The Nairukta School of the Vedic Interpretation

The Nairuktas also attempted to interpret the Vedic words on the basis of their derivative commotation: It is known as an eymological er Nainkts method of Vedic interpretation. The Niriktas also owed so the Brahmanas for the origin of their method of interpretation. Yaska’s Nirukus is the last and best representative of this school of Kraust interpretation. Yaska (Kali 400, le c. 28 century BC) also refers by name so shout dnzen authorites on Nirukta, the science of etymology, viz., Aupamanyava, Sakapā. Galava (last century of 28 Depara ie. 56 years before 28 Kali, Lev. 32 century BC) Maudgalya Dvipara), Agrayana (28 Dvapara), Kantakya (28 Dvipara). uki (28 Dvipara), Aurmavabha (28 Dvipara). Audumbaryana (28 Kali 94, ie c 31 century BC), Gargya (last century of 28 Dvipara ie. 56 years before 28 Kali, Le. c. 12 century BC), and Sakayana (28 Kali 44, i.e. c. 31 century BC). Besides, he also refers so the etymologists in general as Nairukah). The works of all the predecessors o s of Yaska seem to have been irretrievably lost, and we do not know anything about them except stray references to their names. In order to understand the development of the Nirukta in proper perspective, it is essential to have an idea of the Samhita paths and padapatha of the RV and the other the Vedas. The Nirukti or etymology was an attempt to invent the actual intent, concept or background within which the particular word or words originated.

The word “Nirukta’ literally means ‘explanation” or “etymological interpretation of a word The Nighantu worked as hasis of the explanations or etymologies given in the Nirukta. In other words, it can be stated that Nirukta is an explanation of the Vedic words listed in the Nighantu, or one can say that it is a commentary on the Nighantu as admitted by Yaska himself in the very beginning of the Nirukta. Since it is the only work of its kind available at present, the title “Nirukta’ now means the Vedic commentary composed by Yaska. The Nirukta which consists of twelve chapters and an appendix is one of the systematic attempts to interpret Vedic words, passages and deities of the RV The Nirukts, in fact, is a key to decode the scientific meaning of the Vedas.

The first chapter which is introductory in nature deals with the scope and importance of Nirukta: and in the course of the discussion. Yáska brings in several linguistic questions of a general nature and presents a systematic debate on them. For instance, the following controversial issues are debated by Yáska in the first chapter.

  •  Whether speech exists in the speech organs only:
  •  Whether the prepositions have any independent meanings of their own:
  •  Whether all the nouns have been derived from verbs; and
  •  Whether the Vedic words have any meanings. The views expressed by Yáska on such controversial issues are rational and reflect his vast learning.
In the beginning of the second chapter, Yaska enunciates the principles of etymology First of all, he lays down the general principle that to know the intended sense of a Vedic word, one should derive it in conformity with its regular accent, grammatical form and radical modification However, when the accent, grammatical form, and radical modification of a word are irregular, its derivation becomes difficult. In such a situation, Yaska’s advice is that one should etymologize in accordance with the meaning of the word on the basis of a similarity of common usage or of even a syllable or a letter but one must never give up the attempt to etymologize. In this connection. Yaska cautions an etymologist against placing undue reliance on grammar, for the usages of words are obscure. Therefore, one should interpret grammatical affixes in keeping with the sense of words. Yaska advises an etymologist to take due notice of important phonetic phenomena, such as syncope, metathesis, anaptyxis, haplology, assimilation, etc. most important principle of etymology enunciated by Yaska is that words should be derived the time of derivation. The in accordance with their contextual meaning and that no attempt should be made to derive single words, ie, words taken out of context.
Commencing with the fifth section of the second chapter up to the end of the third chapter, Yáska takes up a systematic derivation of some selected synonyms listed in the first three chapters of the Nighangu. First of all, he mentions the exact number of synonyms listed in a particular section of the Nighantu and then gives the derivation of a few important words of the section. In order to illustrate the Vedic usage of the words under discussion, he cites a Vedic passage and paraphrases it explaining the meaning of difficult words occurring in it.
The obscure Vedic words compiled in the fourth chapter of the Nighantu have been systematically explained by Yaska in the fourth, fifth and sixth chapters of his work in the manner explained above.
Chapters seven to twelve of the Nirukta have been devoted the discussion of various aspects of the Vedic deities listed in the fifth chapter of the Nighanru. In the beginning of the seventh chapter of the Nirukta, Yáska attempts the dentition of a deity (devată), enumerates various types of the Rgvedic verses according to their subject matter, and presents different viewpoints the question of ascertaining the deity of those Mantras where no deity has been specifically mentioned. Then Yaska discusses the nature, number, form, and place of operation and mutual relationship of Vedic deities.
From the fourteenth section of the seventh chapter up to the end of the twelfth chapter, Yaska takes up for discussion the place of operation, nature and etymology of Vedic deities in the same order in which their names are listed in the fifth chapter of the Nighantu. In order to illustrate his viewpoint he cites verses from the RV and explains the verses and obscure words occurring in them in the manner described above. The thirteenth chapter of the Nirukta which is called Parisista. ‘appendix’, is not Yaska’s composition because it contains the words ‘namo Yäskaya at the end. Besides, the style of explanation and the contents of the 13th chapter also distinguish it from the preceding twelve chapters. Moreover, since Yaska’s commentary on the Nighantu concludes with the 12th chapter, there is no raison d’etre for the 13th chapter. It is thus obvious that the 13 chapter which is found in some Manuscripts divided into two chapters was appended to the Nirukta at a later date.
In the twelve chapters of the Nirukta, Yaska explains nearly 600 verses of the RV and suggests the etymology of about 1300 words. Yaska’s explanation of the Vedic verses is rational and free from supernatural elements because following in the footsteps of the Nairuktas he endeavours to explain the natural phenomena underlying the names occurring in the Veda and thus offers a scientific interpretation of Vedic gods. For instance, with regard to the interpretation of Vrtra, Yaska (2.16) quotes with approbation the view of the Nairuktas that Vitra is a cloud, and elucidates the same with the remarks that the phenomenon of rain takes place due to discharging of negative and positive currents in the clouds, or negatively charged clouds with the positive earth and that the Vedic descriptions of fights between Indra (negative electric charge in clouds) and Vrtra (positively charged clouds or earth) are metaphorical.
 See for example
तत्को वृत्र मेघ इति नैरुक्ताः स्थाष्ट्रोऽसुर इत्येतिहासिकाः अर्था व ज्योतिष मिश्रीभावकर्मणो वर्षकर्म जायते। तत्र उपमार्थेन युद्धवर्णा भवन्ति । tatko vrtrah. Medha iti nairukiah, rvästro asura iti aitihäsikah, apam cha jyotisasca mis ribhavakarmapo varsakarma jayate. Tatra upamarthena yudhvarna bhavanti.
 What is Vrtra? In view of Nainiktas, Vrtra is a cloud. According to Attihäsikas.vitra is an asura, son of Tvasta. When clouds are charged, rain takes place He alludes to the use of metaphorical expressions in the Veda (2.16). Yáska was able to discover the scientific meaning of the Vedic deities. His following remarks with regard to them are illuminating and provide a key to the correct interpretation of the Veda.
महाभाग्याद देवताया एक आत्मा बहुधा स्तूयते। नि. 7.4 mahabhagyad devataya eka atma bahudha stüyate.
 On account of various qualities of the deity (devată), one and same deity is known by various names.

एकस्य आत्मनः अन्ये देवा प्रत्यंगानि भवन्ति। नि. 74 Ekasya amanah anye devah pratyangani bhavanti .
The other gods associated with a particular deity are but his parts. That is, they cannot be separated from or are not different from their parent deity.
अपि च सत्त्वाना प्रकृतिभूमभिषयः स्तुवन्तीत्याहु । नि. 74 Api cha sattvanām prakrtibhämir rsayah stuvantityahuh. 
Moreover, other experts say that because of the plurality of intrinsic nature of deities, seers praise them variously.

प्रकृतिसार्वनाम्याच्च। नि. 74 Prakrti-särvanamyacca.
 All names of gods in various spaces (observer space, intermediate space and light space) refer to their presiding deity.

For example, Agni, Indra & Vayu, and Aditya are the presiding deities of observer space, intermediate space and light space respectively. If we find mention of other gods in these three spaces, they will refer to their presiding deity itself. They don’t have their independent existence. They are subservient to their main deity or presiding deity.
According to Nairuktas the Vedic deities/gods (devatás) are not historical personality but are natural forces. That is why they are born from each other. Had they been historical persons, they could not have born from each other. For example, he observes.
इतेरजन्मानो भवन्ति। नि. 7.4 Itaretara janmáno bhavanti. The Devas/gods are born from each other.

To illustrate it, matter particles (gods in observer space) are born from energy (Agni) and energy is born from matter particles (Devas/gods).
इतरेतरप्रकृतयः । नि. 74 Itaretara prakrtayah
They are the primary source of each other. For example, energy (Agni) is the source of matter particles and matter particles (Devas/gods in observer space) are source of energy On the question as to why do these deities take birth, the reply is that they are born because they execute specific functions in materialising the process of creation. In this regard Yaska, observes as under.
कर्मजन्मनः। निः 74 karma janmärah.
 They owe their birth to their specific functions.One may ask another question as to how do they bear? The reply is that the Vedic gods are not born like human beings from their parents, but are born automatically themselves whenever they are required to discharge their respective functions to execute the process of creation. For example, in a process to maintain a delicate balance between energy and maner for the sustenance of this universe, anti-matter particles are born automatically to annihilate their existing matter particles Similarly, moving clouds are automatically become negatively charged in order to discharge rain by discharging with the positively charged clouds or the earth. Here Yaska’s observation is noteworthy.
आत्मजन्मानः । नि. 24 Atmajanmanat.

The Vedic Devas/gods are born automatically.Not only this, Yaska makes a clarification about the chariots, horses weapons and arrows of gods mentioned in the Vedas. Since the Vedic gods are not living historical personalities, how to interpret the chariots, horses, weapons and arrows associated with them in the Vedic Mantras. Yaska dispels this doubt and observes that the chariots, weapons and horses of Devas or gods mentioned in the Vedas are nothing but gods. themselves are their own chariots, weapons and horses. So, their horses, chariots etc. cannot be taken separate entity from them. According to him.
आत्मैवेषां रथो भवति आत्माश्वः । आत्मायुधम् आत्मेषवः आत्मा सर्व देवस्य नि 74 Armaivesam ratho bhavati. atmaksvah atmayudham. atma sarva devasya.
The Devas are themselves their chariot, horse and weapons. Deva itself is every thing associated with it.Thus we find that Yaska’s interpretation is most systematic and scientific. He gives us a real clue to interpreting the astronomical phenomenon mentioned in the Vedas. No other interpreter of ancient India has displayed so much rationality in his approach to the problem of Vedic interpretation. Yäska may be described as scientific in his approach, notwithstanding his remote antiquity, surprisingly modern.
Here it cannot be gainsaid that the Vedic language is highly developed and the words used in the Vedas very carefully express thoughts inherent in them in a poetic style marked with metaphors. The correct etymology of a word often provides a clue to its real intended meaning. For instance, the Vedic seers employ the word ‘jara’ in the following phrases in a poetical style to denote the sun.
स्वसुर्जार, जार उपसाम, अपां जार। Svanur jara, jara usas, apjárat
According to the popular sense of wonds, it would mean Paramour of his sister, paramour of dawns, and paramour of waters’ respectively. But if the word “ja” is imerpreted as “consumer”, jaravis’, following Yaska’s derivation, from roots consume, the meaning would be rational, scientific and linguistically sound. In this case, the meaning would be read as – “Sun is the consumes of dawn, consumer of waters and consumer of his sister ‘dawn’.
Thus the main advantage of the etymological method of interpretation is that it helps us “to distinguish the original radical meaning of a word from its conventional meaning in those cases in which a word is yielding two meanings. It is evident from an analysis of Vedic usages that the use of double entendre often comes across Alloding to this tendency of the Vedic language, the Brahmanas observe that the Devas/gods love recondite speech and abhor direct statements.
परोक्षप्रिया इव हि देया प्रत्यक्ष दिए।(Proksapriya va hi devah pratyaksa dvigal)
Here it would be unwise if a reference to the Nighannu is by-passed. As told earlier that the Nighantu worked as a basis for Nairuktas. So, it is essential to take a brief note of the Nighantu.

The Nighantu

After Padapatha, the Nighannu occupies an important place in the annals of linguistic study of the Veda and may be termed as the first lexicographical attempt in the world. The term ‘Nighantu’ signifies a collection and classification of important words occurred in the Vedas so that their decoding from the point of their significance is made easy. The Nighant u, or ‘Samamnaya as it is called in the beginning of the Nirukas, is divided into five chapters and is therefore also called Panchadhyay. The first three chapters contain classified groups of synonyms. For instance, the synonyms of the earth (meaning observer space, or planets) are listed in the first section of the first chapter and those of antriksa (meaning intermediate space, or atmosphere) and dyau (meaning light space or celestial sphere) in the third and the fourth sections respectively. There is some sort of a principle discernible in the arrangement of synonyms in the first three chapters. So the first chapter deals with physical objects and natural phenomena such as earth, air, water, clouds, dawn, day and night. The synonyms collected in the second chapter relate to man, his limbs, qualities, actions and achievements. The synonymous words collected in the third chapter deal with abstract qualities such as heaviness, lightness etc,, according to Dr. L. Sarup. But there are so many exceptions also. The first three chapters containing Vedic synonyms are regarded to constitute the Naigharuka Kända. The fourth chapter which is styled as Naigama Kända contains a list of such Vedic words whose meaning is not easy to understand and needs to be explained. Such words have been listed under ‘pada-nama”. These ‘padas’ are nothing but the scientific and technical terms which need to be defined and cannot be translated. The fifth chapter called ‘Daivata Kanda’ is a glossary of the names of Vedic deities.

As regards the authorship of the Nighanu, it may be stated that it was the effort of many generations of Nairuktas to collect Vedic words so as to make their encoding easy. It is confirmed by the statement of Yaska when he says at the outset of the Nirukta that the Samamnaya, Nighantu which had already been compiled and needs to be explained.

Dr. Ravi Prakash Arya

English Hindi