A linguistic fiction: Searching for the mother tongue of our first-ancestors, and trying for a grand-unification of all language-families
भाषा-वैज्ञानिक कल्पना: हम सभी के प्रथम-पुरखों की मातृभाषा की खोज, और सभी भाषा-परिवारों के महा-मिलन का प्रयास
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.
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
Bhashi said, “This is KSHARI- SAGAR क्षारी-सागर(salty lake)”.
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-सागरor 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)
[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 dayis about to set. We shall talk more in
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
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…
Bhashi: KSHARI- SAGAR क्षारी-सागर(lake
of saline water)
Jibha: KSHIR SAGAR क्षीर-सागर(lake
(Sanskrit, bhuj + wan,
lit. One who has plenty of food;
however, no such word exists in any Sanskrit dictionary)
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 humancivilization,
with the presence of leaders like Vishnu ji’s andShivji'
around, the meaning of the word bhagwan might have changed to its present
meaning ‘celebrity, famous, respected, god, divine]
= poison + by no means + doer; i.e. one who neutralizes poison)
Vishnukarta [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]
+ Karta = doer’; i.e. one who neutralizes poison)
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]
nagendra (Sanskrit, = king of snakes; sheshanaag, a mythological snake that was
used as bed by Lord Vishnu)
nagendran (Tamil, = king of snakes; sheshanaag)
(Tamil, believed to mean elephant killer)
century Sinhalese, =whipsnake?Butnosnake 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)
nagendra (Sanskrit, = king of snakes; sheshanaag, a mythological snake that was
used as bed by Lord Vishnu)
najendra (Cobra is called naja in latin)
(Sanskrit, = sheshnag, lit. endless)
(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)
sheshnag(the ten-headed snake used by Vishnu as bed in the Indian mythology)
dragon[Middle English, from Old French, from Latin drac , drac n-, large
serpent, from Greek drak n. See derk- in Indo-European Roots.]
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:
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
“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?
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
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.
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
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?