Etyma: maru = desert, water, shore

kalyans at kalyans at
Fri Jul 28 12:27:52 UTC 1995

Maru is the Sanskrit name of the desert that lies 
between the Indus-Sarasvati river valleys of south 
Asia. It is also called thar in India and thal in 

For a maritime civilization, a zone exterior to the 
habitation is the marsh, the inundated area, and by 
extension, the sea. The recent geological studies and 
analysis of satellite images show the tracts of 
sub-soil water-channels in the thar desert and the 
channels of the dry-beds of the 'lost' sarasvati river 
which merge with the hakra [(cf. sAgara = ocean 
(Sanskrit)] channels in to the Rann of Kutch and the 
possibility that these zones  supported agriculture 
and hence, habitations in ancient times (circa 3000 

These analyses add a new significance to the 
interpretation of the term  'maru' as marsh-land;  
cf., marutam = agricultural tracts (Sangam Tamil).

Is there a proto-south asian (indic) root word which 
explains the word: maru = desert? also, ocean-shore 


The proto-dravidian/indo-aryan forms are found in 
etyma with the semantic cluster = land boundary:

maryA = boundary (Sanskrit); mariyAdA = boundary, 
limit, shore (Pali); varampu, varappu = limit, 
boundary; a low ridge or bank to retain water in 
fields for irrigation (Tamil); barangayI = borough or 
county in the Philippines (Tagalog); barhA, barhetA = 
land of a township or village farthest from 
the inhabited portion, constituting the third class of 
land (Hindi -central and upper doab); baruA, barwA = 
sandy soil of inferior quality, a mixture of sand and 
clay (Hindi).


A semantic cluster = water/shore is found in the 
following lexemes:

bAr = water (Hindi); vAri = water (Sanskrit); bArAn = 
rain (Hindi); bArAni = land watered by rain (Hindi);
bharu = sea (Pali, Sanskrit); maru = desert; 
sand-desert (Pali); mariyAdA = shore (Pali); [cf. 
Indo-European lexemes for sea: mare (Latin); muir 
(Irish); marei (Gothic); (are-)morica (Gaulish);
mArEs (Lithuanian); morje (Slavonic).

Jean Przyluski, in VaruNa, god of the sea and the sky 
(JRAS, July 1931, pp. 613-622) provides an 
etymological excursus to reconcile the occurrence of 
similar-sounding words in the north-western
Indo-European dialects and also in Indo-Aryan by 
suggesting a proto-Austro-Asiatic root for the words. 
For e.g., he suggests "the non-Aryan word bharu, like 
its Sanskrit synonym kaccha, signifies low-lying land, 
shore, swamp; and, in fact, the compound bharu-kaccha 
designates a region adjoining the sea and the capital
of that region. bharu(kaccha) and maru(bhUmi) form 
part of the geographical nomenclature of the 
mahAbhArata... After the tIrthas of the Sindhi the 
'Bengali' recension (of dig-varNana of the
rAmAyaNa) names maru and anumaru, referring probably 
to the deserts near the lower-course of the Indus. In 
the different recensions of the rAmAyaNa the 
description of the western region ends with the
mountain asta 'the sun-setting', where is erected the 
palace of varuNa. This curious indication is in 
perfect agreement with 'Geographical Catalogue of the 
Yakshas in the mahAmayUrI" (ed. Sylvain Levi,
Journal Asiatique, 1915, I, pp. 35 sqq.). In verse 17 
we read -- bharuko bharukaccheshu... that is to say-- 
'the yaksha bharuka dwells among the people of 
bharukaccha.' Now one of the two Chinese translators 
of this catalogue has rendered bharuka by shoei t'ien
'god of the water', which suggests varuNa".


Przyluski hypothesizes a proto-indic root: bar; 
enlarged to bara (Sumerian) and baru (Austro-Asiatic), 
and by addition of the suffix -na, to get baruna, 
which is close to the Vedic varuNa. He also
suggests that in certain austro-asiatic languages the 
initial undergoes complete reduction, e.g. Bahnar Ar, 

Delitzsch (Sumerisches Glossar, pp. 64-5) assigns the 
following semantic values to bar: (i) on the outside, 
outside; hence, bara = out, away; (ii) free space, 
desert (contrasted with human settlements); 
hence three derivatives in Sumerian: gu-bar-ra = free 
space, steppe, desert; ur-bar-ra = jackal; sgga-bar-ra 
= wild goat. 

Does this agreement between austro-asiatic and 
sumerian posit a palaeo-asiatic radical: bar? 

The austro-asiatic words cited by Przyluski are:
baroh = low-lying country, sea-shore, sea (Malay);
baruh = plain, flatland; baruk, barok = shore; bAruh = 
sea (dialects of Malay peninsula); Ar = marsh, swampy 
district; or = low-lying damp terrain near to 
watercourses (Bahnar); [cf. haor = delta marsh-land 
(Bengali); bahr = stretch of water(Gueze or classic 
Ethiopian); baraha = desert (Amharic)]; "Annamite has 
preserved the initial, but the final liquid has become 
i : *bar > bai = coast, shore, strand". 

Arabic word bahr = sea, large river (Nile is called 
bahr by the natives). "The Noldeke (Neue Beitrage zur 
semitischen sprachwissenschaft, 1910, p.93) gives as 
the primary sense 'depression' (rather than 'surface'; 
cf. aequor); whence (1) sea, (2) land, low-lying land 
etc. A feminine form bahret has the sense of 'pool', 
'basin', 'fish-pond', and also 'land', 'country-side'. 
Between bharu, maru, and bahr we have, therefore,
in addition to the phonetic similarity, a quite 
curious accord in a double meaning, 'sea', 'low-lying 
land' or the like. Should not the word bahr, which 
does not belong to the Semitic in general, have
the same origin as Sanskrit and Pali bharu?" (Father 
Paul Jouon cited in Przyluski, op cit.)

Dr. S. Kalyanaraman
July 27, 1995

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