Lexical analysis of the word "Brahman"

Charles Wikner WIKNER at NAC.AC.ZA
Thu Mar 23 04:38:39 CST 2000

On Tue, 21 Mar 2000, Vivek Anand Ganesan <v_ganesan at YAHOO.COM> wrote:

> I would like to know how the word "Brahman" is explained.

The appended repost from 05 Feb 1998 should help.

> I am specifically interested in knowing about the meaning
> of the root "Brih".  I have seen two different contexts.
> a) "Brih" = expand, grow.
> b) "Brih" = Great, majestic
> Why is this so?

Both meanings are valid interpretations of the artha v.rddhi
(see below), which is regarded as a rather auspicious word.
Even Panini changed the usual word order so that it became
the first word of his a.s.taadhyaayii (v.rddiraadaic 1.1.1).

Regards, Charles.


In his commentary on Brahma Suutra 1.1.1, "Sankara says:

      ... Brahman does exist as a well-known entity -- eternal, pure,
      intelligent, free by nature, and all-knowing and all-powerful.
      For from the very derivation of the word Brahman, the ideas of
      eternality, purity, etc. become obvious, this being in accord
      with the root b.r.mh.

                     [ p.11-12 of Swami Gambhirananda's translation ]

A footnote to this passage adds:

      The root b.r.mh means growth, and the suffix man, added to it,
      signifies an absence of limitation (in expanse).  So Brahman
      derivatively means that which is absolutely the greatest.
      And eternality etc. follow as a matter of course from this

The U.naadi Suutra-s give the formation of the word Brahman as:

      b.r.mherno'cca | 4 | 145 |

      The suffix man[in] (anuv.rtti from previous suutra) comes after
      the root b.r.mh, the nasal being replaced by an a.

The Dhaatupaa.tha (1.772) gives:

      b.rhi v.rddhau |

And for the artha, Monier-Williams' dictionary (1011a) gives:

      v.rddhi -- growth, increase, augmentation, rise, advancement,
      extension, welfare, prosperity, success, fortune, happiness ...

A practical definition -- if that is the right word :-) -- of Brahman
is given in Mu.n.daka Upani.sad 2.2.11:

 brahmaivedamam.rta.m purastaadbrahma pa"scaadbrahma dak.sinata"scottare.na |
 adha"scordhva.m ca pras.rta.m brahmaiveda.m vi"svamida.m vari.s.tham ||

      All this that is in front is but Brahman, the immortal.
      Brahman is on the right, as well as on the left;
      Above and below too, is extended Brahman alone.
      This world is nothing but Brahman, the highest.

                              [ Swami Gambhirananda's translation ]

A similar description (?) is given in Chaandogya Upani.sad 7.25.1.


bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam

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