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Rope-like air-roots are characteristic of the banyan tree or Ficus indica. One of the Sanskrit names for this tree, vata, indeed seems to be derived from the Proto-Dravidian word vatam ‘rope, cord’. As a name of the banyan tree, vatam appears to be short for the compound vata- maram, or ‘rope-tree’, which is attested in Tamil. This Dravidian etymology for vata makes it possible to find a Dravidian homophone fitting the above assumed astral context where the ‘fig’ pictogram is followed by the ‘fish’ sign.

In the Pur$ana texts written in Sanskrit the banyan fig is the tree of the northern direction. Why? Proto-Dravidian had another, homophonous word vata, which means ‘north’; but there is no such linguistic associa- tion between ‘banyan’ and ‘north’ in Indo-Aryan languages. The com- pound consisting of the signs for ‘fig tree’ and ‘fish’ thus yields the compound vata-m¥$ n ‘north star’. This compound is actually attested in Old Tamil literature, as the name of the tiny star Alcor in the constella- tion of Ursa Major. In Sanskrit this star is called Arundhatand it is supposed to represent the faithful wife of Vasistha, one of the Seven Sages with which the constellation Ursa Major is associated. This star is to be shown to the bride in the marriage ceremony according to both Vedic and Old Tamil texts. It is likely that originally vata-m¥$ n denoted the nearby pole star (Thuban, the ‘immobile’ center of the rotating heavens in 3000 BCE). The Sanskrit name of the pole star is dhruva ‘fixed, firm, immovable, constant’, and the pole star is also shown to the bride as an exemplar to be emulated.

The Pur$ana texts contain an interesting conception about the pole star, which seems to be explained by its Dravidian name vata-m¥$ n. In reply to the question, why the stars and planets do not fall down from the sky, these heavenly bodies are said to be bound to the pole star with invisible ‘ropes of wind’. These ‘ropes’ seem to refer to the air-roots of the cosmic banyan tree, which God Varuna is said to hold up in the sky in the earliest Indian text dating from c. 1000 BCE,39) a conception

______________________________ 39) Cf. Rgveda 1,24,7.


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