If we relate certain characteristics of the different languages of India to how Vedic chanting differs syllabically from region to region, we will discover the important fact that the genius of each of these tongues and the differences between them are based on how the Vedas are chanted in these regions. I make here certain observations based on my own philological researches.
The letters da, ra, la and zha are phonetically close to one another. Ask a child to say "rail" or "Rama", in all likelihood it will say "dail", "Dama". The reason is "da" is phonetically close to "ra". Quite a few people say "Sivalatri" for "Sivaratri". And some say "tulippora" for "tulippola" (Tamil for "just a little"). Here "la" and "ra" sound similar. I spoke about how "ra" and "da" change. So "la" can change to "da". "La" is very close to "la". Usually what we pronounce as "lalita", "nalina", and "sitala" will be found in Sanskrit books as "lalita", "nalina" and "sitala". There is no need to say how "la" and "zha" are close friends. Madurai is indeed the city of Tamil but here people say "valapalam" (plantain) for "vazha-pazham". That is they use "la" for "zha", a letter we believe to be unique to the Tamil (or Tamizh) language.
Here I should like to mention an idea likely to sound new to you. What is considered unique to Tamil, "zha" [retroflex affirmative], is present in the Vedas also. Jaimini is one of the Samaveda sakhas: it is also called the Talavakara Sakha. The "da" or "la" of other Vedas or sakhas sounds like "zha' in the Talavakara Sakha. Those who have properly learned this recension say "zha" for "da" or "la". Perhaps it is not a full"zha" sound but something approximating to it, or something in which the "zha" sound is latent.
The "zha-kara" occurs even in the Rgveda in some places. Usually "da" and "la" are interchanged and where there is "da-kara" in the Yajurveda it is "la-kara" in the Rgveda. The very first mantra in the Vedas is Agnimide". "Agnimide" is according to the Yajurveda which has the largest following. In the Rgveda the same word occurs as "Agnimile". The "le" here is to be pronounced almost as "zhe". In the famous Sri Rudra hymn of the Yajurveda occurs the word "Midustamaya". The same word is found in the Rgveda also and the "du" ini the "midu" sound like "zhu" instead of sounding like "lu" - that is the "zha-kara" is latent in how the syllable is vocalised.
Generally speaking, the "la" in the Rgveda is "da" in the Yajurveda and "zha" in the Talavakara Samaveda. Now let us take up the regions where each of the Vedas has a large following and consider the social features of the language spoken in each such region.
The view is propagated that the Vedas belong to the Aryans, that the Dravidians have nothing to do with them. Let us take three of the four Dravidian states for consideration, that is the regions where Tamil, Telegu and Kannada are spoken.
The "zha-kara" is special to Tamil, "da" to Telugu and "la" to Kannada. Where "zha" occurs in Tamil, it is "da" in Telugu and "la" in Kannada. Take the Sanskrit word "pravala" (coral). It is "pavazham" in Tamil, "pakadalu" in Telegu and "havala" in Kannada.
"Pavazham" is derived from "pravala", so too "pakadalu" in Telegu, in which language the original Sanskrit word has changed more than in Tamil: the "va" of "pravala" has become "ka" but it is according to the genius of that language. How has the word changed in Kannada? In Tamil and Telegu the change from the Sanskrit "pra" to "pa" is but small. But in Kannada the "pra" becomes "ha" and that of course is according to the genius of that language. The "pa" in the other languages becomes "ha" in Kannada. Thus "Pampa" becomes "Hampa" and then "Hampi" (you must gave heard of the ruins of Hampi ). The Tamil "pal" for milk is "halu" in Kannada and the Tamil "puhazh" (fame) is "hogalu" in Kannada. In the same manner "pravala" becomes "havala" in Kannada.
It was not my purpose to speak about the "pa-ha" relationship. All I wanted to point out was how the "la" of Sanskrit is the "zha" of Tamil and the "da" of Telugu. In Kannada, however, there is no change. The "la" remains "la".
You see this difference not only with respect to words of Sanskrit origin but also with respect to those belonging to the Dravidian group. The word "puhazh"(or pugazh) cited earlier is an example in this connection- it is not a Sanskrit word.
(From our present state of investigations we know this: our people belong to one family. They are not racially divided into Aryans and Dravidians but are divided into those speaking languages related to Sanskrit on the one hand and those speaking Dravidian tongues on the other. Further research is likely to reveal that even this linguistic difference is not real and that both Sanskrit and Dravidian languages are from the same parent stock. Some linguists are known to be examining the possible bounds that unite Sanskrit and Tamil. If we go back to very early times, we may discover that the two languages are of the same stock. But during the thousands of years subsequent to that period, the Dravidian languages must have evolved separately. It is in this sense that I speak of the "Dravidian" languages as being distinct from Sanskrit. )
I wondered whether there was any special reason why the "zha" of Tamil should be the "da" of Telugu and the "la" of Kannada. I came to the conclusion that the differences were related to how the Vedas are chanted in the regions where these languages are spoken.
The predominant Veda in the western region [of Peninsular India], including Maharastra and Karnataka, is the Rgveda. In the region from Nasik to Kanyakumari, the Rgveda has the widest following. Kannada is one of the languages spoken here and "la" has a unique place in it. And this "la", special to Kannada, which is considered a Dravidian regional language, is Vedic in origin.
If we go to that part of the eastern seashore and the hinterland that form Andhra Pradesh, we find that 98 out of 100 people (Brahmins) here are Yajurvedins. The remaining two percent are Rgvedins. There are practically no Samavedins in Andhra Pradesh. Since Yajurvedins are the predominant group the Rgvedic "la" is "da" here, so also the "la" of other languages.
In Tamil Nadu also Yajurvedins are in a majority though not to the same extent as in Andhra Pradesh. Here 80 percent are Yajurvedins, 15 percent Samavedins and 5 percent Rgvedins. In ancient times, however, the Samavedins formed quite a large group- there is evidence for such a belief. It is likely that there were Brahmins belonging to all the 1,000 recensions of the Samaveda in the Tamil land. Isvara is extolled in the Tevaram as "Ayiram-sakhai-udaiyan" (one with a thousand Vedic recensions).
Among the Samavedins those belonging to the Kauthuma Sakha form the majority. But in the old days the followers of the Jaiminiya or Talavakara Sakha were quite large in number. Cozhiyar are people of the Cola land. Even today they are all Samavedins and they follow the Talavakara Sakha- the Cozhiyar residing in Tirunelveli(which is identified as a Pandya territory) still belong to this recension. Originally the Samaveda had a great following not only in the land of the Colas but also in the land of the Pandyas.
"Cozhiyar" may be understood as Brahmins belonging to the Tamil land from very ancient times. They are indeed the Brahmin "Adivasis" of that region. I will tell you how. Among Tamil Smarta Brahmins there is a sect called "Vadamas"(Vadamar ). They must have come to the Tamil land from the North, specially from the Narmada valley. Their very name suggests that they are from the North. Cozhiyar must have been inhabitants of Tamil Nadu from the earliest times.
From what I have said about "Vadamar" I should not be taken to mean that I believe that all Brahmins in the South came from the North as is suggested by some people today. As a matter of fact, in the very word "Vadamar" there is proof that all Brahmins did not come from the North. If all Brahmins in Tamil Nadu or in the rest of the South had their original home in the North, why should one sect have been singled out for the name of "Vadamar"? The rest of the Brahmins must have belonged to the Tamil land form the very beginning Cozhiyar are among these first Brahmins.
There is one proof to show that "Vadamar" originally belonged to the Narmada valley. Only they, among the Brahmins[in the South], recite the following verse in the sandhyavandana.; it is a prayer for protection from snakes.
Narmadayai namah pratah Narmadayai namo nisi
Namostu Narmade tubhyam pahi mam visa-sarpatah
Among the Cozhiyar there was a great man called Somasimara Nayanar who was one of the 63 Nayanmars. Somasi is not an eatable, but means a "somayajin", one who has performed the soma sacrifice. Sri Ramanujacarya's father had also performed the same sacrifice and he was called "Kesava Somayajin". The Samaveda has an important place in the soma sacrifice.
If there were a large number of Cozhiyar Brahmins in the very early times in Tamil Nadu, it means that the Talavakra Sakha of the Samaveda must have had a large following then. I have spoken about the Cola and Pandya kingdoms but not of the Pallava and Chera lands. In the dim past there was no Pallava kingdom. The "Muvendar" are the Cheras, colas and Pandyas. The region where the Pallava kingdom arose later was then part of the cola territory. So the early Brahmins who had come form the North, the Vadamar, settled in the northern part of Tamil Nadu, that is the Pallava territory. Subsequently they came to be called "Auttara Vadamar". There are Samavedins among the "Vadamar" also, but they do not belong to the Talavakara Sakha but to the Kauthama Sakha. The "Vadamar" came to the Tamil land long after the Tamil language had developed into its classical stage. So their Vedic chanting is not germane to out subject. The same could be said about the Pallavas after the Sangam literature came to flourish.
Let us now turn to the Chera land. Malayalam is spoken in Kerala. If I did not touch upon this language when I dealt with Tamil, Telugu and Kannada, it was because of the fact that it appeared much later than the other three. Until about a thousand years ago, Kerala was part of the Tamil land and its language too was Tamil. Malayalam evolved from Tamil. If the Tamil "zha" is "da" in Telegu and "la" in Kannada, it remains "zha" in Malayalam. Tamils say "puzhai" for a river. Malayalis say "puzha". If the former say "Alappuzhai" and "Amblappuzhai"[both names of places in Kerala], the latter say "Alappuzha" and "Amblappuzha".
Leaving aside the question of the Malayalam language, let us turn to the subject of the Vedic tradition of Kerala. The Malayala Brahmins called Namputris have a long tradition of learning the Vedas in the sastric manner. There are among them Trivedins(those well-versed in the Rgveda, Yajurveda and Samaveda, and among the last-mentioned a number of people following the Talavakara Sakha). The Pancanmana family is one such and it has behind it a fine Vedic tradition. They belong to the Talavakara Sakha. Today those who follow the Kauthama Sakha are in a majority among the Samavedins in Tamil Nadu but in Kerala the Samavedins belong to the Talavakara Sakha.
From generation to generation, the Namputiris have been chanting the Talavakra Sakha. They pronounce the "da" or "la" of other sakhas as "zha"- which means they follow the same practice as in Tamil Nadu. Both the palm-leaf and printed versions of the Talavakara Sakha, in Tamil Nadu as well as in Kerala, have "zha" in the relevant places.
Thus we see that from early times the Talavakara Sakha of the Samaveda has had a following in the Tamil land larger than in any other part of the country. And with this recension has come the "zha" which is a phoneme not found elsewhere. Naccinarkkiniyar is among the commentators of the Tamil Samgam works. In his commentary on the Tolkappiyam(famous Tamil grammatical treatise), he mentions "four Vedas": "Taittiriyam, Paudikam, Talavakaram and Samam". He mistakes recensions for full-fledged Vedas. However, we note from his list that the Talavakara Sakha had the place of a full-fledged Veda in Tamil Nadu. "Taittiriyam" is a recension of the Krsna_Yajurveda. The Kausitaki Brahmana of the Sankhayana Sakha of the Rgveda is called "Pausa". What Naccinarkkiniyar calls "Paudiyam" is referred to by the Azhvars as "Pauzhiyam"- here again you see the relationship between "zha:" and "da".
All told the phonemes unique to the languages spoken in the different regions have evolved on the basis of the differences in pronunciation in the various Vedic recensions.
So far I have confined myself to the languages of the Dravidian region. Now I will speak on the same theme with reference to the other parts of India and to other countries of the world.
It is customary in the North to use "ja" for "ya" and "ba" for "va"- both in literary and colloquial usage. The use of "ba" for "va" is noticeable particularly in Bengal and "ja" for "ya" in Uttar Pradesh, and Punjab, etc.
In Bengal they follow the dictum, "vabayorabhedam" - there is no difference between "va" and 'ba". In Tamil too"Bhisma" is sometimes referred to as "Vittumar" and "Bhima" as "Vima". In Bengali, all "va's" are vocalised as "ba's". Indeed "Bengal" itself is from "Vanga".
Bengalis say "Bangabasi" for "Vangavasi"( a resident of Bengali). Once they realised that changing all"va's" universally into "ba's" was not right and called a parisad[ a meeting of scholars] to consider the question- it was called the "Vanga Parisad". According to one of its decisions all "ba-kara" in Bengali books to be printed thenceforth was to be changed to "va-kara". They strictly carried out the decision. But in doing so they also changed what should naturally be "ba" into "va"- for instance, "bandhu" into "vandhu", "Bangabandhu" into "Vangavandhu".
As observed earlier, in other regions of the North too "ba" is used for "va". For example, the name "Bihar" itself is from "Vihar". (Once there were many Buddhist viharas, temples or monasteries, in this region) The name "Rasbihari" is from "Rasavihari". How would you explain this practice? Such usage is laid down in the Pratisakhya of the Vedic recension followed in these parts. People there applied the rule of the Pratisakhya to their ordinary writing and speech also. It also follows that the rules laid down by the Vedic sastras have been faithfully followed in this region.
Yajurvedins, it will be remembered, from the majority in the country taken as a whole. The Krsna-Yajurveda is followed in the South and the Sukla-Yajurveda in the North. There is a sakha of the latter called "Madhyandina" and it has a large following in the North. In its Pratisakhya it is said that "ja" may be used in place of 'ya", and "ka' in place of 'sa". we say in the South "yat Purusena havisa"(from Purusasukta); the Northern version of the same is "jat Purusena havika". We are amused by such chanting and we even feel angry that the Vedas are being distorted. At the same time we feel proud that we in the south maintain the purity of the Vedic sound. However, the "ja" and 'ka" in the Northern intonation have the sanction of the Siksa sastra.
It is only phonemes that are close to one another that are interchanged. There are examples in Tamil also to show that "ja" and " ya" are closely related. "Java(the "Javaka" island) is referred to in Tamil works as "Yavaka". Generally, if 'ja" comes as the initial letter of a word it is spelt as 'sa" in Tamil, but if it comes in the middle it becomes "ya'- "Aja(n)" and "Pankaja(m)" become "Ayan and Pangayam". "Sa" is a form of sa. If "sa" and 'ka" are interchangeable so too, it seems, "sa" and "ka". In keeping with this what is "kai" (hand) in Tamil is "sey" in Telugu. "Doing" (performing some work) is the function of the hand(in Tamil "seyvadu"). So better than the Tamil "kai" is the Telegu "sey" which denotes the function of the hand. In Sanskrit the word "kara" has the meaning of "to do" as well as the hand--"Samkara"("Sankara") one who does good; "karomi" is "I do". One wonders whether in Tamil too "sey" was originally used to denote the hand and then "kai" came to be used. Now "sey" is a verb in that language. The "sa"(or "sa"), it is likely, changed to "ka" and then "kai". One more point: "sa" and "ksa" are related sounds. So for "ksa" to become "ka" is natural "Aksam" -"akkam"; "daksinam" - "dakkanam"; "ksanam" _"kanam". Such examples could be multiplied.
We have seen that "ba" becomes "va" in Tamil while in the Northern languages it is the other way round. Similarly, "ja" becomes "ya" and 'sa" becomes "ka" in Tamil while in the Northern languages "ya" and "sa" become "ja" and "ka" respectively. That is according to the Vedic recension followed there and the rules of the Siksa relating to it. That is the reason why Northerners chant "jat" Purusena havika" for "yat Purusena havisa".
This change is to be seen in so many other words in the North: "Jamuna" for Yamuna"; "jogi" for yogi(n); "jug-jug" for yuga-yuga; "jaatra for "yatra". "Sa" is changes to ka" and so "rsi" becomes "riki". As we have seen, "ksa" and "sa" are related. Even in the South we hear people saying "Lasimi for "Laksmi"- they even write like that. In the North "ka" is used for "ksa"- for instance "Khir" for "ksira". The same applies to Tamil usage also-"Ilakkumi" for "Laksmi".
Let us now turn to other countries, first to the land which saw the birth of Christianity, to the Semitic countries like Palestine and Israel. The Old Testament is basic to the Quran also. Some characters are common to Christianity and Islam, but in Arabic they are pronounced differently. Joseph becomes "Yusuf" and Jehovah becomes "Yehivah". There are differences among the Christian nations too. In some languages you see "ja-kara" to be prominent. "Jesu" and "Yesu", the name of the very founder of Christianity, is spelt differently. "Ja-kara" is a characteristic of Greek also. We could trace the root of all this to the Vedas. Jehivah or Yehovah is the same as the Vedic deity Yahvan. "Dyau-Pitar"(Dyava_Prithivi)becomes Jupiter. Sanskrit words lose their initial letter when borrowed by other languages. So Dyau_Pitar becomes "Yau-Pitar" and then Jupiter.
What were originally Yahvan and Dyau-pitar changed to Jehovah and Jupiter with the addition of the "ja-kara". In the beginning the Vedic religion was practised everywhere. It is likely that the Madhyandina Sakha was followed in Greece and its neighbourhood.
For a general background, please see here