As I discuss in this question, by far the most popular school of Hindu philosophy is the Vedanta school, which bases its tenets on the doctrines laid out in the Brahma Sutras, a work by the sage Vyasa that summarizes and systematizes the philosophical teachings of the Upanishads. (You can read the Brahma Sutras here.) But the Vedanta school didn't always have the dominant position in Hindu philosophy; before the time of Adi Shankaracharya the dominant school of Hindu philosophy was the Purva Mimamsa school, which I discuss here. In contrast to the Vedanta school which is devoted to analyzing the Jnana Kanda of the Vedas, i.e. the Upanishads, Purva Mimamsa focused on analyzing the Karma Kanda of the Vedas, i.e. the Samhitas and Brahmanas.

In any case, in Adhyaya 1 Pada 3 of Jaimini's Purva Mimamsa Sutras, the defining text of the Purva Mimamsa school, Jaimini discusses how to determine the meaning of a word occurring in the Vedas. He argues that by default one should rely on the meaning of the word in the language of the Aryas, i.e. Sanskrit. But if a given word in the Vedas has no meaning in Sanskrit, then he says that one should rely on the meaning of the word in the languages of Mlecchas or foreigners. Here's what this excerpt from Shabara's commentary on the Purva Mimamsa Sutras says:

It has been established that that meaning is to be regarded as more authoritative which is accepted by persons who take their stand upon the scriptures. Now in the Veda, we meet with certain words which are not used by the Aryas (who are the people that take their stand on the scriptures) in any sense at all, but are in use among Mlechchhas; such are the words "pika", "nema", "sata", "tamarasa" and such others. In regard to these, there arises the question - Are we to deduce their meaning from their etymology, commentaries and roots with the help of lexicons and grammar? Or should we accept that as their meaning in which sense they are used by the Mlechchhas? ...

The meaning that is imparted to a word even by uncultured people, -even though not known to the cultured - would be comprehended, - and it would not be right to reject what has been comprehended and which is not incompatible with any authority.... From all this we conclude that (according to the usage of the Mlechchhas), the word "pika" should be taken in the sense of the cuckoo,- the word "nema" in the sense of half - the word "tamarasa" in the sense of lotus, - the word "sata" in the sense of “wooden vessel, round in shape and with hundred-holes”.

Now I find it surprising that the Vedas would have any non-Sanskrit words. So my question is, what Mleccha language or languages are used in the Vedas according to the Purva Mimamsa school?

First of all, what languages are the four words mentioned in Shabara's commentary taken from? "Tamarasam" means lotus flower in Dravidian languages like Tamil and Telugu. Page 315 of this book suggests that "pika" comes from Latin and "nema" comes from Persian. But in what language does "sata" denote a round wooden vessel? And are there more languages besides the languages that these four words come from?

Also, do other schools of philosophy disagree with the Purva Mimamsa school's view that some words in the Vedas are words from Mleccha languages? I had always thought that the Vedas consisted entirely of Sanskrit words.

  • 5
    The Vedas are not in Sanskrit. Sanskrit is based on the Vedas. So its not surprising that they have words not belonging to Sanskrit.
    – Surya
    Sep 24, 2016 at 10:26
  • 3
    They are not mleccha languages. A language called "veda bhasha" predates Sanskrit. This has been elaborated by Kanchi paramacharya. BTW, you need to add a TL;DR to your q's please.
    – user1195
    Sep 24, 2016 at 14:15
  • 1
    @Surya Well, both Sanskrit and the Vedas are eternal. So it's wrong to say "the Vedas were composed in Sanskrit", because the Vedas were never composed. But it's not wrong to "the Vedas are in Sanskrit." Sep 24, 2016 at 14:28
  • 3
    @KeshavSrinivasan "tamarasa" is sanskrit word and probably Telugu and Tamil has loaned that word. "Tama= desire; ra = to get; Tamara= desirable for drinking or water or ghee" . tamara = water and sam= to abide, so lotus or if we see "tama" as desire and "ras" as object, so object of desire which is used for gold and copper.
    – The Destroyer
    Sep 23, 2018 at 7:37
  • 3
    @KeshavSrinivasan: Vedas' eternity is just a traditional attribution based on reverence. But it is no more true than so many traditional beliefs and conceptions of cosmogony, geography and human origin which are often mutually contradictory. If Vedas were eternal, why would, unfortunately for us all,many branches or śākhās of Rig Veda and of other vedas were lost forever? Vedic (Sanskrit) in which the Vedas were composed by human poets also ceased to be spoken long ago almost 2600 years ago. Such beliefs are neither true nor are they good for the Vedas as they only cause complacency.
    – PCH
    Sep 28, 2018 at 4:04


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