Pazhi-Pali-Magadha -Shaka Dweepa connection known from Tamil texts - VI
by Jayasree Saranathan on 26 Jul 2021 3 Comments

The verses of Pandikkovai say that Kon Nedumaran captured South Pazhi. The word Pazhi has the letter (zha) that is unique to Tamil. Adiyarkku Nallar in his commentary to Silappadhikaram mentioned it as South Pali and not Pazhi. The zhi-li change had happened. The zhi-li change is very much natural as even today the speakers of Tamil who cannot pronounce zhi, pronounce it as ?i with retroflex ‘l’ or just as ‘li’, with non- retroflex ‘l’. The transformation is from zhi to ‘?i’ (retroflex l) and to ‘li’. This transformation is Pazhi > Pa?i > Pali.


The phonetic similarity and transformation of Pazhi to Pali is significant as it is everybody’s knowledge that there existed Pali as the oldest language of common people in India. There is no standard spelling for the word Pali. There is textual evidence that the word Pali was written as Pa?i with retroflex l. The use of retroflex l in Pa?i is an important element linking it with Pazhi. This raises the question whether Pali language was connected to Pazhi.


Let us first look at the background of Pali language. The most commonly held opinion is that Pa?i was the language of the Buddhist canon; that Buddha taught in the language of the common people in his place. This was Magadha and the language of the locals was Magadhi. Buddhist scholars concur that Magadhi was the language of Buddha’s teachings. This has led to the acceptance of Pali as referring to Magadhi, reinforced by the fact that Jaina canons were written in Ardha-Magadhi to differ from the language of Buddhist canons.


The question arises if Magadhi was spoken by the common people of Magadha, in what way they can be connected with Pazhi of Tamil lands or in what way their language (Pali / Magadhi) can be linked with Pazhi of Tamil lands, except that Pali is phonetically similar to Pazhi? There are two possible scenarios linked with South Pazhi.


(1) The Pandyan’s land including South Pazhi got submerged sometime in a distant past. Where did the survivors go? From Sangam texts we learn know that there were survivors and along with the king they had entered present day South India. Did all of them settle down in Tamil lands or did some of them go to other places in India? Did these survivors continue with the dialect they were speaking earlier and that came to be known as Pali?


(2) The other possibility centres on what happened to the people who were subdued by the Pandyan king when he took control of South Pazhi, who inhabited that place until then? Did they continue to live there by accepting the authority of Kon Nedumaran? The title, ‘Panjavan’ that Kon Nedumaran got, conveys that he caused extreme suffering to them. The best way out for them was to have escaped from that place and ultimately from the Pandyan regions. Did they enter Indian mainland and spread far and wide? Did they bring along with them their dialect which was recognised by the name of the place from which they came?


These two background scenarios give scope to believe that people of olden times had shifted from sunken Pazhi to Indian mainland. Their language was identified by the place of their origin. This gives rise to the next question on how they came to be known as Magadhas and not by the name of the language Pali that they were supposed to have spoken. Tamil texts contain some clues and some explanations.


Magadhas in Tamil literature


Magadhas were a people. They find mention in ancient Tamil texts. They along with Suta and Vaidhalika (spelt here as pronounced in Tamil) formed a group and made a living by singing in praise of the kings and narrating the stories of valiant Kshatriya soldiers. When the Cheran King Senguttuvan started off an expedition to the Himalayas, Magadhas, Sutas and Vaidhalikas came to him and wished him success in the expedition. (Silappadhikaram, Ch 26, lines 74 & 75).


These three peoples were always mentioned as a group in Tamil texts. They were not immigrants or foreign to Tamil lands. They were there in all kingdoms, mostly in the capital cities, closer to the King’s location. Silappadhikaram (ch. 26) gives location as Vanji, capital of Chera king Senguttuvan. In an earlier chapter in Silappadhikaram, they were mentioned as residing in Pukar (Pumpukar), capital city of the Cholas. That explains the kind of people they moved with or live with. All were permanent residents of Pukar.


Pukar is described as having two separate residential areas, one for immigrants or floating population and another for local population. Magadhas, Sutas and Vaidhalikas lived in the area of local population (Silappadhikaram: Ch 5, line 48).


They lived as a community along with Nazhigai-kaNakkar (those keep track of time), Shanthi kootthar (dancers), courtesans, unmarried women dedicated to dancing (mostly in temples), prostitutes, helpers and servants engaged in household works, players of musical instruments and jesters. All these people had residence in Pattina-p-pakkam of Pukar city with identifiable variation in their houses (by looking at a house one could say who among them were residing there).


All these people living as one unit shared something in common. They were entertainers and had access to the king’s court and entertained the king and others in upper echelons. They made a living out of their acquaintance with the palace people. Of them Magadhas, Sutas and Vaidhalikas were engaged in singing and praising the king whenever a situation arose. The time keeper was consulted for knowing the auspicious time to express their talents in the presence of the king which made their appearance and words something of an auspicious omen for the king.


Mention of these three peoples appears in the text on Pandyan region too. The Sangam Text Madurai-k-kanchi describes the entertainment given by them in the city of Madurai as an everyday occurrence (Madurai-k-kanchi, lines 670-671).


This verse gives the important information about their job. According to the commentary to these verses by Nachinarkiniyar, the Sutas were those who used to sing praises by standing. The Magadhas used to be seated while singing praises of the victories and greatness of the king. The Vaidhalikas used play instruments of their expertise.


All three peoples always performed as a group. Madurai-k-kanchi says one could find them in the streets of Madurai giving their coordinated performance at pre-dawn every day. The people and those in the palace including the king used to wake up hearing their songs which were in the nature of praises of the glory and valour of the king. This scenario in the capital cities of Tamil kings also existed in the capital cities of north India, particularly Ayodhya of Rama!


Magadhas and Sutas in Valmiki Ramayana


We come across the similar references to these people (minus Vaidhalika) in Valmiki Ramayana. King Dasaratha had decided to transfer the crown to Rama. Sita was eagerly waiting to receive Rama after knowing this news. But Rama came to her chamber with his face slightly turned down. A perplexed Sita started enquiring Rama as she noticed a change in mood in him and in the surroundings, especially the absence of the songs of Magadhas and Sutas.


“Oh best of men! The overjoyed, eloquent bards, Sutas and Magadhas who sing portions of epic poems and ancient ballads, are not being seen here praising you with auspicious words” (Valmiki Ramayana: 2-26-12).


The occasion of the crowning of Rama was a momentous one that professional singers would not miss. They could be expected to crowd around the mansions of the king and queen to give their best performance and receive gifts in return. The absence of their sounds was something conspicuous that Sita did not fail to notice. Only if such performances had been the norm of the times could Sita have made this observation.


The professional performers were Magadhas and Sutas, the same people who appear in Tamil texts and had permanent residence in Tamil cities 2000 years ago. The verse in Valmiki Ramayana shows that they were there in places far away from Tamil lands in a time period that can be truly termed as ‘times of yore’. The sound factor created by them is something that is made out from Sita’s observation. These performers were giving their performance in the streets and outside the mansions of royal people. So the decibel level of their performance aided by musical instruments must have been higher than normal to reach the people inside the mansions and houses. One will be surprised to know that noisiness of Magadhas finds mention in Yajur Vedas!


Magadhas in Yajur Vedas


Sukla Yajur Veda gives a list of attributes that bind with specific people:

“For Brahman Priesthood he binds a Brahman to the stake; for Kshatra Royalty a Rajanya; for the Maruts a Vaisya; for Penance a Sudra; for Darkness a robber; for Hell a homicide or a man who has lost his consecrated fire; for Misfortune a eunuch; for Venality an Ayogu; for Kama a harlot; for Excessive Noise a Magadha” (Sukla Yajur Veda: Book 30, verse 5 The same chapter connects ‘noise’ to a snarler, but excessive noise is always associated with a Magadha!


This description of Magadhas in Yajur Veda read along with the verses in Tamil and Valmiki Ramayana establish beyond doubt that Magadhas as a people engaged in a particular profession of singing loudly with all paraphernalia existed for a very long time in the entire Indian sub-continent.


Origin of Magadhas and Sutas from Vishnu Purana


The story of the origin of Magadhas is found in Vishnu Purana in the story of the birth of Prithu. There is mythological content in the description of Prithu’s birth, but sages have always liked to say things with hidden meanings; therefore we have to sift out the inner meanings. Vishnu Purana traces the origins of Magadhas and Sutas to the times of Prithu from whom the earth received the name Prithvi. Prithu’s time marks the period when cultivation of the land started. Until then people were subsisting on hunted products and the naturally available vegetable products of the earth.


Prithu was said to have been born from the corpse of his father Vena. Vena led a life of vanity and therefore was killed by the sages. This is absurd; there must be some hidden meaning behind this idea. There is no proper etymology for Vena in Sanskrit, but this word has a definite meaning in Tamil. Vena sounds like ‘veeN’ in Tamil (wasteful or vain). The same attribute that sages had given to Vena is there as the meaning of a similar sounding word in Tamil!


Birth from Vena’s corpse could imply that from something wasteful or wasted ones or of things that are no longer available, people had to develop new ways and things for continuing their life. The first to be born from the corpse of Vena was a dwarf hunter. It was the symbol of evil Vena. Therefore it was discarded. This implies that until then people were dependent on hunting and hunted products for living. By discarding the dwarf hunter (first product from Vena’s corpse), it is made known that people decided to stop depending on hunting for food.


Prithu who was born after the hunter went after the land and extracted milk (benefits) from land. This implies start of agriculture. Many things were developed from Prithu’s times and this is mentioned by Vishnu Purana as birth of different people for different works.


In this context, Vishnu Purana says the Magadhas and Sutas were born from the sacrifice at the birth of Prithu. They were asked by the sages to praise the king. They refused to do so, saying the king had not yet started doing any heroic action. The sages asked them to sing the future acts that were likely to be done by the king, so that the king would know what he was expected to do. This looked agreeable for Magadhas and Sutas and they started singing and praising the expected valorous acts of king Prithu.


Vishnu Purana says,

“The virtues thus celebrated by the Suta and the Magadha were cherished in the remembrance of the Raja, and practised by him when occasion arose” (Vishnu Purana: ch 1-13).


This establishes the legendary existence or a long time existence of a group of people by name Magadhas and Sutas, known only for singing the glory of kings which could be real or imagined, but which itself acted as an impetuous for kings to do things in such a way that entered the ballads of these bards.


Though Vishnu Purana says that Magadhas and Sutas were born along with king Prithu from the sacrifice of Vena, the description about their capability to sing the acts of the king before they were done, shows that such people existed beforehand. Else, their legendary profession could not have found mention in the story of Vishnu Purana.


They had spread all over the land, been to many kingdoms, seen or heard about the victories of kings and composed them as songs and sung before the kings to please them and inspire them as well. Narration in Vishnu Purana only reiterates the fact that such singers existed as inevitable parts of the groups found near the king. This clarifies the mystery of how the same type of people by name Magadhas and Sutas could exist in Deep South in a place like Pukar and in a northern city like Ayodhya at a remote past.


The common feature that made them all the same, wherever they were, was the ability to compose and sing and the knowledge of wars and war-front valour. The interest in war-related events must have come as a genetic feature, something we know from Manu’s classification of people based on varna-mix.


Magadhas and Sutas in Manu Smriti


According to Manu Smriti, Magadha is he who is born to a Kshatriya female by a Vaisya male. Suta is he who is born to a Brahmana female by a Kshatriya male (Manu Smriti: Ch 10- 11). The Kshatriya connection to both Magadha and Suta was there. This made them take interest in warfare and war-front events of kings.


Manu thinks Suta would be capable of managing horses and chariots and Magadha would be interested in trade. But the Suta-Magadha combination we have seen so far were experts in composing and singing the war-front valour and past histories of kings and kingdoms. This trait seems to be different from what Manu contemplated.


One may think that none of what we have explained so far answers the riddle of Pazhi- Pali connection or the connection to Tamil land Pazhi. But they do point out to Tamil connection, for no text exists in India other than Tamil Tolkappiyam that tells us who these people were. They were “Porunar”, the seventh varna in the seven-part classification of people!


Porunar: people who sang ballads on kings and war-front valour


The people of ancient Tamil lands were classified into seven categories. The ancient Grammar work called “Thol Kappiyam” (‘ancient Kavya’), gives this classification along with the kind of activities they did. This is not like the seven-part classification found in Megasthenes’ work on India which was based on the jobs that people did. The classification found in Tolkappiyam is based on attributes and attitudes, a kind of Varna-based classification.


The seven types of people were

(1) Brahmins (known as Parppanar, meaning those who ‘see’ the end of Vedas)

(2) Kshatriyas

(3) Vaisyas

(4) Farmers

(5) ARivan (those who ‘know’. Their knowledge is “Tri-kala Jnana” of everything from climate to human lives through observation of sky, clouds, planets, stars etc. They were astrologers and more than astrologers too.)

(6) Thapathar (ascetics, Tapaswis)

(7) Porunar (Bards who sing genuinely the valour of kings and kshatriyas in wars. Genuinely, because they did not say anything that was not there, making their compositions true and reliable) (Tolkappiyam: Porul adhikaram, 74).


The seventh classification refers to “Porunar”, the singers. There also existed another kind of singers in Tamil lands called “PaNar”, who were also experts in composing and putting them to music. Both PaNar and Porunar carried “Yazh”, a Veena-like musical instrument. But they differed in the topic they chose for their songs. While PaNar sang on social life and personal life (agam), Porunar sang only of war-front adventures of Kshatriyas including kings. This put them at par with Magadhas and Sutas.


Ancient Tamil commentators have given a good deal of description about them. Porunar did not sing just for the sake of praising a king. If they praised a king, it meant there was truth in it. They knew the intricacies of things and of the kind of victories and bravery shown in a war. They had a sense of discrimination on what is great and unique from what is not. As such, if a Porunar composed a ballad on a king, it meant that it was genuine and true to the core. Kings looked forward to getting to hear such praises by Porunar. This is why a separate class of people, who exhibited a talent to identify bravery and greatness of a king or a kshatriya and put it into a musical composition was considered as a Varna with a specific inborn talent.


This description from Tamil works justifies why Magadhas and Sutas got a special mention in Vishnu Puranam as someone persuaded by the sages to sing in praise of king Prithu even before he started his kingly duties. Their words carried so much truth.


From Tolkappiyam and Purapporul Venba Maalai (a grammar work later than Tolkappiyam) we come to know the exact things they sang about. Porunar sang on the acts of bravery exhibited by sword and by shoulder (wrestling). This is the commentary given by the olden Commentator Ilampooranar for the Tolkappiyam verse on Porunar. In this context, he quotes Thiru-k-kural that the world (people) would accept the words of those who are capable of systematically arranging ideas and delivering them in sweet and great manner (Thirukkural:  648).


Porunars fitted into the category of such speakers. The same commentator says that Porunars conveyed their views through words, songs, dance and games. This description reminds us of the kind of people with whom Magadhas and Sutas dwelled in Pukar. The dancers, jesters and gamers helped them in developing their ballads. This description conveys that Porunars and Magadhas-Sutas were interchangeable words.


The Grammar work “Purapporul Venba Maalai” makes an explicit mention that they sang only what they meant. The description comes under a separate heading called “Poruna Vagai” that says they did not praise someone by damning someone else. They concentrated on the positive aspects of the one whom they praised (Purapporul Venba Maalai: 166). It also says they did not consider the size of the army as the deciding the factor for victory. Instead they were able to grasp the inner fire of kshatriya-hood in a person and highlighted it. This is compared to sensing the presence of embers under the layer of ashes (Purapporul Venba Maalai: 166).


Magadhas and Sutas as Porunar


One cannot see any difference between Porunar of ancient Tamil lands and Magadhas and Sutas. By the nature of works and the name of the language Pali, Magadhas and Sutas fit well with the displaced/ migrant Porunars in the Indian mainland. By the time of Silappadhikaram, the name Porunar was almost forgotten, and was replaced by Magadhas and Sutas.


One reason could be that the word Porunan also refers to king of hills, soldier or chief of army. In texts on Cheran kings, we often find this name to address the Cheran king, the ruler of hilly regions. Perhaps due to this reason, the name Porunar for such singers got replaced by Magadha which had a presence all over Bharata.


How did this name Magadha come to stick to the people who were Porunars?


The answer lies in “Shaka- Dweepa”, a land form described by Sanjaya in Mahabharata and also attested in Puranas like Vishnu Purana.


Magadhas of Shaka dweepa


Saka-Dweepa had the four varna system of which the Kshatriyas were known as “Magadha”! Vishnu Puranam Book 2, Chapter 4 says,

“The caste of Mriga is that of the Brahman; the Magadha, of the Kshetriya; the Manasa, of the Vaisya; and the Mandaga of the sudra”.


The same verse appears in Mahabharata but with a variation in the name for Kshatriyas. It says,

“As heard by all men there, in that island of Saka, are four sacred provinces. They are the Mrigas, the Masakas, the Manasas, and the Mandagas. The Mrigas for the most part are Brahmanas devoted to the occupations of their order. Amongst the Masakas are virtuous Kshatriyas granting unto Brahmanas every wish entertained by them. The Manasas, O king, live by following the duties of the Vaisya order. Having every wish of theirs gratified, they are also brave and firmly devoted to virtue and profit. The Mandagas are all brave Sudras of virtuous behaviour.”


The same idea but with slight variation in the name of only Kshatriyas appears in the narration of Sanjaya in Mahabharata. The kshatriyas of Saka dweepa were known as Magadha as per Vishnu Purana, but were mentioned as Masakas by Mahabharata. With other names and description of the Dweepa being same, we infer that Sanjaya refers to Magadha only.


Sunken Tamil lands in Shaka Dweepa


This Shaka Dweepa was not part of Jambhu Dweepa where India is situated. Its location was in waters (as per the description). There is an opinion that Shaka Dweepa was in Central Asia. This view is erroneous mainly for two reasons. One is that the very name Shaka in Shaka Dweepa was derived from the tree Shaka that was abundantly found there; Jambhu Dweepa was called by the name of Jambhu tree found in abundance there.


Shaka tree is native to South Asia and South East Asia, not to central Asia or Europe. Its botanical name is Acacia sirissa or Albizia lebbeck. This was known as Uzhinjil or Unna or Palai in Tamil. Its flower was held in high esteem and worn as a mark of victory in war. In Sanskrit it is known as Shirisha and in Tamil it is known as Vagai. The Tamil equivalent of Shaka is Vagai!


The description of Porunar comes in the chapter called Vagai (Shaka) in the Grammar works quoted above. The land form (among five land forms of Tamil lands) is Palai, a word close to Pali! The other name for Shaka tree was Palai, giving a link to the word Pali!


The sunken lands of olden Pandyans had seven lands, each with seven divisions within. Shaka Dweepa also had seven divisions. Two of the seven divisions of sunken lands of Pandyans had names having “Palai” in them: Mun Palai implying front location, and Pin Palai implying back location.


With seven divisions within themselves, these Palai habitats were fourteen in number. These fourteen habitats were lost in the seas in the second deluge that ended with Pandyan kingdom getting shifted to Kapatapuram. Who were the survivors of these fourteen habitats and where did they go? The similarity in name with Pali is something difficult to ignore.


The second reason why Shaka Dweepa could not be located in Central Asia was that the description from both Mahabharata and Vishnu Purana says that every day Indra gulped the waters of the seas in Shaka Dweepa and gave back as rains in time to the same place. This perfectly fits with monsoon activity in the Indian Ocean regions, thereby indicating the location of Shaka Dweepa in that region. That region also housed the now sunken lands of early Pandyans (to be discussed in another article). It is important to mention that Shaka Dweepa was dotted with river Kumari as per the description from the scriptures mentioned above.


Pali-Tamil connection to Proto Tamil


Porunars are mentioned only in the land form Palai which had Vagai /Shaka tree in abundance. Their language was of course Tamil but Tamil had many Sanskrit words as its own. Tolkappiyar gives meanings for Sanskrit words such as Pindam, Mantra etc, as Tamil words in his grammar work TolKappiyam. There are many Sanskrit words as part and parcel of Tamil.


We find similar presence of Sanskrit in Pali language but with stunted or corrupt pronunciation. The words of Pali can be understood by a Tamil speaker for this reason. For example, the word for analogy in Pali is ‘opamana’, an adaptation from Sanskrit Upamana. For a Tamil speaker, Opamana sounds like stunted Tamil as it is Uvamana in Tamil - derived from the same word in Sanskrit. The Sanskrit Samarthya has become ‘samatthiya’ in Pali; ‘samartthiyam’ in Tamil. For a Tamil speaker, samatthiya sounds like broken Tamil. Many such words in Pali sound like broken or corrupt Tamil, but having Sanskrit basis.


Some Sanskrit words are pronounced in the same way in both Pali and Tamil. For example, Bhikshu becomes Bhikku in Pali and Tamil. Certain Sanskrit words undergo minor change in the same way in both Pali and Tamil: Arya becomes Ariya both in Pali and Tamil, Surya becomes Suriya, virya becomes viriya in both Pali and Tamil.


There are words that are purely of Tamil origin like “ambila” of Pali which is amilam (acid) in Tamil. “Neekipathi” in Pali is from “neekkuthal” (abdication) in Tamil. The name of the important Buddhist book on Pali, “Theravada” has Tamil connection. ‘Thera’ in Pali refers to learned person. The root of this word is in Tamil as “Theruthal” or “Thercchi” with the same meaning.


It is possible to create a Pali-Tamil dictionary highlighting similar words and the extent of presence of Sanskrit in both languages. This is being said here to highlight the possibility of the presence of a Proto-Tamil that originally contained stunted words of Sanskrit. That continued with the people and came to be identified as Pali. Then came a time when the Sanskrit words were taken out from Proto-Tamil and developed separately as a refined language called Sanskrit. This idea may seem farfetched, but this is in sync with the information found in Tamil texts that grammar for Tamil and Sanskrit was given by Lord Shiva to sage Agastya and Panini respectively (Thiruvilaiyaadal Puranam – Thiru Nattuch Chirappu:- verse 56).


[Panini here must be a generic name for Grammarians and does not refer to the author of Ashtadhyayi. The name Panini is closer to Tamil PaNan, who originally promoted refined (grammatical) Tamil through the three parts of Tamil, namely Iyal (literary or lyrical), Isai (musical) and Natakam (dance forms). Compositions of the First Sangam were all set to music and dance forms only. This feature matches with the works of Magadhas too].


Bringing in Lord Shiva in this context might give it mythological colour, but the idea was to declare that both languages, Tamil and Sanskrit, were divine and therefore great. The bottom line is that there was a time when Tamil and Sanskrit were developed almost simultaneously by developing grammar for them.


Assuming that a common language of the masses that we call Proto-Tamil did exist with naturally evolved Tamil and Sanskrit sounds, this means that there came a time when Sanskrit and Tamil parts were segregated and refined independently. That was indicated by the repeated references in Tamil works that Lord Shiva taught Tamil grammar to Agastya and Sanskrit grammar to Panini.


Even before that segregation was done, speakers of proto Tamil went far and wide with their language, Pali. The extent of Sanskrit words in corrupt forms found in Pali could not have come through the so-called Indo-Aryan influence or fresh connect with Sanskrit scholars. These Magadhas were very ordinary people and could not have mingled with educated people. Their residence as a community with select people in Pukar as described in Silappadhikaram testifies this.


Similarly the presence of refined forms of Sanskrit as found in Tamil language could not have come through contact with Sanskrit. The Sanskrit component had existed originally in Proto-Tamil and was carried over to refined Tamil.


It may not be out of place to mention here that Porunars had a Goddesses whose name is very much Sanskrit. In the Sangam period composition by name “Pounar ARRu-p-padi” a PaNan guides a Porunar how to reach the palace of the great king Karikala Cholan so that he could give his performance and get paid by the king. In that composition it is said that the deity “Matangi” resides in the Yazh (veena-like instrument) of the Porunar! (Porunar ARRUp padai: 20). Matangi is a Sanskrit name and the presence of this Goddess in Tamil lands is almost unknown. But a Porunar of ancient Tamil lands held her as his deity, residing in his musical instrument.


From another angle, this deity stands as proof for Shaka Dweepa connection to Tamil Porunars. According to Devi Bhagavata Purana, Shakambhari is another name for Matangi! Though there is a story connected with that, the words Shaka and ambhara could mean the sweet smell of Shaka or the garment made from the shaka tree.


Thus there are too many links to olden Tamil for Pali and Magadhas. To recap the salient features:

1)      Porunar belonged to Palai lands of olden Tamil lands.

2)    Porunar and Magadhas share the same traits, works and life style.

3)     Magadhas were kshatriyas of Shaka Dweepa.

4)    Shaka Dweepa is where the olden Pandyan lands existed.

5)     Magadhas moved over to Indian main land from Palai or it could be from Pazhi.

6)    Their connection to Palai or Pazhi gave them an identity as or with Pali.

7)     With their spread throughout India (as they made a living in capital cities of kingdoms), their dialect spread throughout India and got into the dialects of the localities where they settled. That is how the language Pali could have become an olden dialect of common people almost all over India.


Here another question arises:


Did Pali speakers retain retroflex phonemes if it is true that they originated from Shaka Dweepa or Tamil Palai or Pazhi lands? It is true that not everyone can pronounce the retroflex sounds. Persons having thick tongue would find it difficult to pronounce this phoneme. This gives a genetic pre-requisite for a person to be able to pronounce retroflex words.


Tamil has many words having this phoneme, but most of them have come into disuse today. This must have happened over a period of time, due to the inability of the speakers to use them in speech. This implies that the genetic track of original Tamils had gone astray. Today not many people who claim Tamil as their mother tongue can pronounce ‘zha’.


Globally, retroflex phonemes are found only in certain regions / languages. They are present in the languages of South Asia (India in particular), in Australian aborigines and in China, but conspicuously absent in Europe. Studies on retroflex phoneme show that the supposedly Dravidian language Brahui has very low incidence of this phoneme. The spread of people from the region of Brahui or Elam to South India is ruled out based on the absence of this phoneme in their speech.


But did Magadhas possess the ability to pronounce retroflex phonemes? Let us look at a study published in 2016 on the presence of retroflex sounds across India. The frequency is high in South Indian states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, central region of Vindhyas, East Rajasthan and regions covering river Yamuna.


The study can be interpreted by AIT supporters as proof of movement of people from Indus region to south India, a migration caused by invading or incoming Aryans. But from the point of view of the inputs discussed above, the movement seems to have happened from South west seas (Arabian Sea) to Indian mainlands with higher concentration in South India and spread through Vindhyan valley and Gujarat to Yamuna and middle Ganges regions. Matsya Desa of the Ithihasas continues to have high level of retroflex sounds even now. The eastern banks of Saraswati River also show presence of this sound, though it is not as high as in Matsya desa or Tamil lands.


This phoneme present in more than three fourth area of India, with higher concentration in south and south west India follows a track of expansion of Ancient South Indian (ASI) ancestry across India.


Surprisingly its incidence is low in the region of Magadha – today’s Bihar. The only interpretation could be that those locals, speakers of Pali, the Magadhas had moved out of Magadha with the rise of urban culture and change of kingdoms after Buddha’s times. Or they had aligned themselves with the new and emerging culture and the language of the region leaving out Pali to the pages of history and Buddhist canons!


Location of North Pazhi identified


Eastern region of Rajasthan having high frequency of retroflex sounds has place named “Pali” and a district also named Pali! The currently held meanings of this Pali as Palli, Pallika, wadi, etc., are very much in sync with Tamil meanings for Pazhi as resting place for animals, place to sleep (Palli with retroflex l), city etc. The serendipitous discovery comes from the geological revelation of this place as being a pre-historic site having “emerged from the vast western sea spread over a large part of the present day Rajasthan”



This also implies that Pali region was very large and extended till sea shore. Pazhi means dock yard or port in Tamil. Let us recall the name South Pazhi of Pandyan lands. If there was a “south” Pazhi, it automatically pre-supposes that a “North” Pazhi also existed!


This trend of naming by directional location is there in Tamil lands. There was South Madurai from where the Pandyans of First Sangam age ruled. The specific prefix as South shows that there were two Madurais at that time itself, the Madurai of the North was Mathura of Krishna! All Tamil works including those of Azhwars recognised Mathura as North Madurai (Vada Madurai).


Pali of Rajasthan very much fits as North Pazhi which also must have been a sea port by the name of it. Archaeological search in the region between Pali district and the current sea shore could yield rich dividends. The high incidence of retroflex phonemes in this part of Rajasthan and Yamuna’s banks show the presence of ASI from a past that shared similar ancestry with people of Shaka Dweepa and Tamil lands of 1st Sangam age when 49 habitats existed in the Indian Ocean.


Tail piece on Yamuna


Generally proper nouns are pronounced in the same way in all languages: Ganga is called Ganga and Saraswati is called as Saraswati in all languages including Tamil. But Yamuna is an exception as far as Tamil language is concerned. It is called as “Thozhunai” with the retroflex ‘zha’ in it. Thozhunai means cow shed!


Cow shed translates as Gotra in Sanskrit! The early Rig Vedic sages settled along Yamuna only. The retroflex phonemes in Rig Vedas strengthen the idea of movement of people from South Seas. We will discuss this later, and for the time being continue with the discussion on the other features of Kon Nedumaran’s expedition to the Himalayas. 


(To be continued)


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