Historical knowledge

Reading Marks on the Human Body

In Tranquebar as in the rest of India there is a long tradition of reading marks on the human body. Throughout Indian history a whole knowledge system of medicine, physiognomy and divination has been elaborated around this as described in a detailed study carried out by Professor Kenneth Zysk who in relation to this also studied the tradition of Sidda medicine in and around Tranquebar. His two-volume book offers a literary history of the Indian system of knowledge which details divination by means of the marks on the bodies of both men and women.
In the publication we follow the Indian system’s evolution from its roots in ancient Mesopotamian collections of omen on the human body to modern-day practice in Rajasthan in the north and Tamil Nadu in the south. A special feature of the book is Zysk’s edition and translation of the earliest textual collection of the system in the Gargīyajyotiṣa from the 1st century CE. The system of human marks is one of the few Indian textual sources that links ancient India with the antique cultures of Mesopotamia and Greece.
In addition to a historical analysis, the work includes texts and translations of the earliest treatises in Sanskrit. This is followed by a detailed philological analysis of the texts and annotations to the translations.

Zysk, Kenneth (2016): The Indian System of Human Marks (2 vols). Leiden: Brill Publications.

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