The rasa-yoShaNA

The rasAyana texts developing in the bhairava-srotas of the shaiva-shAsana furnish a remarkable myth about the extraction of mercury in the darada country. One instance of this myth is found in the Anandakanda:
Anandakanda 1.1.53cd-1.1.62ab

prathamArtava susnAtA surUpA shubha-lakShaNA || 53cd
shuddhAmbaradharA mAlyA gandha-liptA subhUShitA |
uttamAshva samArUDhA rati-sa~Nga-vivarjitA || 54

Having bathed after her first menstruation, a good looking maiden with auspicious features, clad in clean garments, wearing garlands, smeared with perfumes, well-adorned and abstaining from sexual activities mounts a good horse.

abhy archya gaNanAthaM cha bhairavaM cha guruM purA |
rasendra-bhairavaM dhyAtvA kUpa-sthaM pAradaM priye || 55

Having first worshipped the lord of the gaNa-s, bhairava and preceptor at the inception one meditates on rasendra-bhairava in the mercury situated in the [mercurial] well

tadAnIm Aharet-tatu kumArI saMjighR^ikShayA |
kUpa madhyAt samutpatya so.anudhAvati tAM prati || 56

At that instance, from the midst of the mercurial well, the Hg seized with the desire to grab the maiden, springs forth and rushes after her.

pashyech-ChIghraM tato gachChet na punaH pR^iShTham IkShayet |
eShA yojana-mAtrA kumArI hayasAdhanA || 57

On seeing the Hg, without looking behind again, quickly the maiden rides away on her horse for the distance of a yojana.

yAvad yojanam Agatya punaH kUpe vishet kShaNAt |
paritaH kR^ita garteShu teShu teShu cha saMsthitam || 58
taM rasendraM shuchir bhUtvA gR^ihNIyAd rasa-deshikaH |

After reaching a yojana (in her pursuit) the Hg rapidly subsides into the mercurial well. While making the return it gets trapped into hollows. Having become pure the rasa-deshika takes possession of that mercury.

gauravAd agni-vadanAt patito daradAhvaye || 59
deshe sa sUto bhUlInaH tantraj~nai rasakovidaH |

The alchemical master by means of tantric insights knows that due its weight the Hg fell from the mouth of fire in the country known as darada and was absorbed by the earth.

nikShipya mR^ittikA yantre pAtanAkhye samAgataH || 60
pArado gR^ihyate devi doSha-hInas sa uchyate |

Having cast that ore (see below) into the retort assembled for distillation, O goddess he obtains the Hg that said to be free from impurities.

evam eva tatra tatra siddha-vidyAdharais sadA || 61
nikShepitaH pAradendro vidyate devi siddhidaH || 62ab

O goddess, verily, wherever the lordly mercury is thus extracted by the siddha-vidyAdhara-s it is known to be the granter of success.

Though wrapped in a mythical form the tale gives an important insight into the geographical source of mercury for the Hindu tAntrika-s. It is well-known that despite the fame of rasAyana in India, mercury is extremely rare and the modern Indian government issued a statement that it possesses no workable mercurial deposits after commissioning an exploration for the same in the 1960-70s. This fact has been exploited by the white sinophilists to claim that rasAyana came to India from the chIna-s. However, we have the evidence of the chIna-s themselves that their daoistic mercurial chemistry was influenced by the bhArata-s. So the big question was where did the Hindus get their mercury from? The above narrative refers to the source of mercury known to the tAntrika-s to be the darada-desha. A similar narrative is also found in the rasendrachUDAmaNI suggesting that it was a persistent theme. Now kalhaNa in describing the conquests of the great kArkoTaka emperor lalitAditya mentions that the darada country lies to the north of the kambhoja-s of the upper Punjab, the Tibetans and tukhAra-s. The descriptions of uttarApatha in the purANa-s also generally match with this location of the darada-s. This is also confirmed by the location the tukhAra-s described by the chIna scholar/spy Xuanzang. This, is consistent with the darada-s lying in what is today Tajikistan. A relatively obscure fact is that Tajikistan contains a rather rich deposit of antimony-mercury (in some cases also with gold) that the Russian geologists had established to be of hydrothermal origin. Several features of the above tAntrika myth might fit such a deposit: Firstly, the wells mentioned in the account could correspond to the hydrothermal springs that are central to the deposition of elemental mercury from such ore accumulations. Secondly, the geothermal conditions could also achieve sufficiently high temperatures for the normally stable cinnabar and metacinnabar (sulfides of mercury) to partially dissociate releasing mercury. Thirdly the hydrothermal conditions also allow two means of mercury transport from greater depth to the surface – namely as dry vapor or as aqueous Hg0. This is transport is what is alluded to as the leaping of the mercury from the well when the maiden rides by. The falling of Hg due to its weight from the mouth of agni is again an allusion to the deposition of liquid elemental mercury following transport from a hydrothermal system.

Finally, what does the horse-riding mercury-magnet-maiden mean? Is it just a myth or a cryptic allusion to an alchemical process we fail to understand?

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