[Author’s Note: I am a great proponent of ‘mytholinguistics’ – the notion that we can make important and useful addeucements as to the effective mythic essence of an element by looking at its etymological roots and likely even further archaic depth of meaning.
And, as part of this, the application of remarkably consistent patterns of development for the mythic conceptry in question in various Indo-European cultures – which seem to suggest patterns of development in the mythology rather akin to the ‘sound-shift laws’ which characterize the linguistic side of things.
Marut is a reasonable potential example for this concept in action; as the underlying situation of the Maruts, the fearsome Marutagana, can be explored via the comparative linguistic analysis – which then helps us to inform various other mythic and sociological perspectives for other Indo-European cultures.
In short: we ‘unlock’ something not only pertaining to the ancient Vedic mythology and culture – but for the broader Indo-European sphere as well.
So, with that in mind – here is an excerpt from my earlier ‘‘Nomads’, ‘Murmurers’, & ‘Death-Seekers At the Border’ – Three Further Perspectives On Barbarians Drawn Into The Broader Indo-European Sphere’, which looks specifically at several terms likely closely related in both linguistic and functional terms to ‘Marut’.
In essence, what we are seeing is a pattern for the Marut as a (potentially young) warrior, a ‘Martial’ figure, a ‘glory-seeker’ or ‘death-seeker’, and hailing from a ‘fringe’ position’ for ‘civilized, acceptable society’. As befits, after all, Their Father – the mighty Rudra / Dyaus, a deific often noted to have just such a ‘barbaric’ position upon the ‘Wild’ margins; both as protector from what is out there, and effective master of that demesne.]
One which is on somewhat surer footing (by which I mean, I had overseen and been able to check this one myself) – is मर्यादा (Maryada).
Now this is, again, fascinating on a comparative basis. The actual term itself is supposed to mean ‘Boundary, Border’. It is hypothesized to derive from Proto-Indo-European *Mori to refer to a ‘sea’ – an obvious ‘hard limit’ on territory. Except I’m not quite sure how correct that may be. PIE *Mori is, itself, from PIE *Mer – a term that simultaneously encompasses in its meaning-field both bodies of water (compare ‘Mere’, ‘Mare’, or ‘Mer’ in more recent European languages) and Death. The coterminity on it is best explicated mytholinguistically – both in terms of both Death and a body of water being somewhere one can ‘Disappear’ (also part of PIE *Mer’s meaning field) … and more especially the notion of water as ‘liminal space’ between the Worlds. Whether we are speaking of the Sea of Sky which must be sailed to reach the Afterworld (‘Underworld’ is not quite the right term of reference for reasons which ought be obvious – see my previous works for additional explication), or we are looking at the River of the Dead which turns up with such regularity across an array of Indo-European descended cosmologies and metempsychotic jaunts.
The reason I have really dived into this etymological matter here, is because that *Mer, as in ‘Death’ … also has some conceptual resonancy for *yet another* PIE *Mer – in this case, to mean a young person (frequently – although not always – a ‘young man’). It turns into an array of subsequent terms of potential bearing upon these matters. One which I ought flag for later investigation is my spur-of-the-moment supposition that ‘Mars’ and ‘Martial’ may be thusly derived – something which I have not seen suggested by orthodox linguistics which instead sees the origins for these terms in Etruscan (a situation which need not countermand a PIE root – given well-founded academic re-evaluation of Etruscan as a potentially Indo-European language) or simply leaves it unexplained. [Slight update: it would appear that there have indeed been some previous scholars who have sought to link Mars to Latin ‘Mas’ – with ‘Mas’ having upon occasion been supposed to link to PIE *Mer, although this proposal having been moved away from in more recent years. I am evidently in good, if archaic, company then. Just where I prefer to be – at least some of the time.]
However, the main suite of meaning of interest for us here is an impressively broad one. By which I mean geographically in its evident breadth of dispersion. How broad? Well, it turns up rather prominently in the ancient Near East – not ordinarily thought of as Indo-European territory (Hittites and Mittani overlords excepted) – where we find the ‘Maryannu’ … chariot-mounted warriors, who appear to have imported both term, technology and tactics from the Indo-Aryan expansion then ongoing much further to the East. How do we know? Because we find just such an Indo-Aryan superstrate for Mitanni brought in along with the swift-moving warriors who were the effective core and likely ruling elite for that Confederation. Indeed, via the linguistics of the horse-training manual of Kikkuli it should seem quite plausible that there were ongoing interrelations between the Mitanni sphere and that of the more ‘core’ Indo-Aryans who had then entered into the SubContinent.
In any case, Maryannu is, in essence, Indo-Aryan ‘Marya’ with the addition of a localized suffix (ostensibly Hurrian) – eminently appropriate for a polity which was substantively Hurrian with an Indo-Aryan warrior elite.
Why is this of interest to us? Simply put – because those ‘Marya’ acting as warriors, horse-borne and hungry for glory, don’t just show up in the Levant or in worried Egyptian letters detailing the happenings there in same. They also show up in both the archaic major subdivisions of Indo-Iranian – as Marya, as we have met, in Indo-Aryan and thence Sanskrit, and as Mairya in Avestan. And the contrast could not be more apparent.
In Sanskrit, ‘Marya’ ( मर्य ) means – an array of things, including simply a young man, a suitor, or a stallion (perhaps akin to both ‘horseman’, and the other more figurative connotation of calling a man a ‘stallion’ today, Italian or otherwise). In Avestan? Mariya turns up in post-Zoroaster [i.e. post-Zoroastrian Heresy and accompanying social and religious “reformation”] usage to refer to not simply ‘warriors’ – but raiders, marauders, ‘scoundrels’ (as M. Boyce renders the figurative connotation). To be clear about this … these are the exact same figures, broadly speaking, as their Vedic Sanskrit counterparts – only the ‘valuation’ has significantly shifted in Avestan usage due to the Zoroastrian ethos.
Partially, this was due to the perception that such activities were incompatible with the ‘social order’ Zoroaster wished to promulgate – and so therefore could not be part of the society. That would be the ‘official reason’.
The somewhat less officially stated – yet more comprehensively correct account expands upon this, and notes that the ‘revaluation’ largely due to the fact that these warrior-bands were bastions of religious conservatism and the orthodoxy we should find quite recognizable to the religious spheres of the Vedic and Scythian / Turanic #GangSteppe peoples. That is to say, they were therefore living, breathing manifestations of what Zoroaster and his reformers hated and feared upon a metaphysical basis – as well as what defeated them in the civil war they sparked up in Bactria and which resulted in the Zoroastrian exodus to Media far to the west. Not for nothing do we find ‘Mairya’ utilized to refer to Angra Mainyu, and – as Wikander observes – an effective synonym for ‘Daevic’ [i.e. ‘Divine’ in the proper understanding – ‘Demonic’ in the insistent calumny of the Zoroastrians]. Holy Warriors, we might almost venture. Certainly fighting against a most unholy cause indeed !
As a point of further interest – Marut , the fearsome Storm-Sons of Rudra Dyaus Pitar and Aditi , is plausibly somewhat coterminous with these terms – however, not necessarily in the direct sense occasionally proffered of descending directly from Death (notwithstanding, of course, that yes, yes the Maruts do directly descend from not one but two deities that may be fairly addressed as ‘Death’ in relevant circumstances and contexts … I mean PIE *Mer – with the ‘Sea’ understanding perhaps being additionally relevant given the Sky of Sea concept known to exist in archaic Indo-European cosmology … the Maruts, after all, having a rather prominent association with the Rain which is Water From On High – ‘Sea People’ again, perhaps .. again, somewhat jokingly).
Rather, it would be via the useful intermediary of that which is implied by this third *Mer sense – pertaining to the young person. The same one which gives us ‘Marya’, ‘Mairyu’, and ‘Maryannu’, etc. Why? Because the warband in question – in this case, the true and direct Sons of the Sky Father and the Radiant Queen of the Heavens, iconographically described in terms that seem *suspiciously* resonant with how the Scythians appear to have endeavoured to come across, if the archaeological finds at Pazyryk for ‘horse-antlers’ etc. are anything to go by …
This warband – or, if you prefer, ‘mannerbund’ – is not simply comprised of ‘Young Heroes’. Rather, the essential characteristic for these young men is to be found in that other sense to PIE *Mer – ‘Death’. What am I saying? That these young warriors are, in a sense, ‘death-seekers’, ‘daredevils’, engaged in the sorts of things which younger men are so renowned for: derring-do and attempts to impress through ‘do-first, think-later’ conduct so typical of humans whose prefrontal cortexes aren’t *quite* in full commission yet. And who therefore do not, perhaps paradoxically, fully comprehend their own mortality in earnest.
All of which brings us nicely back to Sanskrit ‘Maryada’ ( मर्यादा ). Which is, per folk-etymology upon the subject, derived from our friend ‘Marya’ ( मर्य ) in conjunction with ‘Ada’ ( अद – cognate with ‘Eat’ and meaning ‘Devourer’, ‘Carnivorous’); effectively giving a meaning of ‘The Young Men Devoured / Consumed [By Warfare] In Securing The Border’. The more standard suggestion would instead trace it via ‘Maryaa’ ( मर्या – ‘Limit’, ‘Measure’, cognate with English ‘March’, ‘Mark’ – interestingly also related to Sanskrit मार्ग (‘Marga’), which, as ‘Track’, turns also into a term for wild animal and informs certain ‘Hunter’ conceptry likewise .. including pointed Shaivite conceptry in scripture), and I shall perhaps leave the various permutations of ‘Ada’ and ‘Da’ conceptry to inform the second half for another piece.
In any case, where I was ultimately going with all of this was the notion of the Barbarian as the ‘Man Upon The Periphery’. Something which, to be sure, usually posits the Barbarian in question as being on the other side from the viewer (and it is always a useful question to ponder just which side of the glass one is really on, to reference me some Trent Reznor at this odd hour of the morning), a ‘Wolf At Your Door’ looking to rampage on in to the realm of civilization and civility.
Yet with this figurative understanding and folk-etymology for ‘Maryada’, I suggest that we have something quite different. The Marya may indeed be something of a ‘Barbaric’ figure (to the terror of the Zoroastrian and the delight of the Vedic Arya in seeming not-quite equal measure), yet here we see the ‘barbaric’ warrior standing watch on the border against the invader, the interloper, the invidious infidel. A most ‘Martial’ situation and standing indeed !