Saturday, April 27, 2013

How original meanings are lost?

To see how words lose their original meaning in the course of the time is an interesting thing in itself.  The words, names or even epithets those were used in the past find completely opposite meaning in today’s vocabulary. The changes can be attributed to the socio-cultural strife taking place intermittently in the human history and to the changing faiths with the time. Let us go through few examples to make our point:

1.  Asur: we use this word as a synonym for demon or evil being. Indian mythology contains hundreds of the stories of eternal warfare between Deva’s (Gods) and Asura’s. Per mythology, Deva’s and Asura’s were brothers but took separate path opposing each other as to who shall rule the earth and fought incessantly.

In pre-Rig the Vedic period, Asur didn’t mean anyway an evil being. Original meaning of “Asur” is Full of the Life, gallant or supreme Power. This meaning was retained in early Rigvedic verses, however, as the enmity between Zoroastrians and Vedics. Zoroastrians kept on revering Ahur (Asur) whereas Vedics gradually started defaming it. The highly revered Vedic God Varuna’s main epithet in the beginning was “Asura”. Same epithet is used respectfully for Agni, Indra and Mitra sometimes in the ancient body of Rig Veda. In a way Rig Vedic Asura's are exalted God's!

Then how come that the very term “Asura” took opposite meaning in the later times is a question that needs to be answered.

Vedic religion was originally an offshoot of the Asura culture that had flourished in Afghanistan and later in North India. Asura’s were prominently Shaivait and idolatrous whereas Vedic religion was centered about the sacrificial fire worship. However, as no new religion immediately can cut off its past links from which it has emerged, few faiths are retained, as seen with Judaism and Islam. Hence Asura term was retained with its original meaning, but as strife grew between old and new faiths and Asura became sworn enemies of the Vedic’s it was but natural that they started defaming Asura’s and dropped the epithet in new compositions of the Veda’s.

                                             (Asura's as depicted in the sculptures) 

This is how “Asur” word took entirely opposite meaning in later literature of the Vedic people. However this word in Avestan form “Ahur” (Asur) maintained same divine position throughout.

In course of the time, people belonging to Asura culture, though retained their Shaivait faith, too accepted new meaning of the term because hoards of Vedic literature denounced Asura’s in every possible mythical story. 

Still the fact remained that Asura’s were devotees of Lord Shiva, received various boons after sever penance from him and destroyed sacrificial fires of the Vedic people as much as possible.

So change in the meaning of the term “Asura” gives us insight in the cultural conflict that took place in India in historic times. However, we need to rethink on the term as Vedic rituals have been seized since at least last two millenniums. Shaivait tradition still is in its full force, then why we should not take original meaning of Asura and pay homage to our forefathers instead of defaming them taking opposite meaning of the Asura?

If we look at the history of Asura Kings like Maha Bali, Jarasangha, Banasura etc. we find them powerful emperors spreading their culture in Central North-East Asia. They were just kings having their original Shaivait faiths.  Philosophers like kapil, Shukracharya and many others (including many Upanishadik seers) were from Asura clan. Even today we can find most of the Shiva temples are named after Asura's. It was a distinct culture that is retained even today...and still if we are associating "Asura" with bad elements then it is our grave mistake. 

2. Durodhana, Dusshasana etc. : Duryodhana and his brothers are painted in dark shades in Mahabharata. All blames for causing Great War of Mahabharata are showered upon them, especially Duryodhana. I have discussed Duryodhana here, so let’s go to the meaning of Duryodhana and also of Dusshasana. 

a.     Duryodhana originally means “He, who cannot be conquered.”
b.     Dusshaasana originally means “Impossible to be ruled over”

Now if we look at the original meaning of the names, what is bad about it?

Still the names are taken as the bad names. Bhishma, it is said in some epical versions, preferred to address Duryodhana as “Suyodhana”.

And we praise Bhishma for his so-mush-so kindness. But the phrase Suyodhana means “Easy to conquer”. Isn’t in fact the term defames Duryodhana?

How could, none asked, Royal parents would name their off springs that has bad meaning?  

No. Dhritarashtra and Gandhari were intelligent enough how to name their kids. They had named them with right names that had glorious meaning.

But as Kaurava’s had to be proven villains from every aspect, meaning of their names were inferred quite opposite than what it originally meant!  

Similar thing has happened with the term “Raksasa”.

For over two millenniums Raksasa has become synonym of Demon, an evil being having tremendous mysterious powers that harms human life.

But actual meaning of the word “Raksasa” is “Protector” or He, who saves!

Change in the meaning of this term finds its roots in the cultural history that we have seen in the case of the Asura’s.

 This is how words remain same but the meaning attached to it changes over the time because of socio-cultural strife and what is implied by the mythical and other literature over and again, thus original meaning is lost!

-Sanjay Sonawani


  1. Asuras werent Shaivites lol, they were deities of the iranian aryans who rejected the vedic religion of the Indo-aryans pravalent at the time, hence Indra becoming a demon in their religion and their main god called ahura mazda meaning the great asura.
    Despite this however, the Great asura seems to be identifiable with Varuna. Even the mythology is the same, in Iran the devas cast out the good asura worshippers and now Zoroaster has to put them back onto the true path, whilst in India again, the asuras whom are stronger cast out the devas but the devas then always retake Heaven, usually through using cunning and intelligence compared to brute strength.

    Rakshashas on the other hand were very much Shaivites as can be seen with Ravana.

  2. Replies
    1. it is not great information , it is fake and biased information
      from the writers half knowledge and imagination ,
      from puranas also it is clear that Asuras also same vedic people but they are banished from our country ecause of their bad deeds , first they settled in Iran aftre some time they went farther west