Written by Sri Swami Chandrashekarendra
Languages If we relate certain characteristics of the different
India to how Vedic chanting differs syllabically from region to region,
will discover the important fact that the genius of each of these
and the differences between them are based on how the Vedas are
chanted in these regions. I make here certain observations based on my
own philological researches.
The letters da, ra, la and zha are phonetically close to one another.
child to say "rail" or "Rama", in all likelihood it will say "dail", "Dama".
reason is "da" is phonetically close to "ra". Quite a few people say
"Sivalatri" for "Sivaratri". And some say "tulippora" for "tulippola"
for "just a little"). Here "la" and "ra" sound similar. I spoke about
and "da" change. So "la" can change to "da". "La" is very close to "la".
Usually what we pronounce as "lalita", "nalina", and "sitala" will be
in Sanskrit books as "lalita", "nalina" and "sitala". There is no need
how "la" and "zha" are close friends. Madurai is indeed the city of
but here people say "valapalam" (plantain) for "vazhapazham".
they use "la" for "zha", a letter we believe to be unique to the Tamil
Here I should like to mention an idea likely to sound new to you. What
considered unique to Tamil, "zha" [retroflex affirmative], is present in
Vedas also. Jaimini is one of the Samaveda sakhas: it is also called the
Talavakara Sakha. The "da" or "la" of other Vedas or sakhas sounds like
"zha' in the Talavakara Sakha. Those who have properly learned this
recension say "zha" for "da" or "la". Perhaps it is not a full"zha"
something approximating to it, or something in which the "zha" sound is
The "zha-kara" occurs even in the Rgveda in some places. Usually "da"
and "la" are interchanged and where there is "da-kara" in the Yajurveda
is "la-kara" in the Rgveda. The very first mantra in the Vedas is
"Agnimide" is according to the Yajurveda which has the largest
In the Rgveda the same word occurs as "Agnimile". The "le" here is to be
pronounced almost as "zhe". In the famous Sri Rudra hymn of the
Yajurveda occurs the word "Midustamaya". The same word is found in
the Rgveda also and the "du" ini the "midu" sound like "zhu" instead of
sounding like "lu" - that is the "zha-kara" is latent in how the
Generally speaking, the "la" in the Rgveda is "da" in the Yajurveda and
"zha" in the Talavakara Samaveda. Now let us take up the regions where
each of the Vedas has a large following and consider the social features
the language spoken in each such region.
The view is propagated that the Vedas belong to the Aryans, that the
Dravidians have nothing to do with them. Let us take three of the four
Dravidian states for consideration, that is the regions where Tamil,
and Kannada are spoken.
The "zha-kara" is special to Tamil, "da" to Telugu and "la" to Kannada.
Where "zha" occurs in Tamil, it is "da" in Telugu and "la" in Kannada.
the Sanskrit word "pravala" (coral). It is "pavazham" in Tamil, "pakadalu"
in Telegu and "havala" in Kannada.
"Pavazham" is derived from "pravala", so too "pakadalu" in Telegu, in
which language the original Sanskrit word has changed more than in
Tamil: the "va" of "pravala" has become "ka" but it is according to the
genius of that language. How has the word changed in Kannada? In Tamil
and Telegu the change from the Sanskrit "pra" to "pa" is but small. But
Kannada the "pra" becomes "ha" and that of course is according to the
genius of that language. The "pa" in the other languages becomes "ha" in
Kannada. Thus "Pampa" becomes "Hampa" and then "Hampi" (you must
have heard of the ruins of Hampi). The Tamil "pal" for milk is "halu" in
Kannada and the Tamil "puhazh" (fame) is "hogalu" in Kannada. In the
same manner "pravala" becomes "havala" in Kannada.
It was not my purpose to speak about the "pa-ha" relationship. All I
wanted to point out was how the "la" of Sanskrit is the "zha" of Tamil
the "da" of Telugu. In Kannada, however, there is no change. The "la"
You see this difference not only with respect to words of Sanskrit
but also with respect to those belonging to the Dravidian group. The
"puhazh"(or pugazh) cited earlier is an example in this connection- it
not a Sanskrit word.
(From our present state of investigations we know this: our people
belong to one family. They are not racially divided into Aryans and
Dravidians but are divided into those speaking languages related to
Sanskrit on the one hand and those speaking Dravidian tongues on the
other. Further research is likely to reveal that even this linguistic
difference is not real and that both Sanskrit and Dravidian languages
from the same parent stock. Some linguists are known to be examining
the possible bounds that unite Sanskrit and Tamil. If we go back to very
early times, we may discover that the two languages are of the same
stock. But during the thousands of years subsequent to that period, the
Dravidian languages must have evolved separately. It is in this sense
speak of the "Dravidian" languages as being distinct from Sanskrit. )
I wondered whether there was any special reason why the "zha" of Tamil
should be the "da" of Telugu and the "la" of Kannada. I came to the
conclusion that the differences were related to how the Vedas are
chanted in the regions where these languages are spoken.
The predominant Veda in the western region [of Peninsular India],
including Maharastra and Karnataka, is the Rgveda. In the region from
Nasik to Kanyakumari, the Rgveda has the widest following. Kannada is
one of the languages spoken here and "la" has a unique place in it. And
this "la", special to Kannada, which is considered a Dravidian regional
language, is Vedic in origin.
If we go to that part of the eastern seashore and the hinterland that
Andhra Pradesh, we find that 98 out of 100 people (Brahmins) here are
Yajurvedins. The remaining two percent are Rgvedins. There are
practically no Samavedins in Andhra Pradesh. Since Yajurvedins are the
predominant group the Rgvedic "la" is "da" here, so also the "la" of
In Tamil Nadu also Yajurvedins are in a majority though not to the same
extent as in Andhra Pradesh. Here 80 percent are Yajurvedins, 15 percent
Samavedins and 5 percent Rgvedins. In ancient times, however, the
Samavedins formed quite a large group- there is evidence for such a
belief. It is likely that there were Brahmins belonging to all the 1,000
recensions of the Samaveda in the Tamil land. Isvara is extolled in the
Tevaram as "Ayiram-sakhai-udaiyan" (one with a thousand Vedic
Among the Samavedins those belonging to the Kauthuma Sakha form the
majority. But in the old days the followers of the Jaiminiya or
Sakha were quite large in number. Cozhiyar are people of the Cola land.
Even today they are all Samavedins and they follow the Talavakara
Cozhiyar residing in Tirunelveli (which is identified as a Pandya
territory) still belong to this recension. Originally the Samaveda had a
great following not only in the land of the Colas but also in the land
"Cozhiyar" may be understood as Brahmins belonging to the Tamil land
from very ancient times. They are indeed the Brahmin "Adivasis" of that
region. I will tell you how. Among Tamil Smarta Brahmins there is a sect
called "Vadamas"(Vadamar). They must have come to the Tamil land
from the North, especially from the Narmada valley. Their very name
suggests that they are from the North. Cozhiyar must have been
inhabitants of Tamil Nadu from the earliest times.
From what I have said about "Vadamar" I should not be taken to mean
that I believe that all Brahmins in the South came from the North as is
suggested by some people today. As a matter of fact, in the very word
"Vadamar" there is proof that all Brahmins did not come from the North.
If all Brahmins in Tamil Nadu or in the rest of the South had their
home in the North, why should one sect have been singled out for the
name of "Vadamar"? The rest of the Brahmins must have belonged to the
Tamil land form the very beginning Cozhiyar are among these first
There is one proof to show that "Vadamar" originally belonged to the
Narmada valley. Only they, among the Brahmins [in the South], recite the
following verse in the sandhyavandana; it is a prayer for protection
Narmadayai namah pratah Narmadayai namo nisi
Namostu Narmade tubhyam pahi mam visa-sarpatah
Among the Cozhiyar there was a great man called Somasimara Nayanar
who was one of the 63 Nayanmars. Somasi is not an eatable, but means a
"somayajin", one who has performed the soma sacrifice. Sri
Ramanujacarya's father had also performed the same sacrifice and he
was called "Kesava Somayajin". The Samaveda has an important place in
the soma sacrifice.
If there were a large number of Cozhiyar Brahmins in the very early
in Tamil Nadu, it means that the Talavakra Sakha of the Samaveda must
have had a large following then. I have spoken about the Cola and Pandya
kingdoms but not of the Pallava and Chera lands. In the dim past there
was no Pallava kingdom. The "Muvendar" are the Cheras, colas and
Pandyas. The region where the Pallava kingdom arose later was then part
of the cola territory. So the early Brahmins who had come form the
North, the Vadamar, settled in the northern part of Tamil Nadu that is
Pallava territory. Subsequently they came to be called "Auttara
Vadamar". There are Samavedins among the "Vadamar" also, but they do
not belong to the Talavakara Sakha but to the Kauthama Sakha. The
"Vadamar" came to the Tamil land long after the Tamil language had
developed into its classical stage. So their Vedic chanting is not
to out subject. The same could be said about the Pallavas after the
Sangam literature came to flourish.
Let us now turn to the Chera land. Malayalam is spoken in Kerala. If I
not touch upon this language when I dealt with Tamil, Telugu and
Kannada, it was because of the fact that it appeared much later than the
other three. Until about a thousand years ago, Kerala was part of the
Tamil land and its language too was Tamil. Malayalam evolved from
Tamil. If the Tamil "zha" is "da" in Telegu and "la" in Kannada, it
"zha" in Malayalam. Tamils say "puzhai" for a river. Malayalis say
If the former say "Alappuzhai" and "Amblappuzhai"[both names of places
in Kerala], the latter say "Alappuzha" and "Amblappuzha".
Leaving aside the question of the Malayalam language, let us turn to the
subject of the Vedic tradition of Kerala. The Malayala Brahmins called
Namputris have a long tradition of learning the Vedas in the sastric
manner. There are among them Trivedins(those well-versed in the
Rgveda, Yajurveda and Samaveda, and among the last-mentioned a
number of people following the Talavakara Sakha). The Pancanmana
family is one such and it has behind it a fine Vedic tradition. They
to the Talavakara Sakha. Today those who follow the Kauthama Sakha are
in a majority among the Samavedins in Tamil Nadu but in Kerala the
Samavedins belong to the Talavakara Sakha.
From generation to generation, the Namputiris have been chanting the
Talavakra Sakha. They pronounce the "da" or "la" of other sakhas as
"zha"- which means they follow the same practice as in Tamil Nadu. Both
the palm-leaf and printed versions of the Talavakara Sakha, in Tamil
as well as in Kerala, have "zha" in the relevant places.
Thus we see that from early times the Talavakara Sakha of the Samaveda
has had a following in the Tamil land larger than in any other part of
country. And with this recension has come the "zha" which is a phoneme
not found elsewhere. Naccinarkkiniyar is among the commentators of the
Tamil Samgam works. In his commentary on the Tolkappiyam (famous
Tamil grammatical treatise), he mentions "four Vedas": "Taittiriyam,
Paudikam, Talavakaram and Samam". He mistakes recensions for fullfledged
Vedas. However, we note from his list that the Talavakara Sakha
had the place of a full-fledged Veda in Tamil Nadu. "Taittiriyam" is a
recension of the Krsna_Yajurveda. The Kausitaki Brahmana of the
Sankhayana Sakha of the Rgveda is called "Pausa". What Naccinarkkiniyar
calls "Paudiyam" is referred to by the Azhvars as "Pauzhiyam"- here
you see the relationship between "zha:" and "da".
All told the phonemes unique to the languages spoken in the different
regions have evolved on the basis of the differences in pronunciation in
the various Vedic recensions.
So far I have confined myself to the languages of the Dravidian region.
Now I will speak on the same theme with reference to the other parts of
India and to other countries of the world.
It is customary in the North to use "ja" for "ya" and "ba" for "va"-
literary and colloquial usage. The use of "ba" for "va" is noticeable
particularly in Bengal and "ja" for "ya" in Uttar Pradesh, and Punjab,
In Bengal they follow the dictum, "vabayorabhedam" -there is no
difference between "va" and 'ba". In Tamil too"Bhisma" is sometimes
referred to as "Vittumar" and "Bhima" as "Vima". In Bengali, all "va's"
vocalised as "ba's". Indeed "Bengal" itself is from "Vanga".
Bengalis say "Bangabasi" for "Vangavasi"(a resident of Bengali). Once
they realised that changing all"va's" universally into "ba's" was not
and called a parisad [a meeting of scholars] to consider the question-
was called the "Vanga Parisad". According to one of its decisions all
in Bengali books to be printed thenceforth was to be changed to
"va-kara". They strictly carried out the decision. But in doing so they
changed what should naturally be "ba" into "va"- for instance, "bandhu"
into "vandhu", "Bangabandhu" into "Vangavandhu".
As observed earlier, in other regions of the North too "ba" is used for
"va". For example, the name "Bihar" itself is from "Vihar". (Once there
were many Buddhist viharas, temples or monasteries, in this region) The
name "Rasbihari" is from "Rasavihari". How would you explain this
practice? Such usage is laid down in the Pratisakhya of the Vedic
recension followed in these parts. People there applied the rule of the
Pratisakhya to their ordinary writing and speech also. It also follows
the rules laid down by the Vedic sastras have been faithfully followed
Yajurvedins, it will be remembered, from the majority in the country
taken as a whole. The Krsna-Yajurveda is followed in the South and the
Sukla-Yajurveda in the North. There is a sakha of the latter called
"Madhyandina" and it has a large following in the North. In its
it is said that "ja" may be used in place of 'ya", and "ka' in place of
we say in the South "yat Purusena havisa"(from Purusasukta); the
Northern version of the same is "jat Purusena havika". We are amused by
such chanting and we even feel angry that the Vedas are being distorted.
At the same time we feel proud that we in the south maintain the purity
of the Vedic sound. However, the "ja" and 'ka" in the Northern
have the sanction of the Siksa sastra.
It is only phonemes that are close to one another that are interchanged.
There are examples in Tamil also to show that "ja" and " ya" are closely
related. "Java(the "Javaka" island) is referred to in Tamil works as
"Yavaka". Generally, if 'ja" comes as the initial letter of a word it is
as 'sa" in Tamil, but if it comes in the middle it becomes "ya'-
"Pankaja(m)" become "Ayan and Pangayam". "Sa" is a form of sa. If "sa"
and 'ka" are interchangeable so too, it seems, "sa" and "ka". In keeping
with this, what is "kai" (hand) in Tamil is "sey" in Telugu. "Doing"
(performing some work) is the function of the hand (in Tamil "seyvadu").
So better than the Tamil "kai" is the Telegu "sey" which denotes the
function of the hand. In Sanskrit the word "kara" has the meaning of "to
do" as well as the hand - "Samkara"("Sankara") one who does good;
"karomi" is "I do". One wonders whether in Tamil too "sey" was
used to denote the hand and then "kai" came to be used. Now "sey" is a
verb in that language. The "sa"(or "sa"), it is likely, changed to "ka"
then "kai". One more point: "sa" and "ksa" are related sounds. So for
"ksa" to become "ka" is natural "Aksam" -"akkam"; "daksinam" -
"dakkanam"; "ksanam" _"kanam". Such examples could be multiplied.
We have seen that "ba" becomes "va" in Tamil while in the Northern
languages it is the other way round. Similarly, "ja" becomes "ya" and
becomes "ka" in Tamil while in the Northern languages "ya" and "sa"
become "ja" and "ka" respectively. That is according to the Vedic
recension followed there and the rules of the Siksa relating to it. That
the reason why Northerners chant "jat" Purusena havika" for "yat
This change is to be seen in so many other words in the North: "Jamuna"
for Yamuna"; "jogi" for yogi(n); "jug-jug" for yuga-yuga; "jaatra for
"yatra". "Sa" is changes to ka" and so "rsi" becomes "riki". As we have
seen, "ksa" and "sa" are related. Even in the South we hear people
"Lasimi for "Laksmi"- they even write like that. In the North "ka" is
for "ksa"- for instance "Khir" for "ksira". The same applies to Tamil
also-"Ilakkumi" for "Laksmi".
Let us now turn to other countries, first to the land which saw the
Christianity, to the Semitic countries like Palestine and Israel. The
Testament is basic to the Quran also. Some characters are common to
Christianity and Islam, but in Arabic they are pronounced differently.
Joseph becomes "Yusuf" and Jehovah becomes "Yehivah". There are
differences among the Christian nations too. In some languages you see
"ja-kara" to be prominent. "Jesu" and "Yesu", the name of the very
founder of Christianity, is spelt differently. "Ja-kara" is a
Greek also. We could trace the root of all this to the Vedas. Jehivah or
Yehovah is the same as the Vedic deity Yahvan. "Dyau-
Pitar"(Dyava_Prithivi) becomes Jupiter. Sanskrit words lose their
letter when borrowed by other languages. So Dyau_Pitar becomes "Yau-
Pitar" and then Jupiter.
What were originally Yahvan and Dyau-pitar changed to Jehovah and
Jupiter with the addition of the "ja-kara". In the beginning the Vedic
religion was practised everywhere. It is likely that the Madhyandina
Sakha was followed in Greece and its neighbourhood.