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

N. Ganesan naga_ganesan at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon Dec 18 17:30:12 UTC 2000

Dr. Luis Gonzales-Reimann wrote:
>It is very common in Sanskrit texts to associate NArAyaNa's color
>with the different yugas. He is white in KRta and black in Kali. The
>obvious implication is that white is the best color and black the worst.
>See the MahAbhArata, 3.148.16, 23, 26, 33 and 3.187.31. This is also stated
>by BhAsa at the very the beginning of his BAlacarita (where it is said that
>NArAyaNa's body was the color of milk or conch in the KRta
>Yuga-zaGkha-kSIra-vapus). This idea is then repeated in later PurANas.

Thanks, I have read about the scheme of colors of Narayana and also
the yugas themselves  from your mails. The colors associated with
yugas and Narayana coincide or correlate well with the colors
described for varNas.

All these color schemes has a "descending" valency from "best" to
"worst": the colors of Narayana in each yuga  or the yuga's color per
se or the numbers in the dice throws or the colors associated with
each varNa are in a state of "decline".

There is an "anthropological" explanation for all the color scheme
mentioned in Mahabharata onwards. Take the case of the Rgveda and
Avestan gathic literature. It has "white" against "black" dyadism well
spelt out. Also, the aarya varNa vs. daasa varNa in the earliest
Vedic material. The brahminical scheme of classification seems to have
initially only black versus white dualism. Later caste classifications
for plants, animals, and even for fish, ... flourish.  Diighanikaya
has an attack on aaryavarNa vs. daasavarNa (ie., white vs. black)
leading to accomadation. See M. Deshpande's  note on B. Smith's book
on varNa classification  of the Universe in India:

The sea colored deity, nArAyaNa (=nAraNan in tamil), whose color is
black, was given  a theological speculation and a folk etymology was
proposed in ancient times. "nAra" = 'water' was "invented" to explain
away the name nAraNan/nArAyaNa. Monier-Williams gives: "(pl.) water
(also sg. n. and %{A} f. L.) Mn. i , 10 (prob. invented to explain
%{nArAyaNa}) ; = %{nArAyaNa} L. ;" May be tamil "nIr" = water (> Skt.
nIra) was thought to be close to the "invention" nAra = water in this
theological speculation about nArAyaNa from water.

Tamil has many -L-/-r- pairs as pointed out in this thread:
kALi/kAri 'the black Goddess'; kuLam/kuram 'hoof';
Aratti/ALatti 'showing camphor flame'; nALikEram/nArikEram 'coconut',
etc., nAlikam is water buffalo (recorded in Skt. as well) and 'crow'
named after their black color. Nallamalai range produces River Krishna
which is 'kaNhapeNNA' in Buddhist literature. Naraka seems to
have a Drav. root "naL/nal/nar'=black. The tamil pair "nAL/nAr"=black
has been used to form nARaNan = the black god (Cf. compare the other
name in Dravidian for Narayana/Vishnu = mAl = 'black').
In the mArkaNDeyasamasyaparvan of the MBh., and bhAgavatam,
the god nArAyaNa floats on the banyan leaf in the sea.
The aeons-old deathless sage M. was wandering through the immense
Night of Brahma. Every thing in that dark night was contained
within Narayana. The sage goes deep into the ocean, the radiant
jewel Narayana was floating on the fig leaf. But the radiant jewel
is the black jewel ("karu maNi") floating on the banyan leaf in the
ocean. I have a reproduction of Narayana-child floating on the banyan
leaf with dark blue of lapis lazuli done at Tipu Sultan's court.
(I think Stella Kramrisch published it.) And, all paintings of
Narayana/Vishnu sleeping in the snake couch portray him as 'dark'
(black=krishna varNam).

One of the more extensive versions of bRhatkathA is in Tamil.
KoGkuvELir rendered it in Tamil. 800 AD? Tamil peruGkatai has an
elephant named naLakiri. It has a description "kAriruG kun2RiR kavin2
peRat tOn2Ra" (PG.1.44.84). Here, the elephant naLakiri(=naLagiri) is
compared to a "big, black hill". kAr = black (karu-), irum = big,
kun2Ru = hill. Compare nArAyaNa  (=tamil nAraNan, 'black god') with
nALagiri  which possibly means 'black hill' of the buddhist legends.

On the other hand, Tamil literature in ancient times is completely
devoid of the black versus white dualism seen in the aaryan texts.
In fact, nAraNan and black bee etc. are commonly praised as "black
jewels". Foll. J. Bronkhorst, Is there an inner conflict of tradition,
(Aryan and Non-Aryan volume, Harvard, '99)
"Does the opposition which the early Indian tradtion itself
introduces by distinguishing Aryans from non-Aryans help us to
understand later developments of Indian culture? ...
here the use of bricks in the Agnicayana, which H. S. Converse (1974)
tried to explain through the assumption of indigenous influence
on Vedic ritual. Another example is the Mahavira vessel in the
Pravargya, which J.A.B. van Buitenan (1968) considered to have an
iconic nature, and the worship he did not hesitate to describe as
pUjA. ... Indeed, Heesterman concludes his article "Brahmin, ritual,
and renouncer" with the foll. remark: "The brahmin, then, is the
exemplar of the irresolvable tension that is at the heart of
Indian civilization."

I believe this tension-filled opposition of ideas in the ancient India
of different groups of folks led to the color coding of Narayana.
The acculturation and accommodation of the bilingual Aryans
adjusted to the majority preference of colors, and the white color
preference in the RV and pitting it against the evil black is
gradually submerged. The end result: "Narayana was white in the first
yuga, BUT he is black now." We all live in Kaliyuga which is black, it
is the yuga of zUdras who are many where zUdra-varNa is black, and of
course Narayana (=tamil nAraNan) is black in this kali-yuga.

N. Ganesan

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