One I have found myself from a commentary on one Upanishad.

It says the word is derived like this:

Upa (meaning near)+ Nishanna (specially present).

So, "near which, sons, animals-like fruits of Upasanas, are specially present". So, going by this derivation, Upanishad refers to an Upasana or a form of worship.

  • What are some other etymological derivations for the word?

Please use only scriptures as references while answering.

NOTE- Although I prefer that the answers should be scripture based but since I am not getting any answers like that I have relaxed the condition a bit. So as to accommodate answers like the one that Pandya has posted.

But I will accept an answer that is based on the scriptures.

  • One etymology I know is upa+ni+shat means sitting down near which relates the Guru-Shishya relation. Though, I don't have scriptural reference. Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 12:47
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    @TriyugiNarayanMani I can cite reference for that :)
    – Pandya
    Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 13:58
  • @Pandya please do it soon otherwise I will find it :) Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 14:25
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    @TriyugiNarayanMani I read it somewhere in the Bhashya of Adi Shankaracharya, need time to look for. Presently, I remember of etymology given by in his Bhashya on introduction to the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. It is "The knowledge of Brahman is called Upanishad because it removes this relative world together to this study, for the root 'sad' prefixed by 'upa' and 'ni' means that. Books are also called Upanishad as they have the same end in view" You can read it at Shankara Bhashya
    – Pandya
    Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 14:51
  • Think this is a duplicate..... Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 4:56

2 Answers 2


Here is the etymological explanation to Upanishad given by Adi Shankaracharya in his Bhashya on Katha Upanishad.

Quoting from Eight Upanishads, Volume 1, with commentary of Shankaracharya Translated by Gambhirananda (refer page 110):

The word upanisad is derived by adding upa (near) and ni (with certainty) as prefixes and kvip as a suffix to the root sud, meaning to split up (destroy), go (reach, attain), or loosen. And by the word upanişad is denoted the knowledge of the knowable entity, presented in the book that is going to be explained. By virtue of what relation with (any particular) significance (of the word upanisad), again, is knowledge denoted by the word upanisad? This is being stated. Knowledge is called upanişad by virtue of its association with this significance; It (viz knowledge) splits up, injures, or destroys the seeds of worldly existence such as ignorance etc., in the case of those seekers of emancipation who, after becoming detached from the desire for the seen and unseen objects, approach (upa sad) the knowledge that is called upanişad and that bears the characteristics to be presented hereafter, and who then deliberate on it with steadiness and certainty (ni)

If you know Sanskrit, you can study this commentary in the original Sanskrit text from Sringeri Sharada Peetha site.

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    Question clearly says: "Please use only scriptures as references while answering." Commentary is not scripture. Commented Jun 14, 2019 at 22:25

Haven't seen anywhere your derivation. here are two different Sanskrit scholars interpretations. Surendranath Dasgupta writes in his History of Indian Philosophy (Volume 1) - available here on print page 38, digital page 32 - http://consciouslivingfoundation.org/ebooks/13/CLF-HistoryOfIndianPhilosophy.pdf

The meaning of the word Upanisad.

The word Upanisad is derived from the root sad with the prefix ni (to sit), and Max Muller says that the word originally meant the act of sitting down near a teacher and of submissively listening to him. In his introduction to the Upanisads he says, "The history and the genius of the Sanskrit language leave little doubt that Upanisad meant originally session, particularly a session consisting of pupils, assembled at a respectful distance round their teacher [Footnote ref 1]." Deussen points out that the word means "secret" or "secret instruction," and this is borne out by many of the passages of the Upanisads themselves. Max Muller also agrees that the word was used in this sense in the Upanisads [Footnote ref 2]. There we find that great injunctions of secrecy are to be observed for the communication of the doctrines, and it is said that it should only be given to a student or pupil who by his supreme moral restraint and noble desires proves himself deserving to hear them. Sankara however, the great Indian exponent of the Upanisads, derives the word from the root sad to destroy and supposes that it is so called because it destroys inborn ignorance and leads to salvation by revealing the right knowledge. But if we compare the many texts in which the word Upanisad occurs in the Upanisads themselves it seems that Deussen's meaning is fully justified [Footnote ref 3].

Chandradhar Sharma writes in his A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy, p 5 on pdf (available here - https://archive.org/details/IndianPhilosophyACriticalSurvey):


We now come to the Upanisads which are the concluding portion as well as the cream of the Veda and are therefore rightly called ‘Vedanta’. The word ‘Upanisad’ is derived from the root ‘sad’ which means (i) to sit down, (ii) to destroy and (iii) to loosen. ‘Upa’ means ‘near by’ and ‘ni’ means ‘devotedly*. The word therefore means the sitting down of the disciple near his teacher in a devoted manner to receive instruction about the highest Reality which loosens all doubts and destroys all ignorance of the disciple. Gradually the word came to signify any secret teaching about Reality and it is used by the Upanisads in this sense (rahasya or guhya vidya).

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    My derivation is found in one among the three Upanishad books which are published by Ramakrishna Mutt Calcutta. Also i am looking for scriptural references along with the derivations.
    – Rickross
    Commented Mar 22, 2018 at 11:54
  • "So, "near which, sons, animals-like fruits of Upasanas, are specially present". So, going by this derivation, Upanishad refers to an Upasana or a form of worship." is this your interpretation? What book specifically are you referencing and who is the author? Both Nikhilananda's and Prabhavananda's definitions are in accord with the quotes above; as is Vivekananda's - (Complete Works, v1, lecture delivered in San Francisco, May 26, 1900). How can you ask for a scriptural derivation? The word is Sanskrit and is the word used to refer to those works grouped together as the Vedanta. Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 5:07
  • The book name is Upanishad Granthavali..the three book series that the Ramkrishna Mutt publishes..it's translator is Swami Gambhirananda..The derivation i gave is found in footnotes in the commentary of one verse..Yes i can ask..because it's a scriptural term..Upanishat - the word- is found in many scriptures....So it's ok to ask for the Nirukti of it.. Niruktam itself is a scripture being one of the 6 Vedangas..
    – Rickross
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 5:24

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