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Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute

Review
Reviewed Work(s): UNDERSTANDING GVEDA: Bhandarkar Oriental Series No. 20 by D. V.
Chauhan and R. N. Dandekar
Review by: Nilmadhav Sen
Source: Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Vol. 66, No. 1/4 (1985), pp.
340-348
Published by: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41693650
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34 nnas RI, LkV ( 985 )


UNDERSTANDING RGVEDA : by D. V. Chauhan, Bhanarkar Ori.
entai Series No. 20, Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Poona,

1985, pp. xii + 358 with a Foreword by Dr. R; N. Dandekar, 3


Maps, one halftone plate, a few sketches, 5 Indices and Errata.
Price not mentioned.

It is most embarrassing for a mere academician by profession to


review a book - a collection of essays - by one who combines in a single
person the various roles of a freedom-fighter, politician, minister, member
of a Public Service Commission, social-worker and, towards the latter part

of his career, an amateur aademician ( Indologist ), and for whom the


present reviewer has great respect as a man but differs radically from his

approach to Indological ( Vedic ) studies and philological ( linguistic )


exercises.

As already hinted, the book under review contains 20 essays written


during the last 10 years or so, some of which have been published in various
Indological Journals.

Most of the articles deal with two main inter-related problems :


identifications of several geographical names mentioned in the Rgveda and
re-interpretation and new etymology of a few Rgvedic, Indo-Aryan and
non-Indo-Aryan words.

The author accepts in toto Dr. R. N. Dandekar's view that the FtV
was "originally born in the Balkh region [ of Afghanistan ] between 2400
and 2000 B. C. " ( p. 240 ). Whatever region might have been the Urheimat
f the Indo-Europeans and whichever route the Indo-Iranians might have
followed in course of their eastward journey, there cannot be the least doubt
that the Indo-Aryans had to pass through Afghanistan before they could
enter ( the ) India ( n subcontinent ). And the theory that the RV was composed outside India ( in Afghanistan and even in Iran ) is not entirely new.
Long ago Brunnhofer, Hertel and some others advocated such a view.
Several Rgvedic rivers ( e. g. Kubh, Kramu, GomatI, etc. ) have conclusively been identified with those in Afghanistan. Sri Chauhan now holds the
view that all the other geographical names ( rivers, mountains, settlements
etc. ) mentioned in the RV are to be traced in Afghanistan ( mostly in Balkh

and Pamir regions ). With great patience and diligence he has collected a
plethora of topographical data, often more than what is necessary, about the
Balkh-, Pamir- and neighbouring regions from authoritative sources, and
fully deserves our sincere thanks for this onerous task. With the assumption

that the entire RV was composed in Balkh he identifies Dfsadvatl with

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Reviews

34

-Adraskn/Adraskand ( the name o


the Helmand basin ), TrnSa with
of Yska ) with Alingar ( a tributa

in the 1st essay), Parusni with P


He also takes Jahnvi ( RV. 1. 11

views of all other ancient and mod


" Jahnu's family or descendants or
and identifies it with Jaihun. Am
may mention Sman ( FtV. 3. 30.

level ground, desert ' ), Plaksa wit


a north-flowing river in the north

the Bhrgus with the Baluchis ( Ba


of Pmir from prstha ' snow-capp

In support of his identification


the impression one gets from his t

Aryans lived on high mountain re


only, concern in life was with sno
nothing

but snow all around them,


snow and they immortalized snow
thesis he has had recourse to Histo

in his own way. As Sri Chauhan is


be elsewhere also ) to treat etymo
children's toy which can be ( mis
one likes, I intend to put forward
in this review. ( It is
them ; that will need

not possible
another mon

The extent of Sri Chauhan's sys


Linguistics ( in spite of his wi
facts : ( a ) barring one or two pla
for

tary
41,

linguistic

51,

that

56,

"Vowel

Avestan

as

84,

is

Grimm

studies

in

did

'phoneme'

126,

change

an

the

term

107,

is

aspirate

more

West;

137,
(

immate
p.

than

but

150,

25;

in

160

what

is

ye

pa

present period ) ; ( d ) -vi in man


( < *dasru ), " the initial d has ch
wonder that although in what now
the author correctly remarked tha
Vedic texts ... neither the conclus

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342 Annals BOR, LXVI ( 1963 )

study of the religions and human cultures nor the results of that bran

Linguistics which deals with the meanings of words " ( p. 101 ), his

treatment of the subject is exactly in the reverse. He has not only throw

the winds whatever has been achieved in the principles and methodolog
Historical Linguistics, particularly the ' Regularity Hypothesis ' of soun
change, but has surpassed even the earliest etymologists in fanciful ety
logies. In his treatment of the subject any phoneme ( I am using this t
in its correct sense ) can undergo any change in the same environment
the same language in the same period of its historical evolution; and
sound-change found in any language is sufficient for him to postu

similar change in any other language, however remote it may be in tim


space and origin !! Comparisons of Sanskrit with the other sister IE lan
ges for the phonetic shapes or changes and semantic contents of the voc
under study have hardly, if ever, been done.

In his etymologies, what he terms as the IE verbal root akw- (pfo

bably carved out of the IE root noun stem akwa, more correctly e

' water ' ) and to which he assigns the meaning ' to Sow ' ( and to a less
extent also the Skt. root skr- and the IE root lei- ) is a veritable Kmadh
or even Brahman for Sri Chauhan ( after all the universe has evolved f

one Brahman without a second ). With his unbridled imagination and f


he has derived not only scores of nouns with all sorts of conceivable an
unconceivable phonetic shapes, but also a few verbal roots from this si

source. Some such nominal derivatives and ' new ' roots or verbs ( almo
all nouns meaning ' snow / snowcapped mountains ' and also at the
time ' water ' and the verbs meaning * to flow ' ) derived from this " pr

root akw- " ( p. 259 ) are : amu, aka, akavat, Ska, ka, amrta ( analysed
am-rta and derived from the roots akw + r : p. 162), av- ( in Avanti ),
as, un, x, the rivers Kbul-Gavarig (p. 234), gh-, gabr, gabar, gr-,

gul ( in the geographical name Bashgul ), nand-, badhna, bha in bh


bh-, mn-, vajra (va < kwa < akw- : p. 224 ), vat-sa, Sipra, ivi-, hf
number of Baluch words including those meaning ' wind, a calf, a l
sister, a young one of a camel' (pp. 239-240), the place name Quetta

243), the English word gulf' (p. 283 ), in a word the whole universe, i
the word viva itself (p. 129 ); even the Latin word caput ' head ' is from

IE root akw- ' to flow ' ( p. 232 ). The author gives a list of the " extensio

of the IE root akw- on pp. 205-209.

Apart from the list given above, some other " phonemes " ( s
which according to the author mean ' snow / snow-covered mount

sometimes also ' water ' and are derived from roots meaning ' to flow ' a

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Reviews
fta

lier

hence

'

snow

ftvn

',

later

343

'

snow-cove
clarified

4ugh, svar ( derived


svar ), etc.

from

sr

not

As ' snow ' is one of the cen


problem in some details. Sri

from
chief
any

IE

roots

akw-

distinguishing

language

meaning

'

to

in

the

flow

languages derive
a root meaning '

snow

).

lei-

world

der

'

my

To

words for ' s


to snow, form

cold, winter ', and


snow : snow falls,

and

character

And,

( iii ) from
but dees n

no

language

word (or words) for both ' sn


have a distinct word for sno
word

ting
few

for

'

water

snow

languages

but

no

'

ice

modified

'

etc.

or

belonging

words

from

by

have

to

the

IE

dif

la

CHINESE : hseh8 ( snow


shui3 ( water ). ( Su
tones. )

TIBETAN: kang (snow), khyak-pa (ice, frost), but chhu


( water : cognate of the Chinese word for ' water ' ).

THAI : lma ( snow : Iw from Skt. ), n:m khung ( ice : lit.


' hard water * ), n:m kh:ng ( mist, dew: lit.
' suspended water ' ), na:m ( water ) ( / : / for vowel
length ).

JAPANESE : yuki ( snow ), kri ( ice ), shim ( frost ), but mizd


( water ).

SANTALI : rtng ( snow ), borop ( ice : Iw ), but da' ( water ).

FINNISH : lumi, lumentulo ( snow ), j ( ice ), pakkanen,


halla, routa (frost), but vesi, vesisto, vedet
( water ).

TURKISH: kar (snow), buz (ice), ayaz (frost), but su


(wetter).

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344 Annals BORI, LXVI ( 1983 )

TAMIL : pani ( dew, mist : not to be confused w


pni ' water '), pa/ii-k-katti ( snow / ice : lit. '
solid ' ), but nr ( water ).

TELUGU : macu ( dew, mist, also snow / ice ), niru (

KANNADA : hima ( snow : Iw ), maju ( dew, mist


( water ).

YORUBA : iri / jo didi ( snow : lit. ' dew / rain frozen * ), omi
didi ( ice : lit. ' water frozen ' ), omi ( water ).

GALLA ( of Abyssinia and bordering area ): chabbi ( snow ), bishao,


mada ( water ).

WAPPO ( Red Indian of U S A ) : Phil ( snow ), c'ni ( frost / ice ),


c'he ( dew ), my ( water )' indicates glottalization of c ).

ZUNI ( Red Indian of U S A ) : x / u-pinna ( snow ), lhe-m-k / a-ya


( ice : Lit. ' frozen water ' ), k / a ( water ).

MALAYAN : thalji ( snow : lw from Arabic ), ayer beku / batu


( ice : lit. ' frozen water ' ), ayer ( water ).

Nicoberese has no word for snow / ice.

The data presented above speak for themselves, and I hope no further

examples are necessary. This semantic feature may indeed be regarded as


one of the linguistic universais.

Besides, if the Vedic Aryans were so much concerned about snow,


how is it that the reflex of the commonest IE word for snow ' has never
this meaning in Sanskrit ( indeed the word never occurs in the SamhitSs at
all ! ), although this meaniug is found in Avestan (as a verb ) and must have
once existed in some ( non-Vedic ) Old Indo- Aryan dialect ( as evidences from
Prakrits show ) and the root itself underwent a semantic change in Sanskrit,
including Vedic ( rarely occurring in early Vedic ) ? Sri Chauhan will have to
meet these problems for his meaning snow / snowcapped mountains ' as
well as water ' for so many Skt. words, all, according to him, derived from
roots meaning ' to flow ', especially when their cognates, whenever available,
in other IE languages have neither of these meanings ( except^ Lat. aqua and

its cognates meaning 'water' and in some languages ' river, stream *, etc.
but never * snow/ice ' or even ' dew, mist, frost ' ).

Now about Sri Chauhan's etymology of some of these and other


words.

The validity or otherwise of his reconstructing an IE root ak~ * to


flow ' to expiain Lat. aqua and its cognates and so many Skt. words listed

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above

need

not

345

detain

us

here

at all, it should be ). We are


For explaining the Skt. words
vowel a of akwrent consonants
he

maintains

ete.;
ivi

-;

that

becomes
and

is lost, which
in these words

are

is

lost,

is

lost,

lost

in

becomes

209 for details ). He does not k


in ( his root ) ak w- is not an i
indicate the labial ity of the ve
heme of a different shape migh
the only vowel and the only co

is

big

zero

And

IE

phonem

daughter language ( except the


Sri Cbauhan has also derived th

Ural and Mt. Ararat from r- (


can more easily " derive " Aral
the lake abounds in aquatic bir
altae ( pl. ) high * ( as the Mt.
Now

few

of

his

other

etym

an IE root lei- without realizin


will be *r/ / //, but not r / /
ction may not matter much, b

logy. In an otherwise better w


derives jahnu ( the source word
(

"

The

ture.

root

The

flowing."
later

and

vocable
Skt.

snu

(pp.

in

to

ooze

<

is

of

'

is

How

essay

derived

Jahnvi

has

hnu

174-175).

another

jahnu

snu-

desiderative

Th

from

being

the

( p. 199 ). But this does not im


not know that # sn- ( of IE an
phonetic environments, remai

can't be any hnu- in Avestan


Chauhan's etymology, interp
Jahnvi

vanishes

descendant

ture

44

for

into

or

denoting

Annals

the

wife
the

BORI

thin

of

air

Jahn

personified

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346 Armais BORI, LXVI ( 1985 >

In a neat, but entirely wrong, genealogical tree ( p. 58 ) Sri Cbauhn


derives the Skt. roots o- and tij- from ksnu- and ati-ksnu- respectively.
Apart from the fact that ati-ksnu- does not occur in Skt., he again fails t

realize that while the Skt. root tij - is almost primary, being extended by

single determinative cosonant ( IE ( s )tey + g ), the structure being (C


VC + C > C C C [ C V C ], the Skt. root kfnu- is a Z-Z-grade extensio

of the primary IE root kes- ( = Skt., as - ) with the nasal infix and th
4 full grade ' determinative, the structure being CVC + n + VC > CCn

[ CCnV ]. It seems that metanalysis of tlk'Sna as ti-ksna is responsible for


the funny etymology of Sri Chauhan.

The proper name Kikkuli of the Hittite records is derived by him

from the intensive of the Skt. root skr- ( p. 287 ); but in that case the form

would be *Ciskrti and not *Kskti, as he thinks. Similarly, Kaska wou


have been *Caska.

A few more words derived by him from the Skt. root skr are : gram

(p. 119 ), ni- ska ( r is dropped, p. 185 ), nagara ( <.niska, p. 187 ), the Pahlav

word ksken ( " repetative ( sic. ) of the stem skr " : p. 187 ), nahusajnaghu

and so many other Indo-Aryan and non-Indo-Aryan words ( pp. 188-189 ).


Is any comment necessary?
Sri Chauhan also derives both sin vali and gurig ( RV. 2. 32. 8; 10.

48.8) from the root knu-' to flow' and according to him they are tw

rivers. He further remarks that this gug " appears as gagyah in RV 6. 4

9 and ganga only once in RV. 10. 75. 5 " ( p. 36 ). In sin vli, sin is derive
from knu- and -val " is cognate of Rgvedic suffix -tvana " ( loc. cit. )
refrain from commenting. As for the derivation of gug, he remarks " Th

river name gugu ( sic ) has developed from the root knu in its repetitiv
form " ( loc. cit. ). Now, how has the voiceless k- become voiced in repeti
tion ? Can he cite a single parallel ? That the IE root meaning ' to drink '
has become pib- in Skt. and bib- in Latin is due to two different phoneti
factors which do not obtain here. Even if there were a Skt. root *gnu~, th
form would have been * jugnu > * jugu.

According to Sri Chauhan, " The Rgvedic language itself had developed the trait of changing the sound v to m " ( p. 229 ). There is of course
an allomorphic alternation between v and m in a possessive suffix, and a fe

more suffixes have two forms ( but not allomorphic ), one with v- and t

other with m but all the examples he cites ( p. 229 ) in support of hi


hypothesis are wrong : soma has not developed from ( a supposed ) so

which is an impossible form in Skt. ( it should be *suva if it is derived wit

the suffix -va whih is used with the weak grade of the root-vowel, or sav

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evews
with

-a,

hvr-;

which

the

juhurna
e-grade

Sri

actually

derivatives

);

of

is

34

jamad-

the

IE

Chauhan

in

root

available

from

this

jamad-agni

gWem-

cannot

be

whic

unaware

Skt. root rue- and its derivative


several IE languages. Yet he sugge
and

it

gives

may

from

fantastic

srotas,

saying

represent

do

rodasi

something

not

etymology

snow,
".

p.

new,

know

ice.

265

).

any

take him seriously, and often


as a reviewer of his work, I had to, and so have given above my
brief comments or observations on a few of his etymologies. This is
just a mere sample; his treasury is full of many a similarly precious lapis
lazuli, the second member of phrase ( i. e. lazuli ) being derived by him from
niskaW ( p. 186 ). When each and every academic discipline, including Linguistics and Etymology, is becoming more and more rigorous and sophistica-

ted, Sri Chauhan and some others like him want to take us back to the
primitive days of linguistic and etymological studies with their what may be

called ' pop etymologies ' Yska is remembered and honoured not for his
fanciful etymologies, but for the true insight which he undoubtedly had.

To Sri Chauhan's credit, it must, however, be admitted that a few


essays or some points in them deserve due consideration. In this category
we may include '* Rgvedic Elements in the Ghalchah Languages ", " Irriga-

tion in the Rgveda and " The Yak in the Rgveda". Yet, even there,
one will have to be extremely wary about the etymologies offered by him.

Thus, for example prni- ( in prni- matar) cannot be derived from "the
root prs, prus ' to flow, ooze, drip ' " ( p, 69 ) just for the difference in the
sibilants in the roots and its supposed derivative, if not for anything else,

and so cannot mean "a water- course, reservoir *' ( loc. cit. ). Personally I
appreciate his ' realistic ' interpretation of RV. 1. 154. 6 ( p. 104 ) even though

Visnu cannot mean " releaser of waters " and gavo bhrirgah need not
necessarily refer to the yaks and the etymology of the Tibetan word gyak

( now pronounced as y ') from a supposed Skt. *go-ka is not acceptable.


This animal plays such an important role in Tibetan life that they have diffrent words for denoting the different varieties of the animal ! gyak [ y ' ]
for the male yak, dri for the female yak, drortg for the wild yak and dzo for
the yak half-bread with cattle. A non-existing word (i. e. go-ka) cannot be

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Thi

however

whether

Or

4 Annals BOR, LkVI ( I98 )


borrowed by another language belonging to an altogether different family
( go-k of Kik-vftti on Panini, 7. 4. 13 in not relevant here ).

The five Indices are very useful but neither complete nor always

accurate. The IE ' root ' akw~ occurs more than 30 times, but the Index
records only 13 occurrences and of them one reference ( to p. 280) is wrong;
sin vali and the word ' phoneme ' ( used so frequently but in a wrong sense )
do not find a place at all in the Indices; R. N. Datidekar does not figure on

p. 100, as the Index indicates; p. 69 for prni-matar is missing from the


Index; references to y 'lei- are incomplete; etc.
A few more printing mistakes are pointed out : read accepted by ( p.
4, 1. 6 ), read urujira ( p. 10, 1. 3 ) ; read ( Mehendale, 1973... ) ( p. 89. 11.

15-16); read Kafir ( p. 119. 1. 5 ); read grt-sa-madas (p. 168. 1.3 from
bottom ) ; etc.

I am extremely happy that the book under review has been dedicated
to the sacred memory of the great savant-explorer, the Late Professor Geofg
Morgenstierne who, alas, is now not so well known in India. I would have
been much happier if the essays collected in this volume were nearer to the

great master's works by a few thousand kilometres in methodology, treatment and overall dependability.
Nilmadhav Sen

(1) THE LIFE F ERANATH t by Justine E. Abbott; reprint 1981;


pages 27+297. Price : Rs. 50/- Cloth, Rs. 35/- Paper.
(2) THE LIFE OF TUK.ARAM : by Justine E. Abbott; reprint 1980;
pages 20+346. Price s Rs. 45/- Cloth, Rs. 35/- Paper. Publisher :
Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi.
These are the reprints of two works by the late Justine E. Abbott in-

cluded in his [Series of Poet-Saints of Maharashtra, first published in 1927

and 1930 respectively. Abbott came to India as a Christian Missionary,


fell in love with the writings of the poet-saints of Maharashtra and finally
left India almost as an emissary of Hinduism. He was born in 1853 at Ports-

mouth in USA and came to India wiih his parents at the young age of four.
His second visit to India ( 1881-1910) proved to be very fruitful when he
imbibed the love for Maharashtra and its culture. It was during this visit
that he studied the writings of the Marathi poet-saints like Ekanath, Tukaram
and Ramadas in the original and became familiar with their theological and

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