Rig Veda, ta'ntra, nUl, and sUtra

thompson at jlc.net thompson at jlc.net
Sun Apr 13 01:35:25 UTC 1997

S. Palaniappan asks:
>I would very much appreciate if you could let me know if  these texts refer
>to any word for 'warp' derived from 'ta'n' or other words meaning 'to
>Thanks in advance.

To my knowledge IE cognates of the root Skt. tan- have not been used to
refer to "warp", but the words that are used seem to belong to the same
semantic sphere as tan-.  For example, the very word "warp" is derived from
an IE root wer- which in Skt is manifest as vR + t = vRt- [wer + b =>
Germanic warp].
The English words "spin, spindle", etc, have a root sense "stretch".  The
English word "weave" [cf. web, weft, etc] has cognates in Greek, hyphe,
etc., and in Avestan vaf-.  These are ultimately related to our Skt. root
u-, ve- [cf. for example Skt UrNa-vAbhi = wool-weaver, i.e., spider].

But the relationship between sewing, spinning, plaiting, and weaving is
obscure to me.  I wouldn't attempt to sort them out in IE languages, or
even in Skt. [for that, perhaps we need to look directly at Rau's short

As for the metaphor, speech = text [weaving], perhaps a few other IE
examples will be helpful:

Avestan:  the root vaf- = both "to weave" and "to sing".

Old English: ic worcraeft waef = I weave word-craft

Greek: rhapsoidos [cf. Eng "rhapsody"] = singer, lit. = weaver of songs.

Besides the monograph and anthology of R. Schmitt, already cited, one might
also consult F. Bader's *La langue des dieux, ou l'herme'tisme des poe`tes
indo-europe'ens*, 1989 [like Schmitt's an interesting book on Indo-European

The AV passage that you mean is AV 10.7.42.  It reads:

tantram eke yuvatI virUpe abhyAkrAmaM vayataH SaNmayUkham
prAnyA tantUMs tirate dhatte anyA nApa vRJjAte na gamAto antam

Whitney's translation:

"A certain pair of maidens, of diverse form, weave, betaking themselves to
it, the six-pegged web; the one draws forth the threads [tantu], the other
sets [them]; they wrest not off [apa-vRj] they go not to an end."

mayUkha = peg; we also have tantra and tantu.  Certainly, as you suggest,
these six pegs imply a structure, a loom, but the word itself for "loom"
does not appear here.

To me, the task of deciding whether or not there is influence or contect
between old IE and Dravidian traditions re this metaphor is *very*
difficult, perhaps insoluble.  Not only must Semitic be considered, as is
rightly suggested by W. Trimble, but any number of other languages [and
language-families] as well.  For example, I recall, rather vaguely, that
there is something very much like this metaphor among the Dogon of West
Africa [Mali], discussed by Griaule and Calame-Griaule.

Best wishes,
George Thompson

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