Rig Veda, ta'ntra, nUl, and sUtra

Palaniappa at aol.com Palaniappa at aol.com
Sun Apr 13 06:47:42 UTC 1997

In a message dated 97-04-12 21:52:33 EDT, thompson at jlc.net (George Thompson)

<< 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].

If the Vedic people had used a cognate of 'spin', then one can say that they
are 'drawing' on their Indo-European tradition. The root of 'spin' seems to
be 'spa' meaning 'to draw out' according to Walter Skeat. Actually, the
spinning process involves rotation where the individual fibrous material is
braided into yarn or thread and drawn out. (Without rotation or 'spin' one
cannot get thread from a mass like cotton. Even 'thread's original sense is
'to twist' ) This yarn or thread is then woven into cloth. It is in the
second stage, warp is used. Thus spinning comes first and second comes

The unique thing about the Indian situation is the exact equivalence between
Dravidian and Vedic, in the use of pA or ta'ntu. The root in both mean
'stretch'. There is no sense of 'rotation' or 'spinning' involved. Both mean
'warp'. Not only that. The Indo-European metaphors based on 'to weave' seem
to have been reduced to relative insignificance compared to those particular
words which have their parallels in Dravidian.

There is another striking similarity between Vedic hymns and Classical Tamil
poems. The loom we are talking about seems to be the vertical loom. The
Atharva Veda 10.7.44 says,"These pegs propped up the sky." 

There are two poems in Classical Tamil which refer to the warp and let me
give my translation. 

naRRiNai 353

"ALil peNTir tALiR ceyta
nuNagkunuN panuval pOlak kaNaGkoLa
ATumazai tavazum kOTuyar neTuvarai....."

"The tall mountain where the swaying rain clouds gather and pour like the
very very fine warp worked by the effort (or feet) of the women without men

What is being described here is the pattern of parallel lines one would see
when one is looking at falling rain from quite a distance outside the rain. 

puRanAnURu 125

"paruttip peNTin panuval anna
neruppuccinan taNinta niNantayaGku kozunkuRai...."

"The fat/thick piece of meat from which, after the anger of fire is lowered,
the fat is slowly moving/dripping, like the warp of the 'cotton' woman....". 

What is being described here is a meat piece being roasted over a fire
(probably held in a cross bar) from which fat/meat juice is dripping like
icicles after the fire is put out. These descriptions imply what both Vedic
and Classical Tamil texts were talking about were vertical looms. The poet
may indeed have intended a pun here. 'niNam' as a noun means 'fat, flesh,
serum'. The verb 'niNa'  means 'to tie, to braid'.

Also, the Tamil term for prosody is 'yAppu' which is from the root 'yA'
meaning 'to tie, bind, compose (as a poem)'. The sequence of feet in poetry
is called 'taLai'. As a verb 'taLai' means 'to fasten, bind, chain,' and as a
noun 'taLai' means 'fastening, cord, rope'. Thus the Dravidian technical
terminology related to prosody is full of terms  referring to thread.

As for Semitic origin, one can look for it. But, geographically, there is
Iranian lying between Vedic and Semitic. If Avestan does not have a word for
'warp' derived from 'ta'n', I doubt if such effort is needed. There is a
proverb in Tamil which translates into, "When you have butter in hand, why go
all over looking for clarified butter?"


S. Palaniappan



More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list