On 'patra/pattra' again!

John Smith jds10 at CUS.CAM.AC.UK
Mon Feb 15 09:43:12 UTC 1999

On Sun, 14 Feb 1999, Madhav Deshpande wrote:

> If I may continue this discussion a little further, while I have some
> references in front of me, I would suggest that there is a circularity
> between spellings of Sanskrit words and their perceived etymologies.  For
> example, consider the variants putra/puttra.  It is obvious that the
> variant puttra allowed the folk-etymology put+tra, where -put- is said to
> be the name of a hell, from which the son protects the father (pun-naamno
> narakaad yasmaat traayate pitaram suta.h).  On the other hand, the reading
> putra allowed the derivation pu+tra.  Here the affix tra (.s.tran in the
> U.naadisuutra) is added to the root puu.  But this requires the shortening
> of the vowel of the root, which is explicitly prescribed by the
> U.naadisuutra : puvo hrasvaz ca.  Thus, we have two alternative
> etymologies, besides the fact that Panini considered this word as
> underived, giving us no specific clue as to whether it should be
> 'originally' putra or puttra.  In my opinion, the phonological variation
> is in all likelihood the more primary fact, while the etymologies are
> simply rationalizations, after the fact.
>         Best,
>                                 Madhav Deshpande

Could you make clear just how far you are going here, Madhav? I have no
problems with your remarks on put(t)ra, but how many other -tra words are
suspect in your view? Surely not astra, zastra, zAstra, pAtra, chat(t)ra,
vaktra, etc., etc.? If not all cases, then which ones? And what is the
basis for discriminating between them (so that pat(t)ra is suspect but --
presumably -- zastra is not)?

John Smith

Dr J. D. Smith                *  jds10 at cam.ac.uk
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