So far I have been breaking the word into nara (नर) + Ayana (आयन) = home of nara (jiva). But lately I have realized I couldn't break it this way because to make it nArAyaNa (नारायण), nAra (नार) is needed instead of nara (नर). So what is the correct etymology of nArAyaNa? Was I correct anyhow?

  • NAra+ayana=Water+Home means who rest in water. Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 6:21
  • Monier-Williams translates NAra as water. Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 6:34
  • 1
    नार + आयन makes नारायण (न becomes ण with र as per Sanskrit rules). So Narayana = home of water, or one whose surroundings are water.
    – user14995
    Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 6:41

4 Answers 4


I quote the following from the book Manusmriti:

He thought deeply, for he wished to emit various sorts of creatures from his own body; first he emitted the waters, and then he emitted his semen in them. That semen became the golden egg as bright as the sun with his thousand rays; Brahma himself, the grandfather of all people, was born in that egg. 'The waters are born of man' so it is said; indeed the waters are the children of the primordial man. And since they were his resting place in ancient time, there he is traditionally known as Narayana ('Resting on those born of man').

Narayana means resting on those born of man. Water is born of man. Therefore Narayana means resting on water.

The actual verse from Manusmriti:

Verse 1.10 [Meaning of the term ‘Nārāyaṇa’]

आपो नारा इति प्रोक्ता आपो वै नरसूनवः ।
ता यदस्यायनं पूर्वं तेन नारायणः स्मृतः ॥ १० ॥

āpo nārā iti proktā āpo vai narasūnavaḥ |
tā yadasyāyanaṃ pūrvaṃ tena nārāyaṇaḥ smṛtaḥ || 10 ||

Water is called ‘nara,’ — water being the offspring of nara; since water was the first thing created by (or, the original residence of) that being, he is, on that account, described as ‘nārāyaṇa.’ — (10)

(Sanskrit text, Unicode transliteration and English translation by Ganganath Jha)


Narayana consists of two words as Naara+Ayana. Naara means water and Ayana means home. It is mentioned in Mahabharata, Vana Parva, SECTION CLXXXVIII.

3 आपॊ नारा इति परॊक्ताः संज्ञा नाम कृतं मया
तेन नारायणॊ ऽसम्य उक्तॊ मम तद धययनं सदा

In ancient times I called the waters by the name of Nara; and because the waters have ever been my ayana or home, therefore have I been called Narayana (the water-homed).

There is website Digital Corpus of Sanskrit, that breaks the above shloka and give word by word meaning.

āpo nārā iti proktāḥ saṃjñānāma kṛtaṃ mayā / (3.1)
ap [n.p.m.] nāra [n.p.m.] iti [indecl.] pravac [PPP] saṃjñā [comp.]-nāman [n.s.n.] kṛ [PPP] mad [i.s.a.]

tena nārāyaṇo 'smyukto mama taddhyayanaṃ sadā // (3.2)
tad [i.s.n.] nārāyaṇa [n.s.m.] as [1. sg. Ind. Pr.]-vac [PPP] mad [g./o.s.a.] tad [n.s.n.]-hi [indecl.]-ayana [n.s.n.] sadā [indecl.]

  • Is there any subtle meaning available? Maybe philosophical. Why jala tattva here? Is there any specific reason ? Et al. Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 7:32
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    @Rohit. Mahabharata says: "Water was created by (the Rishi) Nara, and it formed his corpus; therefore do we hear it styled as Nara. And because it formed his Ayana (resting-place) therefore is he known as Narayana." Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 8:53

You are correct -- in order to split nArayaNa, you cannot to nara + ayana. One of the correct split is na+ara+ayana. What doe this means? The word 'ara' means flaw (dOSha). When you have 'na' prefix it renders as 'absence of flaw'. Thus, the tatva which is 'ayana' (meaning aashraya/adobe) for flawlessness is called nArayaNa. Hence the philosophical doctrine of nArayaNa/vishNu being dOShavarjittaM (flawlessness) is core concept in Madhva's doctrine. There is a book by Sri.Jalahalli Sreenivasa Tirtha called 'nArayaNa shabdArtha' where some 76 different meanings for 'nArayaNa' word is expounded. Please read if you find a chance.

  • Nara means wind one who stays with wind
    – Prasanna R
    Commented Jan 19, 2019 at 5:05
  • Nara means Lakshmi one who stays with Lakshmi always
    – Prasanna R
    Commented Jan 19, 2019 at 5:06

The Aryans didn't know the ocean where they started from - Central Asia. There are even some disputes whether "Samudra" means ocean. At any rate Narayana is absent from Rig Veda.

"ayana" doesn't mean resting place - the word for resting place is "ayatana".

"Narayana" is a Dravidian loan word into Sanskrit - the Dravidians were sea-faring from way back. Also in modern North India, "narayana" has changed to "narain" - showing that it is of a derivation that was strange to descendant of Vedic Aryans.


In the Tamil language, spoken in Tamil Nadu, the word tannir, which is tan (cool) plus nir (water) means cool water. In other Dravidian languages, spoken in south India, the word for water is nira, niru, or nir. But in Sanskrit, the language in which the early scriptures, the Vedas, were written, the words for water are apa or jala, which are completely different. Consequently, one might look to a Dravidian source for the origins of the story of Narayana on the waters.

Also in Tamil, the word ay means to lie down or to go to sleep, and the syllable an is a grammatical masculine ending; this gives the meaning for Narayana as “he lies down or sleeps on the waters.”

It would seem to make sense that the south of India, bordered on all sides by the ocean, might be the source of this evocative story of Narayana, who rises from the waters to re-create the world, after the mahapralaya, or great destruction.

  • 3
    People come up with such nonsense etymology all the time, go to quora and search for a person named "ravi sivan" who keeps coming up with such hair splitting etymology acc to him whole Sanskrit is derived from Tamil acc to him. Linguists are shook.
    – Anisha
    Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 15:45
  • Which words are Indo-European and which words are Dravidian can be usually discerned by how they sound and what happens to them in Hindi. "Hiranya" goes back to Indo-iranian bur "kashipu" is not Aryan and thats why modern day north-indians have to make a special effort to say "hiranyakashipu" instead of what sounds more natural to them "hiranyakashyap".
    – S K
    Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 15:52
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    There are no Aryans and Dravidians. Dravida itself is Sanskrit word Dravya + vida (place surrounded by water, which is attribute). This was debunked timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/…
    – The Destroyer
    Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 16:43
  • your citation is from 2009. Much water has flown under the bridge since then. It was fairly clear from looking at people like Raj Kapoor, most Pakistani Panjabis et al - but now with affluence, nutrition, exercise etc - that upper caste North Indians are of Caucasian origin is beyond doubt. @the destroyer
    – S K
    Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 16:50
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    @SK but all scriptures say "Hiranyakashipu" . Also, what north Indians feel natural or not does not affirm the authenticity of Sanskrit words. I live in north, so I know how much wrong they speak Sanskrit. They say "Putra" as "Puttar", they cannot pronounce "Aadhyaatma" and pronounced "Aadhyaatam", et cetera. They cannot even say "Shaarnga" they call it "Shaarang". Also they say "Shraap", where as correct Sanskrit word is "Shaapa". North is no better anymore at right Sanskrit pronunciation as any other part of country. I have seen myself students struggling to read Sanskrit in classroom.
    – user14995
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 16:17

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