Vedic Etymology (A Critical Evaluation of the Science of Etymology as Found in Vedic Literature)

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Item Code: IDK886
Publisher: Chaukhamba Surbharati Prakashan
Author: Prof. Fatah Singh
Language: English
Edition: 2008
Pages: 235
Other Details 9.5” X 6.5”
Weight 630 gm
Book Description

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Vedic Etymology contains a critical evaluation of all the etymologies found scattered over the vast Vedic Literature. These derivation have often been regarded as nonsense’, having no philological value at all. On critical examination, however, the present work has found them not only to be of utmost philological value but even of great help to the interpretation of Vedic texts. Dr. Fatah Singh (D. Litt, B.H.U. 1944) was born on July 1913 at Bhadeng Kanja, Pilibhit (U.P) India. As a director of Rajasthan Oriental Research Institute Jodhpur, he edited 33 old manuscripts. His 90 original works have so far been published, some of them as series in magazines and others books. Honored by several prestigious National awards, he flashed on the National & International horizon with his in-depth Vedic knowledge. He interpreted 1500 original excavated Indus seals and deciphered the Indus script in 1968 and conclusively proved for the first time that the Indus civilization was a carry over of Vedic Civilization which existed throughout India not Just in the Harrapa & Mohanjodaro of Sindh. Dr. Singh passed away at the age of 95 on Feb 5, 2008 is survived by two sons and two daughter.


The book contains a critical evaluation of all the etymologies found scattered over the vast Vedic Literature. These derivations have often been regarded as ‘nonsense’, having no philological value at all. On critical examination, however, the present work has found them not only to be of utmost philological value but even of great help to the interpretation of Vedic texts.

The Nature of Vedic Etymologles

The derivations of the words given from Samhitas are not many, but they seem to be simple, direct and straight-forward explanations, having no ritualistic colouring. The words derived are either like Nadi and Apah, the names of the objects of the Nature or like ‘Naciketas’ belonging to Mythology or Philosophy.

The germ that is found in the simple beginnings of the Samhitas is seen grown-up to amazing height, all of as udden, in the Brahmanas. There we meet, more or less with a definite method and terminology, sufficiently evolved for the scientific purposes. For example Gopatha Brahmana mentions the words like Dhatu, upasarga Nipat, Pratyaya and the derivations given in Daivata Brahman remind us of Yaska’s Nirukta.

As regards the nature of the words derived, there seems to be a sort of sepecialization among the various Brahmanas. Thus while Rgvedic Brahmanas generally deal with the names of Rsis, goes and the things connected with the Hotr priest, the prose portions of the Taittiriya Samhita and all Yajurveda Brahmanas, with the exception of Satapatha which contains the derivations of secular words as well, give mostly the derivations of the names of the sacrifices, sacrificial implements and other requisites of the sacrificial cult. The names of metres and chants belong almost exclusively to Sama Vade Brahmanas, Jaiminiya and Tandya Mahabrahmana being the foremost of them The derivations occurring in Gopatha Brahmanas of A.V. are nearly all secular words and show a sort of scientific precision that may stand well in comparison with the work of later philologists.

Coming to the derivations of the post-Brahmanic woks the Aranyakas and the Upnisadas concern themselves with the philosophical terms. Even the names o metres, chants and the like do not signify their original sense but occur there in the capacity of some technical word of Philosophy. In this category comes the words like Saman, Rk and Gayatri.

Lastly, the Sutras give the derivations of the words which are mostly ritualistic in character in Fact, Sutras prove more helpful in understanding and explaining the etymologies of the Brahmanas. There is hardly any new etymology given.

The Apparent Absurdity.

At the first sight, many of the etymologies given in the Vedic Literature would appear as absurd but on properly proceeding. They seem to be full of meaning. This absurdity seems to have come in the derivations, because of the introduction of 1 a myth 2. a philosophical idea or 3. a popular belief.

In the case of the derivations of the first and second kind, the comparison of Naigama and Agama thought in the clarified most of the so-called absurdities. The said comparison gave a philosophical background, of these derivations; and analyzed with reference to this philosophy, moist of the mysterious accounts in the derivations became quite significant and logical. For example, the derivation of the word Chandas, from Chad ‘to cover’ involving the myth of Chandas sheltering or covering Indra, becomes quite clear, Indra to be the Spirit clothed in Matter. Similarly the derivations of philosophical terms become quite evident as soon as the system on which they are based becomes intelligible. The word of the third kind are not unknown even in our modern languages. The association of the English word ‘lunantic’ with ‘lune’ may serve as the example to show how popular beliefs are responsible for the formation of several words.

Words, having more than one Derivations.

One great absurdity which may, in a way be taken to be the offshoot of the above three, may be found in the fact that Brahmanas given more than one derivation of the one and the same word. In such cases, the fact is that it is not the one word derived in many ways, but several words of different origin having one and the same form. This may happen in many ways, but the usual way, which makes the derivation appear absurd, seems to be one. An ordinary word meaning some secular object is some-times, chosen to denote some philosophical truth; in doing so, if the original derivation is found unsuited for the purpose, an artificial etymology satisfying the new meaning is invented. For example, the word Saman, originally meaning a chant when used to signify the dichotomy of the Prana and the Vak; the Purusa and the Prakrti, is derived as plus for the original derivation is not sufficient to express this new meaning. But, even this invention is as real as the invention of the word in its original sense, the only difference being that the former might not have been as conscious and deliberate as the latter.

Besides the above feature, the following phenomena have also been found to cause the variety of derivations. 1. Phonetically similar words. Spoken with different senses are, sometimes, grouped under one phonetic unit, and become one word, having various meanings. 2. Epithets denoting different qualities of the same person, god or thing may be, in the beginning, different, though phonetically some what similar. In course of time, they are combined into one word becoming the name of that person, god or thing, and the different meanings of the different constituents are forgotten. A typical example of these two cases may be found in ‘Indra’.

Certain laws of Semantics.

In course of the observations on the Vedic Etymologies several laws of Semantics have been noticed. For fear of making the work voluminous, they may be given here only in brief:-

1. Words associated with concrete physical phenomena tend to abstract themselves from them e.g. Atri, Brahman.

2. Words connected with sacrifice undergo threefold changes Adhidaivika, Adhibhautika, and Adhyatmika.

3. Names of the most of Nature-gods in course of time become absolutely abstract.

4. There also seems to be a reverse order i.e. the change from the abstract to the comparatively concrete e.g. the names of deities like Manauta and Sraddha’.

5. The role of myths, superstitions and religious beliefs in the process of word-formation is also very important, for they are also the outcome of the human reason which is, indeed, responsible for the evolution of languages.

6. Sometimes the moral sense of the word is utterly perverted e.g. ‘Asura’ in India and “Indra’ in Iran, Many a word is what is called a ‘Fossil Poetry’ e.g. Pipilika-Madhya.

7. Laws of association plays a great part in the formation of words and in changing their meanings.

8. Name given to things seem, directly or indirectly, to refer to some characteristic of the things named.

9. There are certain factors that are responsible for the attribution of more than one senses, very often contradictory to each other, to one word.

10. There are some words which may be said to be fossil History e.g. Asura.

11. There seems to be a relation between the mental disposition and the phonetic nature of the word expressing the object with which that disposition is associated.

I am very grateful to the university of Rajputana for the publication grant without which the book could not have been published even now. I am, however, sorry to say that the latter fortion of the book has to be considerably abridged for lack of funds.


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