Saturday, April 6, 2013

Sanskrit Word in English: Aryan

The English word Aryan comes from Sanskrit arya, meaning "noble, honorable, of good family." The Sanskrit speakers of ancient times used this word to refer to themselves as a people. In the ancient Sanskrit epics the word arya described someone who acted honorably, upholding Dharma. For example, Rama is arya, and so is his ally, the monkey-king Sugriva. On the other hand, someone who is anarya (an-arya) acts against Dharma. So, for example, when Dushasana tried to strip Draupadi's clothing, he was anarya. You can read more about this term and its usage in ancient Sanskrit texts at Wikipedia.

In 19th-century Europe, the word Aryan was adopted by German scholars who contrasted Aryans with Semites, a meaning which is completely alien to the ancient Indian context of the word's meaning. Later, German Nazis used the word to describe members of the Nordic master race. In English, the word is now part of the vocabulary of white supremacy.

The image below shows Rama and Sugriva in an 11th-century carving from Cambodia:

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