Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Shantih Shantih Sieg Heil

I’ve already done a post about something I saw on Bali that combined European culture, modern Asia and Sanskrit word origins (chess). Oddly, that was merely the second most mind-blowing thing I witnessed on that trip which combined those exact same fields of interest. If you are someone who does not already know Sanskrit but who happens to be as interested in connections between far-flung words as I am, prepare to be thunderstruck. Both of you.

As we were being shamanistically blessed by a woman along the side of the road (it was the van driver’s idea, and is a good example of why a trip to Bali does have redeeming features, despite what my lovely wife might say), she came up to my window (the Balinese witch doctrix, not Kim), smeared some grains of rice on my forehead, and reverently said to me: “Om Swasti asti blabitty blah blah blah…”. There was a lot more to the blessing than that, but who cares.

I knew the old Hakenkreuz was an ancient religious symbol – but I didn’t know that the exact same word more or less was still a friendly everyday greeting on Bali. What the heck? Then it hit me – and this is the moment of utter jaw-dropping etymological pyrotechnics – if “swasti(ka)” is some sort of cheery salutation then maybe, I thought, it’s the same thing as hello in Thai; “sawadee ka”.

It was like the globe had just twisted into a Klein bottle. Nazi soldiers and Thai monks went around saying the exact same word several times a day? That’s insane. That’s like learning that “colostomy bag” means the same thing as “fuzzy bunny”. A similar revelation which blew my mind back in the day was that “Aryan” and “Iran” are more or less the same word, but this swastika thing stretched even further across the globe, and was even more bizarre.

I haven’t actually found that much direct information yet about the connection between swastika and sawadee ka. If you happen to know anything on the subject let me know. Maybe the “ka” suffix part is just a coincidence and only swasti is really a leftover from Sanskrit, I dunno.


Anonymous said...

As one of the two interested people, just let me say ... wow. Pretty amazing.

This is one of the mindblowing things about language. It's like this invisible infrastructure underlying culture, intellect, meaning, belief, connecting us in weird and intricate ways.

I would suggest that you call into Away with Words (or A Way with Words, I can never remember which) but I think they only do English...

Anonymous said...

Wow, I never made the Thai connection before, even though my Dad, who is Indian, is always harping on about the theft of that sacred symbol.

Jinna said...

This is random, but how come my post (first one) is signed as anonymous? :(

albtraum said...

Jinna - I think it happened when I switched from to blogger beta or whatever it's called ... I think the second comment used to have a name too. argh.