Sanskrit Language: Was It Tampered With?

Adi Shesha

by Richard Stoney

The object of this essay is to "suggest" the possibility that A Sanskrit-English Dictionary by Monier Monier-Williams has words and their definitions embedded within its own pages for the purpose of wordplay. The wordplay derives from and can be found in various Hindu writings and perhaps (?) other writings, as will be shown.

For this to happen, a person or persons unknown would have had to invent words and placed them into earlier Sanskrit dictionaries. A Sanskrit-English Dictionary itself does mention 35 occurences wherein a word was invented primarily to explain one or more of its inflected forms. But I suggest the possibility that some words from earlier times (e.g.,Rigveda, Atharvaveda) had connotations added to them at a later date, and that these new connotations have a common theme, resulting in wordplay.

To explain this claim, I may as well start at the foggy beginning. I was doing research on some now-forgotten topic and entered A Sanskrit-English Dictionary to find some now-forgotten word, which I could not find despite my best attempts to do so; actually I did not and do not believe the word was there. As I remember the matter, it occurred to me that the definition of this word had something to do being absent, disappearing or missing--wordplay? I made a mental note of this but never did write down the word or its definition, attributing everything to coincidence.

Now we come to a second, more-concrete example of wordplay. In her book on the Hindu goddess Kundalini, Lilian Silburn states that Kundalini is closely associated with Ahirbudhnya, "serpent of the depths": "During a vedic ritual the sacrificial seat of the brahmin priest [=brahma], endowed with 'unfathomable knowledge', is thus addressed: "Thou art an all-encompassing ocean..., Thou art the serpent of the oceanic depths'" (Silburn, p. 16). Now first consider these Sanskrit words which will soon be used to create wordplay based on the name of Ahirbudhnya:

--root ah, "to address, call (by name)";
--root Ir, "proclaim";
--ahir/ahi, "serpent";
--root buD, "cover[s]. The single letter transliterated as dh is replaced by D;
--nya, "an ocean in the Brahma-loka" ["Brahma's-place"]. This definition will be broken in two pieces thus: "ocean" and "Brahma's place" (i.e., his seat).

Now secondly, by rearranging the order of the above definitions, one obtains wordplay which copies the paragraph mentioned above about the brahmin's activities:

"address, the brahma's place, call by name, proclaim, [that the] serpent, cover[s], ocean".

To see much more wordplay associated with Kundalini, go to "Shiva and Kundalini: A 'Whale' Allegory". In one particular example, the root-word plu will have many radically-different meanings.Coincidence? Probably not.

Here is another example of wordplay. In 2006 and 2008, I was doing research on the elder tree. It dealt with the fact that it had beneficial, medicinal properties and that it was hollow, to be used for making flutes. Also of importance was the fact that the German language has 3 words which refer to the elder;

Two of these words translate out as "beneficial bush" and "hollow bush". Then eventually I focused on its taxonomic nomenclature, Sambucus. Its currently-accepted etymology involves Latin sambuca and Greek sambuke, "harp; some type of stringed instrument" because the instrument was believed to be made of elder wood. Pliny the Elder (elder...get it?) is quoted as the official source for all this.

I did, however, come up with this better etymological solution, made of two Sanskrit words:

--shambhu, "beneficial"
--khaH/kheH, both "a hollow".

The reason for any etymological misinterpretation regarding this error can be found in this Sanskritic "shambhu-kha/khe" wordplay:

--sama, "same";
--bukk, "to sound";
--buka, "laughter".

I admit that this theory needs more examples of wordplay. I am just putting forth the idea so that other researchers are aware of it and will find more wordplay. Where are they? I do not know, but finding words with widely-differing definitions may be a start. Try to determine their common themes.

© Richard Stoney of Orleans, California

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Suggestions for Further Reading


American Heritage Dictionary, The, second edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1985.

Breul, Karl. A German and English Dictionary., enlarged. New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1906.

Cologne Digital Sanskrit Lexicon,

Dusty Strings. Email. [Online] Available 2006.

Hoffmann, David. The New Holistic Herbal. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1990.

Hylton, William H., ed. The Rodale Herb Book. Emmaus: Rodale Press Book Division, 1974.

Horton, Diana, University of Iowa. Email.

Kowalchik, Clair and Hylton, William H.

Monier-Williams, Monier. A Sanskrit-English Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press: 1960.

Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. Emmaus: Rodale Press, 1987.

Silburn, Lilian. Kundalini: Energy of the Depths. translated by Jacques Gotier. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988.

Simpson, J.A., and Weiner, E.S.C. The Oxford English Dictonary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989.

Wichmann, K. Taschenworterbuch der Deutschen und Englischen Sprachen. Philadelphia: David McKay Company, 1946.