etymology of puja

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Mon Dec 10 12:40:21 UTC 2001

J. Silk asked:
>I have recently read Jarl Charpentier's 1927 paper in Indian
>Antiquary on the meaning and etymology of puujaa.  I found it rather
>strange. He connects it with 'smearing,' making a rather big deal of
>the smearing of images etc with things like red powders etc. There
>must be more convincing discussions of the history of this word, no?

No.  Not convincing ones, that is.

Charpentier's has entered the Skt. etym. dictionaries of Manfred Mayrhofer
(KEWA, EWA), and, of course, 'smearing' has been the practice for many
centuries,  if not for some 2000 years.

KEWA: Mayrhofer, M. Kurzgefasstes etymologisches Wörterbuch des
Altindischen. Heidelberg 1956-1976.

EWA:  ---,  Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Altindoarischen. Heidelberg 1986-96

However, the word is much older than that, though this is unnoticed.

I found it, to my surprise, even in the Rgveda (8.18.12) where Indra (or
the poet's grandchild??) is called s'Aci-pUjana '(belonging to/derived
from) honoring of/by/the power'
(NB: s'acI/s'Aci-  is not = Indra's wife, s'acI, that's a later invention
based on such words:  Indra s'acI-pati  'lord of strength'  --> "husband of
*S'acI"; rather, she is called ... indraaNI, "the Indrian one" -- so much
for equality in the Vedas) .

After this single early  passage, pUj(ana)  is found a few more times in
Vedic texts, until it emerges as a verb in late Vedic, etc.,"to honor,
worship". (For details see my paper in WZKS  24, 1980, 37 sqq.) -

Nothing is said about the early manner of worship, though. As is well
known, there are no images/statues of gods in that period. No 'smearing'
then, at least in 'official', recorded worship. What may have happened on
the popular level, we do not know, --- that is until the Pali texts and
Patanjali's reference to Mauryan statues,  plus the earliest, more or less
contemporary, Yaksa stone figures (omni-present terra-cotta figures of
'mother goddesses' are another matter...)

It has to be noted, though, that the main, basic structure of Vedic ritual
is the same as in modern puja: inviting, honoring/feeding  and sending the
guest off -- until next time. Sometimes this structure is still known to
modern people (as in Akos Ostor's W. Bengal town).

Back to the etymology.

Apart from Charpentier's Drav. etymology (in fact Drav. has borrowed from
Indo-Aryan, see: Emeneau-Burrow, Dravidian Borrowings from IA, Berkely
1962, p. 51 !  And note that puc etc.  usually means "to perform  the act
of worship..."),

Thieme (ZDMG 93, 1939, 105 sqq= Kleine Schriften p.343, 792) has proposed
an IA etym. from prnc 'to mix' (the drink offered to a guest). However, --
gurunindA! -- the development from Ved. prnc to Middle Ind. pUj is
impossible (as such, once criticized by Katre, I think), and certainly too
early for the Rgveda.

The origin of the word thus remains in the balance; including that of  a
rather hypothetical IE *pug/pUg  -- rejected  Mayrhofer EWA II, 154,  who
lists some more proposals;  cf. also Turner, CDIAL 8316:  *pujja?  from
pUr- 'to give, nourish', also rejected in EWA on hist. grounds.

See: CDIAL:  R.L. Turner, A comparative dictionary of the Indo-Aryan
languages, London (Oxford University Press) 1966

We may have to reckon with a local Panjab word at c.1200 BCE or so.

For such words, see EJVS  5-1, Sept. 1999:
also in pdf:
or compare a largely similar paper in Mother Tongue, in pdf:

Michael Witzel
Department of Sanskrit & Indian Studies, Harvard University
2 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge MA 02138, USA

ph. 1- 617-496 2990 (also messages)
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