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The Aryan Tryst with the Dravidians
|by Dr.V. Sankaran Nair|
The Aryans who entered India around the middle of the second millennium BC., certainly met the Dravidians, who were at that time located in northwestern India. The Rgvedic Sanskrit, the earliest form of Sanskrit known (c.1500 BC), reflects this Aryan tryst with the Dravidians. Therein one can find lexical items borrowed from Dravidian that bear testimony to this rendezvous. 
Some of the loan words in the Rgveda, alleged to be taken from Dravidian, are mayura for peacock, mayil in Tamil and Malyalam; katuka for bitter; khala for threshing floor, kalam in Tamil; ulukhala for mortar, ulakkai (pestle) in Tamil, ulakka in Malayalam; mukha for 'mouth;' kana for the one-eyed, kanaan in Malayalam; bila for cave, hole, pit, opening. One of the six kinds of flavour is katu in Tamil. Malayalam mukkaduk, kadu(ka)thrayam in Sanskrit, includes long and black pepper and dried ginger.
While Emeneau found over a dozen words of Dravidian origin in the Rgveda, the Russian Indologist Nikita Gurov had identified not less than eighty. They occur in 146 hymns of the first, tenth and the other mandalas, such as RV 1.33.3 vaila (sthana-) ‘open space’: PD *wayal, ‘open space, field’ , RV 10.15 kiyambu ‘a water plant’: PD *keyampu (<8kecampu). ‘Arum colacasia, yam’ , RV 1.144 vris ‘finger’: PD *wiric- , RV 1.71, 8.40 vilu ‘stronghold’: PD *witu house, abode, camp’ , sira plough’: PD *cer, RV 8.77 kanuka: PD *kanikkay gift . Something to be seen is kanikkay. It is gift, kanikkay in Tamil. A house, especially a Nayar or Janmi house is witu. Kundam is a pit, as well as broad mouthed vessel/ pot. Kund is a pit, small pond. In rain fed fields we see several ponds which serve as natural irrigation systems.
A funeral hymn in the Rgveda, (x, 16, 13); Atharvaveda (xviii, 3, 6), describes kiyambu, as one of the water-plants as growing on the place where the body of the dead was burnt. It is called nilamaaran/maaranchembu/ maramb in Malayalam. It is a large, inferior, nonedible yam. A practice, still found in vogue in Kerala is to plant maramb, turmeric, coconut sapling and plantain on the heaped up soil of the pit, where the dead body was burned, after collecting the bones on the sanchayanyam day.
“Mal inir akal vayal Yanar Ura" refers to the man belonging to the village that has an abundance of water and vast fields. In Tamil and Malayalam wayal stands for paddy-field / open space. Wayal refers to paddy fields. Wynad, a toponym in northern Kerala, means a land of paddy fields (wayal nad).
Langala/ sira for plough, khala for threshing floor, ulukhala for mortar, musala for pestle, phala for ploughshare are counted as borrowals from Mundari. It is now recognized that Sanskrit had borrowed terms connected with agricultural implements, cultivation of the soil, food and ornaments, etc. as loan-words into Sanskrit from Mundari and Dravidian languages.
“Of these lexical items, Emeneau considered the mayura as most persuasive as it is least likely to be inherited from Proto-European, ‘not further analyzable in Skt. terms, and has no reduplicated antecedents or even parallels in Indo-European etymological dictionaries, because as a type it is characteristically South Asian, and because it has its closest phonetic parallels in Dravidian. For the others, Emeneau believed that Dravidian origin is at least not any less attractive than competing etymologies.”
Once again, in Sanskrit, ulukhal, khala and musala are borrowals, their origin being as yet a matter of controversy. The most convincing examples of "Dravidism" in the Rgveda are "kunda" (pot, vessel) and "ulukhala" (mortar). The certainty of "Dravidian etymology” of other words cited by T. Burrow is called in question by M. Mayerhofer, P. Thieme and J. Gonda.
“The Dravidian presence is no more a supposition; it has now assumed the proportion of a fact attested by lexical evidence in the Rgveda and in later Vedic texts.” In Dravidian lexical borrowings, direct evidence for prehistoric contact is commonly found. T. Burrow (1945, 1946, 1948) finds twenty undisputed Dravidian loans in the early hymns of the Rgveda. The long lists of (Rg)Vedic words compiled by scholars like Southworth (1979), Kuiper (1955), and Burrow (1955:378-9), have made them believe to be of Dravidian origin. While Kuiper (1991, 1992) dedicated to finding evidence for general non-Aryan, not just Dravidian borrowing. Emeneau (1980), more cautious, limited the number to seven, of what in his view are probable, or at least attractive, Dravidian borrowings in the Rgveda.
The Aryan - Dravidian etymic rendezvous has tempted one to look at the traditional houses of Travancore, a museum of words, to free the research endeavour from an enigmatic situation. Let us begin by examining the agricultural practices staged in these houses. Herein we see an agrestic population who eked out a living by sowing, planting, and reaping paddy, a grass. In their popular speech and their specific language we can find a snippet of history.
Juxtaposition of the house as well as the paddy field has brought into currency a popular rhyme wayalum veedum, which means field and the house. Closeness of the house and the field is patt. This adhesion of the house and the field enabled the people living in this habitat, to eke out a living from the produce of the land. This turned the patt or wayal into income varavu. It is prosperity vardhana. Boiled rice choru is also called patt. This symbolically self-contained house compound unit has invited the attention of scholars like Melinda A. Moore who designated the Nayar concept of kinship, primarily based on the tarawad as a 'house-and-land' unit, a 'ritually-significant property unit', rather than a matrilineage.
We see that the combination of field (patt/ wayal) and the income from it increased the prosperity of the people who lived there. Farmers of Suchindrum, on the way to Cape comorin from Nagercoil, a large village with many fields irrigated from large ponds, call their fields as patt. The income from the field is rice. This income, aayam in Sanskrit, is preserved in granaries made of wood. No wonder, they called granary, a piece of carpentry, as pathayam, which means income (produce) from the field. Now, we shall begin by studying how the house-dwellers understood the lifetime of a paddy as reflected in their language.
Gundert outlines the life history of paddy
Infancy, boyhood, youth and old age are the four articles of the span of human life, called praaya/ avasthaa chatushtayam. Likewise, in the case of a paddy, a humble grass, basically there are two distinct sequential growth stages - the vegetative- a period from germination to the initiation to panicle primordial and the reproductive - from panicle primordia initiation to heading. Its vegetative phase starts with seedling, njaru/ beejanguram in Malayalam. Young seedlings of rice seeds sown into irrigated bays appear above the water surface 10 to 15 days after sowing. What rises above ground is njaru / pakku njaru, a young plant, fit for transplantation. This njaru praayam is followed by kolpraayam. Praayam means stage of life. Paruvam is tadbhava of parvam. It denotes the different stages of development especially in the growth of certain plants like coconut, paddy or the degree of ripeness of fruits like coconut, jack fruit, arecanut.
A rice plant can grow 4-5 more stems from its first tiller. Once the plant completes these two stages, it reaches the reproductive stage, which can be further subdivided into pre-heading and post- heading (the ripening period, from heading to maturity) period. The life time of a rice plant from germination to maturity may take usually 3–6 months. When a 120-day variety is planted in a tropical environment, it spreads about 60 days in vegetative stage, 30 days in reproductive stage and 30 days in the ripening period. Agronomically speaking, the life history of rice falls in terms of three growth stages: vegetative, reproductive, and ripening.
The panicle (flowering head) of each tiller produces the rice grain nenmani. Inside all the tillers of the rice plant, panicle buds start forming and develop panicle buds into flowers as they travel up the stem of the plant. Spathe of corn before the ears burst is nirapothi. During pollination that usually takes place between 11. 30 am – 1. 30 pm, rice flowers both male and female reproduce parts and pollinate themselves. Under right conditions a single panicle will be successfully pollinated within a week. It takes 10-14 days for all panicles to finish flowering and this is called heading.
Gundert speaks about the stages of growth of a rice plant thus: a njaru praayam, b. kolpraayam, c. pottilpraayam, d. kathir praayam, e. kaaymatangi praayam, f. pazham thattiya praayam, g. koyyaraya praayam. The first two belong to the vegetative and reproductive stage. The remaining five stages belong to anthesis which refers to the onset of the period during which a flower is fully open and functional. An ear of unblossomed paddy not unfolded, called pottilpraayam, is slender stage. Unblossomed ear of paddy is pottal. The fertilized flower then gets close to have protective hulls which fill with liquid starch and protein. Spike of corn nearly ripe is called kathir praayam. Niranna means ripened. Nellu nirannu means rice is nearly ripe. It means that the paddy has come to perfection. Seed bunch of the grains like paddy is kathir. Paddy spike of corn, a sheaf of paddy is kalakam/ kalamam. A bunch of flowers is koth/thoth. A bunch of leaves or flowers is compound pedicle.
Ripening that follows fertilization is a process with four main stages -- milky, dough, yellow-ripe and maturity stages. They include kaymatangi praayam (matang here means manifoldness). It refers to doubling, becoming twofold, multiplying. Otuka means to run or penetrate (as roots into the ground) to flow easily, circulate (as blood). In northern Malayalam, it means to sow as in uzhunnotuka, payarotuka. Koyyaraya praayam is ready-to-reap stage. Corn grown ripe is vilanja. Mookka is to ripen. Moothu pazhutha phalam is mellow fruit. Harvest to draw near is nel moorcha kootuka. Harvest time is time of reaping.
Primarily these stages are based on the texture and colour of the developing grains. As such they came to be called kolaya nel, kolputtil, murikkathir (30 days), kathir, poovuthirnna nel, paal nel, pazham piticha nel. Ripening, characterized by leaf senescence and grain growth, takes about 40 days. During this period, the liquid in the hull hardens to form a starchy inner grain. These facts are enshrined in the popular rhyme “Poovanchu, paalanchu, kaayanchu, vilayanchu.” It refers to 20 days from the time of blooming till harvest. This crop ready for harvest, is of two kinds, one is suitable for domestic use and the other fit for sowing. The former is called ripe for the rice and the latter, ripe for the seed. Ripeness of the paddy determines its use either as seed or as food. The proverbs like ‘yerae vilanjaal vithinaaka, vilayunna muthu mulayilariyaam’, ‘mulayilariyaam vila’ notify over-ripe. Paddy for rice and paddy for seed are ‘nellum vithum.’ The former is for domestic use and the latter is for seed, meant for sowing. ‘Nellinu randunakku vithinu pathunakku.’ This proverb denotes the degree of drying of paddy under the sun. While the rice for domestic needs has to dry for two days, the seed for sowing has to be dried for 10 days.
Asko Parpola’s Findings
Asko Parpola, who deciphered the script of the Indus valley civilization, identified a few Dravidian loan words in the Rgveda, composed in northwestern India around 1100-600 BCE. such as phalam, mukham, khala and nangol. All these words are spoken in south Travancore. Kuntam (pit), kaana (imperceptible, one-eyed) are yet other words Parpola spoke of as having been borrowed by Sanskrit from Dravidian language. Here follow six examples, from the Rigveda, the earliest text, “the capital letters are retroflex consonants, which did not exist in Proto-Indo-Iranian): mukham ‘face, front, mouth’ < PD *mukam ‘id;’ khalam ‘threshing floor’ < PD *kaLam ‘id;’ phalam ‘fruit’ < PD *paZam ‘ripe fruit;’ kuNDam ‘pit;’ < PD *kuNTam ‘pit;’ kaaNa- ‘blind in one eye’ < PD *kaaNa ‘not seeing;’ kiyaambu- ‘watery plant’ < PD *kiyampu ‘taro, aroid, Colocasia.’
A plot of land for paddy cultivation is kantam. Field currently under cultivation is natappukantam. A range of paddy fields is nelpaadam. According to Keralolpathi, the divisions of ancient Kerala, especially rice field, are called kantam. They are kaikkantam (brackish/ lower), karakkantam (higher), punchakkantam (field under irrigation, yielding even 3 harvests), makarakkantam, and kannikkantam. Wet cultivation punchakkantam of paddy is harvested during March - April. While puncha is a dry field, nancha is cultivated by irrigation and is wet cultivation. This word also indicates the land cultivated twice. Karakkantam is field which annually yields one crop in September and is called kannivila, kannikkantam, kanni njarankantam. Kanni is Virgo and is also called rice (ari).
The North-East or the retreating monsoon that ushers in, by the end of October and November, deposits water across the Kerala state and fills the irrigation canals as well as water ponds that favour the crop. ‘Munton nattu munganam virippu nattunanganam’ Munton of this proverb denotes makarakrishi. The muntakan harvest takes place in January in most areas. ‘muntom in this saying, is also called muntakam, muntavan. A kind of paddy sown in the month of Kanni (Sept- Octo.) muntakam, a rice of slow growth, is reaped in Dhanu, yielding the best straw. Cultivation in the month of Kanni is viripp. Virippu is cut in October, muntavan in December or January, puncha, in spring. A two-time-a-year paddy harvesting field kantavila/ kantola is an anciently known muntakan paatam or muntakan paddy field. Kantanvila is a toponym in Kanyakumari District. Virippu is different kinds of paddy sown in April and reaped in August. From February through May, Kerala experiences the long dry season, but on or about 1 June, the southwest or major monsoon hits the state with substantial rains that last through June, July, and early August. The plantings done in early June lead to the virippu, or major harvest.
A thumb impression of the Rgvedic times
A thorough reading of the Rgveda ensures one that the life depicted therein was agrestic, with people living in small villages, rather than as nomads. They lacked the concept of irrigation, and "had no use of dams on the rivers; in fact their god Indra is the destroyer of the dams. Hence the type of agriculture and the type of urban life the Indus Civilization people built up was beyond the conception of the Aryans or even the earlier Aryans.” Dr Tariq Rahman says that the Aryans or even the early Aryans, as reflected in the Rgvedic hymns, lived a rural life. Indus valley civilization, on the other hand, was urban and as such cannot correlate to the rural life depicted in the Rgveda.
In the early Vedic religion, Vritra, the enveloper, was depicted as an asura, as well as a serpent or dragon. In the personification of drought, Vritra appears as a dragon blocking the course of the rivers. Rgveda says that Indra killed Vritra for confining the waters, preventing them from descending until Indra struck the monster with his thunderbolt and destroyed all the ninety-nine fortresses of Vritra before liberating the imprisoned rivers. This myth earned Indra the surname Vritrahan.
The Vedic bards assigned few hymns invoking the Maruts, who helped Indra in his battle against Vritra. The Maruts or the storm-gods were considered as the companions of Indra, probably because they are gods of the hurricane. With their titanic strength, they tilt the enormous urn of the rains over the earth. “The earth trembles as they move in their deer-yoked chariots, and men see the flashing of their arms or the sparkle of their ornaments, the lightning. Yet they are benevolent, and they milk from the udder of their mother Prisni (the storm-cloud) copious showers for the benefit of man.” Vritra long waged an unequal combat, only to fall and die at last—the drought was over, and the rains began. The captive waters then descended in copious showers, rivers rose almost instantaneously, and gods and men rejoiced over the changed face of nature.
A thumb impression of the Rgvedic thumbnail can be found in the toponymy, local beliefs and etymology of Suchindram, a holy place on the way to Kanyakumari, the tapering tip of India. The hermitage of Athri, one of the Saptarshis, was situated on the way to the Suchindram Sthanunatha Swami temple, and the place now bears the name of Asraamam. Lord Indra attained purification (suchi) for his sin of killing Vrithra, a Brahman, hence the place name Suchindram.
Devendranpotta is a toponym near Marutvamala. An elevation in rice grounds is potta. It is kanni/ karakkantam. Marutvan is Indra and Maruthvanmalai is Indraparvat, a hill, visible from ships. The tradition of the temple of Suchindrum, upholds the Vritra-Indra confrontation in its paintings found on its gopura.
Vritra is often used as an appellative for a rain bearing cloud. The term vrithram means rain cloud, mountain and darkness. During summer Vritra generates in human beings a desire that it will rain now. As this temptation remained a will-o'-the-wisp, it disappointed them every time. In the Indo-European view, the dark, serpentine Danu and Vritra had 'withheld the waters in the mountain hollows’ and so hindered the world from coming into being. Indra intervenes with his vajra, to release water from his custody and the reluctant clouds begin to pour down.
The entire Kanyakumari district, with innumerable ponds, deserved to be called Devamaatrikam. Maatrikam means like a mother. Devan is Indra. While the land irrigated by river is nadi maatrikam, the land that solely depends on rain for its fields of crops is devamaatrikam. The rain-bearing clouds or Lord Indra is supposed to serve as the guardian mother. The fields before the traditional houses are strictly rain-fed.
Range, especially of rice fields, is paatam. Often, kantam and wayal are paatam. After harvest, the paddy from the field reaches the kalam. Grain of rice freed from chaff is ari. The grain after threshing, the threshed corn, is poli /dhaanyasaaram. First fruits, nira are dhaanyavriddhi. Rice, from the kalam, after the harvest, is sent to fill the granaries. It enters through the passage of sand to step (pati) from gate to house. From the granary it is taken for various purposes, one of them being wages for the labour. Rice was given as payment in olden days. When it was given along with other provisions as allowance, it was called ariyum koppum. Allowance of rice and salary is ariyum jeevithavum. Rice allowance is arippati. Employees receiving rice allowance is arippatijanam. Royal servants were known as arikkar. Nayar soldiers were given rice and other expenses as wage.
A measure of three nazhis of rice or paddy called munnazhi was the daily allowance. It is equivalent to a measure of volume ¾ itangali. Ramacharitam speaks about paid attendants as munnazhi toazhi. Nairs, called munnazikkar in Tacholipattu, are retained for cooly services. Keralolpathi calls hirelings as munnaymakkar. Munnazhi thinnuka means live as servants. Nanazhi is the pay for menial servants. It is the daily allowance of four nazhi nellu.
Naaraayanaazhi is yet another measure of rice. The capacity of this measuring vessel varies from place to place. It is the legal itangali of 2 ¼” depth 5 ½” width according to Kanakku saram. From Cochin to Beypore 6 nazhi is one pati. In Palghat District, 10 naarayam is one para. Pati includes batta, allowance, expense and remuneration.
A pati, like nazhi, is a measure, chiefly of rice. It is especially rice, whence paddy, points out Gundert. For regular allowance like naalpati and masappati, rice is measured. Pati alakka is to give daily sustenance. Measuring out grain for payment is patiyalavu. It is rice given away as wages to meet livelihood. Measuring out the allowances to body guards, etc., is ariyalavu. Perhaps, the practice of measuring rice to give away as wages to meet the livelihood expenses, gave currency to the term ‘paddy'. Pouring rice on the head of as a part of installation ceremony of Kerala Kings, coronation by pouring pazhayari on the head, is ariyittu vaazcha. Once having entered the house from the kalam, rice becomes revenue and a kingmaker.
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