Etymology of a few words

ken knight hilken_98 at YAHOO.COM
Thu May 23 16:25:08 CDT 2002

--- Vidyasankar <vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM> wrote:
> >I do add however that the tradition is quite Vedic,
> and as an instance, the
> >Gargya Padapatha of Samaveda Samhita splits up even
> words like aham, mam
> >etc.
> No problem with that, but it would be preferable to
> base this kind of
> discussion on specific vyAkaraNa (grammar) and
> nirukta (etymology) texts.

Namaste all on this thread,
Shri Shrinivas has asked me to post the mail that I
had sent him in relation to his query. These are only
my musings but he thinks they may be of wider
Can I re-state that his Nirukta... is quite
clear that we may use individual sounds in our
etymological enquiry but we MUST take note of the
context.   Now that may be a very subtle direction
that he is giving us.  An etymological enquiry is
essentially an individual's practice and that which is
revealed to the individual may not accord with the
needs of another.  This does not negate the value of
his enquiry.
Please understand that the following is only my own
rather limited study one evening but it threw up some
points for study later when some more texts will be

A Few Thoughts on Etymology

Reply to Shrinivas

Firstly, was your query related at all to shloka 32 of
 SaundaryalaharI?  If so there is a section on ShrI
VidyA in an excellent book by Guy Beck called ‘Sonic
Theology, Hinduism and the Sacred Sound.’  Guy is a
musician not a grammarian so his concern is with the
sounding of the mantra. Pages 136-147 are relevant.

I do not know if the following is of any interest but
I have had to use my own library. If it is outside of
your area of interest discard it immediately but there
may be something in it for you.  The following comes
from the books stated at the end of the first parts..


1) This is the mantra of Maha Lakshmi.  Sha is Maha
Lakshmi. Ra means wealth.  I is satisfaction or
contentment. Nada is the manifested Brahman and bindu
means the dispeller of sorrow.  P.76.  ‘Meditation and
Mantras’ by Swami Vishnu Devananda.

2) ‘Sha corresponds to the mahAmAyA according to
Abhinavagupta in (PTV) ParAtri.mshikAvivaraNa KSTS 18.
Cf. TantrAloka (TA) of Abhinavagupta 9.150-152 and
commentary by Jayaratha, ‘The great illusion is the
first appearance of duality, the supreme vision (of
the forthcoming universe) which appears when arises
the first impulse towards external manifestation but
prior to the actual state of differentiation.
Abhinavagupta justifies the existence of the MahAmAya
in the PTV by the hierarchy of knowers, pramAtR^i.  It
is necessary he says, that there be, between mAyA
tattva, the level of the pralayAkalas and shuddhavidyA
tattva, peculiar to the vidyeshvaras, a level for the
vij~nAnAkalas who, while deprived of pure knowledge,
are not, however, trapped in the multiplicity of the
empirical world.’  Quoted from ‘Vac’ by Padoux p.310

‘ra issues out of ri through its conjunction with ‘a’.
 Jayaratha explains that the sound ra flashes forth
instantaneously like lightning, whereas a phoneme has
a certain duration, and he adds that in Shiva there is
no objectivity (whereas it is already there at the
level of the phonemes ra and la). Further, according
to tradition and not only in the Trika, the phoneme
‘ra’ is regarded as the seed of fire agnibIja. So when
the power of will, in its undisturbed form, flashes
forth instantaneously like lightning, the phoneme ri
will arise; and in its undisturbed form, equally
bright but comparatively more stable, rI will arise;
then, when this twofold energy appears as stability or
stillness (sthairaya,nishcalatA), a state belonging to
earth (l^i,l^I) will arise.   Padoux p.255-6

‘I is IshAna, the power of lordship, of mastering or
ruling.  From the standpoint of Shiva’s energies, it
is a more marked form of the power of will.  In the TA
72-73 we read,  ‘When this power of will is disturbed
(praksubhdarUpa), it appears as sovereign. Then arise
the supreme and non-fearsome goddesses, who are guides
on the path of Shiva.’   Here will (stated in the
PTV), in its freedom, begins to wish to perceive what
will appear as power of cognition. It wishes to see
objectivity appear. Sovereignty, or lordship, says
Jayaratha in his commentary, consists in an external
manifestation (yet of course beyond duality) in the
form of Shiva’s countless energies.  These energies
are auspicious and guide the disciple on the path
toward liberation.’  Padoux p.249.

Padoux refers back to an earlier chapter when he
discusses icchA in ShrI VidyA or ShrI Chakra and the
division of the bindu.  If you cannot get this book I
will post his words for you if you are interested but
I will need to scan the pages as it is lengthy.

Bindu. (anusvAra)  Undifferentiated unity of
consciousness, the oneness of Shiva.  Abhinavagupta
writes, ‘Then, at the end of the power of action, all
that was to be done and has been accomplished is about
to enter into the Absolute, but, before doing so, it
all exists as bindu which is essentially knowledge
(vedana) and pure light (prakAshamAtra)’


3)      Moving on to the Ka we move out of the vowels which
are the original cause of all the phonemes we come to
the consonants…they can only be produced through
contact of the tongue in the mouth hence are
transitory, momentary, and have no autonomous
existence. Ka, being ghanatA, is a ‘solidification’ or
hardening of the phoneme ‘a’ or of the Absolute.  This
holds within Itself the five energies of Shiva, cid,
Ananda, icchA,j~nAna and kriyA hence the five
consonants in this set although Abhinavagupta relates
these in TA to anuttara, Ananda, ichhA (disturbed and
undisturbed) and unmesha.

4)      Finally, but of course in the beginning, is the
‘a’. This is the highest and purest form of Shiva’s
energy, cit-shakti, the energy of pure consciousness.
It is the unexcelled, anuttara, the supreme matrix of
sound.  It is fullness, ‘pUrnatA’. Abhinavagupta
writes,  ‘ A is the (totality of the ) limitating
power (kalA), beyond hearing, uncreated, wondering at
its own (essence: that of the ) waveless sea of
consciousness resting in the great light (of the
Absolute).  It spreads from the first to the last
stage (of emanation), being the condition of the
fullness of the supreme I in its total awareness of
the universe (as produced by) the effulgent spreading
out of the Energy.’

5)      Incidentally, did you once ask about the source,
authoritative text, of the tattvas?  Padoux
writes…pages 305ff…. of the emanation of the tattvas
according to Abhinavagupta in the PTV and the third
Ahnika of the TA .  Unfortunately he gives page
references to these works..pp144-47 of the PTV…and I
do not have these texts in my own library. I will find
them somewhere in the coming months.

6)      Finally, finally. If you have a copy of Jaideva
Singh’s translation of the Shiva Sutras you will find
more on the above tattvas from pages 104-122 which
explains the tattvas’ relationship with the letters.
This section is on Sutras II. 7-8 .

While thinking about your query I began to wonder
about the word etymology and its own meaning.  I began
by looking up nirukta and found this verse in the
ChAndogya Upanishad: 8.3.3
‘This Self which is such surely exists in the heart.
Of that this is verily the derivation(nirukta): It is
in the heart; therefore that is called the heart. A
man of such knowledge daily reaches the heavenly world
(svargam lokam).’  Shankara, in his commentary, points
to the derivation of hR^idayam from hR^idi.

This again made me consider how the combination of
letters into words and sentences bind us to the
various levels of manifestation and how important it
is to study what the traditions tell us about the
MatrikA. Many will argue that ‘the whole is greater
than the sum of the parts’ which may lead us to
consider sphotavAda.

I then thought of the word ‘etymology’ and had a look
at its own derivation.  It comes from ‘etymon’ meaning
the true source of a word. It is allied to the Greek
eteos and the Anglo Saxon ‘sooth’ meaning the true or
real. Going further with ‘sooth’, it is the present
participle of the Indogermanic root ‘es’, to be,
(essence for example comes from this). This, of
course, is related to the Sanskrit ‘as’.

>From both these words, nirukta and etymology, I was
left with the idea that somehow they are studies which
can indeed reveal the source, the source of speech.
That of which the Kena Upanishad states:
‘That which is not uttered by speech that by which
speech is revealed, know that alone to be Brahman, not
what people worship as an object.’ I.5

There are many traps on the way for such study but
with the authority of the masters who have left us
such great teaching these traps can be avoided. I
still think that Yaska’s instruction as to context is
very important. Words are limited knowledge, limited
by the powers of the mAtR^ika, the individual sounds
or letters.   Just as the constituent parts of a chair
may be placed side by side on the floor, so may the
letters be separated for study.  They have the
potential to lead us in the right direction. However
it is only when we have the context (function) of
chair in mind that the chair can be constructed
Finally words will fall away from the Self  ‘…..for we
are not aware of any process of instructing about It.”
 Kena Up. 3

Peace and happiness

Ken Knight

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