Friday, December 17, 2010

262. Significance of Paisachi language

The extinct languages like Paisachi are significant in understanding the course of evolution of languages, heritage and culture in ancient India. There might have been many languages that became extinct in India due to drastic changes in cultural perceptions, power patterns and administration. However, Paisachi is one such language whose existence and eventual extinction has been documented by later poets.
Gunadya and Paisachi
A lost literary work of repute consisting of compilation of stories in Paisachi language attributed to poet Gunadya (pron: gunāDya, ca 1 century BC) has been cited and hailed by later poets as a landmark epic comparable to Ramayana and Mahabharat.
According to legends Gunadya was a minister in the court of Satavāhana King Kuntala Satakarni (38-30 BC), who was ruling Deccan (parts of ancient Maharastra, Karnataka and Andhra) with capital at Paithan, Nasik District.The city of Paithan (recorded as ‘Baithan’ in ancient Greek travelogues) was later known its Sanskritized name’ Pratistanpur’.It is said that Gunadya offered to teach Sanskrit language to King within a period of six years.However his rival Sarvasharma won over the King by offering to teach the Sanskrit within six months.Thus Gunadya felt deeply offended and pledged that he would never again use Sanskrit, Prakrit and Desi Apabramsha (proto-Kannada slang) and left the Kings court and wondered in the hills of Vindhya. Gunadya compiled a volume of folk stories Brihat Katha in the language of the common people, Paisachi, during the period of Kuntala Satakarni (38-30 BC). It has been suggested that the original title of his work could have been ‘Vadda katha’.
However his original compilation in Paisachi or any of its copies have not been preserved, even though quoted by later poets.His work was translated later as ‘Brihat katha sagar’ (=Great Ocean of Stories) into Sanskrit and other languages by later poets.It is said that the poet Kālidāsa adopted the story of ‘Meghdoot’ from the older works of Gunadya.
Historical Setting
The story of Gunadya reveals some strings of information on the ancient historical setting as existed at the beginning of the Common Era in Deccan.The local regional (Dravidian) languages had not been developed at that time;they were mere popular slangs (‘apabramsha’ or ‘desi’) at that time implying that Draviidan immigrants had already settled in the land. Sanskrit was the elite language of the period but was not widely known. Kings were eager to learn Sanskrit as it marked the symbol of educated people of the period.Prakrit was the administrative language in Deccan as it was introduced by Asoka during ca 3rd century BC. Prakrit was preferred because it was the language of the dominant majority and also the administrative link language between the north and south India.
In spite of existence of all these languages (Sanskrit, Prakrit and Desi Apabramsha), especially by the well to do people during the beginning of Common Era, there was a widely used language of the less influential aborigines and it was referred to as ‘Paisachi’.
Gunadya, after being dejected from royal circle, resorted to compose in Paisachi because he felt closer to common people. However, these ‘Pai’ or ‘Paisachi’ people had been relegated to backward status by then and had no administrative rights since being ruled by royal people who conversed in Prakrit and Desi Apabramsha.
Paisachi language
The language known as Pisachi was ridiculed by the elite of the period. Reasons are obvious enough. One, it was used by tribals who were then relegated to a lower status in the society of the time. Two, the word ‘pisacha’ in Sanskrit incidentally meant cannibal or one who consumes raw meat.Simialrly, the word ‘rakshas’ was also referred to cannibals. Another word applied to these tribals was ‘Asur’. Infact, Asur were a subtribe among Austro-Asiatic Munda tribes of India. It can be considered that these tribes tradionally employed the Pisachi language and its ancient variants across the subcontinent.
Bekanata, 1700 BC
However, it seems the word ‘Paisachi’ could have been derived from Pai-sa-chi, the languge of Pai tribes (chi, an African word means language).Pai and Bai (or Bay) apparently were variants of the same tribe.The ancient city of Paithan (Pai-than, the place of Pai tribes) was also known as ‘Baithan’. Thus it can be ‘Bekanata’ (Bay-ka- nāTa) cited in Rigveda (ca 1700 BC) could be the ancient peninsular India, then the Nāt (the country) of Bay tribes.
Purana literature is replete with stories of war between the Gods and the Asurs.These reflect the conflict for power and supremacy between elite immigrants and the dark skinned, backward aborigines.It appears that Satavahana Kings aquirred the city of Paithan, then the capital of Deccan, from the aboriginal tribes.
Evolution of Languages
It appears that the Pisacha language was not eradicated totally. Socially dominant immigrants who took over the administration of the land preferred other languages like Prakrit and variants of proto-Dravidian. However, several features of the older Pisacha languages like words were absorbed by subsequent languages.
Linguists have described ‘Pisacha Prakrit’ (ie Prakrit with features of Pisacha) to explain transitional links in the course of evolution of languages.The earliest epigraphs of Karnataka have been written in Paisachi mixed with Pāli.
Kannada grammarian Nagavarma (ca 990 CE) in his ‘Chandombudi’ has stated that Dravidian languages of the south (especially Tamil, Telugu, Kannada) were derived from combination   of Paisachi-Apabramsha-Prakrit and Sanskrit. He was aware of the historical fact that Kannada and other contemporary Dravidian languages evolved from native proto-Dravidian slang dialects (Desi Apabramsha) based on a foundation of aboriginal Paisachi, coupled with contemporary borrowings from Prakrit and Sanskrit.
Paisachi base in Tulu
In the earlier posts in this blog, we have identified and outlined the significant presence of older layers of Austro-Asiatic Munda words in modern Tulu language.The Munda words delineated therein possibly reflect the Paisachi variants that prevailed in Tulunadu in the early history.
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Books for Reference

  • A Comparative Study of Tulu Dialects By Dr. Padmanabha Kekunnaya. Govinda Pai Reserach Centre, UDupi. 1994
  • Koti Chennaya: Janapadiya Adhyayana. By Dr. Vamana Nandavar. Hemanshu Prakashana ,Mangalore.2001.
  • Male kudiyaru. Dr B. A.Viveka Rai and D.Yadupathi Gowda, Mangalore University,1996.
  • Mogaveera Samskriti By Venkataraja Punimchattaya. Karnataka Sahitya Academy.1993.
  • Mugeraru:Jananga Janapada Adhyayana. By Dr Abhaya Kumar Kaukradi.Kannada & Culture Directorate,Bangalore & Karnataka Tulu Academy, Mangalore,1997.
  • Puttubalakeya Pad-danagalu. Ed: Dr B.A.Viveka Rai,Yadupati Gowda and Rajashri, Sri Dharmasthala Manjunatheswara Tulu Peeta. Mangalore University.2004
  • Se'erige. Ed:Dr K.Chinnapa Gowda.Madipu Prakashana,Mangalagangotri,2000.
  • Studies in Tuluva History and Dr P Gururaja Bhat (1975).Milagres College,Kallinapur,Udupi.
  • Taulava Sanskriti by Dr.B.A.Viveka Rai, Sahyadri Prakashana,Mysore 1977
  • TuLu naaDu-nuDi By Dr.PalthaDi Ramakrishna Achar, Puttur.
  • TuLu NighanTu. (Editor in Chief: Dr U.P.Upadhyaya, Govinda Pai Research Centre,Udupi. Six volumes. 1988 to 1997
  • Tulu Patero-A Philology & Grammar of Tulu Language by Budhananda Shivalli.2004.Mandira Prakashana Mangalore. p.317. (The book is in Tulu Language using Kannada script)
  • TuLunadina ShasanagaLa Sanskritika Adhyayana. By Shaila T. Verma (2002) Jnanodaya Prakashana,Bangalore, p.304.(Kannada)
  • Tuluvala Baliyendre. Compiled by N.A.Sheenappa Hegde,Polali,Sri Devi Prakashana,Parkala,1929/1999

A Coastal estuary

A Coastal estuary
Holegadde near Honavar,Uttara Kannada dist, Karnataka

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