Etymology 3000 years ago! (Post No.11,869)


Post No. 11,869

Date uploaded in London – –  4 APRIL 2023                  

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Etymology is the study of the origin of words. The history of a word or phrase is shown by tracing its development and relationships.

Yaska was the oldest etymologist known to history. He found the roots of Vedic words. His writing known in Sanskrit as Nirukta, is not only available to us but also studied by Vedic students today. Nirukta is one of the six ancillary subjects, that all the Vedic students must study and pass.

Nirukta is the oldest treatise on etymology, philology and semantics.

He lived before the time of Greeks, Tamil and Latin authors writing books or poems. The wonder is that he mentioned his predecessors. The list of names that he provides us show that India, that is Bharat, was the most literate country in the ancient world. That also proved that Vedic civilization was far ahead of other civilizations. That proved that Sanskrit was the oldest and well developed language.

Though we have older writings in Egyptian, Babylonian cultures, they don’t deal with grammar or linguistics in detail. We have only gibberish and primitive  Gilgamesh poems as part of Middle East literature.

Here is what Yaska, the author of Nirukta (etymology) says:-

His 17 predecessors or his contemporaries:



















Apart from these individual names, he mentioned many subjects and professions:

Aithihaasikaahaa= historians

Duhitr- daayaadaah= a school of lawgivers who allow a daughter to inherit property of father just like a son.

Nairuktaahaa – etymologists

Parivraajakaahaa – ascetics or theologians

Yajnikaahaa – the ritualists

Vaiyaakarnaahaa = grammarians


The existence of such schools of thought shows that specialisation in different subjects must have been prevalent for a considerable time to enable such schools to arise.

This was India before or around 1000 BCE.

We don’t see such a development anywhere in the world around that time.

Text books on these subjects must have existed at the time of Yaska.


Six Limbs of Veda Maathaa

According to orthodox tradition, the Nirukta of Yaska is an auxillary treatise which is indispensable for a deep, full and proper knowledge of Vedic stanzas. It is technically called a Vedanga, a limb of the Veda. There are six limbs, Vedangas. The six limbs are

Grammar , phonetics, Ritualistic aphorisms,Metrics, Astronomy and Etymology

Shadango vedo adhyetavyah

Vyaakaranam sikshaa kalpa Chando jyotisham nruktam

Metre is indeed the feet of the Veda, Ritual texts the hands, astronomy the eye, etymology the ear, phonetics the nose and grammar the mouth of the Veda. Therefore, a scholar who has studied the Veda with its limbs becomes great in the world of Brahma.

Chandah paadau tu vedasya hastau kalpo atha padyate

Jyotishaamayanam  chakshurniruktam srotramuchyate

Sikshaagnaanam  tu vedasya mukham vyaakaram smrutam

Tasmaat saangamadheetyaiva brahmaloke mahiiyate


Yaska is mentioned and quoted by many scholars in the later days,

Vararuchi in his Niruktasamuchchaya

Skandasvaamin in his commentary on the Rig Veda

Govindasvaamin in his commentary on Baudhaayana dharmasaastra

Medhaatithi in his commentary on the Manu Smriti

Uvata in his commentary on Vajasneyi Samhita

Bhatta bhaaskra Misra in his commentary on the Taittiriya Samhita

Devaraaja Yajvan in his commentary on the Nighantu

Udgiitha and Venkata Maadhava on their commentary on the Rig Veda

Saayana in his commentary on all the four vedas

quoted Yaska’s etymological explanations as authoritative.

Yaska has become, to all commentators, an ifallible guide in the domain of Vedic explanation.


We have also got the 64 names of grammarians who lived before Panini of seventh or eighth century BCE

If we place Susrutha’s Sixth century BCE medical treatise together with the above, we can get a bird’s eye view of India’s enormous achievement.

Source book – Woolner Commemoration Volume,  1940 with my inputs


Tags- Yaska, Nirukta, list of etymologists, Vedanga, six limbs.

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