Southern trip of "vaaraaNasii" (Re: INDOLOGY FAQ)

Smith,Travis LaMar tlsmith at UFL.EDU
Wed Feb 17 03:59:43 UTC 2010

I am surprised and fascinated by these southern pronunciations of Varanasi. Regarding V.S. Rajam's report of a third variant, however:

(iii) வாரணசீ "vAraNasii". In a recent blog, I found the
following quote from the famous singer M.S. Subbulakshmi's
"suprabatham" : "வாரணசீ குலபதே மம
சுப்ரபாதம்" ["vAraNasii kulapatE ... ... "], which
is interesting since the vowel in the last syllable of the city's
name under consideration is long. My memory of the "suprabatham"
doesn't help me here. I don't have music recordings to confirm this
fact either.
Note that the vowels in the syllables of வாரணசீ
"vAraNasii" are long-short-short-long.

I suspect that the source of this is actually the popular hymn attributed (doubtfully, needless to say) to ZaMkaraacaarya, the refrain of which runs: "vaaraaNasii-pura-patiM bhaja vizvanaatham...." It is of course in the same meter as the several suprabhAtam hymns, addressed to various deities, and also uses the technique of the repeated final pAda refrain, hence the confusion with the suprabhAtam mini-genre. I don't think I've heard M.S. Subbalakshmi's version but I'd be surprised if it were not this: it's quite well-known among the legions of Sanskrit praise-hymns to Varanasi. The point being that this is probably not an additional variant of vaaraaNasii, but simply the "official" Sanskrit version.

The other variants remain very interesting, and I wonder if and how early they follow the common Puranic etymology of vaaraaNasii = varaNaa + asii (as per the Tamil lexicon cited by Jean-Luc Chevillard). I still assume that this is a "creative" etymology and not a historical one (one would expect a long-A in the penultimate syllable if it were a real compound), but its (premodern?) employment outside of the Sanskrit PuraaNa-s would be a matter worth exploring.

Thanks and best to all,

Travis L. Smith
Assistant Professor
Department of Religion
University of Florida
From: Indology [INDOLOGY at] On Behalf Of rajam [rajam at EARTHLINK.NET]
Sent: Tuesday, February 16, 2010 2:49 PM
Subject: Southern trip of "vaaraaNasii" (Re: INDOLOGY FAQ)

In Tamil, there seems to be a three-way rendition of the term
"vaaraaNasii" (as the name of the city) [as originally provided by
Gary Tubb]:

(i) வாரணவாசி
"vAraNavAsi" (as attested in an earlier literature, kalittokai
கலித்தொகை, and later inscriptions). This form can be
construed as the combination of: "vAraN(a) + v (glide) + Asi"

I also recall that வாரணவாசி "vAraNavAsi" is the form
attested in அரிச்சந்திர புராணம்
ariccantira purANam, the epic describing the story of "Harischandra."
I don't have a copy of the book to quote it.

Note that the vowels in the syllables of வாரணவாசி
"vAraNavAsi" are long-short-short-long-short.

(ii) வாரணாசி "vAraNAsi" (as attested in certain types of
literary texts such the Manimekalai மணிமேகலை,
Tevaram தேவாரம், and பெரியபுராணம்
, Periyapuranam)
. This form can be construed as the combination of: "vAraN + Asi"

Note that the vowels in the syllables of வாரணாசி
"vAraNAsi" are long-short-long-short.

In any case, I can assure that phonology, meter in poetry, and music
have had their roles in rendering different versions of the same name
in Tamil.

V.S. Rajam

On Feb 15, 2010, at 1:43 AM, Jean-Luc Chevillard wrote:

> I would be interested in having comments
> on the Tamil form: வாரணாசி [vāraṇāci].
> See the Tamil Lexicon (p. 3610)
> வாரணாசி vāraṇāci, n. < Vāraṇasī. Benares,
> situate between the rivers Varaṇā and Asī; காசி.
> வாரணாசியோர்
> மறையோம்பாளன் (மணி. 13, 3).
> See also another entry (p.3609), which gives a different spelling.
> வாரணசி vāraṇaci, n. < vāraṇasī. See
> வாரணாசி. (யாழ். அக.)
> The authority quoted by the Tamil Lexicon for the spelling
> vāraṇāci is the Maṇimēkalai
> and comes from the chapter that tells the story of
> ஆபுததிரன்.
> -- Jean-Luc Chevillard (Paris)
> Le 2/15/2010 6:42 AM, Gary Tubb a écrit :
>> I am tempted to add, in the section on mispronunciations, an entry
>> on "vaaraaNasii" (as the name of the city), with a note to the
>> effect that, for the same reasons as given for "mahaabhaarata" and
>> "raamaayaNa," the third syllable in this name is the least
>> appropriate place to apply a stress accent.  But I have been
>> struck over the years by the frequency with which many people I
>> respect as experts on Banaras habitually lengthen and stress the
>> vowel in the third syllable---so much so that I wonder whether
>> they might be following some local tradition unknown to me,
>> despite the official spelling of the name.  Are they?  Is there
>> any good reason to make the third "a" vowel in "Varanasi" long?
>> ---
>> Gary Tubb, Professor and Chair
>> Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations
>> The University of Chicago

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