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The Meaning and Etymology of ārya

Giacomo Benedetti    Università degli Studi di Firenze, Italia    



The present paper considers the issue of the Sanskrit term ārya, starting from the use of ārya and arya as ‘freeman’ and ‘owner’ in opposition to dāsa ‘servant’ (or śūdra), from the Vedas to the Arthaśāstra and Pāli texts (in the form ayya). The original meaning is here interpreted as based on social classes rather than ethnic differences, although foreign populations could be considered as belonging to the dāsa or śūdra class. This social meaning can be found also in the Irish cognate aire ‘freeman, noble’, and in Iranic cognates like Middle Persian ērīh ‘nobility’. Derived terms from arya/ārya often have an honorific use, and from the social meaning, also a moral and spiritual meaning could be developed, which is more easily explained from the concept of ‘noble’ and ‘freeman’ than from that of an ethnic identity or kinship. If the original meaning of Indo-European *aryos was ‘freeman, noble’, it can be compared with the Afro-Asiatic root *ħar- ‘(vb.) to be superior, to be higher in status or rank, to be above or over; (n.) nobleman, master, chief, superior; (adj.) free-born, noble’. We can have thus to do with concepts of nobility and freedom developed in the common cultural frame of a society where slavery and social stratification were evolving.

26 Giugno 2023
13 Marzo 2023
14 Novembre 2022

Keywords: Buddhist StudiesIndo-European Historical LinguisticsSanskrit LexicologyJainismVedasAfro-asiatic Linguistics

Copyright: © 2023 Giacomo Benedetti. This is an open-access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction is permitted, provided that the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. The license allows for commercial use. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.