The South Indian Relationship Chart

I mentioned in my last post that you can explain familial relationships in Kannada using a 2×3 matrix that I wanted to draw some day. The truth is that it is actually a 2xn matrix which I have wanted to draw since childhood. Now that I have reached middle age and in any case the end of the world is near, I have decided that it is not a good idea to delay this any further. So here is the matrix and the explanation.

The matrix has 2 columns, and I have depicted 3 rows, but as each row represents a generation, there are an infinite number of rows. I have numbered the rows 1, 2, and 3, but there will be rows before and after as well.

To use this matrix, first, you place yourself on it. Then you follow 2 simple rules to find the co-ordinates of anyone related to you. Which box they fall in will tell you how they are related to you. This relationship is unambiguous as long as certain (impractical) conditions are satisfied.

The two rules are:

  1. If a person is in a block, his or her father will be in the block immediately above, and vice versa. For example if you are in A2, your father will be in A1. Conversely, if you are male, your children will be in A3.
  2. If a person is in column A, his or her spouse will be in column B of the same row. So if you are in A2, your wife or husband is in B2.

By applying the above two rules iteratively, you can locate any of your relatives. Once you find the block they should be in, look at the legend. Depending on whether their gender and relative age (relative to whom, will be explained further) their relationship with you will be clear. There are some special cases which are also explained.

Let’s see how this works using a few examples.

  1. If you are in A2, your father is in A1. Your siblings, being children of the same father, will be in the same block as you, i.e. A2. So they will be called aNNa, tamma, akka or tangi, depending on whether they are your elder or younger brother or sister.
  2. You are in A2, your father in A1. Your mother, being your father’s wife, is in B1. Because she is your mother and it’s a special case, she’ll be called Amma.
  3. Your father’s siblings will all be in the same box as he is. So his brothers will be either doDDappa or chikkappa to you depending on whether they are older or younger than your father Their wives will be in box B1 and will be doDDamma or chikkamma depending on whose wives they are.
  4. Your mother is also in B1, so her sisters are also doDDamma or chikkamma depending on whether they are older or younger than she. Their husbands are also doDDappa or chikkappa depending on whose husband they are. (I think it won’t matter here whether they are older or younger than your father)
  5. The children of all people in #3 and #4 will be in the same box as you, and therefore will have the same relationship to you as your siblings do – aNNa, tamma, akka or tangi, depending on their gender, and age relative to you.
  6. Your father’s sister, being his sibling, will be in the same box as he. In her case, her relative age doesn’t matter. She will always be called atthe. Similarly, your mother’s brother will always be called mAma (or mAva). A mAva’s wife will also be called atthe and an atthe’s husband will be called mAva, by rule #2.
  7. You are in A2, your spouse is in B2. His or her father is therefore in B1, and will be a mAva to you, and his wife will be in A1, atthe to you.
  8. If you are in block A2, your mother’s brother’s children will be in B2, as will your father’s sister’s children. They will all be bhAva or maiduna, attige or nAdini, depending on whether they are older or younger than you. If you end up marrying one of them, special case rules apply and she’s your henDathi or ganDa depending on gender.
  9. Likewise, if you are in A2, your spouse is in B2, and his or her siblings will also be bhAva or maiduna, attige or nAdini. Here, the age is considered relative to your spouse rather than to yourself. So your wife’s elder sister will be attige even if she is younger than you, and your husband’s younger brother will be maiduna even if he’s older than you.
  10. The rules for maga, magaLu, aLiya and sose are self-explanatory. I have created 2 charts, one to refer to if you are male and another if female, but this is only for convenience and in fact, there is no material difference between the two. If you are male, your children will show up in the block immediately below yours while if you are female, your children will show up in the block below your husband’s.
  11. Your grandparents are all ajja or ajji – there are no special relationships such as naana or daada, unlike Hindi. Grandchildren are all mommakkaLu.

Using these rules, you can place anyone who is related to you by blood or marriage in the matrix. I mentioned in my last post that I worked out that my maternal uncle’s wife’s brother would be chikkappa to me. Applying the rules should make it clear how it works. I (A2) → MAva (B1) → Atthe (B2) → her brother (B2). In B2, male and younger than my father, therefore chikkappa.

This works in every case as long as a simple rule is followed – if marriages happen between A and B of the same row only. This means no inter-generational marriages and no marrying someone in the same box as you are. These rules, to be clear, are not enforced beyond a certain point. For one thing, in South India, there is also a tradition of women marrying their maternal uncles. This matrix breaks down in this case. For another, there are unusual ways in which this rule can be broken. For example, person A’s wife’s brother marries B. Person A’s brother C marries B’s sister D. This is a perfectly normal marriage between two people not related by blood, but according to the rules, C and D would fall in the same box. So while there is no prohibition on this marriage, this anomaly would definitely be noted in the “hey this is interesting” sense. That is because Kannadigas have a mental image of the matrix I have depicted when they use language.

Sanskrit Appellations

(Attention North Indians: Do not swallow the schwa when you read the Devanagari in this post. If you do, many examples will not make sense. For example, अर्जुन is Arjuna, not Arjun)

Sanskrit has this system where you can be addressed by a name formed by your father’s name, mother’s name, the name of one of your prominent ancestors, or even the place where you are from. This name can be used along with your given name, or in place of it.  There are some characters from some of the Itihaasas we know only using their appellations, and we don’t know their given names at all.

For example, अर्जुन is a पाण्डव, though the term is more commonly used as a collective term for the five brothers. He is also referred to as पार्थ and कोैन्तेय after his mother’s names, and those two terms seem to be reserved for him, though there were three others who could be called  पार्थ and कोैन्तेय.  Krishna addressed him as भारत when he made the promise to reincarnate himself, acknowledging his descent from the emperor भरत. Of course, he could also have been called कौरव, but that term was reserved for his cousins. There was another अर्जुन before this one. He was the one who made  Parashurama lose his shit and  go off on a Kshatriya killing spree. He was the son of कृतवीर्य and is known to us as कार्तवीर्यार्जुन. Likewise, कृष्ण, the son of वसुदेव, was known both as वासुदेव कृष्ण and just वासुदेव. He was also referred to as यादव, indicating his descent from यदु, though this term was used for the entire clan as well. 

Among women, we know सीता, the daughter of जनक as जानकी. We also know her as मैथिली because she came from मिथिला. Being addressed by the place of their origin seems to have been common for women, and there are many women we know of in no other way. For example, Dashratha’s wives कौशल्या and कैकेयी were from कोशल and केकय respectively. गांधारी and माद्री were from गांधार and मद्र respectively. We do not know of their given names. द्रौपदी was the daughter of द्रुपद who was from पांचाल and therefore also called पांचाली. I am not sure of her real name either (was it कृष्णा?).  Knowing women by their places of origin seems to have been more common than for men, presumably because women moved to their husbands’ place after marriage, and people at their new homes referred to their daughters in law by where they came from. Presumably that is why we know अंबिका and अंबालिका by their real names; काशेयी would have referred to both of them. Interestingly, I cannot think of any woman who was known by her mother’s name.

In referring to people by their father’s, mother’s, ancestor’s or place name, Sanskrit seems to be using a grammatical transformation that is common in other contexts as well. For example सुन्दर (beautiful) is transformed to साैन्दर्य (beauty). सैन्धव लवण is the mineral (लवण) that came from सिन्धु (sea), a term that survives in Hindi as सैन्धा नमक्. The term लावण्या is obviously related to लवण, telling us that the association of beauty with saltiness has carried into Hindi from Sanskrit. गौरव is that which is due to the गुरु (I will refrain from a fascinating digression into gru, gravity etc.)

This grammatical transformation must have held even when Sanskrit transformed into the Prakrits. Chandragupta मौर्य was so known because he sat on the peacock throne, but मौर्य looks like it must have come from मोर, not मयूर.

So, if you have read so far and are now curious about how to call your children after yourself or your spouse (or yourself after your ancestors) , here are the rules. I’ll add a disclaimer – I have worked out these rules myself, so if there are any errors, corrections or clarifications, please feel free to let me know.

To transform your name into your kids’ appellation, you need to take the first and the last vowel. (and remember that in Sanskrit, the name always ends with a vowel. My name, for example, is रविकिरण – Ravikirana, not रविकिरण्) The first vowel gets transformed into its longest form, while the longest form stays as it is.

  • अ -> आ (यदु -> यादव, पाण्डु -> पाण्डव)
  • इ, ई, ए ->ऐ (दिती -> दैत्य, केकय -> कैकेयी)
  • ऋ ->आर् (कृतवीर्य -> कार्तवीर्य)
  • उ ऊ, ओ, -> औ (कुरु -> कौरव)

The rules for the last vowel are not 100% consistent, but these are the rules:

  • अ stays as it is (वसुदेव -> वासुदेव)
  • आ -> एय (कृतिका -> कार्तिकेय) (Sometimes, it stays as is. पृथा ->पार्थ. In Sanskrit, a word ending with आ would be feminine, so you’d use this to name them after their mother)
  • इ, ई -> य or एय (दिती -> दैत्य, कुन्ति -> कौन्तेय)
  • उ, ऊ , ओ, -> अव (कुरु -> कौरव)
  • The above get adjusted for gender. So a daughter of कुन्ति -> कौन्तेयी

These rules cover almost all the cases. There may be some adjustments for euphony or some cases that I have not thought about, but using the above rules, you should be able to address your son or daughter easily, so go ahead and do that right now.

My sons are राविकिरण if I use my full name, or राव्य if I use my short one. As they are sons of my wife सौम्या as well, they are सौमेय too. One thing I am not sure of is what I will call my grandchildren from my first son. His name is संवाद, and I am not sure what the rules for अं are. I guess I have time to figure it out.

(P.S. According to the above rules, an Indian is either भारत or भरती. The term commonly used for us: भारतीय makes sense if we consider ourselves poetically as the children of mother भारती, but I guess even then, according to the rules, it should be भारतेय, so I am not quite sure how to reconcile them.)

What is Common To? Answered

Six months back I had asked:

What is common to Sanskrit, Brahmin, Sion and Matunga?

The answer is that they are all Indian words written in English that would have been correctly pronounced if they were pronounced the way a native English speaker would pronounce them, but mispronounced because of the way Indians pronounce English.

In “Sanskrit” and “Brahmin”, the “i” is supposed to be pronounced the way it is in “Sir” and the pronunciation would have been correct. Instead, we Indians pronounce them as “Sanskreet” and “Brahmeen” thinking that we are anglicizing them.

“Sion” comes from the Marathi word “Sheev”, which means border. (Sion is the northern border of Bombay city. Beyond it is suburban Bombay.) It is supposed to be pronounced “Seeon”. But everyone pronounces it “Saayan”.

If you were to pronounce the “u” in “Matunga” like the “u” in “but”, you’d be close to the original name of the suburb, which is “Mathanga”, so called apparently because an elephant stable used to be housed there. But everyone calls it “Matoonga”.

Incidentally, the last two examples tell us something about the original inhabitants of Bombay, viz. how few actually exist. They also tell us a lot about the state of Hindi and Marathi scripts in Bombay till recently.