Saturday, May 19, 2012

Bhagwan Vishnu relaxing on a bed of anacondas in a salt lake

 

The mythological tales of the gods and the demons seem to be the stories of the earliest phase of the human civilization. Almost 300 to 500 generations of our ancestors have told and retold these stories to their children through the word of mouth. As the stories were being retold, changes in pronunciations brought about mutations in the original words much in the way of mutations in the DNA of our genes. In many cases, the meaning of the story changed completely from what was originally narrated by the eye-witnesses. Rajendra Gupta takes another walk with the ancestors in the ancient world and finds this time that God Vishnu is relaxing on a bed made of ten anacondas in a KSHARI-SAGAR or salt lake! Vishnu ji says the name of that big snake is NAGENDRA, a Sanskrit word, literally meaning the ‘king of snakes.’ Read more…

Readers of this blog know that whether in sleep or in wakefulness, I have been traveling in a time machine to the pre-historic times, where I join a group of our nomadic ancestors on a new journey each day. It is Saturday night. I am watching a program about the South American large snake anaconda, on the National Geographic Channel of TV. Anaconda is one of the world's largest snakes. It is about six meters (20 feet) long and weighs about 150 kg. Professor Jesus Rivas, a biologist from the Venezuela University is telling about his amazing discoveries about anaconda.
Professor Rivas is explaining the process of reproduction in anaconda. He says  that during mating, eight to twelve male anacondas intertwine around one female anaconda to form a huge mating ball. The snakes remain in this state for an average of 14 days. Only one in ten males is successful in actual copulation. The Intercourse continues for many hours, during which the rest of the males keep intertwined in the mating ball. Prof Rivas explains that for days together, the courting and copulating snakes in the mating ball are unaffected by the presence of biologists near them (see image below). During this period, the scientists separate the anacondas for measurements but the snakes resume their intertwining again and again.

Fig 1. Prof. Rivas from Venezuela holding an anaconda (top); Fig. 2 Prof Rivas examining a mating ball of anacondas (above)

While watching TV, I feel sleepy. And, once again I find myself walking with the ancestors. This time I am in India of 8000 years before present.  
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I am moving with a group of our ancestors, from the drought-affected central India to the North India.  We have been walking in the parched plains for the last several days.  Even today, we did not get any drinking water or food anywhere. The entire group is thirsty. Children and women are in a bad shape. Now, we can see some trees at the horizon. That means the presence of water in this area. It raises hope in the hearts of the disappointed. With springs in feet now, we moved forward. We reached in a  jamun (black plum) forest before the Sun set. There is huge lake in the middle of this forest. As far as we can see, the lake is full of blooming giant-lotus flowers; somewhat resembling the giant Victoria lily found in the Amazon region of South America. Everyone rushes to drink water. The water is somewhat brackish. However, for the people who were thirsty for several days, it is not less that the elixir of life.
Bhashi said, “This is KSHARI- SAGAR क्षारी-सागर (salty lake)”.
(Sanskrit, KSHAR = salt; KSHARI = salty; SAGAR = lake, sea)
Jibha interrupted her, "We were thirsty for several days. The water of this KSHARI- SAGAR क्षारी-सागर (salty lake) is no less than the mother’s milk for us. Therefore, O my dear sis, don’t call it KSHARI- SAGAR क्षारी-सागर (salty lake); call it KSHIR SAGAR* क्षीर-सागर or the lake of milk”.
* [According to the Indian mythology, God Vishnu resides in the KSHIR SAGAR or the milk lake; Sanskrit, KSHIR = milk; SAGAR = lake, sea]  

 It is decided that we will camp here tonight.  Several groups fans out in the lake area in search of food. We are walking along the coast. Suddenly we miss our breaths and heart beats as we come across an amazing, and wonderful scene. About ten to twelve giant snakes are intertwined with each other in the center of a lotus stock, quite near the shore of the lake. Each snake appears to be about 10 hands long. Each one is as thick as a thigh of an average human. One can count about ten snakes’ heads in the huge snake-ball. However, it is difficult to distinguish their bodies from each other. No one in our group has ever seen or heard about such huge snakes. O God! How will we save our lives from these snakes? But astonishingly, a young man is peacefully relaxing on the ball of ten snakes as his bed. There is no fear of the snakes in him. The young man’s color is like that of the clouds. Everyone in our group wears animal skin or tree-bark, however, this young man has wrapped an amazing shiny and soft cover around the lower part of his body. A huge lotus flower with a large stalk is placed on his body. From a distance, it appears as if the lotus is growing from the youth’s navel! Surely, this young man has conquered the serpents. Perhaps this young man is not a human. He may be a god. No, no, he may be the king of the gods. He can protect and take care of everybody. Come let’s go under his care. He will protect us from serpents.
Un-intentionally, everyone in our group prostrates on the ground for invocation of the youth who has subdued the serpents.
“JAY HO! JAY HO to you!”
(Hail. Hail to you)
(Invocation in Sanskrit follows)

"SHANTAKARM BHUJAG SHAYANAM PADMANABHAM SURESHAM.
VISHVADHARAM GAGAN SADRISHAM MEGH VARNAM SHUBHANGAM.
[Sanskrit Verse from an ancient Indian text ‘Vishnu Strotra’. It means :
“O handsome-bodied, cloud-colored, king of gods, who is relaxing peacefully on the serpents, in the center of a stock of lotus plants, and who can protect and take care of everyone.” This translation by me  is worldly and free translation, that is different in parts from the traditional meaning of the verse. In the traditional translation, the meaning of the phrase PADMANABH is ‘from whose navel springs the lotus flower.’ Since ‘lotus-springing-from-human-navel’ is not a biological possibility, I have chosen another dictionary meaning of NABH as ‘center’ and translated PADMANABH as ‘center of a lotus stock.’ GAGAN SADRISHAM means ‘who is all-pervading as the sky’ or God. For a worldly view, I have combined ‘GAGAN SADRISHAM MEGH VARNAM’ to mean ‘color resembles the cloud in the sky’]

Hearing the salutations, the young man opens his eyes. He sees in front of him, a new group of immigrants in search of food and water, who are coming in from all directions towards the fertile plains of North India.  It is not the first time that the young man has received such salutation.  He knows the reason why people are scared. His hand rises in ABHAY MUDRA (protective posture). Pointing towards his bed of snakes, he says,

"Do not be afraid in my territory. Don’t be scared of the snakes.  The king of snakes NAGENDRA, on whom I was relaxing, is a non-poisonous. But this area is full of poisonous snakes too. But you must not feel scared. I know how to neutralize the snake poison with the use of herbs. That’s why people call me VISHA.NAHI (Sanskrit, VISH = poison + NAHI = by no means).
“Come and have a closer look at my bed of snakes. This is not a single NAGENDRA but a group of ten. At present the NAGENDRAs are mating in a DASH-NAG-MITHUN (Sanskrit, = ten-snake-sex-position). All the NAGENDRAs of this country are mating in this season. They shall remain in this position for some weeks. Just do not be afraid till then. Once the mating is over, the snakes will separate out. You should be very caution at that time. Nagendra may be poison less, but it is not toothless. 
[for a moment, the young man transforms into the anaconda researcher seen on Nat Geo TV but the next moment, he transforms into the image of Lord VISHNU of the Indian mythology]
“I have domesticated a GARUD, a huge eagle. It is as big as a bull and big enough to ride and fly. GARUD eats snakes. Garuda will gradually eat all the snakes and NAGENDRAs on earth.  
“I live on an island in this huge lake. You may also stay in my village. The water is brackish, but you will find that rivers in all directions have dried up during this summer.  Even in this region, water of this lake in our country has evaporated and become brackish. However, there is no scarcity of water. People in our village are farmers. They grow grain plants and eat grains. You don’t know farming but you may learn it once you decide to settle here. The Sun is about to set. I know that you may not like grain foods. You children are hungry. On this JAMBU-DWEEP, the island of jambolan (black plum) fruits, you will find plenty of roots, tubers and fruits. Pick up any food of your choice.  The day is about to set. We shall talk more in the morning."

The chief of our group said with folded hands,
“Hail to you. You are the BHOJWAN, the provider of food. You are VISH-NAHI-KARTA, the neutralizer of poisons.

O Bhojwan, JAY HO!  Hail to you!
O VISH-NAHI-KARTA, JAY HO!  Hail to you!
The entire group chanted at high pitch,
Hail to you O BHOJWAN VISH-NAHI-KARTA JAY HO.”
Accepting the advice of VISH.NAHI, all the adults went in search of food. Children were playing. But Jibha and Bhashi, as usual, cut off from all other the children were playing only with words. They started repeating some new words that they had heard from VISH.NAHI’s mouth a few moments ago.  Coming generations of human society were set to repeat for centuries, this game of words being played by the twins Jibha and Bhashi on the shore of KSHARI-SaGAR. New words were going to be formed due to series of mutations as the words passed from mouths of Jibha and Bhashi and from one generation human beings to another…
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Bhashi: KSHARI- SAGAR क्षारी-सागर (lake of saline water)
Jibha: KSHIR SAGAR क्षीर-सागर (lake of milk)

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Jibha: ‘bhujwan(Sanskrit, bhuj + wan, lit.  One who has plenty of food; however, no such word exists in any Sanskrit dictionary)  
Bhashi: ‘bhugwan
Jibha : ‘bhagwan’ [Sanskrit, = God; as per my common sense, the original meaning of the Sanskrit word bhagwan (=God) must have been ‘one who has plenty of food.’  However, during the early phase of the human civilization, with the presence of leaders like Vishnu ji’s and Shiv ji' around, the meaning of the word bhagwan might have changed to its present meaning ‘celebrity, famous, respected, god, divine]
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Vish-nahi-karta (Sanskrit, = poison + by no means + doer; i.e. one who neutralizes poison) 
Vish-nayi karta
Vishniy karta
Vishnu karta [The traditional derivation of the word Vishnu is vishva = word + anu = molecule, i.e. one who is present (like molecules) in every particle of the universe. However, in my common sense understanding of the mythology, Vishnu may mean ‘poison by no means’ neutralizer of poison]
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Vishnu karta (Sanskrit, Vishnu + Karta = doer’; i.e. one who neutralizes poison) 
karta
karda
kharda
khyda
khuda خدا (Urdu)
khoda خدا  (Persian)
goda
god [English; this derivation is entirely different from the traditional etymology as given in dictionaries; viz. God, before 900; middle English, old English;  cognate with Dutch god, German gott, old Norse goth, gothic guth. supreme being, creator]

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nagendra (Sanskrit, = king of snakes;  sheshanaag, a mythological snake that was used as bed by Lord Vishnu) 
nagendran (Tamil, = king of snakes;  sheshanaag)
nagondran
nakondran
anaikondran (Tamil, believed to mean elephant killer) 
henaikandran
henakonde (17th century Sinhalese, = whip snake? But no snake is called Henakonde in modern Sinhalese
anaconda (English; it is believed that the European travelers learnt the word Henakonde in Srilanka and used it as anaconda when they saw a giant snake in South America)

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nagendra (Sanskrit, = king of snakes;  sheshanaag, a mythological snake that was used as bed by Lord Vishnu) 
najendra (Cobra is called naja in latin)
nayendra
nayantra
nayantya nayantya
yanayanta
yananta
ananta (Sanskrit, = sheshnag, lit. endless)
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dashanag (A new Sanskrit word DASHANAG (literally meaning ten-snakes) has been coined in this post to describe the mating ball composed of ten anacondas.
jashnag (mutation from d >j or j>d are common in Sanskrit)
shashnag
sheshnag (the ten-headed snake used by Vishnu as bed in the Indian mythology)

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nagendra
nagendra nagendra
dranagen
dragen
dragon [Middle English, from Old French, from Latin drac , drac n-, large serpent, from Greek drak n. See derk- in Indo-European Roots.]
drakn (Greek)

******

I wake up from sleep. The Sun has not risen yet. Even after being awake for quite some time, I remain lost in the image of Bhagwan Vishnu as I had seen in my dream:
"SHANTAKARM BHUJAG SHAYANAM PADMANABHAM SURESHAM.
VISHVADHARAM GAGAN SADRISHAM MEGH VARNAM SHUBHANGAM”.
[“O handsome-bodied, cloud-colored, king of gods, who is relaxing peacefully on the serpents, in the center of a stock of lotus plants, and who can protect and take care of everyone”]
“Who is Bhagwan Vishnu ?” I kept contemplating. A miraculous supernatural God, who sleeps on a bed of SHESHA-snake in the milk of sea, someone, who is unreachable, un-seeable, un-knowable? Wasn’t Vishnu ji one of our ancestors who walked in flesh and blood on this very earth once upon a time? Why don’t we see the mythological stories from the point of view of evolution of human society and civilization?
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Did the story of ‘the ocean of milk’ arise from a small pronunciation mistake of saying KSHIR क्षीर (milk) instead of KSHARI क्षारी (saline)? In scientific terms, it is impossible to think of a lake of milk anywhere, but you can find salt-lakes all over the globe.

Can anaconda be the mythological SHESHA-NAG? Biologically, there is no evidence that a ten-headed giant aquatic snake ever existed. However, a ball of ten mating anacondas can be seen in each mating season even in the present times in South America. Each ball of mating anacondas is big enough for a man to relax on it. 

To say that any mythological story could have a historical basis, you need some archeological evidence.  To move in that direction, one of the world's oldest sculptures depicting Lord Vishnu is from 7th century Chalukya period. It is kept in the Prince of Wales Museum in Mumbai. Compare the image of SHESHANAG in the VISHNU statue (below) to a photo of mating ball of anacondas (bottom) captured by Prof Rivas of Venezuela.  See the striking resemblance. Anacondas never spread hood.  In the ancient sculpture, you can distinctly count ten heads of the sheshanag. Although one may argue that the ten heads of the sheshanag collectively resemble a hood, but none of the individual heads has spread its own hood. 

Fig. 3 Vishnu Sleeping on Shesha Plate 103, (AWF) sandstone, Hucchappaya temple, Aihole, Deccan, Early Chalukya period, 7th C., Prince of Wales Museum, Bombay (top);
Fig.4. Anaconda mating ball (from Jesus Rivas’s www.anacondas.org/) (bottom)

In contrast, one of the most recent statues of Lord Vishnu can be seen at the ISKCON temple in New Delhi (below). 
Fig. 5 Lord Vishnu on bed of Sheshanag. ISCON temple, New Delhi. 21st century. (top)
Fig. 6 Lord Vishnu on bed of Sheshanag. Contemporary calendar art. 
In the modern sculptures as well as in the modern calendar art, Vishnu’s Sheshnag is depicted with its several hoods spread out like that of the king cobra. The modern calendar art also shows the full and straight body of the Sheshnag unlike that shown in the ancient statue where its body is coiled in the manner of a mating ball.  Thus we find that mutations occur not only in the DNA of organisms or the letters of words but also in artwork during duplication of sculptures and paintings over a big period of time.

If anaconda is indeed the SHESHANAG of Indian mythology, it is very important to know if snakes as large as anacondas existed in India at the time of the rise of  agricultural societies about 8000 years before present. The answer may lie in a fossil findings. In March 2010, Dr. Mahabe of the Geological survey of India and Dr. Wilson of the University of Michigan jointly discovered fossil of a snake as long as anaconda (6.5 m or 20 ft long) from Gujrat, India. This snake used to eat half a meter long newly hatched dinosaurs. At present, we don’t know the time scale of the extinction of this giant snake from India. Future work on snake fossils may show us the light on this issue.
And, now we are left with the story of the GaruD. It is important to know whether birds as big as a bull, i.e. big enough to ride and fly ever existed in India? There are two accounts to support such a possibility. One,  there is an account in the Rigveda of the Maruts flying on divine birds. Two, Marco Polo, the European traveler, who sailed along the coastline of India in the 13th century has written in his travelogues about 10 feet high birds in India.  Such huge birds were reported from Madagascar even in the 19th century. Thus, Vishnu ji riding on the GaruD, the giant eagle is very much a possibility from the zoological point of view. But we will have to leave that discussion for another blog post devoted to eagle, hawk, vulture, and owl. Till then I leave a heuristic cartoon of some extinct birds (from the Wikipedia) for your perusal.  

What do you think about this article? Do you think that we should do scientific analyses of the mythological stories? OR do you believe that we should not apply our mind to understand these stories that essentially belong to the domain of faith? 

Added on 26 Nov 2013
Pictures of some more ancient statues of Vishnu can be seen in the following article: 

24 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed reading it till last word as the way you have presented the story , is amusing. Especially relating the terms from different languages and deriving their probable relationships through mythological illustration is awesome.

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    1. Thanks Pawan. Lets keep walking with the ancestors.

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  2. Replies
    1. Thanks Yogendra ji. Welcome to the DNA of Words.

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  3. very insightful katha-lekh sir...though dream is not a vritti...even then,a realized expression of the scientific mind.excited to read you ahead.

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    1. Dear Sarvesh, welcome to the DNA of Words, and through it, to the walks with our ancestors. Recently, I have read a very interesting and thought provoking article written by you on the Ramcharitmanas. Therefore, I am delighted to find you here. I shall greatly value your comments. About your comment that “dream is not a vritti”: if you mean to say that dream is not a style in literature, I confess that I have no idea about it. I am a total newbie, just a 4-month old writer who is struggling to warm up before actual writing. The only thing that I have decided is to have, as in the Manas, four levels of narrations for readers of different levels. The dream sequence in this episode was created in view of the sensibilities of a particular level of readers. Thank you Sarvesh. Best wishes.

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  4. Congratulations Rajendra Ji. You have indeed taken up a very tough task. It may, it may not attract the attention of serious linguist at the moment, but certainly your work is going to leave fundamental imprint on the study of languages, society, culture and history. I really wish you to be remembered as a path breaking scientist, followed by historians, like D. D. Kosambi. Though from a different ideological perspective, Kosambi has also tried to re-interpret the Mythological stories of India and thus influenced a generation of historians. Wish you all my bests.

    A. N. Jha, Associate Professor in History, S. S. N. Collgege, D. U., India, Jmbudweep.

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    1. Dear Amarnath ji, you have drenched me with words of love, encouragement, honour, and responsibility. While reading your remarks, my hands automatically folded at the mention of Dr D.D. Kosambi and I bowed with misty eyes and with utmost humility. Though, I have read, Dr Kosambi's biography,and have come across many cross references to his work, I confess and regret that due to my laziness, I have not read his original writings. I must do that now. Thanks and best wishes. Rajendra

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  5. What an interesting assemblage of seemingly unconnected things.
    BUT I am not surprised, rather feel reassured that the loss of one field of science is the gain of another field. Finally, what matters is that lesser mortals like us benefit from the ones who are blessed with exceptional capabiities. The capabily to connect the dots accurately that finally leads to the emergence of pictures that were waiting to be seen. The capability to see meaningful associations in things deceptively lying in a haphazard manner. No achievement is too big, too great for a person we know as Dr R.Gupta.
    My salutations!
    Suman

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    1. Thank you very much Suman ji. I have planned a big project on mythology. Did not know how people will take my treatment of this sensitive subject. Your kind words about the first post on mythology mean a lot to me. Thanks once again for your great encouragement.

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  6. रोचक खोजी आलेख।

    अंग्रेजी में इस आलेख को देखकर भागना चाहा लेकिन शैली इतनी सरल है कि आसानी से समझता चला गया और एक बार पढ़ना शुरू किया तो रूक नहीं पाया। आपने एक दुरूह कार्य हाथ में लिया है जिसका कट्टरपंथी घोर विरोध भी कर सकते हैं। आसानी से आपके तथ्य को कोरी कल्पना कह कर नकार सकते हैं। मैं स्वयम् भी असहज महसूस कर रहा हूँ लेकिन आपने शब्दों और चित्रों में हो सकने वाले परिवर्तनो की ओर जिस प्रमाणितकता के साथ इशारा किया है उसे झुठला देना सरल नहीं है। दस एनाकोंडा सर्पों के जिस गोल आकृति को प्राप्त मूर्ति से जोड़ा है वह तो बेहद रोचक है। इस तथ्य से इंकार नहीं किया जा सकता कि प्राचीन परंपरायें, लोक कथाओं, संस्कृतियों और विश्वासों में परिवर्तित हो सकती हैं। यदि संभव हो तो इनकी वैज्ञानिक पड़ताल की ही जानी चाहिए। हमारी शुभकामनाएँ आपके साथ हैं। अंग्रेजी में अपनी बात अभिव्यक्त कर पाउंगा इसमें संदेह था सो हिंदी में लिखा। आप तो सर्वज्ञ हैं, समझ ही जायेंगे।

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    1. देवेंद्र जी, मुझे बहुत प्रसन्नता है कि आपको लेख अच्छा लगा। विश्वास और प्रोत्साहन भरे शब्द शोध का श्रम हर लेते हैं और ऊर्जा का संचार करते हैं। बहुत आभार। भारत में धर्म और आस्था से जुड़ी कथाओं के प्रति जिज्ञासा और शंका की पुरानी संस्कृतिक और धार्मिक परंपरा मौजूद है। अतः काफी आशावान हूँ। सभी प्रमुख पौराणिक कथाओं के अविश्वसनीय प्रसंगो पर इसी तरह से लिखने का इरादा है। धीरे-धीरे लिख रहा हूँ। इस यात्रा में साथ बने रहिएगा। लेख हिन्दी में भी उपलब्ध है: क्षारी-सागर में एनाकोण्डाओं की शैया पर आराम करते हुए भगवान विष्णु http://dnaofwords.blogspot.com/2012/05/blog-post.html

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  7. विश्व के तमाम धर्मों का अध्ययन करने क पश्चात् मेरा यह मानना है कि पौराणिक गाथाएं अवश्य ही ऐई सी सरल सहज दैनिक घटनाओं का अतिरंजित व काव्यिक रूप हैं I परन्तु इस विषय मून किसी भी अनुमान को प्रमाणित करना लगभग असंभव है; भला रोज़ कि घिसी-पिटी कहानी कौन पंजीकृत करके रखेगा, और रखेगा तो भी उस पंजीकरण में साहित्य क स्वभावानुसार अतिरंजन और कव्यिकता आ जाएगी I

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    1. प्रिय अनिकेत,
      आपने बिलकुल सही कहा। किन्तु क्या हम आधुनिक काल की घटनाओं को भी उनके अतिरंजित और अविश्वसनीय रूप में भविष्य के लिए सहेजना पसंद करेंगे ?

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    2. First of all I would like to thank you for taking on the job of a myth buster and sharing this data. While The story of the group of ancestors is logical and falls in the domain of possibility but the difference between ancient and modern picture of Vishnu is evident and cannot be denied.
      I came here looking for the etymology of the word 'Bhagwan' I was wondering if it was derived from Bhagya(luck)+wan or Bhag+wan. Bhag also means female vagina and a thinker friend has injected this into my mind that this word was coined by Chauvinistic or Male Dominated society where some was considered to have right over female genitals and called bhagwan. If so that would be a too cheap meaning for a word used for the greatest. Please clarify this...

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    3. Dear Kamal, welcome to my blog. I am very happy that you have liked the write up. I feel that the word bhagwan was perhaps coined at a very early stage of the human civilization. At that stage, our ancestors may have been simple hunter-gatherers or at the most they were in transit to become shepherds and farmers. Their main concern was the daily struggle for survival. I believe that the word was originally linked to food but the philosophical meanings were attached to it at a much later date after the evolution of philosophy. In the absence of ancient records about original usage, we can never be 100% sure about bhagwan's actual origin. Much of etymological work is based on guesswork and similarity of sounds. The word 'bhag' on which the word bhagawan is supposedly based, has 17 different meanings in Sanskrit. Bhag's meaning range from sun, moon, beauty, fame, freedom to vagina! It is left to the linguist to pick any of the 17 meaning. And they have tried to base the etymology of bhagwan on 'vagina' as well 'radiance'. I am not a linguist. Being a biologist, I have taken the liberty to reject all 17 meanings and to link the coinage of 'bhagwan' with food security that is vital for human survival.

      I am giving you link of Mr Ajit Wadnekar's blog for the best classical linguistic explanation that I have read about etymology of bhagwan. He has beautifully explained each derivation.
      http://shabdavali.blogspot.in/2008/09/2.html

      I hope that you will now like to accompany me on walks with our ancestors.

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  8. I enjoyed it very much Sir
    regards
    Ashwani Pareek

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