In this contemplation we shall focus our attention on the plant that is known under the botanical name 'Nardostachys jatamansi'. The reason for this shall perhaps only become clear when the conclusion is neared. Nardostachys jatamansi is a plant that is possibly very suited for use by yogi's. The approach is in this case almost exclusively etymological or etymosophical. This means that here no general information about Nardostachys jatamansi shall be gathered. Another contemplation can for this perhaps be more suitable. Because there is a lot of etymological information to be processed we shall first gather this information to interpret it independently.
'Nardostachys jatamansi' is the botanical name to indicate the plant that in English is called 'spikenard' or 'nard' (and in Dutch 'narduskruid' or 'nardus').1 Especially that last name can be rather confusing because with this is also referred to the plant genus Nardus which thus regards a different plant genus than Nardostachys. Though regarding different genera can both be etymological traced back to the Greek 'nárdos', a name that was especially used to refer to Nardostachys jatamansi.2 'Nárdos' can, together with the Hebrew 'nērd', the Arabic and Persian 'nārdīn', the Armenian 'nardā' and the Akkad 'lardu' probably be brought back to the Sanskrit 'narada' or 'nalada.3, 4 In Greek the name 'nárdou stáchus' was also used, which through the Latin 'spīca nardī' led to the English name 'spikenard'5 but also to the botanical generic name 'Nardostachys'. In this referred 'stáchus' and 'spīca' in independent use among others to the stakes or heads of corn,6, 7 but in combined use with 'nárdou' and 'nardī' probably to the stakes of Nardostachys jatamansi.
That the Sanskrit 'narada' and the more known 'nalada' (also 'naladam' and 'naladā')8 are taken as etymological root is reasonably since Nardostachys jatamansi is originally found in the Sanskrit language area.9 In this it is interesting to bring to the fore that 'naladam' also refers to the honey or nectar of a flower.10 A further direct etymological connection can within Sanskrit be layed with 'nalam', which has the meaning of 'lotus' and 'scent'.11
Although 'nalada' as described above is considered the Sanskrit root of its Persian, Arabic, Hebrew, Greek, English, Dutch and botanical relatives is it nevertheless not the only and most used Sanskrit name for Nardostachys jatamansi. For this is 'jaṭāmāṇśī'.12 It is immediately clear that this name regards the Sanskrit root of the botanical specific name in 'Nardostachys jatamansi'. Other etymological sprouts are also to be found in diverse Indian and Sri Lankan languages such as Bengali, Cannada, Gujarati, Hindi, Malayalam, Marathi, Punjabi, Sinhala, Tamil and Telugu.13 From these general spread sprouts (under which not in the last place the international acknowledged specific name) has now the name 'jatamansi' become worldwide in use. As from the Sanskrit language area in the past the name 'nalada' was adopted by non-indigenous languages to refer to Nardostachys jatamansi there has that history repeated itself more recently with 'jaṭāmāṇśī'.
The Sankrit name 'jaṭāmāṇśī' itself has a remarkable etymology. It is a compound word that consists of 'jaṭā' and 'māṇśī'. 'Jaṭā' refers to matted and entwined hair, sometimes rolled up on the crown of the head, as it is worn by the Hindu god Śiva, ascetics and and persons in mourn. It also refers to roots in general and fibrous roots specifically.14 'Māṇśī' is a derivation which means 'meat'.15 From this last word has Nardostachys jatamansi also begotten the names 'māṇsikā' and 'māṇsinī'.16
Concerning this last meaning is it remarkable that Nardostachys jatamansi is also known under the Sanskrit names 'piśita', 'piśī, 'peśī en piśāća, which all refer to (cut) meat.17, 18 Other names in which is referred to meat are 'gandhamāṇśī'19 and ākāśamāṇśī'.20 In these names has 'gandha' the meaning of 'scent'21 and refers 'ākāś' to a free space or to the element ether of the Hindu philosophy.22
From here can also a link be laid to the name 'khasambhava'.23 This name is compound from 'kha' and 'sambhava'. The first refers to an empty space, cave or opening, but also to knowledge and Braha[n]24 (the absolute),25 and the second has meanings like 'come into being', 'origin' and 'unification'.26 It regards a compound word, consisting of 'sam' and 'bhava'. 'Sam' refers in this to a going together27 and 'bhava' to a state of being28. 'Khasambhava' can from there be given the meaning of 'unification with the emptiness' or 'unification with Brahman'. To such a unification with Brahman is also hinted at in the name 'budhā'.29 This name finds just as 'buddha' and 'buddhi' its roots in 'budh' which has primarily the meaning of 'phantom depth' and refers from there to a realization and wisdom.30 Nardostachys jatamansi then also knows the Sanskrit name 'vijṅa buddhi' whereby 'vijṅa' has the meaning of 'knowledge'.31 Philosophically related to buddhi is manas,32 and another Sanskrit name regards then also 'mana'.33 This name finds with 'manas' its root in 'man', which means 'mind'.34
The thought of a spiritual unification lingers also in other names in which is referred to asceticism. 'Sannyāsa' is here the name that also exactly indicates asceticism.35 This name is compounded of 'san' and 'nyāsa' (or 'nyas') whereby 'san' indicates a giving or a beloved strife36 and 'nyas' a laying down and giving up.37 A sannyāsin gives up everything and lays all his down for his beloved strife for unification with Brahman. This idea we see returning in the names 'tapasinī'38 (or 'tapasvinī'),39, 40 'pravrajita',41 'śramaṇā' (or śramaṇī')42 and 'vahninī'.43 With 'tapasinī' is a religious woman indicated and the word can through 'tapas' be traced back to 'tap' which means 'burn', 'suffer pain' and 'doing penance'.44 The word 'pravrajita' is also used to indicate a female ascetic and is compounded of 'pra', that means 'going away' or 'moving forward'45 and 'vraj' that can be given the same meanings.46 'Śramaṇā' (or śramaṇī') refers to a female mendicant. 'Vahninī' could be related to a priestess. The word stems through 'vahni', with which a Vedic priest is indicated, from 'vah' which signifies primarily a carrying or giving over. Further is 'vahni' related to the Vedic gods in general and Soma and Agni specifically.47 In this list is also the name 'nirālambā' included, meaning 'independent' and 'alone'.48 Although the name can refer to the way of growth of Nardostachys jatamansi do the mentioned meanings also fit with asceticism. The word can be divided into 'nir', meaning 'without',49 and 'ālamb' which means 'support'.50 This last word can again be divided into 'ā', that as a prefix connotes an intensification,51 and 'lamb' which signifies a dependency.52
Soma and Agni are however not the only gods from Hinduism to which is referred to in the Sanskrit names of Nardostachys jatamansi. Though the name 'Kṛishṇajaṭā' (consisting of 'Kṛṣṇa' and 'jaṭā' and with that referring to the locks of Kṛṣṇa) also surfaces53 is more dominantly referred to Śiva and his consort, as is the case with 'parvata vasininī'. As a whole refers this word to Pārvatī or Durgā54 and in parts to her place of residence in the Himālaya. For 'parvata' refers to mountains55 and ''vasininī' with 'vas' as root to a place of residence.56 Of course we find with the last mentioned name also a direct reference to the habitat of Nardostachys jatamansi. 'Kālikā' is another name for and appearance of Śiva's consort57 that also refers to Nardostachys jatamansi.58 'Kālikā' is derived from the better known name 'Kālī'59 which related to 'kāla' means 'black' or 'time'.60 To Śiva is among others referred to through the names 'kirātini' en 'hiṇsrā'. 'Kirātini' is derived from 'Kirāta', a name of Śiva in the Hindu epos Mahābhāratam61 and 'hiṇsrā' is a name of Śiva when associated with his destroying nature.62
Reference to associations of Śiva we already found earlier when we considered that 'jaṭā' in 'jaṭāmāṇśī' refers to matted and entwined hair, sometimes rolled up on the crown of the head, as it is worn by Śiva. To this is probably also referred in the name 'jaṭilā'.63 No reference to Śiva but still to matted hair we find the name 'bhūta keśī'.64 As a whole refers 'bhūta keśī' to the demon Keśī65 whereby 'bhūta' can be translated as 'demon'.66 The word 'keśī' (also 'keśi' en 'keśin') itself refers also to long hair or manes.67
Also the name 'lomeśa'68 (or 'lomaśa') seems to connect to the above with its meaning of 'hairy',69 however then no longer a reference to associations with Śiva or other personages is the case but rather to outer resemblances of the roots of Nardostachys jatamansi. And here finds the name 'mūlera'70 again a connection, stemming from 'mūla' which means 'root'.71
Further there are still several Sanskrit names that refer both to Nardostachys jatamansi as to other plants. Thus there is the name 'yave phala' with which is also referring to Wrightia antidysenterica and to bamboo stalks.72 'Yava' means 'barley'73 and 'phal' means 'fruit'.74 Further refer the names 'miśi', 'miśī', 'mishi' and 'misi' to fennel (Anethum panmori or Foeniculum vulgare), anis (Pimpinella anisum), Indian dill (Anethum sowa), and ajamodā (Trachyspermum roxburghianum).75 The derived name 'mishikā' however refers exclusively to Nardostachys jatamansi.76
Also diverse of the earlier mentioned Sanskrit names refer to other plants. 'Tapasinī' refers for instance also to Christmas rose (Helleborus niger),77 'śramaṇā' to Bengal or Indian madder (Rubia cordifolia) and tulsi or holy basil (Ocimum sanctum),78, 79 'kālikā' to Trichosanthes dioica,80 'naladam' to Antropogon Muricatus,81 'pravrajita' to holy basil,82 'hiṇsrā' to jequirity (Abrus precatorius) and Coix Barbata,83 and 'lomaśa' to German Iris (Iris germanica), Leea hirta, Carpopogon pruriens, Sida Cordifolia, Sida Rhombifolia and Cucumis utilissimus (to which 'gandhamāṇśī' also refers).84 Even 'jaṭāmāṇśī' itself refers also to Christmas rose.85
That so many of the above mentioned Sanskrit names do not only refer to Nardostachys jatamansi but also to other plants shall nevertheless not give many problems. Botanically can, despite everyday use of language, distinctions be maintained between plant species, and besides that has the name 'jaṭāmāṇśī' as 'jatamansi' become so dominant that it has come to overrule all others. More problematic then are the persistent Western and even botanical wrongful references. We already mentioned the use of the name 'nardus' to refer to Nardostachys jatamansi while 'nardus' (as 'Nardus') in contemporary botany refers to a plant genus. It is evident from the botanical name indication that plants of the genus Nardostachys do not belong to the genus Nardus. Equally persistent is the misunderstanding to place Nardostachys jatamansi under the plant genus Valeriana. Botanical names that then unrightfully are described to Nardostachys jatamansi regard 'Valeriana wallichii' and 'Valeriana jatamansi'. Valeriana wallichii however is the Indian valerian (falling under the same genus as the European or true valerian Valeriana officinalis) and is also known under the names 'tagara', 'tagar' and 'taggar'.86 Unrightfully is also with these names sometimes referred to Nardostachys jatamansi. In referrings where the name 'Valeriana jatamansi' is being used is Nardostachys jatamansi indeed discerned from other plants, but it is clear that in contemporary botanical classifications the generic name is not correct. In that sense is the English name 'false valerian' perhaps not flattering but in any way more precise. By the way do fall Nardostachys and Valeriana both, but each separately, under the family of Valerianaceae (or Caprifoliaceae) plants. This goes however explicitly not for Nardus that falls under the Gramineae or Poaceae family. To close off should then also a botanical name be mentioned that as a synonym does do right, and this regards the name 'Nardostachys grandiflora'. Here is the generic name rightfully used and is chosen to, instead of deriving the specific name from Sanskrit, use a Latin specific name. 'Grandiflora' consists of the Latin words 'grandis', which means 'grand',87 and 'flora' which as 'Flōra' in Latin refers to the godess of flowers88 but eventually has come into use to refer to plants.89 'Grandiflora' then means 'grand plant'.
In the above etymological and botanical consideration is given a lot of information and for sake of creating an overview and laying down structures are schematizations here welcome. We shall start with a botanical scheme in figure 1. In this figure we see the botanical categorizing which makes that only the names 'Nardostachys jatamansi', 'Nardostachys grandiflora', 'jatamansi', 'spikenard' en 'false valerian' can be used in an authentic way.
|Valerianaceae / Caprifoliaceae
|Gramineae / Poaceae
|jatamansi / grandiflora
|jatamansi / spikenard / false valerian
|Indian valerian / tagar
|European valerian / true valerian
How the etymological relations of 'Nardostachys jatamansi' go can be read in figure 2. This figure must be read horizontally.
|narada / nalada
|nardus / nardī
|nardus / narduskruid
|jaṭāmāṇśī / et alia
|Indian / Sri Lankan languages
|Reading figure horizontally
Now the etymology in the previous paragraph was of course much more elaborate than given in figure 2 because also other (Sanskrit) names were taken in consideration. Thereby were sections divided into different categories and on that basis we could come to an overview as in figure 3.
Stake growth: Nárdou stáchus, spīca nardī, Nardostachys jatamansi, spikenard, Nardostachys grandiflora, nirālambā.
Meat: Jaṭāmāṇśī, māṇsinī, māṇsikā, piśita, piśī, peśī, piśāća, gandhamāṇśī, ākāśamāṇśī.
Scent: Gandhamāṇśī, naladam.
Space: Ākāśamāṇśī, khasambhava.
Realisation: Khasambhava, budhā, vijṅa buddhi, mana.
Ascetism: Sannyāsa, tapasinī, tapasvinī, pravrajita, śramaṇā, śramaṇī, nirālambā, vahninī.
Hindu gods: Vahninī, kṛishṇajaṭā, parvata vasininī, kālikā, kirātini, hiṇsrā, bhūta keśī.
Matted hair: Bhūta keśī, jaṭāmāṇśī, kṛishṇajaṭā, jaṭilā, lomeśa.
With the categorization in figure 3 of the found names we have actually already made a start with their etymological interpretation. When from there we go deeper into the meaning of the names we must keep in mind that these names can refer descriptively and metaphorically. We shall start with the more descriptively names and work from there towards the more metaphorically names.
Let us start with the category 'stake growth'. The names under this category all refer descriptively to Nardostachys jatamansi as growing as a stake. This description corresponds with the manner of growth of Nardostachys jatamansi because the stalks of grown plants stand out above the foliage like a stake. The name 'nirālambā' ('without support') connects to this. Also the names under the category 'space' can refer to this manner of growth when they describe the plant in its unification with (the) space (above the plant).
Further is also the nature of the roots described by diverse names. For these look like matted hair. It are fibrous, indeed hairy looking, roots. By the way are the roots seen as the most important part of the plant because it are these which are processed and used.90 Therefore the many names that hint at the appearance of the roots and also therefore that to the plant is referred as root with 'mūlera'.
This fibrousness of the roots can also have led to name givings that describe the roots as meat. Hereby then we must think of prepared meat with its meat strings. Other relations with meat are difficult to make. 'Jaṭāmāṇśī' then can be understood as 'stringy meat' and 'gandhamāṇśī' as 'aromatic meat'.
That aroma of Nardostachys jatamansi is acknowledged by the name 'naladam' which regards the etymological root of 'spikenard'. The plant roots then have a very strong (though fragrant) scent.91 It is among other because of this that the plant is so loved.
The appearance of the root scan also have led to associations with Śiva, who is known for his matted hair. Also is it understandable that Vaishnava's (devotees of Viṣhṇu who as Kṛṣṇa descended on earth)92 who liked the plant saw in its roots the locks of Kṛṣṇa. En also the wild appearing goddess Kālikā calles forth associations with matted hair. The same can by the way go for associations with asceticism. Many ascetics from the Himālaya Mountains wore such matted hair.
Referrings to hair however do not only have relevance for the appearance of Nardostachys jatamansi. For the plant is considered to prevent loss and graying of the hair.93 In this context it is interesting to mention that in The New Testament is being mentioned how Mary anointed the feet of Jesus with Nardostachys jatamansi and dried it after that with her hair.94
Such non descriptive references we recover even stronger in the names under the earlier mentioned category of 'realization'. For jatamansi is known for possessing calming qualities, increasing awareness, and with that being conductive for meditation.95 In this sense can the references to asceticism also have reference to these qualities. Perhaps it is even so that Nardostachys jatamansi was in use by ascetics in the Himālaya because of these qualities. This could also explain a reference to Soma and Agni in 'vahninī'. For 'Soma' is applicable as synonym for 'amrita' and regards the nectar of immortality.96 And here then finds 'naladam' again a connection in its meaning of 'nectar'. And Agni is known as the god of fire that also is present in man as the fire of vitality and can be aroused by means of meditation (and then perhaps with use of Nardostachys jatamansi).97
In this contemplation the plant Nardostachys jatamansi was put in focus and there was intended to follow an exclusive etymological ine of contemplation. This line led us from Germanic and botanical names through Latin and Greek to the Sanskrit where 'nalada' and 'jaṭāmāṇśī' were found. Nummerous other Sanskrit names were also found and a short consideration of the botanical names gave clarity about which names could be used in an authentic way and which not. After a schematic overview was advanced to an interpretation of the found information. The plant was found to be growing in the manner of a stake with roots that make one think of stringy meat and matted hair. In qualities Nardostachys jatamansi turned out to strengthen the hair but also to calming the mind and increasing awareness. And with this could Nardostachys jatamansi then be an excellent help with meditation and contemplation. In that case would the taking in use of other names than 'jatamansi' be desirable, for a reference to stringy meat does the plant with its qualities not right. 'Grandiflora' and 'nalada' are already good alternatives.