Potala(ka) etymology

N. Ganesan naga_ganesan at HOTMAIL.COM
Thu Feb 25 19:09:34 UTC 1999

Petr Mares wrote:
>It is interesting that small Eitel's Chinese Buddhist Dictionary says
>on page 202. GuangMing Shan = "The shining hill or monastery, a
>name of the abode of Kuan Yin, said to be in India, and called
>Potala". (Eitel gives no references).

Lokesh Chandra, like scores of other reputed scholars in 20th century,
takes Avalokitezvara's abode, Mt. Potalaka in the Malaya mountains.
This was done first by Xuan Zang.

Let us read what Lokesh Chandra, a foremost Buddhism expert has
to say on Potala etymology:

Lokesh Chandra, Origin of the Avalokitezvara of Potala,
Kailash: a journal of Himalayan studies, v.7, no. 1, 1979, p. 5-25

L. Chandra, p. 6

[Begin quote]
Buddhabhadra(420 AD)'s rendering is 'Brilliance'. It refers
to its etymology: Tamil *pottu (potti-)* 'to light (as a fire)',
Kota pot- (poty-) id., Kannada pottu n. 'flaming',
Ka. pottige 'flaming, flame', Tulu potta 'hot, burning',
(Burrow/Emeneau 1961:298 no. 3691). In Kannada analogous
words are: pottige 'flaming, flame', pottisu 'to cause to
burn with flame, to kindle, to light', pottu 'to begin to
burn with flame, to be kindled, to catch fire, to flame',
pottu '1. flaming, 2. sun 3 time' (Kittel 1894:1020).
[End quote]

I have some quotes from Sangam texts where pottal
is used for lighting a flame.

eri potti en2 neJcam - kalittokai 34.11
iRai iRai pottiRRu tI - kali. 145.58

kATu tIp piRappa kan2ai eri potti - cilappatikAram 4.122
tiNNin2 tiruki tI azal potti - maNimEkalai 2.53

So, potti for lighting a flame is used in Tamil
for atleast 2000 years. According to Lokesh Chandra,
this Ta. 'potti- pottu-, pottal' forms the basis for Guangming.

N. Ganesan

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