April 06, 2012


ba men:

The literal meaning of ba men “mithun/mithan/mytton” (Bos frontalis) is said to be “non-cow” (i.e. from ba min). See Aris 1995 [’Jigs-gling’s Discourse]: 67, n. 23. But how sure is it?

See Negi (s.v. ba men), where both gavaya and kapiñjala (MW, s.vv.) have been rendered into Tibetan as ba men. But note that kapiñjala is a bird and not a mithun.

I think we should consider ba men in the sense of “non-cow,” or perhaps even better “not-quite-a-cow” or “quasi-cow.” See the line (cited in Negi): ba lang dang ’dra ba’i phyir ’di ni ba men yin no zhes…. I have, however, not looked at the original context of this statement.

See also Zhwa-sgab-pa, Srid don rgyal rabs (vol. 1, p. 43, n. 48).   


  1. Dear D,

    I was imagining the men element to be a reduction of rmen, as in rmen-bu, which means what? Goldstein tells me it's a scrofulous swelling. Thanks G. What's that? I found this:

    "A scrofulous swelling refers to chronic enlargement and cheesy degeneration of the lymphatic glands, particularly those of the neck, and marked by a tendency..."

    I'm hoping with all my heart that these poor creatures don't suffer from any cheesy degenerations, particularly not on the neck!


  2. Dear D & D,
    According to the Tibetan-English Dictionary of Tibetan Medicine and Astrology (Drungtso, 2005) rmen-bu would seem to be a term for lymph nodes (sometimes also called "glands") - and correspond to the sanskrit granthi - which in itself may be interesting if we start to think about the etymological dimensions of nodes, nets and knots. The same source gives rmen-bu'i rnam-bzhag as "the endocrine system".

    On the other hand, as rmen-ngan is understood to be an archaic expression for ltas-ngan, i.e. “bad omen”, might this actually tell us more about the true sense of the word?

    And what about phra-men then? And the ke’u-ri-ma or ga’u-ri (etc.)?

    If “men” here, indeed, does represent rmen.


  3. Dear T-T,

    It will indeed be interesting to find out the etymology of phra men (or phra men ma), particularly what men here could mean.



  4. Dear D-D and T-T,

    Is it possible there's some precedent or 'rule' for reducing ma-yin to men rather than min? If so it would make D's original theory all the more attractive. Ba-men would be like lha-ma-yin. Just as the asuras (lha-ma-yin) are non-gods (a-suras) the bamen would be non-cows. Perhaps cow-men (wait, I'm mixing up my languages again).

    You have an odd word tur-men that is supposed to mean single-file.

    There's mu-men, that might be a type of horse.

    Actually, I see now from my own vocabulary that Leonard v.d.Kuijp has recorded (from a glossary of Khedrupjé) this: •MEN PA = min pa. "is not." Kuijp (1986) 35.

    Do we conclude something?


  5. Dear D & D,

    Ba-men, in the Bod rgya tshig mdzod chen mo, is explained to be a ri-dwags - while a "mithun" (often) is understood to be a g.yung dwags. Right? I don't know how clear this is. At this point I would like to find out if there could be some kind of meaningful similarity (or difference) between (*)men and nor. Jäschke f.ex. gives "an ornament, piece of finery" for men. Then we have the khra-men and mu-men etc. On the other hand, in Sanskrit we have the expression go-mRga, which is interesting, too.


  6. Dear T-T,

    Apologies for the late response. As far as I know, ba men has to be hunted down and domesticated. An extremely difficult process! Dogs are supposed to chase them to exhaustion. This is perhaps one of the reasons why a ba men is extremely expensive. And for the rest, I have no comments at the moment.



  7. Dear Dorji,
    Good to see you back!

    Yes, actually I was thinking a bit along these lines.

    At least as gayal - gaya (Skt.) the mithun -dwags seems to convey a sense of property and wealth. Similar to nor - more or less?

    Looking for some possible precedents or ’rules’ - or at least some likenesses (~ ’dra ba) - my thoughts (~ dran pa) have been wandering this way:

    rme ba (rnying) 1) 'dri ba dang, smra ba,...2) bsri ba,...

    ‘dri ba - drin / (smra ba - ??) / (b)sri ba - rin / rme ba - men,…

    Too near-fetched?

    Yours unruly,

  8. Dear T-T,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the ba men etymology. I am still trying to reflect on them.