Maamsam and Hamsam: Sanskrit Wordplay!(Post No.3166)



Compiled  by London swaminathan

Date: 18 September 2016

Time uploaded in London:16-34

Post No.3166

Pictures are taken from various sources; thanks.


Sanskrit language is very rich with lot of riddles and puzzles. Manu in his smrti (Law book) deals with one or two things. He explains why MEAT (maamsam) is called Meat. He also tells us why NARAYANA is called Narayana. This shows his interest in languages and Linguistics. Elsewhere others explain the significance of the word HAMSAM (swan) and why great saints are called PARAMAHAMSA. Let us look at these interesting explanations: –


He whose “MEAT” in this world do I eat will in the other world “ME EAT”. Wise men say that this is why meat is called meat – Manu 5-55

The translation of this much quoted verse is based on  that of Charles Lanman, who attempted to recapture the Sanskrit pun: Meat is called Maamsa because he ( sa) eats  me (Maam) in the other world if I eat him now.

Sa = he

Maam = me




HAMSA (swan)

A similar pun is made in the Vedantic  texts on the metaphor for the soul, the swan (hamsa), said to express the identity of the individual soul (aatman) and the world-soul (brahman): I AM HE (aham sa)

Aham = I (jeevaatman)

Sa = he (Paramaatman)

One who realised this truth is Parama Hamasa as in Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Paramahamsa Yogananda.




Meaning of Narayana

Narayana was the creator of Brahma, who, according to Manu, was so called beacause the wters (nara; Neer in Tamil) were his first ayana or place of motion. Water is always used as plural in Sanskrit).

The name is found for the first time in the Satapata Brahmana. Narayana is another name of Vishnu.


Aapo naaraa iti proktaa apau vai narasuunava:

Taa yadasyaayanam puurvam tena naaraayanah smrutah

Manu 1-10


The waters are born of man, so it is said; indeed the waters are the children of the primordial. And since they were his resting place in ancient time, therefore he is traditionally known as Narayana. (Manu 1-10)



Following is from my article posted on Tamil or Sanskrit: Which is older? posted on 16 July 2014.


Is NEER a Tamil word or Sanskrit word?

Regarding Tamil words in Sanskrit:

No language is pure in the world. Our forefathers were NOT language fanatics. They freely used Sanskrit words in Sangam literature and later Tirukkural. In the same way Tamil words are in later classical Sanskrit. But I doubt about it in Vedic Sanskrit. I have shown that even great linguists like Suneet Kumar Chatterji are wrong to claim that ‘Neer’ (water) in Rig Veda is Tamil. I have shown that it is in the oldest Greek mythology (Nereids=Water Nymphs). When a word is found in other Indo European languages it is not counted as Dravidian even in etymological dictionaries. But old linguists misled many others and so ‘Neer’ is shown as Dravidian. I have also shown that Kapi and Tuki in the Bible are Sanskrit words. Please read my article “Sanskrit in The Bible”.

In this context, my pet theory is Tamil and Sanskrit originated from a common source on the Indian soil. This is what saints like Paranjothy Munivar and others believed 300 years ago. If we believe our Puranas and Tamil commentators, we accept that Agastya from the north came to South India and codified grammar for Tamil. He was sent by Shiva to balance the population (Please read my article “Population Explosion: Oldest Reference is in Hindu Scriptures”; posted on 2nd February 2013). Naturally Agastya would have done it on the basis of Sanskrit grammar. But even Shiva accepted Tamil as a separate language and entrusted the grammar work to great Agastya. Even Lord Shiva recognised the greatness and uniqueness of Tamil. Do we need any other certificate?




Mystery about Swan: Can it separate Milk from Water?

Why Saints are called Paramahamsa?

Research paper written by London Swaminathan
Post No.1153; Dated 6th July 2014.

From the days of the Rig Veda and Chandogya Upanishad, swan is always associated with the bright sun and saints.

All the water birds close to swan are grouped under the Anatidae family. Hindu mythology understood the unity pervading the family. Their approach was very scientific when they dealt with swans, geese and ducks.

Hamsa Gayatri
Om Hamsaaya Vidmahe
Paramahamsaaya Dhimahi
Tanno Hamsha Pracodayaat

“May we realise Hamsa that is our own Self as Swan. Let us meditate on that Paramahamsa, the Supreme Self. May Hamsa illumine us.”

This one of the several popular Gayatri mantras.

Great saints are called Parama hamsa. It means Supreme Swan. We have great saints like Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836-1856) and Paramahamsa Yogananda (1893-1952) within the last two hundred years. Sadasiva Brahmendra composed short and sweet kritis in Sanskrit and had the ‘mudra’/signature “paramahmasa” in all his compositions.

When it used in the context of great Yogis (ascetics) it does not mean the bird Swan (Hamsa in Sanskrit). It is the combination of two words Aham + Sa= Hamsa. I am He. It is the essence of Advaita philosophy. God and Man are one at the highest level. All the famous Upanishads have this philosophy: Aham Brahmasmi/ I am Brahman, Tat Tvam Asi/ You are That etc.

When saints who are well versed in the Yogic techniques breathe in and out it sounds ‘Ham…… Sa…… ‘Ham…… Sa….’ leading to Soham+ He is I.

Chandogya Upanishad (4-7) included an instruction (advice) from a swan. Dattatreya learnt something good from everything in nature including a bird. Hindus used everything in nature for the spiritual advancement of man.

Is it true that swans can separate milk from water and drink only milk?
Another meaning at a different level:-

Hamsa is the vehicle of God Brahma and his consort Sarasvati. All are white in colour symbolising purity and knowledge. Hamsa is associated with Holy Ganges and holy lake Manasa Sarovar. It is one of the purest birds. Hamsa Gayatri confers the power of discretion on the person who recites it. Like that Hamsa separates the good things from the bad things, Water birds separate good water from the bad water. It has got a sieve like structure (lamellae) in its mouth which separates water from mud. Probably this is what lead to the belief that Swans can separate milk from water and drink only milk. In Sanskrit Ksheera means milk and pure water.


Hamsa in the Vedas

Hamsa in the RIg Veda (1-65-5; 1-163-10;2-34-5;3-8-9;;AV 6-12-1 etc) and later literature denotes the bird gander. These birds are described as dark in colour on the back( RV 7-59-7), they fly in troops ((RV 3-8-9), swim in the water (RV 1-65-5), make loud noises (3-53-10), and are wakeful at night (AV 6-12-1) according to Vedic Index.

The Hamsa is credited with the power of separating Soma from water (as later milk from water) in the Yajur Veda (Kataka, Maitrayani, Vajasneyi Samhitas and Taitriya Brahmana).
The soma plant when crushed exudes the juice with a hissing sound. This is compared to the hissing of a swan when disturbed on the water (RV 1-65-5)

The Asvins are invited to the soma sacrifice like a pair of swans hastening to the water (RV 5-78-1).
It is also sacrificed in the Asvamedha Yajna along with two hundred other animals, birds, plants and other grains.


Sun and Paramahmsa
The sun and the spiritually elevated man are compared with the wise swan in the Shivapurana (2-15-10).
The Mute Swans are known to go about in pairs and they are greatly devoted to each other. Even Buddhacharita of Asvagosha mentioned this in the context of appealing to Gautam Siddhartha to come back to his wife.
Ramayana described swan as god Varuna’s bird (7-18-28)

Nala Damayanti and Swan
The golden coloured swan (whooper) caught by Nala was mentioned in the Mahabharata (3-54-19). The bird promised to plead Nala’s cause with Damayanti and was thereupon released. He flew with his party to her place and allowed himself to be caught by her and then performed his mission.


One of the incarnations/Avatars of Lord Vishnu is Hamsavatar in the form of a swan. Apart from Dasavatar (ten incarnations) we have 11 more Avatars.

Kalidasa & Sangam Tamil Literature
I have already written about the Bird Migration in Kalidasa and Sangam Literature.
Kalidasa referred to the strange habit of swan ‘separating milk from water’ in Sakuntalam drama (Act 6-33). A Gatha Sapta Sati poet copied it. Naladiyar in Tamil also copied Kalidasa.
Paranar, a Brahmin poet of Sangam period used lot of similes from Kalidasa along with his colleague Kabilar. Paranar in his poem– Natrinai 356 — sang about a swan flying to the golden peaked Himalayas after feeding itself with fishes in the Southern Seas. Pisiranthaiyar said the same thing in Purananuru verse 67. All these are just echo Kalidasa’s poems.

Kalidasa’s Raghuvamsa and Meghaduta have got too many references to water birds such as swan and cranes, geese and ducks.

Pillows were stuffed with the feathers of swan in ancient India.

A woman’s gait is compared to the gait of a swan in Tamil (Aka.279) and Sanskrit literature.

The swans are remarkable for their stately flight very high in the sky and they seem to approach the sun, says Mankudi Kizar of Madurai Kanchi (385-38).

Different types of swans such as Raja Hamsa, Kala Hamsa, Maththa Hamsa, Maha Hamsa, Kshuta Hamsa and Kadamba Hamsa are found in Sanskrit literature.


Ramayana and Mahabharata have interesting stories about swans. One of them is about the white colour of the swan (7-18-29/31). Varuna avoided Ravana by transforming himself to a swan and later gave a boon to the bird for his help and made him permanently white! Since Brahma has it as his Vahana the bird is also called Surapriya (Friend of the Devas). Swan is always associated with glory, purity, affection, love, majesty and divinity!!