Q: mAyA

George Thompson GthomGt at CS.COM
Sat Nov 13 01:41:54 UTC 1999

With apologies to N. Ganesan for this tardy response:

In a message dated 11/9/99 11:47:02 AM Eastern Standard Time,
naga_ganesan at HOTMAIL.COM writes:

>  Two queries on the word, mAyA:
>  1) From 10-jun-98 post,  RV mentions "all the ungodly magical
>  practices"  of those hostile to the vedic aryans (vi'zvA a'devIH ...
>  mAyA'H) and, a'deva seems to refer to humans. Is it true that mAyA is
>  usually associated with adevas in the RV?

No, the term is used of Vedic RSis themseleves, of asuras, of devas [e.g.,
VaruNa, Indra, Agni, Soma, etc.], as well as, but only occasionally, DAsas,
Dasyus, adevas, VRtra, and rakSasas, etc. The concept is not negative in
itself, but only when used with negative figures such as these.
>  2) Given the fact that "mAiiA" is attested only once in the entire
>  Avestan gathas, and that the association between Old Persian and
>  RV is pervasive and deep, could the Iranians have borrowed the term
>  "mAiiA" from Indo-Aryans? Does the numerical strength of evidence for
>  mAyA, mayakku, mAyai, etc., being more than 99% in both Indo-Aryan
>  and Dravidian show India to be the birthplace of the culturally loaded
>  concept, mAyA? (Or else, mAyA should be IIr heritage???)

This is more difficult to answer.  It is true that mAiiA is attested only
once in the Gathas, but there are a handful of terms that may be related:
humAiiA [cf. Skt. sumAya], humaiiaka [note the short vowel, vs. Skt.
sumAyaka]. We do not find in Avestan a direct correspondent of Skt. durmAyin
or durmAyu 'involved in bad arts', but mAiiu without the prefix is attested
in Avestan. The problem is that it is hard to establish firm relationships
among all of these words, since there is confusion in Avestan of long and
short vowels.  It is not clear whether the Avestan forms are to be related to
Skt. mAyA, or rather to Skt. mayas [= Avestan maiiah], refreshment,
enjoyment, etc. So it is possible that there is no Iranian evidence at all.

But if we accept the Gathic form as related to Skt. mAyA, yes, it is very
much possible that it could have been borrowed from Indic. The fact that the
Avestan forms humAiiA and humaiiaka appear to be proper names may support the
case for borrowing from Indic, since proper names do migrate easily. In one
case the person named is an enemy of the religion of MazdA, but in the other
case it is the name of a daughter of a Zoroastrian. Unfortunately, here again
the evidence is not clear-cut.

In general, Ganesan, I do not think that your view is incompatible with
Michael Witzel's [who does concede the possiblity of borrowing from
Dravidian, though at an early date which is problematic from MW's point of
view].  The only point that I would add is that mAyA [and mAyin] in the RV
has strong associations with magic [and magician]. Is there a similar
association in Dravidian?  If we fail to deal with this association of mAyA
and magic, we will not do justice to the RV evidence.

Best wishes,

George Thompson

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