Nirukta (Etymyology) : Learning Vedic Sanskrit

To understand Vedas, 6 disciplines have to be studied. Manduka Upanisad mentions six Vedaangas  (limbs of the Veda) as follows: The Six Vedangas are, Siksha (Phonetics), Vyakaranam (Grammar), Chandas (Metre), Nirukta (Etymyology), Jyotisha (Astronomy), Kalpa (Rituals and Mathematics). It is necessary to understand the Vedangas to understand the Vedas.

See for sanskrit texts on the above subjects

yAska muni the author of niruktha, Vedic Etymyology

अर्थं वाच: पुष्‍पफलम्‌

वाच: = of word  पुष्‍पफलम्‌ = puSpasya phalam :  the fruit of the flower.  Meaning is the fruit of the flower (which is) the word – yAskacArya. yAska muni

Who is Yaaskaachaarya?

Yaskacharya is the world’s first etymyologist! He is the ancestor of our favorite hero Chanakya and the descendant of Bhrigu. (Chanakya was the son of Chanaka. One of his ancestors was Kutila and therefore he was also called Kautilya. The Kautilyas were a subdivision of the Yaskas who were also Bhargavas, the descendants of Bhrgu.)

What did he do ?

Rshis prior to Yaska like Kasyapa, had compiled lists of synonyms.. of the rare and difficult words in the Vedas to help us understand them.

Yaska studied these lists and wrote the nirukta which explains how these words evolved.. how they came to acquire the meaning that they did aquire and how new words might be coined.

How was his work used?

Using Yaska’s work sAyaNacArya, created large volumes translating every Veda Mantra in all the samhitas. There has been lavish praise and severe criticism of Sayanacharya’s work, as being too “material” and “yajna-related” in its outlook. My Veda Guru has advised me that, it is not that Sayanacharya was unaware of the spritual and other meanings of the Veda., it is that he set himself to the task of giving this yAgnyik meaning.

Other quotes of  Yaska:

नैष स्‍थाणोरपराधो यदेनमन्‍धो न पश्‍यति । It is not a pillar’s fault if a blind man does not see it.
पुरुषापराध: स भवति । It is the fault if that man.

Learning Vedic Sanskrit, a few words at a time,, in quest of the true meaning of the Vedas..

Gayatri - Om bhur bhuvah svaha tat savitur varenyam bhargo devasya dhimahi dhiyo yo nah pracodayat by caminhodomeio.Having established that the Vedas and Upanishads as well as the Bhagavad Gita are the texts of maximum importance to students of Ancient India and to Hindus..  I studies the Bhagavad Gita first and wrote a course about it as well as a small book. You can read my explanation and commentary here : Bhagavad Gita (Complete) – Satya Bhashyam. (I started reading the meaning of the Bhagavad Gita when I was 16 years old and still continue to read and teach it). Though I have read some of the Upanishads starting at the age of 18, I have not ever written about any of them, and there are many more Upanishads that I have to continue reading. (Sankara Bhashyam)

Vedas : I first read Max Muellers’ book “The Holy Vedas”. Max Mueller sees Vedic Luminaries as sort of Norse Gods and thinks that Indra is like Thor etc.. I always loved Thor, the god of Thunder even as a child, and I really liked the way Mueller sawIndra. This was a vast improvement over the unfair and highly inaccurate representations of Indra in Telugu movies. But even then it was clear to me that Mueller was trying to force fit Indian luminaries into a Comparitive Philogy Model.

Then I read translations of the Vedas by some Indian authors (Pandey etc), and got an impression that the Vedic rshis were like children asking for cows and health and victory in battle.

Next, I read a book called “The secret of the Veda” by Sri Aurobindo… I was seriously bowled over by the genius of this man – rshi. Aurobindo pointed out that there were dozens of meanings of the word gouh.. one of which was light. He reasoned that the Upanishads which were explanations of the Vedas and shared many Vedic passages were in fact extensions of the Vedas and not “revolutions against them” as some writers have projected. He gave the spiritual and psychological interpretation of a few of the Vedic hymns. After reading the arguments of Sri Aurobindo, I realised that however sweet the translations I had completed reading.. they were probably wrong!!

When I read that people were using astronomical references to date the Vedas, I started learning about Indian Astronomy.. you can find my notes and articles here : Now, I understand, the method that they are using to arrive at their conclusions., what I need to know is how accurate their data  and assumptions are, and also how justified they are in selecting some data and rejecting other data.

Confident of my background in science and engineering, I decided to try my hand at translating the Vedas… you can see my first effort here : Prathama Suktham.

Devi Saraswati by caminhodomeio.

Having realised that in Vedas, the svara variations are very important to uccharana (pronounciation), I searched for a Guru who would teach me this. There is no other way. It cannot be learnt otherwise. Saraswathi Devi herself appeared in Vidyaranyapura as my Guru to teach me and at her feet, I have begun to understand how swaras are to be “sung” if you will.

So I have now some beginnings in Vedanga Jyotisha, as well as Siksha. My uncle insisted that I MUST study the niruktha (dictionaries plus etymyology).. and I was looking for it. Luckily I found it here : Niruktha.

There is a special God who looks after fools and small children, and this God realized that I was running out of book funds, so now I have access to lots of free online resources as well as standard textbooks in my Guru’s house.

I have started reading the Niruktha, 3 sets of synonyms a day and started making notes in my blog http://satyaveda.wordpress.comEveryone says that Vedic Sanskrit is different from Classical Sanskrit, and initially I felt the same. Then I started to think that it is not really all that different. Many nouns, verbs, declinations and conjugations etc are the same. Plus all Indian languages use Sanskrit noun and verb roots heavily with their own accents, declination and conjugation.

The point to note is that the words mean different things now than they did in the Vedas. Take a look at images below to see my point.

  • My next question was  this :

The Vedas and the Valmiki Ramayanam were of the Tretha Yuga, we know this from two points, one from the Srimad Bhagavatham and second from the fact that all the Vedic Rshis were Sri Rama’s gurus and elders. Valmiki was a friend of Dasaratha as well as of Rama श्री राम. Valmiki used one of the Vedic Metres in the composition of the Valmiki Ramayanam.

Why does the Ramayanam feel so easy to read and the Vedas so tough? ….This is my answer :

The word force is used by laymen, by scientists and by sociologists alike. When I say.. “please don’t force me to read nonsense”., the meaning is different from when a scientist says ” a force of 20 Newtons is required to lift this box”. Mystics talk of a “life-force” that I can’t understand and so on.. you get the idea.

Valmiki was a poet and an explorer. The Vedic rshis were scientists. They used the same words to reflect different meanings. Also Valmiki wanted all the world to know and love Sri Rama as he did. The rshis were fully prepared to further encrypt their data and their ideas as if scientific jargon alone was not enough. In addition to the worldly and verifiable knowledge that was science , there was also the mystic knowledge, to be experienced and verified in one’s own mind.

That is why every human mind that tries to interpret the Vedas comes up with a different answer. Your translations reveal more about your own mind than they do about the Vedas!

This reminds me of my childhood when my folks used to speak Telugu words backwards so that I would not understand their secrets. This was called Latha drinkala Shabha! Later my sister and I came up with our own written English code, so that they could not understand our secrets!!

Reading the Valmiki Ramayanam is like reading my blog. Reading the Vedas is like reading an advanced textbook of science and medicine. Both may be written on the same day, in the same language and using the same words. But one is much easier than the other.

Learning Vedic Sanskrit : Kasyapa’s Nighantu – Yaska Niruktha

kas’yapa was the father of Indra, and a nephew of vasiSTa, the rshi of the 7th Mandala of the Rg vEda. I believe that his list of synonyms, his nighantu or his thesaurus if you will, best matches the vedic times (trEtA yuga) than those of the later authors. So it is my desire to study this nighantu a bit at a time.
  1. Please note that gouh, aditih and pUSa mean earth, in addition to the other words in the list.
  2. Please note that candrama, loha, amrta also mean gold. We are used to translating them as moon, iron and nectar respectively. Also note that the word rukmam could have been the origin of the kannada word meaning rokka or money. ayah is another word translated, nowadays as iron, but could have meant as gold in those days.
  3. bhUh, barhih,puSkaram, samudram. adhvaram are all given as synonyms for antahrisksha., which we translate as sky today.

Learning Vedic Sanskrit : Kasyapa’s Nighantu – Yaska Niruktha : 2

Sri Aurobindo told us that the word gouh means much more than just cow!  In the list below – we can see that for ourselves :  gouh is a synonym for sky, height, heaven… and also for ray of light. In the previous post we have seen that it is a synonym for earth.

It is also interesting to see that the Saptarishis can mean the rays of light! The word aas’aah which means hope today meant directions too.

Learning Vedic Sanskrit : Kasyapa’s Nighantu – Yaska Niruktha : 3

We have an exciting set of words today, I give the vedic sanskrit words with modern english meanings in brackets so we can see how the words have changed in meaning.

  1. Synonyms for ratrI (night) : doSa (defect), tamah (darkness), rajah (brightness), ghRtAcI (an apsara, mother of Drona and Suka), payah (water), himA (ice).
  2. Synonyms for uSas (dawn) : vibhAvarI (night), citrAmaghA (names of stars Chitra and Makha), vAjinI (horse).
  3. Synonyms for ahna (day) : dyuh, bhAnu (sun), ghrNA (anger), divedive (daily)
  4. Synonyms for mEghA (cloud) : adri (mountain), gOtra, rouhiNa, raivata, ahi (snake), odana (cooked rice), vRtra (Indra slayed vRtra), asura (mightyenemies of devas)

Learning Vedic Sanskrit : Niruktha : Synonyms for Vacha and Udaka

Da in yajurvEda becomes La in Rg vEda

My Veda Guru says :
  1. Da in yajurvEda becomes La in Rg vEda : for eg iDA in yajurveda is iLA in Rg Veda
  2. In one yajur veda mantram ‘bRhatE’ becomes ‘mahatE’ in Rg vEda.

Also when the ra in saraswati is swarita it is usually prathama vibhakti and when it is udAta, then it is sambodhana prathamA vibhakti.

Notes :

Source : “The world’s first-known and extant thesaurus is Nighantu, a glossary of 1,800 Vedic words, arranged subject-wise. Its compiler, Kashyap, was bestowed with the lofty title of Prajapati, the progenitor. Nirukt, the sage Yaska’s treatise on Nighantu, may have been the world’s first dictionary-encyclopaedia; it gives words and their meanings which are elaborated upon in great detail.

There were several subsequent compilations of Sanskrit dictionaries. The Shabdakalpadrum, a Sanskrit dictionary of an unknown date, lists twenty-nine such works, most of which were arranged subject-wise and were, in a broad sense, thesauruses.

Amar Kosh is the bible of all the Sanskrit thesauruses. Its author, Amar Singh (AmarSimha in Roman Devanagari) gave his work the title of Namalinganushasan (the Discipline of Names and Genders). It was also called Trikaand, because it was divided in three hierarchical cantos with twenty-five chapters having a total of 8,000 words in 1,502 shlokas or verses. It is popularly known as Amar Kosh to acknowledge the achievement of its author.

Yaska’s Nirukta : is a Vedic commentary on the Nighantus (including Kasyapa’s). A Nighantu is a glossary of difficult and rare Rg Vedic terms. The Naighantuka kanda of the Nighantus consists of 3 lists of synonyms. The Naigama (Aikapadika) kanda consists of a list of isolated and difficult words. The Daivata kanda contains a classification of devatas. These lists are followed by Yaska’s rules.

Yaskacharya, the commentator (Source)

Based on the Nighantu, Yaska compiled the Nirukta text. Yaskacharya is the oldest and pioneer commentator of the Vedas. The commentators who followed him used his text as the basis.  ‘The Nirukta is included in the ten holy texts that a Brahman (priest) endowed with the title of Rugvedi Dashagranthi (knower of the ten holy texts) should study.

The Nirukta is a commentary on the Nighantu. But from the very beginning the Nirukta and Nighantuhave both been termed as the Nirukta.

In the Nirukta words have been described comprehensively. It is not a mere explanation of the meaning of words but also elucidates the origin of the word associated with that particular meaning. In other words every word is minutely analysed.

They emphatically proclaim that though such a grammatically ruled word is not proven from a root of similar meaning one should not bother about it. Ignoring the rules of grammar one should firmly adopt the meaning suggested by the Name.

Wholeheartedly obeying this directive Yaska and the authors of the Nirukta before Him, created new words. Vedic words should be interpreted according to the context and the same origin of the word should be given when it is used with the same meaning; however when it is used with a variety of meanings different origins may certainly be given.

“सन्‍तमेव अर्थम्‌ आययति गमयतीति सत्‍यम्‌ means that which imparts true knowledge about the existing objects is the ultimate truth”.

Through various ideas Yaska has clearly proclaimed that all names are derived from a root. The present day linguistics too has accepted this doctrine. (Panini’s era came later than 700 B.C. From this it appears that Yaska’s era must have been from 800 to 1000 B.C. – these dates are given by the source and not yet verified by me – Satya)

One who simply recites the Vedas without understanding their meaning is but a pillar (sthanu). The one who has understood their meaning will be endowed with happiness in this world and the worlds beyond. A word devoid of meaning and knowledge cannot enlighten a person. No matter how dry a wooden log is if it is not thrown into the fire then of what use is it ? This is Yaska’s quote. It is from this quote that the evolution of His spiritual intellect (pradnya) can be realised. He says, “अर्थं वाच: पुष्‍पफलम्‌ which means that a meaning is both the blossom as well as the fruit of speech” (1.20). By writing the Nirukta he showed an easily accomplishable path to the study of the Vedas.

He  proved false Kautsa’s quote that the Vedas are devoid of meaning. When taunting Kautsa in the (Nirukta 1.16) he says,

नैष स्‍थाणोरपराधो यदेनमन्‍धो न पश्‍यति ।
पुरुषापराध: स भवति ।

Meaning: If a blind man cannot see a pillar then it is not the pillar’s fault, rather that of the man.

Sayanacharya followed Yaska and compiled commentaries on the Vedas. Sayanacharya explains the connection of words in the Vedic verses (rucha); however Yaska does not do so. Hence one does not know how he would interpret the verses.”

More Details can be found from the Saraswathi Mahal Library at Thanjavur :


Nighantu. Naighantaka. Naigama and Daivata kandas. 1-5 Adhyayas. This
Ms.adopts the following division of Nighantu into kandas, Adhyayas
and Khandas:-
I. Naighantuka kanda First Adhyaya 1-17 Khandas.
I. Naighantuka kanda Second Adhyaya 1-22 Khandas.
I. Naighantuka kanda Third Adhyaya 1-30 Khandas.
II.Naigama kanda Fourth Adhyaya 1-3 Khandas.
III.Daivata kanda Fifth Adhyaya 1-6 Khandas.

The recent and is in good condition. It is accented. The Khanda
Index (giving the beginnings only) is given at the end of each Adhyaya
in this Ms. from :


Nirukta , both a bhasya on the Naighantuka, Naigama and Daivata
Kandas and an independent treatise on Vedic Etymology, by Yaska
himself. It consists of 13 Adhyayas, mainly divided into
Purvasatka and Uttarasatka.
This Ms.adopts the following division into Adhyayas and Khandas:-
First Adhyaya = 1-20 Khandas.
Second Adhyaya = 1-28 Khandas.
Third Adhyaya = 1-22 Khandas.
Fourth Adhyaya = 1-27 Khandas.
Fifth Adhyaya = 1-28 Khandas.
Sixth Adhyaya = 1-36 Khandas.
Seventh Adhyaya = 1-31 Khandas.
Eighth Adhyaya = 1-22 Khandas.
Ninth Adhyaya = 1-43 Khandas.
Tenth Adhyaya = 1-47 Khandas.
Eleventh Adhyaya = 1-50 Khandas.
Twelfth Adhyaya = 1-46 Khandas.
Thirteenth Adhyaya = 1-50 Khandas.

The in good condition. The Khanda index(giving the
beginnings only) is given at the end of each Adhyaya of this Ms. For
example, the index of the thirteenth Adhyaya
(Parisistadhyaya) is given as follows:

The rks that are taken for interpretation are fully given in this

Ms. and they are accented. In the Nirukta text also, a vertical
stroke is given in red ink, to show where the student of Nirukta may
stop while pronouncing the text in Samhitapatha. This dated
Samvat 1875 in Virodhi year or 1818 A.D.
The scribe’s name is Sivarama Kesava Ambadkar. The Nirukta is edited
by Dr.Roth along with Nighantu. Along with Durga’s commentary it is
edited by Jivananda Vidyasagar in Calcutta.

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