The proposition that Sanskrit is the language of gods, a holy tongue, which the Brahmins have inherited directly from gods is a long maintained myth in Hinduism. The synonym of Sanskrit is Deva Bhasha, which means the language of god. This is the language that all the scriptures in Hinduism are written in. Besides this the mantras and prayers to gods are made in Sanskrit only, since that is the only valid language according to the faithful of the religion.
If you delve into the world of Sanskrit vocabulary to see if it is a Deva Bhasha, you can find a large number of words from the Dravidian language, to your surprise. In contrast, Dravidian languages like Tamil are depicted to be that of Mleccha – the evil and dirty – according to puranas.
To prove the point , we can look up some Sanskrit words and trace their origin, etymology. There are three underlying principles to establish that a given word belongs to a particular language, and it is not something that language borrowed from any other language or a different language family.
1. Derivation of meaning – If you can trace the meaning of the word squarely in a given language itself, you can ascertain that it is a natural word of the language. For instance the English word ‘people’ was originated from Latin, the mother language from which English took its origin.
People – Middle English: from Anglo-Norman French poeple, from Latin populus ‘populace’ (Note the point that English is a member of Indo-Aryan language family)
2. Wide use of the word with connected or similar meaning – if you can find the given word taking different forms in that language you can determine that it is a native word to the language. The word people has several associated words both in meaning and sound. People, population, public, popular, republic – you can see that these words are connected in terms of both meaning and resemblance.
3. Varying shades of meaning – if a given word is used for different context with differing shades of meaning it is a clear indication that this word is not a loan word, but a native one. For instance, the word home in English has so many differing contextual usages. This is my home (residence); He is at home in more than three languages (familiar with); He tried to drive home a point (make it clear).
4. Noun only – if the given word is used with only one meaning in that given language and remains mostly a noun, then chances are it is a loan word. Example: The digital avatar. Avatar is a foreign word; it is only used as a noun. Other examples: guru, yoga, kangaroo, igloo and karate. All these words found their way into English from foreign languages, and fairly recently. Even though English is more used to verbification than any other language, a tendency of using nouns as verbs, (I phoned him, she googled down some PDFs) these words are used only as nouns.
Evidence from etymology
Now let us take some words in Sanskrit and try to understand its etymology (etymology is a chronological account of the birth and development of a particular word or element of a word, often delineating its spread from one language to another and its evolving changes in form and meaning).
Neer – the meaning of the word is water. Neeraja (The one who is born of water). Neer has no related word in Sanskirt, it is just an odd expression there. But in Dravidian languages you can find a sensible derivational explanation. Neer in Tamil stands for level, flat, and fill; it has a different meaning too, water. The Dravidian people might have been impressed with the surface of a lake or lagoon which was so perfectly level. So they assigned two meanings to the word neer; water and level. Nirappu in Malayalam and Tamil stands for the meaning flat surface. Nira is to fill, in Tamil; neeru is water in Telugu and Kannada.
Nataraj – (the walking, or dancing god, Lord Shiva) – clearly it is originated from a Dravidian verb, nada – to walk. In Dravidian languages it is used both as a noun and a verb. Nada is to walk, nadanam is dance (n), Nadu is to place or plant. In Sanskrit it is only a noun, no verb form available. Naatak (drama) is another word in Sanskrit that is related to the Dravidian word nadadam, with the same meaning.
Paada (learn, lesson) – In Sanskrit the meaning is to learn (v), or lesson (n). But in Dravidian languages like Tamil, it has multiple meanings and usages – To learn and to sing. Ancient humans had no written text books, they committed everything to memory. To make things easier for remembering, the olden day texts were in poetic form, so that they can ‘sing’ the text, a practise quite good for remembering and reciting. Paadu is one more meaning the word attribues, that is, difficult or strenuous. If you want to sing a song, it is rather a more difficult task than just saying the song-lines. You have to maintain all the rhythms it calls for. So paada is clearly a Dravidian world.
Kala – In Sanskrit it means art (a noun only), in Dravidian it is both a noun and a verb. Kala (to mix), kalam (pot), kalai (moon sign, beauty), kalvi (knowledge) . All these usages are linked to some sort of craft or art. It has a remarkable meaning too in Dravidian languages, kal is stone. You know our ancestors made statues and figurines craving out stones. That was one of the early forms of art.
The last two words – pada and kala have something to do with art and learning. A clear indication that if the Indus Valley Civilization belonged to Dravidians, the people who came after them, Aryans learned art and literacy from the pioneers.
Meen – Though matsya is the commonly used word for fish, this word is frequently used in Sanskrit. But it came from Dravidian. There meen is fish as a noun, min is to shine, glitter as a verb. You may have noticed that when a fish splashes out of water its shiny body is very attractive with the sheen of the smooth skin it has. It just glitters, doesn’t it? So, ancient Dravidian people used the word meen interchangeably to suggest shining object and the fish. Meenakshi is a Hindu goddess with wide beautiful eyes, just like the wide eyes of a fish.
Pura – Pura, or puri in Sanskrit means a city or town. Hastinapuri, the city of pandava. The word pura is the oldest Sanskrit language word for “city”, finds frequent mention in the Rigveda, one of the four canonical sacred texts of Hinduism. However, in later Vedic literature it also means “fortress” or “rampart”. Pur is a place-name element found in the names of cities in the Indian subcontinent and even beyond, especially in India, Bangladesh and the eastern regions of Pakistan. Examples include Jaipur, Nagpur (cities), Singapore (country), Manipur (province).
Now let us think about the origin of the world. As you can see, in Sanskrit it is a noun only. In Dravidian languages, it has several meaning. Pura (house, thatched house, thatch. Pura also means a surface or top. Puram is skin in some Dravidian languages. Pura is used for denoting a house also. Marappura, mara (to hide ) + pura (house), a private or an out-house for ladies, Purayidom is plot for a house, in Malayalam.
It is important for a house to have a roof, which is the part that gives us shelter from Sun and rain. So when civilisation formed, people built lots of houses with roofs, in a place that was convenient for them, like for fetching water, planting crops etc and this cluster of houses became cities during the course of time.
This also indicates that the people who spoke the Dravidian language settled in the Indus valley first, and the Aryans followed suit much later.
Anu – this word if often paired with para in Sanskrit as in paramanu, meaning very small thing. Paramanu Urja stands for nuclear power in modern Sanskrit-born languages and for Dravidian ones it is just anusakti. Anu is a Dravidian word, meaning very small, very close. Anuku is to come close (verb). Anu, as a noun, is a worm (very small creature), Aaani in Tamil, and in other south Indian languages too, means nail (which is used to fix things together, leaving little space in between). So in Dravidian it denotes very minute things. Anuvida in Malayalam is literally a space for a worm, that is, almost no space (anu + ida = space). ‘He narrated the story without anuvida difference’ (little difference), a popular idiom in Malayalam.
Grammar and syntax are the key thing for languages to have an identity of their own. Linguistic scholars maintain that Sanskrit was influenced by the grammar of Dravidian languages too. They point out some odd grammar rules in Sanskrit which are not usual with other related languages, the Aryan languages. This non-Aryan grammar in Sanskrit can be attributed to the influence of the Dravidan language on Sanskrit on the syntax level.
In addition to the words and syntax, Sanskrit borrowed some sounds as well. The ‘l’ sound in pollution and Kerala. The ‘n’ sound in Naga (snake), are the examples.
So next time you hear someone claim that Sanskrit is a holy language, give them a sarcastic smile and say that Sanskrit is just as impure as any other language on earth is. As we humans live in a world of relentless borrowing and lending, every language has borrowed many things from other languages. All human languages are great in their own terms and uniqueness. God has nothing to do there.
By Kannan Sivaram with Arana Louise
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