bhakti- etc.

Harry Spier harryspier at HOTMAIL.COM
Sat Mar 27 21:00:08 UTC 1999

Yaroslav V. Vassilkov wrote:
>Dear colleagues,
>I would be most grateful for references to different etymologies of the
>*bhagavat*, *bhakti*, *bhakta* (even to those that you think are wrong)
and to
>different ideas on the history of their semantics.
>     Thanks in advance,
>                                Yaroslav Vassilkov

SwAmI tyAgIzAnanda in "nArada bhakti sUtras" from  Sri Ramakrishna Math"
has a section on the etymology of 'bhagavAn' which I think may be
relevant and from which I quote (using Harvard-Kyoto convention):
pages 166 - 168

"Bhaga in early vedic literature meant 'dispenser', patron, or gracious
lord as applied to the Gods, especially savitR.  As a qualifying word it
was used to denote dignity, beauty, majesty, or excellence.  In Rgv. I.
164. 40; VII. 41. 4; X. 60. 12; and Athar. II. 10. 2; V. 31. 11, the
word Bhagavat is used in the sense 'blissful'. atho vayam baghavantaH
syAmaH means 'may we be the repositories of good qualities'. In the
purAnas the word came to denote the Supreme Divine Reality and as such a
synonym of brahman and paramAtman -- vadanti tat tattvavidaH tatvaM yad
jnAna mavyayaM |
brahmeti pramAtmeti bhagavAniti zabdyate -- bhAg. I. 2. 11.  That the
word bhagavAn is the term by which brahman or paramAtman is referred to
by devotees for the sake of worship is clear from Vishnu purAna VI. 5
-66-79:  (Swamiji quotes the sanskrit here followed by the english from
which I quote)

"That which is imperceptible, undecaying, inconceivable, unborn,
inexhaustible, indestructible; which has neither form, nor hands, nor
feet, which is almighty, omnipresent, eternal; the cause of all things
and without cause, permeating all, itself unpenetrated, and from which
all things proceed, that is the object which the wise behold, that is
Brahman, that is the Supreme State, that is the thing spoken of by the
Vedas, the infinitely subtle, supreme condition of viSNu.  That Essence
of the Supreme is defined by the term Bhagavat;  the word Bhagavat is
the denotation of that primeval and eternal God; and he who fully
understands the meaning of that expression is possessed of holy wisdom,
the sum and substance of the three vedas. The word Bhagavat is a
convenient form to be used in the adoration of that Supreme Being, to
twhom no term is applicable; and therefore bhagavat expresses that
Supreme Spirit which is individual, almighty, and the cause of causes of
all things.  The syllable 'bha' implies the cherisher and supporter of
the universe.  By 'ga' is understood the leader, impeller, or creator.
The dissyllabic 'bhaga' indicates the six properties -- dominion, might,
glory, splendour, wisdom and dispassion.  The purport of the syllable
'va' is that elemental Spirit in which all beings exist, and which
exists in all beings.  And thus this great word 'bhagAvan' is the name
of 'vAsudeva', who is one with the Supreme Brahman, and of no one else.
This word therefore, which is the general denomination of an adorable
object, is not used in reference to the supreme in a general
signification, but a special one.  When applied to any other thing or
person it is used in its customary or general import.  In the latter
case it may purport one who knows the origin and end and revolutions of
beings and what is wisdom and what is ignorance.  In the former it
denotes wisdom, energy, power, domination, might, glory, without end and
without defect."

Yours sincerely

Harry Spier
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