Archive for December, 2013

brahman, brahma, brahmA

In this post the meaning of brahmanब्रह्मन्-brahmaब्रह्म-brahmAब्रह्मा is discussed and explained, along-with the other derived and related words found in Hindu texts.

“brahma”ब्रह्म is often used something like an attribute (as in brahma-loka, brahma-vidya, brahma-gyAna, etc), in other words, brahma is adjective-like. Analogy is: rudra which means “angry” but still is a Vedic god’s name. Or, daksha means “skilled” but still many times a god’s name (theonym). Similarly, brahma means “creating”, but still…what?

1) So we come to the occurrences of brahma in RigVeda. We are told that the prAtipadika प्रातिपदिक (nominal stem) bráhman = prayer/ creation, and the prAtipadika brahmán = a type of ritvija priest.

2) So in their nominative forms प्रथमा विभक्ति, we have bráhma for the “prayer”, and (brahmá turned into) brahmA for the latter, i.e. the “priest”.

3) brahma in this way, is the unnamed (because it has never been used as a theonym in RV) trinity god of Veda (“the-you-know-who”, the 12th aditya) with the other mighty two as mentioned in the above: rudra and daksha.

4) From the Rig-Veda, brahma-daksha-rudra are the core aspects of brahmA-Vishnu-Shiva, respectively. Of course this is neutrally speaking, not with respect to any sectarian viewpoint (e.g., the Vaishnava pov: “brahmA came from Vishnu, not from brahma, and Vishnu himself being brahma”, and so on, etc).


To further illustrate on the meaning of brahman-brahma-brahmA, we can use analogy.

Say, in Atman-Atma-AtmA, the first word “Atman” आत्मन् is a prAtipadika प्रातिपदिक (nominal stem), and both “Atma” आत्म and “AtmA” आत्मा are two different words (the nominative प्रथमा विभक्ति) formed from the same prAtipadika, Atman आत्मन् .

It gets easier if we use some imagination (and theory) to understand their meaning:
Let us think of Átman, and Atmán. Now, both are the same Atman but with accents on different a’s. It is not difficult to see how the nominative Átma comes from Átman, and the nominative Atmá comes from Atmán.

Of course this we will not find in the grammar-treatises on classical Sanskrit (i.e., post Vedic), but have to construct (and in fact has been already) this picture about accents (note: accents went extinct in classical Sanskrit).

So, by the time of  classical Sanskrit, words like Atmá gave way to words like AtmA. There are many such examples: amman-amma/ammi-ammA, amban(?)-amba/ambi-ambA, etc. Though we dont have any clue anymore, this should be the case with words such as rudra, daksha etc also.

Now, what all this says about the meaning part?

When the accented letter is nearer to the first letter of the word, we can expect the meaning “essence” of something. Whereas when the accented letter is nearer to the last letter of the word, we can expect the meaning “envelope” of something.(As we are told, “the first can be like abstract noun, and the second could be like agent noun.”)

Thus amba अम्ब means “mother” which is the essence of a lady’s relationship with her child. But “ambA” अम्बा means “someone who possesses motherhood” (apart from being other things).

So one can call his mother “ammi” अम्मी but any lady (including one’s own mother) can be called “ammA” अम्मा.


The suffix “Na” ण is also interesting. And what we get to see in RV is that bráhmaNa (from bráhma) and brahmáNa (from brahmá) are also seemingly present.

“Na” suffix makes a change in the meaning, which looks like:-

1) whereas bráhma = supreme-creativity/ creative, bráhmaNa = hymn/ prayer (a product of supreme-creativity). So when bráhma became brahma, bráhmaNa became brAhmaNa, which we know as “brAhmaNa-texts”. The varna brAhmaNa also comes from this, and should mean “a creative-man-product stamped out of Rsis’ varna-ashrama”.

2) whereas brahmá = a possessor of supreme-creativity, brahmáNa = a kind of mystic (a manifestation of supreme-creativity into man). And when (in fact in the RV itself) brahmá became brahmA (the divine possessor of brahma), brahmáNa becomes brahmANa (a brahma-possessor mystic or priest).



Rig 06.052.003
किम् । अ॒ङ्ग । त्वा॒ । ब्रह्म॑णः । सो॒म॒ । गो॒पाम् । किम् । अ॒ङ्ग । त्वा॒ । आ॒हुः॒ । अ॒भि॒श॒स्ति॒ऽपाम् । नः॒ ।
किम् । अ॒ङ्ग । नः॒ । प॒श्य॒सि॒ । नि॒द्यमा॑नान् । ब्र॒ह्म॒ऽद्विषे॑ । तपु॑षिम् । हे॒तिम् । अ॒स्य॒ ॥
kim | aṅga | tvā | bráhmaṇaḥ | soma | gopām | kim | aṅga | tvā | āhuḥ | abhiśasti-pām | naḥ |
kim | aṅga | naḥ | paśyasi | nidyamānān | bráhma-dviṣe | tapuṣim | hetim | asya
Why then, O Soma, do they call thee keeper of prayer? Why then thou not guard our devotion from reproaches?
Why then beholdest thou how men revile us? Cast thy hot dart at him who hates devotion.

Rig 02.001.002

तव॑ । अ॒ग्ने॒ । हो॒त्रम् । तव॑ । पो॒त्रम् । ऋ॒त्विय॑म् । तव॑ । ने॒ष्ट्रम् । त्वम् । अ॒ग्नित् । ऋ॒त॒ऽय॒तः ।
तव॑ । प्र॒ऽशा॒स्त्रम् । त्वम् । अ॒ध्व॒रि॒ऽय॒सि॒ । ब्र॒ह्मा । च॒ । असि॑ । गृ॒ठऽप॑तिः । च॒ । नः॒ । दमे॑ ॥
tava | agne | hotram | tava | potram | ṛtviyam | tava | neṣṭram | tvam | agnit | ṛta-yataḥ | tava | pra-śāstram | tvam | adhvari-yasi | brahmā | ca | asi | gṛṭha-patiḥ | ca | naḥ | dame
Thine is the Herald’s task and Cleanser’s duly timed; Leader art thou, and Kindler for the pious
Thou art Director, thou the ministering Priest: thou art the Brahmā (ritvija priest), Lord and Master in our home. (Griffith)

1) brahman ब्रह्मन् is a root, and should not be used.
2) The root brahman ब्रह्मन् has two nominative words: brahma ब्रह्म and brahmā ब्रह्मा.
3) brahma ब्रह्म = creation, devotion, creative, the unnamed deity of RgVeda, the 12th Aditya, the central deity of advaita-vedānta.
4) brahmā ब्रह्मा = a ritvija (vedic) priest, one of the trinity gods in Hinduism, the deity (brahmā) whose core aspect is brahma ब्रह्म.
5) brāhmaNa ब्राह्मण = prayer, prayer-book, any creative product, brāhmaNa varNa.
6) brahmāNa ब्रह्माण (?) = a mystic.

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