The elephant naLagiri/nalagiri

N. Ganesan naga_ganesan at HOTMAIL.COM
Sat Apr 3 20:41:22 UTC 1999

In the Buddha's life stories, the taming of the Nalagiri/NaLagiri,
the ferocious elephant, is prominent. Depicted in Ajanta murals as
well as in a medallion from Amaravati. After the death of King
Bimbisara, Devadatta forces elephant-keepers to set the full grown
male elephant, Nalagiri upon the venerable Gotama when he is on His
routine alms-round. Nalagiri was tamed when it approached the Blessed
 One, bowed down and listened to His words of advice.

Could the name, Nalagiri/NaLagiri mean 'black mountain'?
Tamil texts portray elephants as 'black mountains'.In Sanskrit as
well. Near Madurai, a hillock is Anaimalai (elephant mountain) and
in Coimbatore district, there is Anaimalai range.
In Andhra, a mountain range is Nalla-malai, "black mountain".
Krishnaveni (from kaNNapeNNA of Jatakas) flows
from Nallamalai 'black mountain'. Kamban sings of
a 'kariya peNNai' (=krishna peNNA, Is it waynganga falling into

M. B. Emeneau has an article on the name Nala in Mahabharata.
He derives it as Dravidian meaning "good". But, may be Nala of Mbh.
may signify his black color.Is Nala of MBh. dark in color?
Alternately, his name may be due to his bout with zani bhagavAn. In
all tamil Mbh., Nala is NaLan only, his story is told in the beautiful
naLaveNpA of pukazEnti. (Tiru)naLLaaRu is the famous zani temple
near Kaaraikkaal. (naLLaaRu = black river?) Nala/NaLa of Mbh.
has gotten rid of his zani there, according to lagends. Black
clothes and sesame oil (*nal* eNNai) are offered at naLLaaRu.

In Tamil, naLLiruL means 'dark black, central darkness". DEDR 3621
'naL' means darkness. Like Telugu, Tamil also has merged L into l in
some words to mean  black. Eg., 1) nallavELai = black vailay, a sticky
plant of sandy places 2) nalla kAkkai = common crow 3) nalla miLaku =
black pepper 4) nallam = charcoal, black color 5) nallERu = Bull
buffalo 6) nal-eNNai = sesame oil (Is it because sesame is black?
nal = black) 7) nalla pAmpu = cobra (Is this the Sanskrit

Can we say Nalagiri/NaLagiri has a Dravidian word naL-/nal-
meaning 'black/dark'?

N. Ganesan

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