pots, brahmin names, and potters

Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan Palaniappa at AOL.COM
Tue Dec 29 09:06:26 UTC 1998

In responding to my personal message with my suggestion on dhuUmrasagotra, Dr.
G.v. Simson wrote that that there might be more behind this peculiar name
dhUmrasagotra than he (together with Bareau and others) thought. He also asked
the following.

"What about (black)smiths? Do not they too play a role that has been
underrated? (In spite of Walter Ruben's "Eisenschmiede und Daemonen",
1939). The Buddha - since we were talking about his last days - has his
last meal with the smith (kammAraputta/karmAraputra) Cunda."

I have given this question considerable thought. Based on the semantics of the
etymology, there is a straight equivalence between vELAn2 and bhRgu (and
similarly between kuyavan2 and dhUmrasagotra). The words for smiths in
Dravidian and IA do not suggest a similar relationship. But there is something
very interesting when one looks at the products made by these artisans.

Each one of the following -- pot/vessel, jewelry, ship/boat, weapon, inscribed
palm-leaf -- can be indicated by the word kalam in Tamil. Often kalam is used
in conjunction with a modifier such as aNikalam (jewelry/ornament), marakkalam
(ship/boat made of wood), paTaikkalam (battle weapons such as a spear).
Depending on the context, the modifier aNi, maram, and paTai can be done away
with. For instance the word for lighthouse in Tamil is kalaGkarai viLakkam
based on kalam -boat/ship, karai-shore and viLakkam-light. (One can see why
droNa came to be used for non-wood vessels/boats as well.) DEDR does not list
all the possible meanings of Ta. kalam as listed in the Tamil Lexicon. These
usages go back to Classical Tamil and Tolkappiyam.

The use of the same word to represent the products of potter, carpenter,
blacksmith, bronze/gold smith, and scribe is very interesting indeed. In fact,
we get some fundamental insight into Indian culture if we investigate the
etymology of kalam.

According to DEDR 1305 Ta. kalam vessel, plate, utensil, earthernware,
?Br. kalanD broken earthen pot, any old pot. ? Cf. 1301 Ta. kallai./Cf.
Skt. kalA- boat; ? kalaza- pot. According to Kuiper, etymologically, kalaza is
of Dravidian origin. (See Kuiper, Aryans in the Rig Veda, p. 14.)
DEDR 1301 Ta. kallai plate made of leaves sewn together
.Malt. kale leaf-cup.
? Cf. 1305 Ta. kalam. /Cf. Pkt. (Sheth, suppl.) khallaga-, khallaya- leaf-cup.
(One can see how the use of droNa is synonymous with kalam in being used as
equivalent to a pot, boat, leaf-cup, etc.)

It looks like kalam was, in general, a product of any art/craft such as
pottery, carpentry, smithy or writing. It seems to be derived from the root
kal-. According to DEDR 1297 Ta. kal (kaRp-, kaRR-) to learn, study, practice
(as arts), acquire skill in the use of arms; kalai arts, sciences, learning,
/Cf. Skt. kalA-an art. What is interesting is that the
scribe/accountants par excellence as seen in the Tamil inscriptions have been
potters. (And other artisans did the actual inscribing on stone or copper
plate.) Moreover, since kalaza is of RV usage, one can see how early the
Dravidian artisans' interaction with the Aryan culture had been. kalaza occurs
even in hymns (3.32.15, 4.32.19, 6.69.2, and 6.69.6) in the books considered
among the oldest of RV books. (These hymns are not included in the late hymns
listed by Witzel in "Rgvedic history: poets, chieftains and polities" chapter
in "The Indo-Aryans of South Asia".) According to MMW dictionary, kalazayoni
can refer to agastya (kAdambarI) and droNa (harSacarita). kalaza is equal to a
measure called droNa. In an earlier post, I mentioned the equivalent use of
kumbha and droNa. Thus kumbha, kalaza, and droNa can be used synonymously.

In this context, one can see how "kalam" referring to palm-leaf texts can be
associated with an educational institution/college teaching "kalai". Of course
"kalam" also could mean pot. But IA does not have such a concept linking pots
and a college for brahmins. In South Indian inscriptions of Kadamba and
Pallava kings (kacAkkuti plates of Nandivarman Pallavamallan, vElUrppalayam
plates of Nandivarman II, etc.), we find the use of the word "ghaTikA" in the
sense of college for brahmins. We find also the royal officials called
tiruvAykkELvi who transcribed oral orders onto palm leaves were given the
titles kaTikai mArAyan2 (ghaTikA maharAjan). Thus we find that IA words were
created by translating Dravidian words.

While I have not researched the heritage of other artisans as much as that of
the potters, I am on firmer ground when it comes to potters and brahmins. My
analysis of the words suggest, that the culture of pre-Vedic Dravidian culture
was not hierarchical as the tri-partite Aryan culture was supposed to be. The
semantics of the word vEL signifying priests, warriors, and potters suggests
this. (On the other hand  according to the IA system, each of these would have
had to belong to a separate class.) The earliest technologists of the early
Dravidian culture might have been potters who were also priests. (Probably
other artisans developed out of this group later on.) A section of these
native potter-priest-warriors must have adopted the IA culture very early.
These became the bhRgus, etc. The entry into brahminhood must have been going
on even after Vedic period.  These acculturated potter-brahmin-warrior
Dravidians must have adopted the tri-partite Aryan class system (later
expanded to four classes) and manufactured enough textual "evidence" that they
succeeded in elevating themselves above the rest of their original cohorts!

Depending on what archaeology and Vedic scholarship conclude, the number of
immigrant Aryan priests must have been far fewer compared to the recruits from
the native potter-priest-warrior community. In his article, "Genesis of
Rgvedic Retroflexion: A Historical and Sociolinguistic Investigation", M. M.
Deshpande says (p.260), "Already in the brAhmaNa texts, we hear of dark-
complexioned brahmins proving themselves academically superior to the fair-
complexioned brahmins (Chatterji 1962:69-70)." He also wonders if the
descendants of the original Aryans were numerically not a minority in this
mixed Aryanized society (p. 297). Michael Witzel in his article "Rgvedic
history: poets, chieftains and polities" says, "The idea of a cataclismic
invasion has, in fact, been given up long ago by Vedic scholars - the view
that "Aryan hordes" sacked the cities of the Harappans (Wheeler 1946 etc.), in
particular, has found few takers lately. What is not yet clear is how the
process of immigration actually took place. As suggested in my previous paper
(Chapter 4), even a limited number of Indo-Aryan speakers could have triggered
a process of acculturation, especially if they enjoyed a dominant social
position due to their superior (military) technology." If a considerable
portion of Kannada-speaking area could become Marathi-speaking area in
historical times, there is no reason why Dravidian-speaking areas could not
have become IA-speaking areas in Vedic times. They must have coined new words
translating Dravidian concepts into Indo-Aryan forms, such as pAvai/tanU.

Two years ago, I started with the view that the Vedas and early brahminic
texts were the products of descendants of Aryan immigrants who were ethnically
different from the Dravidians. What I have discovered in the last two years
leaves no other option but to support the theory that, by and large, the IA
linguistic culture in India even from Vedic times must have been the product
of mainly acculturated Dravidians (based on etymology of words for important
concepts such as image worship, text, etc.) and possibly others to a lesser
extent. Specifically, it was the Dravidian potter-priest-warriors who must
have played a critical role in the Aryanization process.

In his article on Rgvedic retroflexion, Deshpande quotes Dandekar as saying
"In the long and continual history of Hinduism, the age of the Veda must be
said to have occurred more or less as an interlude."  It was a very important
interlude linguistically, but in terms of many cultural attributes, the pre-
Vedic traits seem to have held their own quite successfully.

S. Palaniappan

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