makes a vida, which would kill all [the metals]." IX. 2-3

"Sulphur, orpiment, sea-salt, salt, sal-ammoniac, borax—these digested with the ashes and the urines, give rise to another kind of vida." * * * * * * Having thus collected the ingredients, O goddess! begin the chemical operations. I have told you all, what more do you want to hear?" IX. 4-20

Purification of Quicksilver.

"Quicksilver rubbed with the juice of the aforesaid plants (vide original text) and distilled seven times, becomes pure."

"Quicksilver, made into a paste by being rubbed with copper and subjected to distillation, leaves behind tin and lead [with which they are often adulterated] and becomes pure." X. 55-56

Killing of Mercury.

"Green-vitriol, alum, salt, borax, mixed with the aforesaid vegetable drugs, (vide original text), kill mercury in an instant [in the shape of calomel."] XI. 24

Killing of Gold.

"Salt-petre, green vitriol, sea-salt, rock-salt, mustard, borax, salammoniac, camphor, the pyrites—all these are to be taken in equal parts. The crucible is to be smeared with the milky juice of euphorbia neriifolia and asclepias gigantea; then, having added the powder of the aforesaid "vida," the gold is to be killed, my beloved!" XI. 83-84

Tests for Killed Mercury

"When the mercury assumes divers colours after having given up its fluidity, it is known as swooned; killed mercury is that which does not show signs of fluidity, mobility and lustre." XI. 197-198

Colouring of Metals

"Iron, lead, and copper are coloured by means of calamine—the whole turns into gold." (Cf. VII. 31-34.) XII. 50

"Mercury is composed of the five elements and represents Siva himself." II. 78

"Take one pala of the ash of mercury and rub it with the same weight of sulphur and roast the mixture in a covered crucible: thus we get vermilion of the colour of the rising sun." XVI. 81

"Take the vitriol which is of the colour of the throat of the peacock, saffron, calamine, as also the excrement of a young calf, the poisons, powdered plumbago zeylanica, all in equal proportions, rub them with the acids and dry in the shade. Having added honey to the above mixture, smear it on a thin sheet of lead. When roasted in a covered crucible, the lead is coloured in no time; the lead which is now of beautiful colour is fit for bedecking the persons of the gods."[14] XVIII. 70-74



  1. R. R. S. is the abbreviation for "Rasaratnasamuchchaya."
  2. See Book ix. of R. R. S.
  3. A cake of mercury and sulphur.
  4. r. r. s. has borrowed the descriptions of Garbha Yantram and Hamsapáka Yantram.
  5. The porous crucible is of the nature of a "cupel".
  6. Cf. "Lead compounds impart a pale tint to the non-luminous gas flame." (Roscoe and Schorlemmer.)
  7. The reading in the Mss. seems to be defective.
  8. Or in modern phraseology shows "signs of tranquil fusion."
  9. r. r. s. has borrowed this description and added some more characteristics of the mineral, from which it would appear that "Vimala" is also a variety of pyrites. [Vide r. r. s. Bk. ii.]
  10. Green vitriol.
  11. Stibnite.
  12. namely, black pepper, long pepper and dry ginger.
  13. Echites caryophyllata, Rox.
  14. Refers probably to the "gold-like alloy used by watch-makers" into the composition o which copper, zinc and lead enter. See Roscoe and Schor., II. p. 4.94, ed. 1897.