solution to the "kuyava' etymology

Palaniappa Palaniappa at AOL.COM
Sat Jan 24 19:18:01 EST 1998

In a message dated 98-01-20 07:53:15 EST, bhk at HD1.VSNL.NET.IN writes:

 >This is not as outlandish as one might think. Consider the interjection of
 >grief "aiyO". DEDR considers this related to the word "ai" meaning "lord,
 >master, husband, king, guru, priest, teacher, father". So DEDR lists the two
 >words as 196 (b) and 196 (a) respectively. The meaning of "kuyyO" has not
 >understood till now. Ultimately, this "kuy" may be related to "ku" meaning
 >"high place" (or hill as Dr. Krishnamurthy pointed out) which can also be
 >applied to a king. Compare the parallel similar concepts in Sanskrit

 This I must say is imagination running riot; not the science of etymology. >>

Regarding the scientific method, if it includes observation, forming
hypothesis, and hypothesis testing, etc., I am following a rational approach
indeed. Let me give the reasons.

There was, and is, reason to believe that the root of the word "kuyavan2" may
not have anything to do with pottery. This is based on an occurrence of the
words "vETkOk kuyakkoNTAn2" in a medieval Tamil poem. Independently, in the
Classical Tamil poetry vETkO and kO have been used in the context of potters
in relation to their craft. But the use of "kuyavan2" occurs only in the
context of his role as priest. Moreover, if both "vETkO" and "kuyavan2" mean
exactly the same thing "potter" the poetic concatenation of both terms in a
context without any adoration is very unlikely. So what does "kuyavan2" really

Tolkappiyam 2.320 says "taTavum kayavum naLiyum perumai" meaning that "the
words taTa, kaya, and naLi mean "great""". According to Burrow, "A fluctuation
in Dravidian between a and i (also u) in the radical syllable is a feature
very commonly met with, although the conditions that cause it are not very
clear." This can be seen in "taLir" DEDR 3131 meaning "to sprout" and "tuLir"
DEDR 3362. In both entries DEDR notes the possible connection.  In light of
other words for potter meaning "chieftain" and Krishnamurthy's suggestion of
"ku" meaning hill, one has to wonder if the attribute "greatness" cannot be
related to a chieftain. Further, in his study of "Ancient Indian Kingship from
the Religious Point of View", Jan Gonda says that "we shall see further on
that the same term for "summit" is also given to the king himself." So one
could consider the possibility of "kaya" and "kuya" as potential variants of
the same thing meaning "great".

In addition to this, in peruGkatai, the Tamil version of  Sanskrit
bRhatkathA, there is an interesting episode where the use of "kuyam" in
connection with a potter leads one to believe that the word could refer to a
honorary title. (This is described in a separate posting.) Given all this, one
cannot but consider the possibility of "kuyavan2" having to do with some
honorable position.

Further, the expression "kuyyO muRaiyo" does not follow any of the patterns of
onomatopoetic expressions in Dravidian as  described by Emeneau in his article
"Onomatopoetics in the Indian Linguistic Area" in Language and Linguistic Area
: Essays by M. B. Emeneau (1980). The second component of the expression also
means "law, justice". When one considers expressions of grief, such as "aiyO,
ammA", etc. they seem to be calling for succour from a higher person. That is
the reason behind DEDR entries 196 (a) and (b). Regarding such entries, DEDR
introduction says, "At times there has been separation, but cross-references
have been supplied between groups which are certainly or almost certainly
related...Other such related groups have been arranged as (a) and (b) under
the same number.." It is for this reason, one may consider if the first part
of expression is referring to a person who might dispense justice.

I believe that information exchanged through the list can help test
hypothesis. I am not committed to "kuyavan2" as a "great" being. But it is a
hypothesis which should be tested and rejected if found wanting, but should be
tested nevertheless.

The etymology of "kuyavan2" from "kU" is discussed in a separate posting.


S. Palaniappan

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list