nAraNa_n, the tamil word for nArAyaNa (was: Vishnu)

R Srinivasan rsrin at PACIFIC.NET.SG
Wed Dec 13 03:24:25 UTC 2000

Dear list members,
I am new to this list and essentially a seeker/learner. Since I found the
topic of NAraNan interesting, I tthought of sharing this. There are many
ways of deriving the meaning of this term, Narayana. The word, Nara is used
to refer to a human. It also means indestructible, "na reeyate iti narah".
Nara can therefore refer only to that which is indestructible in man, ie.
Atma. Narasya idam nAram; that which belongs to the nara is NAra, ie. the
jagat, manifested universe. NAram eti iti NArAyana; the one who knows this
nAra or jagat and is the causeof it is NArayana.
He is generally portrayed as DARK, rather than black. Krishna, Shyama, Neela
megha are all refernces to dark, rather than black, for it often appears as
green (when Rama or Krishna is portrayed as Syama) and blue as neela megha.
KArmugil in Tamil is also the "dark cloud". In the relative universe of the
manifested world of nAra, the Dark is but one side of the Light; to portray
NArayana only as the dark hued God would then deny us the joy and
perspective of the whole, which the luminous light provides. Hence,
Adityavarnam, hence too His darkness juxtaposed with the milky white ocean.
Gain the perspective of one, the other may be lost, like the nearness of the
tree and the distance of the woods lend..reminds me of the Tamil verse,
marattai maraittadu mAmada yAnai, marattil maraindadu mA mada yAnai;
Parattai maraittadu pArmada inbam; Parattil maraindadu pArmada inbam. As far
as I know, the description of Vishnu takes clear form, colour, etc. only
from VishnupurAna onwards..
Radhika Srinivasan

-----Original Message-----
From: Indology [mailto:INDOLOGY at LISTSERV.LIV.AC.UK]On Behalf Of N.
Sent: Wednesday, December 13, 2000 10:02 AM
Subject: nAraNa_n, the tamil word for nArAyaNa (was: Vishnu)

The buddhist epic maNimEkalai, srivaishNava Alvars, and saivaite
NayanmArs frequently refer to Narayana as "nAraNa_n". For example,
the maNimEkalai passage:

"kAtal koNTu kaTalvaNan2 purANam
OtinAn2 nAraNan2 kAppu en2Ru uraittan2an"  (maN. 27.98-99)

The man who studied the ancient story/text of the sea-colored
God said nAraNa_n(=nArAyaNa) is the one who protects.

In Dravidian, -L- and -r- pairs exist; Within tamil,
kAr = kALa = 'black' (eg., kArmukil = kALamukil = 'black cloud');
karu = kaLa = 'black' (eg., karuGkAy = kaLakkAy = 'black berry'
such as i) small lance-crenate-acute-leaved whortle berry,
s. tr., vaccinium nigherrense; ii). farklebrry; iii) bapal barberry.

Parallel to the kAr-/kAL- pair, nAL-/nAr- (='black') is used in
forming the name "nAraNa_n" = skt. nArAyaNa.

Note that "aNa" is the Dravidian word as in mAyaNa, father of sAyaNa
who was the commentator of the Rgveda. The -aNa in nAraNa is the same
as in mAyaNa, sAyaNa,  and mAyaNa, sAyaNa, nAraNa are names of the god

E. B. Cowell, The sarva darzana saMgraha, MLBD, p.1
" 3. The synopsis of all the systems is made by the venerable
Maadhava, mighty in power, the Kaustubha-jewel of the milk-ocean of
the fortunate SaayaNa.

4. Having thorougly searched the zAstras of former teachers, very hard
to be crossed, the fortunate SaayaNa-Maadhava [1] the lord has
expounded them for the delight of the good. Let the virtuous listen
with a mind from which all envy has been far banished; who finds not
delight in a garland strung of various flowers?

[1] Dr. A. C. Burnell, in his preface to his edition of the
vaMza-brAhmaNa, has solved the riddle of the relation of maadhava and
saayaNa. SaayaNa is a pure Dravidian name given to a child who is born
after all the elder children have died. Maadhava elsewhere calls
SaayaNa, his "younger brother", as an allegorical description of his
body, himself being the eternal soul. His use of the term
sAyaNa-mAdhava here (not the dual) seems to prove that the two names
represent the same person. The body seems meant by the sAyaNa of the
third zloka. MaayaNa was the father of Maadhava, and the true reading
may be zrIman-mAyaNa."

[Will write in the future more on the Dravidian custom of naming the
child something with a lowly thing so as 'to cheat the gods', and
tamil kAy-/cAy- and the skt. zayana from k => z observed from Vedic


Prof. G. v. Simson wrote:
>The Rgveda does not yet say that Vishnu is black, as far as I know, but
>since it does not say very much about the god anyway, we cannot arrive at
>the conclusion that he was not conceived as black either. For me his
>identification with Krishna, "the Black one" is more than
>a mere coincidence, but I think that his blackness has a symbolic value and
>has nothing to do with skin colour and even less with beauty. One of the
>most important manifestations/incarnations of the later Vishnu is the boar,
>an animal characterized by its black colour, but not by its beauty.

Vishnu-Narayana is Krishna 'black' and K. as well as Raama and
Varaha being black is more than coincidence. Maal is considered both
black and beautiful in Tamil tradition. When the poetess ANTAL sings
"mAlE! maNivaNNA!", the maNi varNam refers to the black jewel. Like
her, other Alvar Saints too call Narayana as 'karu maNi' (black jewel)
sleeping on ananta-zeSa. The parallel is Narayaniyam section of the
MBh. epic calling Narayana as aaditya-varNa, here the shining property
and energy of his black color is refered to. The milky ocean, the
serpent couch, zvetadvIpa etc., can be white and 'cool'. In contrast,
Narayana is black. Vishnu vishvarupam is usually painted black or
blue-black. Sangam poems call the black bee shining like a black maNi
many a time.

Indian art always depicts the Narayana sleeping in the milky ocean as
black or blue-black. Some painting reproductions:

a)1) Narayana sleeping on the serpent couch, accompanied by Lakshmi
  with Narayana's feet on her lap. A beautiful Pahari painting c. 1760
(p. 32, The Eternal cycle, Indian myth, Time-Life, 1998)

  2) Gods and Sages beseeching Narayana to incarnate himself to
  kill Kamsa. National Museum, N. Delhi, No. 58.18/1.
(p. 252, B. N. Goswamy, Essence of Indian art, San Francisco Museum
exhibition catalog)

  This painting again is very interesting. Narayana who is
blue-black is approached by the thousand-eyed Indra, Shiva, and the
*black* VishNu himself. Both Narayana and Vishnu are portrayed in the
same pg., and no suggestion of any color for Narayana other than

In the Sanskrit theory of poetics, shaanta rasa was added much later.
There were attempts to interpolate this new rasam into Bharata's
naaTya shaastra shlokam. Abhinavagupta's  11th century innovation is
the new shaanta rasam which was linked to high religious experience.

SaahityadarpaNam by Vishvanatha (14th century) calls Narayana as the
deity of the shaanta rasam, and this text calls *white* as the color
of the shaanta rasam, and he quotes jasmine and moon as examples of
this color. Narayana, the supreme deity is chosen here because of his
deep slumber (yoganidra), I suppose. Did this 2nd millennium tradition
of shaanta rasam being white and Narayana being its deity influence
any confusion on Narayana's color?: I think B. N. Goswamy could not
reconcile the fact that black Narayana being the deity of the shaanta
rasa, white in color like jasmine and the moon. Goswamy says: "It is
especially relevant to point out here that the distribution and
application of colors in these paintings need not be examined with
reference to the concept of each rasa having its given color."

Later: the color symbolism in ancient tamil literature, the 'five
landscape' (aintiNai) of the TolkAppiyam, and the semiotics of hues
associated with Indian gods, ...

N. Ganesan

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