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

Monday, March 19, 2007

'HariPanchanana' - What a Name!

I do not think Shakespeare's take on names - "what is in a name.." and so on and so forth - makes much sense outside the context in which Juliet found herself then; even the Bard might not have intended her remark to apply universally. Names matter; period.

Sadly, when it comes to naming things, I am no Adam. Even 'Anamika' is a reflection of my failure to find a suitably catchy title for this blog. When I attempted writing a play (posted here long ago, then taken offline for further work) I was never happy with the names I chose for characters and kept changing them to the point of looking downright silly. Anyways, here I talk about one name from literature, which to me is as close to perfect as possible - 'Haripanchanana'.

The plot of 'Dharmaraja', a pioneering historical romance in Malayalam involves the intrigues and subversive activities launched against the royal family of Travancore by two brothers, sworn to bloody vendetta. The brothers are actually identical twins; their most striking stratagem involves pretending they are only one man. One of them (either of them, to be precise) poses as a Tantrik named 'Haripanchanana Swami' who has the supernatural ability to be present at two places at the same time; this is all too easy to achieve since they are ready-made doubles to each other. Although the brothers' schemes are ultimately defeated (in a rather weak anti-climax), their powerful anti-hero characterization leaves a lasting impression.

My interest here is in the fake Tantrik name assumed by the twin brothers. Obviously it is a double name - Hari + Panchanana - like so many other common Indian names like Rama-krishna, Sankara-Narayana and so on (a double name is quite appropriate in a story of doubles, right?). Hari is among the hundreds of names of Vishnu and Panchanana is Siva (literally it means the one with five faces; the faces of Siva represent the five elements of the universe). So, the composite name invokes the two most powerful Gods in a syncretic union, which is unprecedented although quite orthodox in its derivation. Finally, more remarkably, *both* 'hari' and 'panchanana' are also synonymous with 'lion'!

Tailpiece: Though the twins are identical in appearance, they are very different temperamentally. The elder of the two is angry, vengeful and given to violent outbursts; he is sometimes called 'Ugra', the wrathful. The younger is sober and peaceloving and is part of the plot primarily due to fraternal love. He is called 'Shanta', the tranquil one. And 'Ugra' and 'Shanta' refer also to the two aspects - destructive and beatific - of the Narasimha Avatar of Vishnu. And Narasimha is in form half man and half lion!


  • At 5:35 AM, Blogger Two Minds said…

    In Hindu mythology, Hari and Panchanana have a son too! Hope the twins had nothing like that :-)

  • At 10:16 PM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…



  • At 11:02 PM, Blogger Two Minds said…

    Ayyappa is a curious mix of Ayya and Appa ?

  • At 12:49 AM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    ayyappa is indeed a highly syncretic god . the siva-vishnu mix is only part of the story. ayyappa is said to have evolved from ayyanar, a very dravidian diety (still worshipped in rural tamil nadu); and another of his names 'shasta' is given as a synonym of the buddha in texts - and the 'swami saranam' chant does appear to hark back to 'buddham saranam gacchami'.

    'ayya' is 'arya' deformed. this word can mean 'mister' of 'master' or 'father'. 'appa' and 'appan' mean father and in certain contexts can mean 'son' too (perhaps 'appan' and 'baba' are the only instances of a word which can mean both father and son). in kerala and to a lesser extent in tamil nadu many gods have names ending with 'appan' - this appears to imply (on the part of the devotee) a paternal affection directed towards the deity seen as a young boy rather than filial devotion to a father figure. and yes, 'amma' can be used to address one's mother or an elder lady and just as well, a little girl (in tamil at least).

  • At 12:58 AM, Blogger Two Minds said…



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