'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

What do 'Malayali' and 'Bengali' have in common?

This (much delayed) post is not about fish and/or communism and/or 'arty' movies. My proposed answer to the above question is: 'Tamil ancestry'.

Well, I only look at 'Malayali' and 'Bengali' as words (and not as types of people) and try to prove that both words are basically from the same language - Tamil.

The following is my understanding of the historical derivation of 'Malayalam'.

(A small note on the pronunciation: the 'a' before the second 'l' in 'Malayali' is an extended one; so is the only 'a' in Bengali. in 'Malayali' the second 'l' is retroflexed)

'Mala' is an old Dravidian (and Tamil) word for 'hill'. 'Aal' ('l' retroflexed) is also a very old Dravidian word for 'person'. The geographical region that is approximately the present day Kerala was known to heartland Tamils as the 'hill country' ie. the 'mala-country'. An inhabitant of this land came to be referred to as 'Malayali' (Mala + Aal in a Tamil-style join). The 'i' ending is fairly common in Tamil - for instance, 'Vil'('bow') + 'Aal' = Villali ('archer') - I don't know which are the contexts in Tamil where this 'i' ending happens, because there are also constructions like: 'Kaal' (foot) + 'aal' = 'Kaalaal' (foot-soldier) - no 'i' ending there.

Anyways, the 'hill country' presumably came to be known as the 'land of the hill people' ie. land of the Malayalis and the (appropriately inflected) word for it came to be 'Malayalam'. Moreover the Dravidian tongue spoken in 'Malayalam' came to be referred to by the same name. Yes, there is a certain loopiness about "the land of the people of the hill land' but then, ...

As for Bengal, it is 'Vanga' + 'Aal'. Anga or Vanga is the old Sanskrit/Prakrit name for that region. A person from Vangadesham, ie. Vanga country will be 'Vangali' in Tamil. It is not even a step now to 'Vangalam' which the land of the 'Vangalis'. All that has happened since then is very superficial - a replacement of 'v' with 'b' and a 'straightening out' of the 'l' (the 'e' of Bengal is seems to be a British 'innovation' and the dropping of the 'am' at the end, a pan-North Indian Persian induced(?) phenomenon). Indeed, the Tamil origin of the word is barely concealed. One may also note a difference here - unlike in the case of Malayalam, the language spoken by the Vangalis came to be known as 'Vangali' itself and did not assume the name of the land. But this does not seem to undermine our general conclusion.

Note 1: The word 'aal' was present, according to some theories, in the (poorly understood Dravidian) language of the ancient Indus valley.

Note 2: The 'm' ending of both 'Malayalam' and 'Vangalam' might just indicate a trace of Sanskrit influence on (even ancient) Tamil.

Note 3: Oddly enough, even among educated modern Bengalis, a confusion seems to prevail - 'Malayali' is believed to be the language of Kerala and a person speaking it is *a* 'Malayalam'!


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  • At 5:03 PM, Blogger പാപ്പാന്‍‌/mahout said…

    Frankly speaking, I think this is one of your wilder hypotheses. In Sanskrit, Bengal may be known as "Vangam", but it does not mean that the local name is also the same. Actually, the local name is "Bangla" (amar sonar Bangla). The British might have misspelt it to Bangal or Bengal, but that was their problem.

    For some real crazy name-based hypotheses, read some of the books of "Kesari" A Balakrishna Pillai.

  • At 10:09 PM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    Thanks Mahout.

    Yes, it was but a hypothesis.

    I *suspect* that 'Bangla' is a derivative from the Dravidian 'Vangalam'. Moreover, the 'bongs' refer to themselves as 'bangali' (in their language) which also sounds Tamil/Dravidian.

    As a possibly relevant aside, many place-names in the North have Dravidian 'ooru' endings which got trimmed to 'ur' - Bithur in UP, Sangrur in Punjab, Kasur in West Punjab (Pakistan) and Belur in Bengal itself.

  • At 12:27 PM, Blogger Sue said…

    Isnt it wierd that Bengal, which is not all that near to Tamil Nadu, should have a name derived from Tamil?

    Interesting hypothesis though..

  • At 8:53 PM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    thanks sue.

    well, yes, tamil nadu and bengal are way apart. but dravidian languages had and still to some extent have an all-india presence. and 'aal' is a very basic dravidian word. i could have perhaps said 'bengali' is basically a dravidian construction rather than a tamil one. but i guess, that does not change the picture fundamentally. among all extent dravidian languages, tamil is said to be closest to the roots and best preserves the core dravidian vocabulary. and yes, 'dravida' is but a sanskritization of 'tamila'!

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  • At 1:13 PM, Blogger Kaberi said…

    This is funny... I am a bangali have lived in the Malayali/ Tamil Land for quite some time. I know all three languages ( Tamil and Bengali quite well). In fact, I consider Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (which is in Tirunelveli district) is my second home. I have seen a lot of language similarities between Dravidian languages and Bengali. Culturally I feel Bengal is a melting pot of both North and South indian (I mean Dravidian and Aryan) culture. It is really interesting to see how there are so many similarities in rituals, food and language between Malayalis, Tamilians and Bengalis. Fish and communism are just the two most common one between bengal and Kerala! You can find non sanskrit based word like "Kutti" (which means small) in all three languages with the same meaning.

    BTW, the word "bongs" have other meaning in the USA as you can see from the previous post.

    Kaberi (Bengali spelling of Kaveri)

  • At 11:24 AM, Blogger Lakshmikanth said…

    If you do not know the history of India it is difficult to understand the importance of Tamil. I'm not sure how many people know that Tamil is the oldest surviving language of India. And with this Aryan and Dravidian myth the achievements of ancient Tamils has been diminished.

    The ancient name of region around Bengal and Orissa was Vangala. In Bengali 'V' is pronounced as 'B'. so
    Vasudev is Basudev
    Vasu is Basu
    Kaveri is Kaberi
    Vangala is Bangala is Bangla
    and since Bengalis pronounce 'Ba' as 'Bo' Bangla is sometime Bongla

    There are many common words in Tamil and Bengali which almost nobody knows.
    In both languages 'Podu' means wear. So wear a slipper will be 'slipper podu' in both.
    As mentioned by 'Kaberi' both have same meaning for 'Kutti'

    Also from my Bengali friend I learnt that there is some similarity in food also.

    Historically Vangala was ruled by a Eastern Chalukyas who were a branch of the Western Chalukyas(Dravidian). Also the south indian dynasties always fought for the control of Vangala. The Cholas had territory extending upto Ganga. so the name Gangaikonda chola(chola who took ganga) for their king.

    I know that in Orissa the brahmins and maybe the common people make Dosa and eat it with coconut milk as they do in south India.

  • At 11:42 PM, Blogger taz said…

    lol this is probably one of the most ridiculous desi blogs I've ever seen. I can speak Bengali and when I hear Tamil or Malayalam for that matter I can generally understand a solid 0% of what they are saying.

    Sure some words should be expected to be similar, Sanskrit and Tamil heavily influenced each other in ancient times and this would surely have left an imprint on their off-shoot languages, however it is nothing that would allow a North Indian and a South Indian to linguistically relate to one another. North Indians and South Indians do look pretty similar though, so mixing between the two groups definitely did occur.

    A couple of things to point out:

    "Kutti" in Bengali does not mean small, I've never in my life heard it being used that way lol..."Kutti" means "female dog", same as in Hindi and Punjabi I believe...The Bengali word for small is "Chhoto" like Hindi "Chhota", far from the Mayalam word.

    The Bengali verb for "wear" is "porano" or "pora" so "wear a slipper" would be "slipper poro". It does sound similar to the Tamil "podu" but I always thought that it was related to the Hindi verb "pahanna" for wear...who knows? maybe all 3 words are somehow related to one another, lots of borrowing did occur.

  • At 3:30 AM, Blogger abhisek said…

    bengalis are lor fairer than tamils or malayes as far i seen ..why is dat?

  • At 11:09 AM, Blogger Atlantisgoldensparrow said…

    Such a stupid question! Obviously because of the variations in the amount of exposure to sun.
    Thamizh is a beautiful language I ve ever known in my life. Did you know that certain Thamizh poems from 'kalingathubharani' had been scientifically proved to do the same good and create the same vibrations in ur body as Gayathri mantra in Samaskritham? The only problem Mother Thamizh is facing is her own sons and daughters abandoning her to adopt a new cruel step-mother called IT-culture.

  • At 4:34 PM, Blogger optimistic giant said…

    R Nandakumar is Purely a deadliest shit logic story I have ever heard... enjoy your theories Nandu

  • At 4:37 PM, Blogger optimistic giant said…

    Tamil is clearly from Sanskrit and same with Bengali Hindi and Orissa language.... Bihari and Punjabi Dehati are further filterations from these languages

  • At 1:32 AM, Blogger ShakibAhmed said…

    In fact Bengali Nation is a Dravidian nation. Bengali Dravidian Muslims are representing the present Bangladesh. Hindus and Aryans are outsiders to Bengali, Bangladesh and Dravidian Nation and this region.

    Sheikh Shakib Ahmed

  • At 1:44 AM, Blogger ShakibAhmed said…

    Aryans and Hindus are enemies of Dravidian, Killer of Dravidians. Enemies of Dravidian. Bangla is the property of Dravidian. Bangladesh as a Dravidian Nation will guard the Bangla language as property of Dravidian. Hindus and Aryan must be absorbed into Hindi and those are enemies of the Bangla language, Bangladeshi Nation, Dravidian Nations and overall humanity. This is historically true. Aryans are outsiders to Bangla language, Bangladeshi Nation, Dravidian Nations and evil forces. I support you anamika. We were in the continuous blood chain, but detached due to the conspiracy of Aryan and Hindus( coming from central Asia). We are Dravidians. We have sympathy for each other. I think the Dravidian Nations will be united by defeating all the Aryans and Hindus and will recover their original lands and language.

  • At 1:52 AM, Blogger ShakibAhmed said…

    Vangalam is present Bangladesh. It is completely a Dravidian Nation. I think Malayalam should also be an independent state for only the Dravidian. We should discard all the Aryan and Hindus from our territory permanently to secure the past lands of the great continuous Dravidian Nation. I am proud to be a Dravidian.

  • At 2:02 PM, Blogger Bong Sotti said…

    Bengalis are more related to Dravidian than to Aryan the Dravidian were Pagan Aryan came and mix their casteism in it. They were shaivite and Vaisnavite Aryan introduced their faiths and formed Hinduism as a whole. Then once under Palas whole Bengal mostly became Buddhist which is reconverted mostly to Hinduism under the influence of Sen Dynasty following some invasions of Muslim invaders in India Islam was introduced to the people of India also to Bengalis os many got converted to Islam (which has a root from Semitic and Hamitic Race). So presently it can be said that Bengalis are more Dravidian with a little strain of Aryan bloodline. And time wise if we go Islam is new to Bengal and citing most of Bangladesh embraced Islam we cant say Islam is outsider unlike some communal vandals. who violates the norm of blog. So Bengalis Race wise more Dravidian some part of Aryan and a little Semitic and Hamitic characteristic

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  • At 1:24 PM, Blogger Anwesha Dutta said…

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  • At 1:29 PM, Blogger Anwesha Dutta said…

    Bengali definitely did not derive from Tamil. The language has its roots in Pali and Prakrit. As for 'Vanga', it was the Tamil version of 'Bango', the old name for undivided Bengal. Typically, West Bengal is still called 'Pashchim Bango' in Bangla. I remember having a similar conversation with a malayali friend, who told me that ancient Bengal was called 'Vanganad' in Malayalam. I hope that's how it's spelled.
    And to a commentator above me- 'Kutti' (pronounced t and not th) does mean 'small' in Bengali, the reason why I have a kutti mashi (youngest aunt). There are other similar words like 'ulka' (meteor), 'istirii' (iron). The hypothesis may seem far-fetched, but the author's research is commendable.

  • At 11:15 PM, Blogger kspugii said…

    5. The Mongol-Dravidians:

    In the population of Bengal and Orissa this racial type is most prominent. Bengali Brahmins and Kayasthas form the largest percentage. This racial type has come into existence as a result of intermixture of Mongolians and Dravidians while some element of Indo-Aryan race is also found. These people are generally black and round headed having medium nose and medium height.

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  • At 1:24 AM, Blogger Snehasish said…

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • At 1:26 AM, Blogger Snehasish said…

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  • At 1:32 AM, Blogger Snehasish said…

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  • At 1:40 AM, Blogger Snehasish said…

    Yes,Bangla words have some of their dravidian roots,in spite of being a indo-aryan language.
    & 'kutti'(where 't' is pronounced as 't') means really small or youngest,whereas 'kutti'(where 't' is pronounced like 'tah') is a completely different bengali word meaning female dog.
    ShakibAhmed why u r so communal?whats wrong with u?Bengali(Indian or Bangladeshi)muslims r never pure dravidian,can be genetically mixture.
    Hindus r not outsider to bengali languge and culture,but muslims r,they(from Turkey or Mughal roots)attacked and occupied Bengal.The History is the witness.But modern Bengali language is common identity of all Bengalis irrespective of their religion.And once again Hindus r not outsider,but father of ancient bengali language.Above all Bengali is a lingustic & cultural identity,not of Arya-Dravidian or Hindu-Muslim matter at all


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