River Krishna

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Thu Mar 18 17:16:46 UTC 1999

At 5:30 -0800 3/18/99, Venkatraman Iyer wrote:
>The name of the River Krishna in AP in old times appears to have
>been  called something cognate with the Tamil "karum peNNai";
>'karum' refers to black color and 'peNNai' means palm tree.
>We have vaTa(north) and ten2(south) peNNai rivers.

I wonder whether there is *any* connection with palm trees (why would you
like to call your river like that?).

K.-H. Pinnow  (1963-4) collected river names from all over India in an
unfortunately unpublished Berlin thesis, except for small excerpts in
Beitrage zur Namenforschung (1963-4).

In Central India he found a  number of rivers that have been Sanskritized
(mostly as second parts of compounds)  in
-parNA 'leaf', -pUrNA 'full',
-praNI 'leading forwards/full of life',
-phenA  'having foam',
-varNA 'having color', -veNNA, -veNa, -veNI 'having strands of hair'
(cf. TriveNI 'sacred confluence of three rivers', such as at
Prayaaga/Allahabad, etc. ).
Clearly, many of them are popular etymologies of foreign words (such as
your 'palm tree' case).

These names are mostly found south of the Satpura Range, that is west, east
and south of Nagpur, and north of the GodAvarI, in an area now occupied by
Marathi and Gondi.

Pinnow has explained them as the first bundle, coming from the north, of
Drav. river names as they may be compared  with  mod. Drav. river names
such as peNNai, poruNai, that is feminine forms (common in river names) of
peNN-, poruN-.

However, the language isolate  (lowest substrate of ) Nahali has
 parayn [paraJ?, see Kuiper , Nahali, 1962: 96] 'river'.
This suggests an origin of this word in (Proto-)Nahali.

(Note that  25% of Nahali vocabulary are lower, in time, than the
subsequent Munda, Dravidian and Indo-Aryan levels; the language now is IA).
Spoken on the Tapti, in the Satpura Range, NW of Ellichpur and Nagpur).
Some speculate that the Bhils may have spoken Nahali.

The Dravidians might have taken over, long ago, this designation in
contact; this is echoed by such double names in the area as Pain-Ganga,
Ven-Ganga 'river -river', found  in eastern Maharastra (gaGgA seems to have
meant 'river' originally, cf. Mayrhofer, KEWA, EWA s. v.) Such double or
even triple designations are not uncommon when a river name is taken over
into another language.
(I have given many cases from Nepal in 1993 where we can follow such
processes. In some cases we get a modern river name in two or even three
languages : "river-river-river" = Mod-khyun-kholaa!).

But what would be the Dravidian etymon here? Certainly not DEDR  4449 pEN
Hardly  DEDR  4436 pEN 'protection', DEDR 4551 poru 'to unite'... And no
palm trees.
Any ideas among the Drav. linguists?

>In medieval times, it looks "karum peNNai/peNNaar" was rendered as

Note again peNNAi ~ veNi  (perhaps additionally influenced by Skt. veNI)

>and later shortened to Krishna.

Comments appreciated


Michael Witzel                          Elect. Journ. of Vedic Studies
Harvard University                  www1.shore.net/~india/ejvs
my direct line (also for messages) :  617- 496 2990
home page:     www.fas.harvard.edu/~witzel/mwpage.htm

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