Skt. preta, drav. pEtu, and vaitaraNi

N. Ganesan naga_ganesan at HOTMAIL.COM
Wed Apr 4 16:02:23 UTC 2001

A linguist friend, (not in the list) educated me:
        The Sanskrit prefix pra- is most certainly Indo-European,
cf. Greek pro-, Latin pro-, Lithuanian pra-, Old Church Slavonic
pro-, etc. meaning 'forth, forward, in front'. The Prakrit
developments link Sanskrit preta- literally 'gone forth' = 'deceased,
dead' directly with the Dravidian words (the meaning of pEy, 'devil',
from 'malevolent ghost = spirit of the dead'). Note such semantic
parallels as de-parted, literally 'gone off, away' = 'deceased, dead',
Latin ob-itus, literally, 'gone to(wards) or gone away' = 'deceased,
dead', whence English obituary etc.: here Latin itus 'gone' = Sanskrit
itaH 'gone', both from the Proto-Indo-European praeterite participle

Prof. Witzel's paper 'Substrates in OIA', "pra" was given as
an IVC word. Then, I thought skt. pra is connected with tamil

Tamil-Kannada words pEy/pEtu ('spirit of the dead') are rooted
in sounds like bE/pE (shouting when people get fear or become

The sanskrit word, prEta (from IE 'ita'=gone) was likely to have
been coined to sound like Dravidian pEtu/pEy. [Compare
tamil verbs paku, vaku and skt. word bhakti:

Do we know pEtu 'spirit' was known in the North India.
Look at the name, vaitaraNi.

M-W dictionary:
f. N. of the Hindu1 Styx i.e. the river that flows between earth and
the lower regions or abode of departed spirits presided over by Yama
(it is described as rushing with great impetuosity , hot , fetid , and
filled with blood , hair and bones see RTL. 290 , 570) MBh. Pur. &c. ;
a cow (given to Bra1hmans) that transports a dead man over that river
Hcat. ; N. of a sacred river in Kalin3ga or Orissa (usually called
Baitaran2i1) MBh. Hariv. R. Pur. ; of a division of the lower regions
MW. ; of the mother of the Ra1kshasas L.

In dravidian, pEtaraN = pEtu + araN = "demon" + araN
Online Tamil Lexicon:
araN * 1. defence, four kinds, viz.,; 2. fortress, castle; 3. forest,
as a  defence; 4. spear
araN 01 1. compound wall, as of a temple or fort; 2. armour;
3. sandals, as protecting feet
araN 02 fear.

We know well about forts (tamil kOTTai, hindi. kOT) used by Dravidians
in the Indus and post-Indus eras. So many villages where post-Indus
culture are found archaeologically end in placenames with -kOT. (I
will give the list oneday). Dravidians in the North India in ancient
times worshipped Durga as kOTAvi (= tamil koRRavai = Durga).
koRRavai/kottavai -> koTAvi can be compared with
kARRavarAyan/kAttavarAyan (famous village deity in Tamilnadu)
with his equivalent kATamarAju of Telugu country.

So, pEtaraN in drav. means "fort of spirit world".
Like drav. vEL/vELir (the prefix in bELUru, beLagAm in KarnATaka)
clan-place changing to "vailasthaana" in Rgveda, pEtaraN -> skt.
vaitaraNi, (For p-/v- change, compare paNa and vaNiya/vaNij from
drav. paNNutal 'to make, to trade').

In Tamil sangam poetry, paRayar drummers officiating in funerals,
barbers, washermen, pANar bards, vELAr potters were the important,
indigenous priests before vedic brahmins took hold as the topmost
varNa. The varNa scheme was introduced from the North into the South.

In Tamil sangam poetry, terms like pArppAr and antaNar do not
necessarily mean brahmins of the topmost varNa chanting vedas. In
many instances pArppAr just means the "worshippers/eulogizers
/singers". Also, antaNar ("coolers" < taN- 'cool') could mean those
who pacify/cool spirits (of the dead). The phrase, "pulam puri
antaNar" means "the cool priests chanting/doing magic spells".

G. Hart's translation of naRRiNai 310 (3-Apr-2001 posting) refers to
pANar bards getting cattle. pANar visting chiefs after they emerge
victoriuos in cattle raid and would lead to cow-gifts naturally. In
a puRam poem, unfortunately the bards arrive after the chieftain is
dead even though he won a sizeable cattle herd. Donating cattle is not
much recorded because donating a cow is too pedestrian.
What the exagerated expressions in sangam poems says is about
donating away large quantities of elephants, chariots and horses.
Royal majesty indicators! In CilappatikAram, pANar bards awarded with
cattle gifts is beautifully expressed:
     iLa mA eyiRRi ivai kAN nin2 aiyar
     talai nALai vETTattut tanta nal An2 niraikaL
     kollan2 tuTiyan2 koLai puNar cIr valla
     nal yAzp pANar tam mun2Ril niRaintan2a  - Cilambu 12:14:1-4

antaNar priests being donated with cattle herds by Chola kings in an
ancient poem (tol. poruL. 90. nac.), and the real, live cows covered
with gold (or gold-like) ornaments is told in PeruGkatai 1:39:64-69
(=bRhatkathA) epic.

The Dravidian custom of donating cattle to the native priests during
auspicious or ancestor-worship ritual occasions was converted into
the HiraNyagarbha ceremony of gifting pure gold cows laying a golden
egg (an RV theme). From Maharashtra down South, when Kings chose
Cakravartin model (B. Stein), huge quantities of gold was spent.
Heavy polemical criticism of this practice followed in buddhist epic
Manimekalai (tamil) and Basavapuranamu (telugu).

In Sum,
pEtaraN in drav. would mean "fort of the spirits", vaitaraNI is the
river to reach that yamaloka/pEtaraN. The cows donated to (funerary)
priests facilitated an easy reaching of spirits with less hazards.

N. Ganesan

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