Etymology of sukha and duHkha

H.B.Dave hbd at DDIT.ERNET.IN
Mon Mar 13 10:31:11 UTC 2000

Ulrich T. Kragh wrote:

> The recent discussion thread on chariots inspired me to bring up the
> following question, which I have been wondering about:
> Do you have any comments on the etymologies of the Sanskrit words sukha
> "happiness" and duHkha "misery"?
> As far as I know, the standard etymology for sukha is based on the earliest
> occurrence of this word, namely in Rgveda; e.g. Monier-Williams (p. 1220,
> entry 'sukha') writes:
> "Sukha, mfn. (said to be fr. and to mean originally 'having a
> good axle-hole;' possibly a PrAkRit form of su-stha, q.v.; cf. duHkha) ..."
> The word kha itself seems simply to have the basic meaning of "hole" or
> "aperture", also an aperture of the human body; again, MW gives reference to
> Rgveda, where kha occurs (unfortunately, I haven't got a concrete reference
> for you here) in sense "the hole in the nave of a wheel through which the
> axis runs" (MW p. 334, entry "kha").
> Thus, I think the standard etymology for sukha "happiness" is taken to be
> "having a good axle-hole", i.e. having a functioning (or perhaps fast)
> chariot, and thus in the extended meaning thereby meaning "to be happy".
> Oppositely, duHkha would refer to the state of not having such a good hole.
> However, I get my doubts when seeing this etymology. Having a background in
> Tibetan studies, I know that the basic meaning of the word kha (exact same
> spelling and pronounciation) in Tibetan and possibly in other Himalayan
> languages is again "hole", but usually referring to "the mouth".
> I believe that the same meaning can be seen in the Skr. word mukha "mouth,
> face", which likewise occurs in Rgveda.
> This led me to think that sukha could actually be derived from kha in the
> sense of mouth (lit. "good mouth") in the extended meaning of "being
> nourished or satisfied with food" and thus being "happy", whereas duHkha
> similarly would come to mean "hungry" and thus "unhappy".
> Since sukha and duHkha are such fundamental terms in human existence, I find
> such an etymology more believable than the perhaps far-fetched "having a
> good axle-hole".
> I would very much appreciate clarification on these terms.

kha (lit. a hole) is used to denote a port, i.e. a means of access or
interface. Generally denotes sense organs or means of acquiring information.
Remember that "manas" is also a sense organ, a means of acquiring information
according to Indian philosophy.

In the etymology of sukha and du.hkha, it means that if one's mind is "su" in
happy state or "dus" unhappy state.

As I was trying to tell members of the august Indology list some time back, you
have to know the "concept coding" used in Vedic literature if you are going to
make some headway with etymologies and meanings. You can not neglect Nighantu
and Nirukta.

> With best regards,
> Ulrich T. Kragh
> University of Copenhagen

Best wishes

-- Himanshu

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