Quote for the day!


(According to legend, the very first couplet in
മഞ്ജരി inspired by which കൃഷ്ണഗാഥ was written.)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

ചേന നന നാനാരേ

For my previous post, I got a comment that asked about rules for pronouncing ന.
Now, I don't really know of any rules so I thought why not try to derive some. Looking at some some of the words that have ന or ന്‍, I came up with the heuristics:

  • When it begins a word, ന is pronounced Na. e.g. നിലാവ്, നുള്ളി, നൃപന്‍, നെടുകേ
  • When it occurs as a simple letter (i.e. a non-compund letter), it is pronounced na. e.g. കനല്‍, കനി, മനുഷ്യന്‍, അങ്ങനെ,
  • When it occurs as the chillu (ന്‍) it is always pronounced n

These heuristics seem to work even for complex cases like നാനാനനന്‍ (Naanaananan - ബ്രഹ്മാവ്‌).

The heuristics for complex letters don't seem as simple. Let us look at some examples:

  • തിന്നുക is nnu, തിന്നു is NNu
  • പന്ന is nna, പന്നി is NNi
  • നിമ്നം is na, നഗ്നം is Na

So, there doesn't seem to be a rule.

I am tempted to say that words of Sanskrit origin use na whereas Na is used only in words of Tamil origin. But this also doesn't explain the Tamil words with pronunciation of na.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Origin of നെയ്യ്

Don't know if many people noticed the poll about the origin of നെയ്യ്.

I was surprised to find (in Gundert) that നെയ്യ് is the തത്ഭവം of സ്നേഹം. The first meaning of സ്നേഹം in Sanskrit is oiliness, or greasiness. Presumably, the word came about as: സ്നേഹം -> നേഹം -> നേയം(?) (because there is no ഹ in Tamil?) -> നെയ്യ്.

[I have to admit that I highly suspect this etymology - just because the word roots and the meanings match does not mean that one is derived from the other. E.g. consider "one" and "ഒന്നു". Very similar and identical in meaning, but they have entirely different origins (the former comes from Proto-Indo-European root *oinos and the latter is purely Dravidian).

This also reminds me of similar claims that some Sanskrit words were derived from Tamil - ഇഷ്ടം from ഇടുതം, കഷ്ടം from കടുതം etc. I read about these at a website but I am equally uncomfortable with the argument]

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


പണ്ടെങ്ങോ വായിച്ചതാണ്...

ദോശ comes from ദ്വ + ഓശ, meaning "two sounds". The article said that the sounds refer to the 'sssssssss' sounds when you first pour it and when you flip it.


(Gundert says that ദോശ comes from Tamil's തോച, but doesn't say where തോച comes from.)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Number system

I read somewhere that the original Dravidian number system was base-eight.

Indeed the names for our numbers reflect this.

One through seven have unique roots.

Eight is എട്ടു which comes from എണ്‍, which actually means 'number'. (Compare with എണ്ണുക, എണ്ണം)

Nine is ഒമ്പത് which came from തൊമ്പത് = തൊള്‍ + പത് , "almost ten". Compare with 90 തൊണ്ണൂറ് , 900 തൊള്ളായിരം. (Aside: This used to be a bit confusing when I was a little kid.)

Ten is പത്ത് which came from പന്തി which is a തത്ഭവം of പങ്ക്തി, meaning row. Probably derived from saying "there is a row of things".

Now, we all know that our current base-ten system was a result of humans having ten fingers. So how can a base-eight system evolve "naturally"?

My explanation is that early Dravidians might have used their thumbs to touch other fingers when they counted. This leaves the eight fingers to do the actual counting leading to the development of the octal system.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Going Cryptic...

This morning, I was solving a cryptic crossword puzzle and wondered if they have such puzzles in Malayalam. Once in a copy of ശാസ്ത്രകേരളം I came across the following:

ഇതാ, മരത്തിലെ പൂവാണ് (3)

The answer is താമര, hidden in the clue itself.

Then I thought, how about using some of the other techniques found in cryptic puzzles in English?

Here are some of my creations:

1. തലയില്ലാക്കുതിര ഹാരമണിഞ്ഞു കടലില് (4)
2. അമ്പ്, വലിയ ഭര്‍ത്താവ് (4)
3. തല തിരിഞ്ഞ വള്ളി (2)
4. വകതിരിവു് നമ്മുടെ തമിഴ്പ്പാട്ട് (3)

Can you guess what the answers are?

1. തിരമാല (തലയില്ലാക്കുതിര = തലയില്ലാ "കുതിര" = തിര, ഹാരം = മാല)
2. കണവന് (കണ = അമ്പ്, വന് = വലിയ)
3. ലത ("തല" തിരിഞ്ഞത് )
4. കവനം (വകതിരിവു് = "വക" തിരിവ് = കവ, "നമ്മുടെ തമിഴ്" = നം)

I agree, some of these are a stretch, but can you come up with some good examples?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Going in circles?

Well, this is another digression from word roots. This is about വൃത്തങ്ങള് - meters. In particular, those meters with very few letters.

(Most of the material I read long ago in Ravivarma's വൃത്തശാസ്ത്രം and elsewhere. Now, writing from memory, so there may be some inaccuracies.)

Obviously, the shortest meter must be of one letter. Strange as it may seem, indeed there are names for such meters.

One with a single laghu is named ഖഗ. Its
ലക്ഷണം is:


The one with a single guru is ശ്രീ. Its ലക്ഷണം is:
I also remember one two-letter meter: ശിവം. Its ലക്ഷണം is:
Interesting, but one might wonder, were there really poems made in these meters?

I don't know. I suspect not many, if at all. I believe that these were defined for the sake of completeness. (It is a very interesting detour that the വൃത്തശാസ്ത്രം has very deep binary mathematics embedded in it. For example, it talks about determining the number of വൃത്തം in a given ഛന്ദസ്സ് - which is equivalent to evaluating 2^n.)

The ശാസ്ത്രം also indicates that meters with less than five letters (five, if I remember correctly, may be it is six; someone please correct me), were intended for the devas. This might be a reference to Sanskrit. The next set of meters are for men and the last set are for asuras. Perhaps devas had richer vocabulary enabling them to communicate in terse, one or two letter lines!

One can find nursery rhymes in five letter meters. E.g.:
ക ഖ ഗ ഘ ങാ...
ക ഖ ഗ ഘ ങാ...
എനിക്കും താ ചേട്ടാ
A six-lettered meter I know is തനുമധ്യ. It is two guru's, two laghus and two gurus. Literally, the name means "thin in the middle"; figuratively, it means beautiful woman. Unfortunately, I only remember the first and last lines of the shlokam:

പണ്ടങ്ങള്‍ വെടിഞ്ഞും

Technically, this doesn't exactly fit the വൃത്തം (e.g. the first line is ഗഗഗലഗ, instead of ഗഗലലഗഗ, but I guess if you sing it appropriately it fits in).

P.S. A ശ്ലോകം with more than 24 letters in a line are called ദണ്ടകം. There are lots of കഥകളിപ്പദങ്ങള്‍ in ദണ്ടകം format.

Thursday, May 8, 2008


One of the cool figures of speech is യമകം. The classical definition goes as follows:

ആവര്ത്തിച്ചുകഥിച്ചീടില്‍ യമകം പല മാതിരി.
And the classical example is:

മാലതീമലര്‍ ചേര്ന്നോരു
മാല തീജ്വാലയെന്നപോല്‍
മാലതീതുല്യയങ്ങു നീ
Now, here is an interesting game that you can play with യമകം. Remember, the "use in sentence" that we had back in school? It is the same thing here, but you have to use the word in a non-conventional meaning.

Here are some examples:

Word: അവനി (earth)
Sentence: അവനിനി വരില്ല. (അവന് + ഇനി)

Word: അരമന (castle)
Sentence: അരമനസ്സുമായവള് സമ്മതം മൂളി.

Word: ഒരുമ
Sentence: ഒരുമഞ്ഞക്കിളി പാടി.

Can you come up with more examples?

Lost in Translation

In a previous post, I briefly hinted on ശൈലി being a component of characterizing something as pure mallu. I thought I could explore that a little bit by means of some small pieces of translation that I attempted.

I must admit up front that these are not the very best of translations, but one can always learn a thing or two from a bad example :-) At the very least, I thought it will help as an (indirect) application of the theoretical pure mallu that I have been writing about.

I should also add that I was a bit (over?) inspired by one of AR Rajarajavarma's articles that I found at puzha.com.

The first piece is from Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus. The following lines are from Scene 1 where Dr. Faustus welcomes Valdes and Cornelius and says that he is ready to learn dark magic.

Come, German Valdes and Cornelius,
And make me blest with your sage conference.
Valdes, sweet Valdes, and Cornelius,
Know that your words have won me at last.

Here is how I attempted to translate this into malayalam:

വാള്‍ഡസേ, വാങ്ക കൊര്‍ണേലിയോസേ,
വാഴ്ത്തുവീനെന്നെ വിശേഷവാക്കാല്‍
വാള്‍ഡസേ, ചാരു കൊര്‍ണേലിയോസേ,
വാക്കുകള്‍ താവകമെന്നെ വെന്നു.
(Like I warned you before, not the best piece of translation)

The second one is from the short story The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. The story begins as follows:

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.
And this is the translation that I came up with:
ഒരു രൂപാ എണ്പത്തേഴു പൈസാ. അത്രമാത്രം. അതില്‍ അറുപതു പൈസയും ഒറ്റയണകള്‍. നാണവും മാനവും വകവെക്കാതെ, കന്നം ചുവക്കുംവരെ കുടക്കാരനോടും കടക്കാരനോടും ഗുസ്തി പിടിച്ചു സ്വരൂപിച്ച ഒറ്റയണകള്‍ ...
പിറ്റേന്നാണു ക്രിസ്മസ്.
(I personally think this is much better than the Faustus translation, but still not definitely the best.)

The third one is from an old Hindi movie song. Here it goes:
राजा के माथे तिलक लगेगा
राणी के मांग सिन्दूर, राणी के मांग सिन्दूर...
मैं भी अपनी मन की आशा
पूरी करूंगी ज़रूर, पूरी करूंगी ज़रूर...
Which, when translated by me, becomes:
രാജാവുതാനോ തൊടുകുറി ചാര്‍ത്തി
സിന്ദൂരം ചാര്‍ത്തി റാണീ, സിന്ദൂരം ചാര്‍ത്തി റാണീ...
ഞാനുമെന്റെ അഭിലാഷങ്ങള്‍
സംപൂര്‍ണമാക്കും തോഴീ, സംപൂര്‍ണമാക്കും തോഴീ...
Now, that I have gotten the worst part of this post out we can proceed with the analysis (if you are still with me, that is).

Primarily we want to see what aspects of translations are close to pure mallu and what aspects are not.

Before I proceed with my own analysis, do you have any thoughts?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

More on Oil

In one of the earlier posts, I expounded on the origin of oil.

Here is a little afterthought: the Sanskrit word for oil is തൈലം, which is derived from തിലം sesame. So even in the Sanskrit speaking world, oil must have been first extracted from sesame!