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Nirukta is one of the six
{{Hindu scriptures}}
Nirukta ({{lang-sa|निरुक्त}}, n̪irukt̪ə, explanation, etymological interpretation) is one of the six

{{Hindu scriptures}}
Nirukta ({{lang-sa|निरुक्त}}, n̪irukt̪ə, explanation, etymological interpretation) is one of the six
The Vedanga are six auxiliary disciplines traditionally associated with the study and understanding of the Vedas.#Shiksha : phonetics, phonology and morphophonology #Kalpa : ritual#Vyakarana : grammar...

 disciplines of Hinduism
Hinduism is the predominant and indigenous religious tradition of the Indian Subcontinent. Hinduism is known to its followers as , amongst many other expressions...

, treating etymology
Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time.For languages with a long written history, etymologists make use of texts in these languages and texts about the languages to gather knowledge about how words were used during...

, particularly of obscure words, especially those occurring in the Vedas. The discipline is traditionally attributed to {{IAST
' ) was a Sanskrit grammarian who preceded Pāṇini , assumed to have been active in the 5th or 6th century BC.He is the author of the Nirukta, a technical treatise on etymology, lexical category and the semantics of words...

, an ancient Sanskrit grammarian. Yāska's association with the discipline is so great that he is also referred to as Niruktakāra or Niruktakrit ("Maker of Nirukta"), as well as Niruktavat ("Author of Nirukta"). In practical use, nirukta consists of brief rules (sūtras) for deriving word meanings, supplemented with glossaries
A glossary, also known as an idioticon, vocabulary, or clavis, is an alphabetical list of terms in a particular domain of knowledge with the definitions for those terms...

 of difficult or rare Vedic
Vedic Sanskrit
Vedic Sanskrit is an old Indo-Aryan language. It is an archaic form of Sanskrit, an early descendant of Proto-Indo-Iranian. It is closely related to Avestan, the oldest preserved Iranian language...

 words.{{Fact|date=February 2007}}

Nirukta is also the name given to a celebrated commentary by Yāska on the Nighantu
' is a Sanskrit term for a traditional collection of words, grouped into thematic categories, often with brief annotations. Such collections share characteristics with glossaries and thesauri, but are not true lexicons, such as the kośa of Sanskrit literature...

, an even older glossary which was already traditional in his time. Yāska's Nirukta contains a treatise on etymology, and deals with various attempts to interpret the many difficult Vedic words in the Nighantu. It is in the form of explanations of words, and is the basis for later lexicon
In linguistics, the lexicon of a language is its vocabulary, including its words and expressions. A lexicon is also a synonym of the word thesaurus. More formally, it is a language's inventory of lexemes. Coined in English 1603, the word "lexicon" derives from the Greek "λεξικόν" , neut...

s and dictionaries
A dictionary is a collection of words in one or more specific languages, often listed alphabetically, with usage information, definitions, etymologies, phonetics, pronunciations, and other information; or a book of words in one language with their equivalents in another, also known as a lexicon...

. The Nighantu is now traditionally combined with the Nirukta as a unified text.

A critical edition of the Nighantu and the Nirukta was published by Laskhman Sarup in the 1920s.


Nirukta (Sanskrit) from nir forth, out + the verbal root vac to speak, utter. Uttered, pronounced, expressed, defined; as a noun, the etymological interpretation of a word, also the name of such works.

Use in rhetoric

The related Sanskrit noun {{IAST|niruktiḥ}} means "derivation", or in rhetoric, an "artificial explanation of a word."

Flourishes of rhetorical skills in the art of nirukta were considered a mark of commentorial authority. As a result, many Sanskrit commentaries include elaborate variations on possible word derivations, sometimes going far afield of obvious meanings in order to show hidden meanings. The nature of Sanskrit grammar, with its many contractions, gave rise to ample opportunities to provide alternate parsings for words, thus creating alternative derivations.

Many examples of the rhetorical use of nirukta occur in Bhaskararaya
Bhaskararaya is widely considered an authority on all questions pertaining to the worship of the Mother Goddess in Hinduism. The worship of Shakti involves many hidden meanings of mantras and coded passages. It is said that these meanings were revealed to Bhaskararaya by the Goddess Herself...

's commentaries. Here is an example from the opening verse of his commentary on the Ganesha Sahasranama
Ganesha Sahasranama
The Ganesha Sahasranama is a litany of the names of Hindu deity Ganesha . A sahasranama is a Hindu hymn of praise in which a deity is referred to by 1,000 or more different names...


The opening verse includes {{IAST|Gaṇanātha}} as a name for Ganesha
Ganesha , also spelled Ganesa or Ganesh, also known as Ganapati , Vinayaka , and Pillaiyar , is one of the deities best-known and most widely worshipped in the Hindu pantheon. His image is found throughout India and Nepal. Hindu sects worship him regardless of affiliations...

. The simple meaning of this name, which would have seemed obvious to his readers, would be "Protector of the Ganas", parsing the name in a straightforward way as {{IAST|gaṇa}} (group) + nātha (protector). But Bhaskararaya demonstrates his skill in nirukta by parsing it in an unexpected way as the Bahuvrīhi compound {{IAST|gaṇana}} + atha meaning "the one the enumeration ({{IAST|gaṇanaṁ}}) of whose qualities brings about auspiciousness. The word atha is associated with auspiciousness ({{IAST|maṅgalam}})." This rhetorical flourish at the opening of the sahasranama
A sahasranama is a type of Hindu scripture in which a deity is referred to by 1,000 or more different names. Sahasranamas are classified as stotras, or hymns of praise, a type of devotional scripture. Sahasra means a thousand, or more generally, a very large number. Nama means name...

 demonstrates Bhaskaraya's skills in nirukta at the very beginning of his commentary on a thousand such names, including a clever twist appropriate to the context of a sahasranama.

External links

  • Niruktam sememes
  • The Nighantu and the Nirukta 1967 bilingual Sanskrit-English critical edition by Lashman Sarup, at the Internet Archive
    Internet Archive
    The Internet Archive is a non-profit digital library with the stated mission of "universal access to all knowledge". It offers permanent storage and access to collections of digitized materials, including websites, music, moving images, and nearly 3 million public domain books. The Internet Archive...

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