Dear Suresh,

The article on Meru in the recent IJJS issue posted by Peter Flugel reminded me that I have to discuss some issues related to Ganesan’s etymologies regarding makara, etc..

Thank you for mentioning in your Indology message of January 24, 2015 the discussion in the CTamil list.[1] In your post, you said: 

“Here Ganesan refers to Rajeshwari Ghose's book [15], but it is clear that Ganesan hasn't read her conclusions or purposefully avoids mentioning them.”

This observation of yours needs some additional comments.

I apologize for the length of this message commenting on your observation. I shall first discuss whether Ganesan has not read Ghose’s conclusions or purposefully avoids mentioning them in response to you. In doing that I shall update the information provided by Ghose and also explain why Naṭarāja in Tanjore temple was probably called Dakṣiṇa Mēru Viṭaṅkar. Next I shall discuss Ganesan’s past behavior of selective withholding of information that contradicted his view and even presenting false information in connection with encoding of Grantha script in Unicode. (Some members of this list were involved in evaluating such information.) Finally, I shall discuss the implications of Ganesan's thesis for Indology in general and comparative Dravidian linguistics and Tamil philology in particular. Those interested in the details can read on.

Ganesan’s use of Ghose’s book
In order to explore the question of whether Ganesan purposefully avoids mentioning Ghose’s conclusions, his response to you at is useful. 

In his response to you, Ganesan has cited Ghose using the term Viṭaṅkar to refer to the liṅga on pp. 51, 139, and 140 of her book. What Ghose has given on p. 51 is endnote 61 in which she says:
"...though the Chidambaram candramaulīśvara is made of crystal and it seems most likely that it is this, which is referred to as Tillai Viṭaṅkar in epigraphs". 

Ghose points to endnote 61 on p. 30 in the main body of the text.  In the immediate next paragraph on p.30, Ghose says:
"The term Viṭaṅka is now unquestioningly accepted as of Sanskritic origin and etymologically split into vi+ṭaṅka 'one made without the use of the chisel' and consequently a svayambhū or self-manifested liṅga and it is this self manifestation which makes it specially sacred. It seems unlikely that this is what the word meant in earlier times in Tamil literature and epigraphy." 

After further discussing other lexical meanings of Viṭaṅka and even its tantric meaning, Rajeshwari Ghose says on p.31:
"The term Viṭaṅka or its honorific form Viṭaṅkar, when used in the Śaiva canonical works often has the connotation of something beautiful.” [2] 

Thus when Ghose says on p. 139, "At twelve o'clock the abhiṣeka is done to the marakata Viṭaṅkar (the emerald linga) in the Tyāgarāja shrine," she is simply using the term as currently used in the temple. The same is true for p. 140 too. But, as Ghose notes on p. 30, she doubts if this usage prevailed in earlier times.

This leads one to wonder why Ganesan refers to a footnote mentioned by Ghose in one paragraph but does not mention a conclusion of hers given in the very next paragraph? I do not believe that lack of reading the following paragraph could be the reason.

It should also be noted that Ghose wrote on p. 35 that "Though no iconographical descriptions of the Viṭaṅkar are given by the Tēvāram writers or by the epigraphs, the fact that nowadays processional images are Somāskandas makes it probable that the Viṭaṅkas were Somāskandas in the Pallava and Cōḻa times as well.”  This statement by Ghose needs to be updated. R. Nagaswamy, the epigraphist, does give an iconographic description of Viṭaṅkar as representing an anthropomorphic icon in the introduction in his later book "Bṛhadīśvara Temple: Form and Meaning", Aryan Publications, 2010, p. 2 (see as given below: 

"An inscription of Rājarāja Coḷa I discovered by me reveals for the first time, the complete iconography of a metal image (copper) called Mahāmēru-Viṭaṅkar consecrated by Rājarāja, which consists of Śiva with his consort Pārvatī, seated on the mountain Mēru with his two sons, Ganeśa and Subrahmaṇya, and other deities like Sūrya, Candra, Vṛṣabha, dwarfs and a tree. Such a group of images on the mountain Mēru, made of metal, is unique in the history of South India and has not been known to exist or has been referred to anywhere in Tamil Nadu. Another image made of copper also consecrated by Rājarāja was called Dakṣiṇa Mēru-Viṭaṅkar alias Āḍavallār, the dancing form of Naṭarāja. These two images - Mahāmēru-Viṭaṅkar and Dakṣiṇa-Mēru-Viṭaṅkar - are mentioned as the two principal metal images in the temple in many inscriptions."[3]

In the above inscription, Mahāmēru referred to the mythical Mēru mountain supposed to be in the north. Dakṣīṇa Mēru referred to the Chidambaram temple. The Chidambaram temple was probably called Dakṣiṇa Mēru because its roof was covered with gold shingles.[4] Dakṣiṇa-Mēru-Viṭaṅkar meant ‘the beautiful one of Chidambaram’ or Naṭarāja.

In fact, these are not the only inscriptions that clearly link the use of ‘Viṭaṅkar’ to refer to Somāskanda or Naṭarāja, both being non-naked forms of Śiva. In an inscription of 1060 CE in the Someśvarasvāmi temple in Punganur, in Chittoor District in Andhra Pradesh, two icons were mentioned as being installed.[5] One was called “Umāskanda sahita tirumēni Vijayarāja Viṭaṅkar’ and the other was “Tirucciṟṟampalamuṭaiyār Śrīkaraṇa Viṭaṅkar”. The first one was the Somāskanda icon and the second one was the Naṭarāja icon. The name Śrīkaraṇa Viṭaṅkar clearly indicates ’the beautiful one (who is performing) the sacred karaṇa’. The second one was also referred to as “Āṭavalār Śrīkaraṇaviṭaṅkar” elsewhere in the inscription. That Natarāja was called ‘Viṭaṅkar’ is proven by this inscription. Similarly, another inscription of 1070 CE in Mugavadi in the same district mentions a Somāskanda icon as ‘Umāskanda sahita tirumēnik Kārāṇai Viṭaṅkar’.[6] 

Thus there is clear epigraphic and iconographic confirmation that Viṭaṅkaṉ/Viṭaṅkar did not have any association with phallus or nudity in earlier times.

Given all these attested uses of Viṭaṅka meaning 'beauteous', it is interesting that Ganesan has not answered your question as to why he considers DEDR 5472 meaning for Viṭaṅka is incorrect. Instead he has chosen to repeat his fantasies as facts in his response. Interestingly, in a post sent to some Internet lists (, Ganesan cites V. M. Subramanya Aiyar in connection with Tēvāram 7.36 but fails to note that Aiyar interprets viṭaṅku as 'beauty' in Tēvāram 7.36.10 (

Ganesan’s past use of data in support of his views:
Ganesan does have a history of selectively withholding information or presenting even fabricated information in order to promote his viewpoint. See for a report, which critically evaluated the evidence offered by Ganesan to support his proposal to the Unicode Technical Committee to add some Tamil-specific characters to the Grantha script. (Mani Manivannan, the author of this report, is also a CTamil member. Ganesan's proposal can be accessed at )

Manivannan's report describes a special meeting arranged at Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient (EFEO), Pudhucceri on December 22, 2010 to evaluate Ganesan's proposal. A few members of our Indology list, participated in that meeting (see p.2 of the report) too. The report presents evidence of Ganesan selectively withholding information contradicting his case (see p. 8 of the report) as well as offering textual evidence from a non-existent publication from a non-existent organization, i.e., Samskrita Granthalipi Sabha (see pp. 12-13 of the report). (In spite of many requests since 2010, Ganesan has not provided the contact information for the Samskrita Granthalipi Sabha.) This modus operandi of his may suggest if he has not read Ghose’s conclusions or purposefully avoided mentioning them.

As is his habit in discussions like this, Ganesan has made sure that his CTamil post, in which he repeated his fantasies as facts, was the last in the thread as though he has won the scholarly debate. Also, after his response to you in CTamil list, he has posted in some Tamil lists the contents of his response to your CTamil message. See He has also posted the contents of another post in CTamil with a preface in Tamil that suggests that he has shown you how *mokaḷay gives rise to makara in the Indus region and mocaḷe in Kannada in (Thus, he has changed his reconstruction of the word for crocodile from *mokaray to *mokaḷay.) For the most part, the members of these lists are not comparative linguists. Many may not have access to the resources such as the book by Rajeshwari Ghose. So when he deliberately withholds relevant information contradicting his case, many members of these lists may be misled into believing that Ganesan's fantasies are facts indeed. 

You may remember that the two lists, CTamil and Indo-Eurasian Research, were set up after the old Indology list restricted its membership. Ganesan was a member of both lists initially. When he tried to post his fantasies on the Indo-Eurasian Research list, he was asked not to do so and was later expelled from the list. 

Implications for Indology
One of the reasons for a detailed discussion of Ganesan's work is that he has said that he is going to present a paper on this topic at the upcoming World Sanskrit Conference in Thailand, which many Sanskritists may attend. I hope they find the comparative Dravidian and Tamil philological information discussed here useful.

More importantly, the support Ganesan’s view enjoys among Indologists such as Prof. Nachimuthu raises serious questions about the present state of comparative Dravidian linguistics and Tamil philology in India. After all, Nachimuthu was the Chairperson of Center of Indian Languages (CIL) at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi and is currently the Head of the Department of Tamil at the Central University of Tamil Nadu at Tiruvārūr. His specialized/applied areas of research are supposed to be classical literature, grammar, and linguistics. Nachimuthu is also on the Tamil Research and Translation faculty of International School of Dravidian Linguistics (ISDL). See

According to ISDL, “The Faculty is recruited only by invitation from among scholars of repute.” If such a reputed scholar cannot realize the fallacies in Ganesan’s Makara-Viṭaṅkar thesis, the state of scholarship in Tamil philology and comparative Dravidian linguistics in India is a cause for concern indeed.  As for ISDL, they seemed to have agreed to publish Ganesan’s paper with the bad reconstruction, *mokaray. Now that he has changed *mokaray to *mokaḷay--still a bad reconstruction--I do not know what ISDL will do.  It looks like ISDL did not ask any comparative Dravidian linguist to review Ganesan’s paper. Ironically, ISDL also has Prof. P. S. Subrahmanyam, the reputed comparative Dravidian linguist, on its Linguistics Faculty!  


[2] Actually, the Śaiva canonical works use Viṭaṅka or its honorific form Viṭaṅkar to connote something beautiful not merely ‘often’ but in every instance. Ghose has used ‘often’ because she has erroneously taken the use of ‘Viṭaṅka’ in Tēvāram 4.81.9 to refer to the liṅga in Chidambaram (p. 36). Thus, she implies Tēvāram 4.81.9 to be the earliest use of Viṭaṅka in connection with a liṅga while earlier it simply meant something beautiful. As explained by V. M. Subramaniya Ayyar in Digital Tevāram, Viṭaṅka means ‘beautiful’ in Tēvāram 4.81.9 too. (See Ghose did not make use of the comparative linguistic evidence provided by Dravidian Etymological Dictionary entry #5472.  If she had, she would have concluded the meaning of Viṭaṅkar to be ‘a beautiful person’ much more definitely.
[3] Clearly Vīṭaṅkar referring to an anthropomorphic Śiva is earlier than Viṭaṅkar referring to a liṅga since we have "Dakṣiṇa Mēru-Viṭaṅkar alias Āḍavallār" referring to Naṭarāja in Tanjavur. Moreover, literary texts such as Tiruppallāṇṭu 4 by Cēntaṉār (ca. 10th century) and Tiruvicaippā 10 by Tirumāḷikaittēvar (10th/11th century) clearly refer to Chidambaram Naṭarāja as Viṭaṅkaṉ meaning 'a person of beauty'. Campantar in Tēvāram 3.68.5 refers to Śiva dancing in Kailāsa as 'naṭam taru viṭaṅkaṉ' (dancing Viṭaṅkaṉ) which scholars have interpreted as 'dancing person of beauty' (see
[4] Periyapurāṇam 250 and 2071 compare the Pērampalam in the Chidambaram temple to Mēru because of its roof gilded with gold by Kulottuṅga Cōḻa II in the 12th century. But the Ciṟṟampalam, the central shrine of Naṭarāja seems to have had the gold roof from the time of Tēvāram 5.2.8.
[5] SII 22, no. 541
[6] SII 22, no. 573