This week in our yoga class we spent a fair amount of time in tadasana, the so-called ‘mountain’ pose. It turned out that “tadasana” was the only Sanskrit word our teacher used in the whole lesson, and so again I found it echoing around in my head afterwards. Now, if Sanskrit is reputed to be very close to the root Indo-European language, what influence has the word “tadasana” had on modern English – that is, which everyday words are derived from the parts of the word “tadasana”? Conversely the Sanskrit root tada allegedly means “mountain”, and yet the two words don’t sound remotely similar. So where has the word “mountain” come from?
Beginning with the second of those questions, I turned to Shipley’s The Origins of English Words – A Discursive Dictionary of Indo-European Roots. This lovely book quickly told me that ‘mountain’ comes from the root men, which means “to stand out, project, threaten”. Fine, but no closer to tada.
I’ll probably never get a proper answer to the first question, but in searching for it I did come across an interesting snippet from Iyengar. In describing the tadasana pose, he notes that tada can also mean “a palm tree growing straight”. So it has two meanings? By now I’ve come to expect this kind of thing. Sanskrit is an ancient language, and its words are tuned to describing and conveying a set of mental concepts that were relevant several thousand years ago. The concepts used by later cultures evolved and differed by necessity, and so the words used to label them have shifted, merged, separated and otherwise changed accordingly. If – as George Lakoff believes – a huge proportion of what we think and say is metaphorical, then perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised when a single word in an ancient language is found to “mean” both ‘mountain’ and ‘palm tree growing straight’; perhaps the ancients used these two metaphorical images interchangeably?
Or perhaps one of them is a later “meaning”, attributed to the root by (metaphorical) association with the asana itself? My copy of Teach Yourself Sanskrit, for example, shows the English “mountain” translated into parvatah, sailah or acalah (apologies for not reproducing the accents) in Sanskrit!
I’ll have to continue my research another day. In the meantime, if you know what tada “really” means, please let me know!