Q: intervocalic -k- preserved as intervocalic -g-

RM.Krishnan poo at GIASMD01.VSNL.NET.IN
Tue Oct 19 13:12:22 UTC 1999

At 10/18/99 10:44:00 AM, you wrote:
>Dear Dr. N. Ganesan,
>Are you sure agasti is derived from Drav. akatti?  Rather tan the reverse or
>both from a third language?  As for the seemingly derived name Agastya, Eric
>Pirart (Les forces du mal dans la Rgvedasamhita, Journal Asiatique 1998/2,
>if I'm not mistaken) explains it as a loan from Iranian, a-gast-, "without
>foul smell, without sin, impeccable".
>Yours sincerely,
>Koenraad Elst
Dear Dr.Koenraad Elst,

We move on to my part no.2.

So what is the etymology of the name 'Agastya'?

There are a number of names similar to 'Agastya' in the other Indo-European languages, like Augustus, Augustinus,
Augustanus, Augustulus in Latin, Augusti in Germanic, Augustine in English etc. These have been natural names in
Europe even before the Christian Era. If we look at the Latin name 'Augustus', the meaning appears to be 'consecrated
or venerable.'

In the Bloomsbury Dictionary of Word Origins, John Ayto suggests the following:

August [OE] The month of August was named by the Romans after their Emporer (63BC -14AD). His name was
Caius Julius Caesar Octavian, but the Senete granted him the honorary title Augustus in 27BC. This connoted
'imperial majesty,' and was a specific use of the adjective 'augustus' -{ 'magnificient, majestic' (source of Englist
august [17])}; it may derive ultimately from the verb 'augere'-[ 'increase' (from which English gets auction and

Now we come to Tamil. Unfortunately, many Indologists do not consider the Dravidian words when looking for
similarity with and tracing the etymology of  Indo-European words. There is much to benefit from doing so. In my
deeply held view, considering the North Indian languages (together with Sanskrit) and the European languages as
two branches of a single Indo-European tree is only a first step. Most probably, the dravidian languages form an
earlier branch of the same tree.

In Tamil, the verb 'akai -thal', as per "The Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Tamil Language"
vol-1,part -1, has meanings 'to sprout; to thrive, flourish, grow well, as vegetation; to blossom, to expand. ('thal' in
the rendering is an infinitive end). Incidentally, 'k' in the Tamil word 'akai-thal' has to be pronounced as 'g' due to
positional rules, as suggested earlier by N.Ganesan.

There are also equivalent words in other Dravidian Languages.viz., MalayaLam - aga, Kannada- age, Telugu - Agu,
ThuLu - aggE etc;

As you can see, there is a similar meaning of 'increase' for  the Latin word. One beauty of the Latin and Dravidian
sources is that there is no need to split the word un-naturally to fit a supposed myth.

Why do I say that this is a probable derivation? Because, there are a few more natural words in Tamil with a similar
meaning of blossom,expand,increase,extend etc. For example,

akalthal(v) - to extend, to expand, to spread, to widen,to broaden, to get into greatness, to enlarge
akaram - town in an agricultural tract (meaning extended field); originally a place where mostly brahmins live
akattuthal(v) - to open wide
akaRRuthal (v) - to widen, to broaden, to extend,to increase,
akappu - height
akaRci - breadth
akaRRam - width,expanse
Arththi - mountain ebony tree, widely prevalent in ancient tamil nAdu. This is a broad tree with intense branches,
                and blossoms intensely. This is also a royal floral insignia of the Cholas.
Al - Typical Indian Banyan tree, prevalent largely in the north India during ancient times.

 In Tamil, as in other Indian languages, vowels and consonants are not always explicitly written. They are rendered
in a combined fashion. (i.e. there are consonant-vowel combinations with explicit glyphs.) Also vowels are of two
types, long and short. (For example, 'A' is long and 'a' is short. We say 'a' is lengthened to 'A' and both are related).
Now, let there be three consonants c1, c2 and c3. and three short vowels v1,v2 and v3. A word can be of this form
[(c1v1)(c2v2)(c3v3)....]. .It is often a practice in Tamil to coin a new rendering of the word formation (but with the
same meaning) by dropping (c2v2) and lengthening v1 to V1. For example, [(pa)(ku)(thi)] means divided portion and
hence quotient, half, etc. By dropping (ku) and lengthening a to A, we get [(pA)(thi)]; Similarly mikuthi(remainder)
becomes mIthi. peyar (name) becomes pEr. makan (son) becomes mAn etc. This type of changed rendering is not a
one way process. There can be a reverse process. i.e. [(c1V1)(c3v3)] can become [(c1v1)(c2v2)(c3v3)....].

Now I come to my central arguement.  Athan is proper name in general use in ancient times. Athan has the same
meaning as suggested to 'Augustus' - foremost person, venerated person, person with virtuous quality etc. The
following are the typical names in Tamil and dravidian languages.

Athan azici, Athan ungan, Athan Ori - names of petty kingdoms in Sangam literature.
CEralAthan, celvak katungkO vAziyAthan - names of cEra emporers in Sangam literature.

Athappa, Athayya are proper names in modern Kannada.
Athan is a proper name in modern MalayaLam.
Athappan, Aththappan, saththappan are proper names in modern Tamil.
AthikAn, AthikAtu are proper names in modern Telugu.

Athamangalam, AthanUr are place names in modern Tamil nadu.

Athan has been a prefix or a suffix in many old Tamil names. The root is 'aku' (meaning:to sprout; to thrive, flourish,
grow well, as vegetation; to blossom, to expand.) 'aku' can turn into 'akai' quite easily.

The etymology is  aku - A - Aku. This is similar to paku-pA and miku - mI

'Athan' and 'akathan' are two renderings with same meaning. 'akathan' in Tamil would quite naturally change into
'akathyan' and further drop 'n' when moving into Sanskrit; and finally turn into 'akasthya > agastya'.

Before I conclude, I should perhaps place other parallel words.

Athan - man (in Tamil), Admi in Hindi and Urdu, Adam in Hebrew and a host of other languages.
Athan - body, spirit and self (in Tamil), Atman (in sanskrit), atmaya (in sinhalese) attan (in pAli), atta (in prakrit),
(gothic), atum(Old German).

I am not suggesting that one has come from the other. I am only suggesting that by including the dravidian languages
the search we get better results; and perhaps we may come to a revision of our outlook/dogma.

With regards,


Regarding the derivation from Iranian sources as to 'without smell' and 'without sin' etc, I would like to raise a
question; does the meaning appear to be so in other Indo-European languages? Is there a name similar to 'Agastya' in
Iranian? Why should one insist on smell being not present? what is so significant about it? Is having smell a sin?
When all rishis are supposed to be without sin, why should Agastya be designated as sin-free? I am not very clear.

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list