term for actors

Stefan Baums baums at U.WASHINGTON.EDU
Fri Jan 9 03:29:20 UTC 2009

Dear Professor Kapstein,

Keith, Sanskrit Drama, p. 25, notes that the Yajurveda does not know naTa but
gives ZailUSa in a list of occupations, and he remarks: "there is nothing
whatever to show that an actor here is meant; a musician or a dancer may be
denoted, for both dancing and singing are mentioned in close proximity."

Tarlekar, Studies in the NATyazAstra, p. 12, has a reference to Ruben, Ueber
die Urspruenge des indischen Dramas (which latter I do not have accessible)
and to Ruben's theory that originally naTas were rope dancers, that these ropes
were stretched from rocks, and that therefore zailUSa could refer to "one who
camps on rocks." This sounds rather far-fetched in general (with the proviso that I have not seen Ruben's argument itself), and I fail to see how the
apparently intended analysis into zaila + the root vas could work

More likely indeed that this is a loanword. Also with reference to Kuiper, Mayrhofer, EWA, s.v., has:

   zailUSa- m. Taenzer, Saenger (VS+). - Wohl Fremdwort.

   Vielleicht mit ailUSa-, Patronymikon des KavaSa, zu verbinden (AitB; wohl
   auch in JB vailUSa-, richtig -v ail-: Hoffm, ZDMG 110 [1960] 181 = HoffmA
   136); z- : Null als Kennzeichen fremder Herkunft viell. auch in
   zirimbiTha- : irimbiThi-, o. II 639. - Lit. in KEWA III 376; KuiAryans 20,
   25, 42.

But concerning the classical Indian understanding of the word, which I think is your immediate concern, MW offers:

   zilUSa, m. Aegle Marmelos, L.; N. of a Rishi (said to have been an early
   teacher of the art of dancing), L. (cf. zailUSa).

The lexicographically alleged RSi escapes me - a search for him in a fairly extensive collection of digital texts turned up nothing. It would, however, appear natural for the later tradition to assume a mythical personage as namegiver based on the apparent patronymic formation of zailUSa. Is the alternative connection with the bilva tree ever made explicit in a text (with or without reasons for it)?

Best regards,
Stefan Baums

Stefan Baums
Asian Languages and Literature
University of Washington

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