Tuesday, August 05, 2008

ETYMOLOGY - From Sanskrit to English

Sanskrit - aham = ah + am. Remove am = ah = I of English

Sanskrit - vayam = vi + am. Remove am = vi = we of English

Sanskrit - tvam = tu + am. Remove am = tu of old English e.g. ye tu Brutus

Sanskrit - yuuyam = yuu + am. Remove am = yuu = you of English

Sanskrit - idam = id + am Remove am = id = it of English

Sanskrit - they = they of English

Saturday, August 02, 2008


Every Hindu knows that Shiva is called Rudra. But very few know the meaning of this word.
Recently I was fortunate to have its meaning quoted from Shivapurana 6-9-14 as given below:

Rur duhkham duhkha hetum va
tad dravayati yah prubhuh
rudra ityucyate tasmat
Sivah paramakaranam.

Meaning - rur is sorrow or the reason for getting sorrow. The lord who destroys that is called
rudrah who is shiva.

Friday, August 01, 2008


Agasthya is the first Aryan sage who crossed over the Vindhya mountain to settle in South India. His original name is kumbha-sambhava or who came out of a pot. He is also said to be of short stature.

According to mythology, the Vindhya mountain used to grow up and up and if allowed to grow up Mount Kailash would lose its importance as the tallest and abode of gods. So Gods selected Agasthya and sent him to subdue Vindhya. Normally those who are experts in climbing are short in stature. For example the sherpas who help those who want to climb Mt. Everest.

When climbing a mountain, it would appear that the mountain is growing up as if to frustrate the climber. After such an experience, Agasthya put his foot down on the mountain and ordered that it should no grow till his return from the south.

Etymologically the word agasthya has come from - agam sthyayathi ithi agasthyah. One who stays the mountain. aga means a mountain. na gacchati iti agah.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Thiruchendur in South India is famous for the temple dedicated to lord Subrahmanya. Very few know the meaning of this word. It has to be split as thiru-sindhu-uur which became Thiruchendur. Thiru stands for Shri. sindhu stands for ocean and uur for place. In Sanskrit sinhu mans ocean. This place stands on the edge of the ocean.

Adi Shankaracharya in his devotional song subrahmanya bhujangam uses the word sindhu-desha meaning lord of Thiruchendur.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


There are various meanings going round for this word. One is ANNA meaning high. But I am giving here the correct meaning.

Thiru is used in all Tamil names meaning Shri. Thiru-aruna-malai became Thiruvannamalai. Aruna means red.which is the colour of the rising sun. malai means mountain. This mountain viewed from a distance looks red. This has been formed by a volcanic eruption.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Thrissur or Trichur is a town in Central Kerala. There is a temple here dedicated to Lord Shiva. Here he is called vadakkunathan. Many give it a wrong meaning as Lord of the North. The correct etymology is this.

Before the namboodiri Brahmins came to Kerala, Jainism was prevalent there. The temple in Trichur was originally dedicated to vrishabha muni one of the first preceptors of Jainism. The mound on which this temple stood is called vrishabhachalam. Vrishabham becomes etavam in Malayalam. So it became etavakkunnu. So the lord became first etavakkunnunathan and then vatakkunathan.

The mango tree originated in the northeastern part of the Himalayas in the India-Burma border. Then it migrated to the plains of North India like Bihar and UP. Later it spread to other parts of India including South India. Vasco de Gama was the first European to see a mango when he landed in Calicut. The local name in Malayalam is MAANGGA. Difficult to pronounce for non-Malayaalees. This became MANGO in English.

But when you scratch open the word MANGO, you will find the history of its migration.

The Sanskrit word for mango is AAMRAM. When it migrated to the Hindi region, it became AAM-PHAL. It migrated to South India in very ancient times. Then Tamil was the local language in the whole of South India. Phal means Kaay in Tamil. So AAM-PHAL became AAM-KAAY in Tamil. Later by a twist of pronunciation AAM-KAAY became MAANG-KAAY. In Malayalam it got shortened as MANGA. The Portuguese adopted this word in their language.

How MANGA in Portuguese became MANGO in English is also interesting. One of the Portuguese who landed in Calicut reported the discovery of the fruit Manga to his English friend in a letter. It was a handwritten letter since there were no typewriters in those days. The Englishman could not correctly decipher the word. Since names of most of the fruits and plants found in the new world end in “o” as in avocado, tomato, potato, tobacco etc. he spelt the word as "mango”.

Now let us describe the journey of this word over thousands of years.

AAMRAM - Sanskrit
AAM-PHAL - Hindi
AAM-KAAY - Tamil 1
MAANG-KAAY - Tamil 2
MANGA - Malayalam
MANGA - Portuguese
MANGO - English

The idea that sometimes the pronunciation of words gets reversed is also an interesting discovery. In 1972 i.e. some 30 years ago, we were staying in a North Indian City. Accustomed to some North Indian habits, my wife was sometimes making CHAPATHIS at home. My very young son at that time used to ask his mother “Give me PACHATHI”.

Ten years later while I was on a morning walk I remembered this episode and the idea that sometimes language undergoes a twist in pronunciation occurred to me leading to my above discovery.

Mr. Khushwant Singh used to write about Mangoes now and then in the weekly Magazine Sunday. When I wrote to him about my discovery, he published the article verbatim.


Mr. Khushwant Singh, in his book, The History of Sikhs, has stated that Moplah is an Anglisized word for mappila in Malayalam, meaning son-in-law. When Arabs came to Malabar as traders, the local communities gave their daughters in marriage to these Arab males, and they called them mappilas meaning sons-in-law. Other authors also have gone astray in assuming the meaning as son-in-law for mappila being the Malayalam equivalent of the Tamil word magal pillai (daughter’s person).

Thurston R (1909) in his book - Castes And Tribes of Southern India- quotes the following authors.

Mr. Logan - Maha pilla was probably a title of honour conferred on the early Mohammedans and possibly the still earlier Christian immigrants, who are also down to the present day called Mappillas.

Col. Henry Yule and A.C. Burnell in Hobson-Jobson say: Moplah - Malayalam, Mappilla. The usual application of this word is to the indigenous Mohammedans of Malabar; but it is also applied to the indigenous (so called) Syrian Christians of Cochin and Travancore. The derivation of the word is very obscure.
Ivor Lewis in "sahibs, nabobs and boxwallahs" says: Moplah, Mappila – 17th century indigenous Muslim inhabitants of Malabar, descended from the Moors and Arab settlers married to Malabar women. Sometimes also applied to Syrian Christians of Cochin and Travancore.
All the above derivations appear to be wrong as explained below.

In Kerala a Muslim is called Mappila, so also is a Christian. When Christianity came to Kerala (1st century A.D.) a family as a whole got converted to Christianity. Hence the meaning “son-in-law” does not fit in this case.

A Christian in Kerala is known as Nazrani Mappila and a Mohammedan as Jonaka Mappila. Nazarani(e) refers to Nazareth, where Jesus was born. Nazrani Mappila means a convert to the religion of Jesus. Jonaka is derived from Yavanaka or Yavana. According to Bhargava’s Standard Illustrated Hindi Dictionary Yavana means a Greek, a European or a Mohammedan. Jonaka Mappila means a convert to Mohammedanism.

I had spent my childhood years (some 75 years ago) in Kalady, Central Kerala, in an enclave inhabited exclusively by Brahmins, near the Shankaracharya Temple established by Sringeri Mutt. Outside the enclave were mostly Christians and a small number of upper caste Hindus, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The Scheduled Castes and Tribes were prohibited from entering the enclave, as they were not only untouchable but were also unapproachable. Some castes among the scheduled tribes known as Parayas and Pulayas used to bring bundles of grass from the nearby fields and forests for selling them to the householders in the enclave for feeding the cows. These castes, being unapproachable, would stop at the boundary of the enclave, place the grass bundles there and depart with the price offered and placed there. The upper caste servants of the Brahmins would bring these bundles to their households. But occasionally, the same Parayas and Pulayas would appear in front of the Brahmin houses with the bundles on their heads. They would also announce in Malayalam “jnangal maargam kooti kazhinju” meaning “We have joined the Maargam” or “We have got converted (to Christianity) and, therefore, are no more unapproachable." They would also announce the change of their names, say from Chathan to Thoma (Thomas) or from Chirutha to Mariam (Mary). Even today “getting converted” is called “maargam kootal” in Malayalam.

Here Maargam is the key word. It refers to the Ashta Marga or the eightfold path of Budhism. Joining the maargam originally meant getting converted to Budhisam. Before Budhism came to South India some 2500 years ago, Saivism was the predominant religion. Its followers were called Saiva Pillais. Saiva Pillai meant a person who followed the Saiva religion. Even today there are several persons in Tamil Nadu and Kerala who call themselves Saiva Pillais or sometimes as Pillais omitting Saiva. When Saiva Pillais got converted to Budhisam they were called Maarga Pillais. Later, Maarga Pillai got shortened as Mappillai and got a general meaning as a "convert". Recent archeological discoveries near Poompuhar in the east coast of Tamil Nadu have thrown up statues of Budha and mud pots with Pali writing, which show that Budhism was well established in South India in ancient times. Mappillai in Tamil became Mappila in Malayalam.