sarasvatI (etymology)

Dominique.Thillaud thillaud at UNICE.FR
Fri May 29 09:04:53 UTC 1998

        I would give here some remarks about the name of the Goddess and of
the river. My opinion is that there was an early confusion between two
Eurindian roots, *ser- and *sel-, both giving Skr. *sar-.

        *ser- is known by Latin "serO" (to string) with good cognates in
Celtic, Germanic, Greek and Tokharian. A very common metaphora shows the
speech as a string of words (we say today "syntagmatic axis") and Latin
give us the word "sermO" (coherent speech > sermon) who use it.
        And the MMW dictionary give a ref. "saras" (speech) in naighaNTuka
i,11, used to explain the Goddess' name.
        This is highly coherent with some features of sarasvatI, Who,
associated with vac, evoke the Greek Muses (early fewer than nine), even in
litterary use: like in Homer and Hesiod, the first zloka of the MBh is an
address to the Goddess.

        *sel- is known by Greek "hals", currently (salt) but earlier (sea)
and homeric and ritual uses show that the word designates properly the
water-part of a beach, where the boats can land and the bath can occur. The
"bath" sense is very clear in an old formula such that "halade mustai!"
used in Eleusinian initiation. Hence, "saras" could be simply a bathing
place, able to give a common name for a river (the Greek hydronymy shows
many hal- for sweet waters).

        The confusion between the two roots gave an unexpected importance
to this river name and the river became definitively linked to the Goddess.
I believe that many rivers were named "sarasvatI", early as a common name,
later to honour the Goddess and perhaps to perform some rituals. Hence, any
archeological or geographical conclusion about such river is probably
        Comments are welcomed,

Dominique THILLAUD
Universite' de Nice Sophia-Antipolis, France

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