Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 4 : 6 June 2004

Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Associate Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.


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Copyright © 2004
M. S. Thirumalai

Arvind Kumar
Author of Greatly Acclaimed Hindi Thesaurus


The tradition of glossaries, thesauruses and dictionaries in India goes back to the Vedic age, estimated to be anywhere from 5,000 BC to 1,500 BC. The pride of being the world's first known thesaurus may go to Nighantu. It was compiled by THE sage Kashyapa, and was a glossary of Vedic words, arranged subject-wise. Sage Yask wrote a treatise on it, called Nirukt. Every Vedic scholar was made to memorize and master Nirukt, because a proper and precise understanding of words and their context was considered of utmost importance in carrying the Vedas, literally knowledge, from person to person and generation to generation.

Over the centuries, the tradition led to the compilation of many famous Sanskrit dictionaries. The Shabdakalpadrum, a Sanskrit dictionary, lists 29 such earlier works. Most these too were arranged subject-wise and were thesauruses in a very broad sense.


Amar Kosh is at the apex of all the Sanskrit thesauruses. Its author Amar Singh gave his work the title of Namalinganushashan, i.e., the Discipline of Names and Genders. It was also called Trikand -- after its three cantos. However, popularly it is known only as Amar Kosh, to commemorate the great achievement of its author, just as the English thesaurus is better known as Roget's Thesaurus, in all its editions and variations.

The exact time of the appearance of Amar Kosh is not known. It may have been written anytime between the sixth and the tenth century AD. Ancient Indians never cared to keep an exact record of dates. Like Roget's Thesaurus, Amar Kosh was an instant hit. Ever since, it has been the subject of many treatises. Its Hindi commentator Pandit Haragovida Sastri lists 41 treatises. Its fame crossed the trans-Himalayan borders of India and spread far and wide. It is said that one Pandit Gunaraj translated it into the Chinese language some time in the 6th century. The Persian Khalikbari was directly inspired by it.

Amar Kosh has also been translated into many European languages. From one such translation, Peter Mark Roget was well acquainted with Amar Kosh. In a footnote to the Introduction of his first edition, he writes:

The following are the only publications that have come to my knowledge in which any attempt has been made to construct a systematic arrangement of ideas with a view to their expression. The earliest of these, supposed to be at least nine hundred years old, is Amera Cosha, or Vocabulary of the Sanskrit Language, by Amera Sinha, of which an English translation, by late Henry T. Colebrooke, was printed at Serampore, in the year 1808.

Roget goes on to comment:

The classification of words is there, as might be expected, exceedingly imperfect and confused, especially in all that relates to abstract ideas or mental operations. This will be apparent from the very title of the first section, which comprehends Heaven, Gods, Demons, Fire, Air, Velocity, Eternity, Much; while Sun, Virtue, Happiness, Destiny, Cause, Nature, Intellect, Reasoning, Knowledge, Senses, Tastes, Odours, Colours, are all included and jumbled together in the fourth section (of the first canto).

Roget also expresses some satisfaction with Amar Kosh. He goes on to say:

A more logical order, however, pervades the sections (in the second canto) relating to natural objects, such as Seas, Earth, Towns, Plants, and Animals, which form separate classes; exhibiting a remarkable effort at so remote a period of Indian literature.


No doubt that Roget was a dispassionate scientist-philosopher, who liked everything to be properly categorized and ordered. However, the point Roget missed was that if any work of this nature has to have any relevance to its users, the categorisation in a work of associative contexts and the structure adopted in such works should be relevant to that society and the time in which such works are produced.

Amar Singh lived in an ancient oriental society. This society had a social pattern that was unique to India. Outsiders have come to know a lot about it but they always find it difficult to follow its 'mental operations'. This society was compartmentalised in a rigid system of four well-defined Varnas or castes or classes of people, namely, the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas and the Shudras. In this society, everybody had a given vocation and social status. These were decided by the Varna in which a person was born and bred.

Above all, in this society, everybody's desires and motivations, thoughts and actions, were guided by a plethora of native religions most of which taught that attainment of moksha or nirvana was the only goal worthy of a human being. All human activity, including pursuit of wealth, was a means to that end. Human destiny was guided by the supreme beings who inhabited the heavens.

This society guided not only Amar Singh's personal world-view but also that of his audience.

Let us look into Amar Kosh and its structure and see how it was very much relevant to its contemporary audience, though Roget, belonging to a different society and period, found it rather inadequate. This will also help us in getting a better idea of the problems of a thesaurus's structure in general.


The Sanskrit language has a vast repertory of words, but Amar Kosh lists only about 8,000, most of them nouns or names as many Sanskrit grammarians referred to them. These are versified in 1,502 shlokaS, organized in three cantos and divided into 25 headings. One subject leads to the next associated with it, or to its opposite. The poetic form at times forces the author of Amar Kosh to deviate from the strict path of orderliness. At times, we find him taking short detours from the main line. The following table will give you a broad idea of how Amar Kosh is organised.

Canto 1 Canto 2 Canto 3
1. Heaven 1. Earth 1. Adjectives
2. Sky 2. Towns 2. Words with
narrow meanings
3. Directions 3. Mountains 3. Words with
many meanings
4. Time 4. Plants 4. Non-changing words
-- avyayas
5. Intellect 5. Animals 5. Words as per gender
6. Words 6. Man
7. Dramatic Arts 7. Brahmins or priests
8. The Nether World 8. Kshatriyas or warriors
9. Hell 9. Vaishyas
or traders and farmers
10. Water 10. Shudras or menial

It is appropriate that Amar Singh starts his work with the canto called The Heavens Group and the first heading in this canto too is Heaven. Heaven and gods occupied the top place in that society and guided not only destiny but also all social activity.


Let us have a closer look at the contents of some of the word-groups under the first heading Heaven.

1. Heaven
Gods as such
Adityas -- the main gods, sons of Aditi
Types of gods -- enumerates 11 types of gods
Asuras or demons -- they too were considered gods in the beginning, but, like Satan, fell from their position later (Their placement here may also be taken as the opposites of the previous).
Buddha -- (because he places Buddha before Brahma and others, Amar Sinha is supposed to be a Buddhist by religion.)
Kamadeva or cupid
Lakshmi -- the consort of Vishnu
Belongings of Vishnu -- like his conch, chakra, gada, sword, jewel, the sign on his body, his horses, his charioteer, his minister, and finally the eagle whom he rides in the skies

In a similar manner, Amar Singh goes on to give names and synonyms of various gods and the things associated with each of them.

Sun, Fire and Air too are gods in Indian mythology. It was appropriate for these to get their place here. Various aspects of it follow each one. For example, Fire is followed by flame, spark, heat, ash ... and Air by various type of storms, various types of air that reside in the body, and Pran the breath. Since in the Indian mind air was associated with speed, it finds its place here, and so does continuity and quickness.

The fact remains that many of the Hindu gods represent human sensibilities and various aspects of nature on which the humans subsisted. Intellect was considered a heavenly attribute, and mind and the senses were supposed to be its aspects. Word or language, dramatics, etc., again relate to intellectual activity. Dramatics (including performing arts) especially was part of religious activity and a gift of the gods.

Roget found the placement of these under the heading Heaven 'jumbled together'. However, it was quite logical to Amar Singh's time and society, given their worldview based on Varna and belief in mythology.


We saw earlier that the first five headings of the Second Canto, generally known as The Earth Group, got some approval from Roget. These are the ones that deal with 'natural objects', namely Earth, Towns, Mountains, Plants, Animals. (Later on, in our discussion, we will see that even these groups have not been treated by the thesaurus makers of the past or present times in a very scientific or methodical manner.)

However, the last five headings in the Second Canto are of greater interest to us. It is in them that we discover how society dictates the classification and placement of word-groups in a thesaurus. Let us take a look:

The first one of these, i.e., No. 6 is devoted to Human Beings. In this Amar Singh tells us about things he thought pertained to humanity as such, e.g., man, male, female, types of women ... young girl, young woman ... relatives like son, brother, sister ... weakling, strongman, fat man, disease ... I will not go into more detail of these and other word-groups included in this heading because of the shortage of space and time.

From the heading 7 Brahmins onwards, Amar Singh enters the realm of social organisation. As pointed out earlier, Indian society in the Brahminical ages was organised on the basis of four well-known Varnas. I do not wish to either justify or reject the system then prevailing in this article. One has to keep in mind that to an Indian living in that age the only valid point of reference available to him or her was this sysgtem. Every social activity was based on this system. All artefacts and products were identified with these Varnas.

It may be beneficial if we go into some details of any one of these groups. Well ... let us go to the Kshatriyas then.

The following table represents only a few of the first word-groups under this heading.

8. Kshatriyas. They were the rulers and warriors. Naturally, this heading contains words pertaining to them, their activities like ruling and war, mental attributes like bravery and cowardice, and objects and things like horses and arms associated with them.
Types of kings
Purohit or the priest of King
Judges and justice
Headmen -- like the village headman, the head of the mint, the keeper of the harem, the eunuch
Subordinates, servants
Other kings -- Enemy king, friend king, non-aligned king, king who defends and takes care of the fort when a king is out on a conquest
Request -- requests can be made only to a friend...

It may be interesting to note that death is included under this heading. Obviously so. Kshatriyas fought wars, war meant death. War also meant prisoners of war, and the heading concludes with them.


I will now give just a very fleeting glimpse of the Third Canto. It is titled Words in General. Here the subject matter and the author's approach are very different from what we have seen so far. It is divided into five headings. (Pl see the chart above.)

The first of these contains adjectives. The word-groups are put together either by association or juxtaposition. To give a few examples--- tolerant, angry, very angry, awake, swaying with sleep, one who sleeps, asleep, facing the other way, facing down, one who worships gods, one who worships everything... We see the same approach through to the fourth heading.

The fifth and the last heading in this canto is called Words as per genders. In this the word-groups are organised by the last letters, much like any other dictionary of its time.

To summarize, the structure of Amar Kosh is partly based on classification and partly on social or linguistic associations. The social and linguistic association is mostly reflected in word-groups connected with human activity. Its third canto is partly glossary and partly thesaurus.


Various terms like hierarchical, classificational, domain-specific and associative have been used to describe the manner of collection of words in groups according to their subject or topic and the placement of these groups in the context of other groups. One may call this the structure, framework, organization, or arrangement of a thesaurus.

Talking of Roget's arrangement of word-groups, Susan M. Lloyd, who prepared the Longman's 1982 edition, tells us in her Preface to the 1982 edition:

Roget arranged his...material into a comprehensive framework with a clearly visible structure, in which each topic, or concept, had its own logical place. In this, he was following in the steps of the seventeenth century philosophers such as Leibnitz, who had attempted the classification of concepts as a preliminary to inventing a Universal Language...

However, this approach does not take one very far in a thesaurus. Roget had to deviate from it more often than not. Under the subheading The originality of the Thesaurus, of the above Preface, Susan M. Lloyd has this to say, in Roget's defence:

While Roget approved of Wilkins's aims, and expressed his wish that his own classification might be instrumental in preparing the way for further investigations into a Universal Language, his primary intention in compiling the Thesaurus was more practical: to offer the reader a choice of expressions from which he or she could choose the most suitable or the most effective in a given context. His task, then, was twofold. First, like the philosophers, he had to create a hierarchy of concepts, which would provide the framework for his book; then he had to discover and classify the language, which could express these concepts. While the philosophers sought to simplify, in order to discover what they hoped were the limited number of concepts basic to any language, Roget had to recognise and come to grips with the protean ambiguity of the language itself, with all its interrelationships and its infinite capacity for expressing shades of meaning.

One need not elaborate further, since Susan Lloyd has very succinctly put her finger on the crux of the problem of creating and following a structure in a Thesaurus.


Categorization of 'natural objects' like species, and placing them in a scientific manner at first, might seem a very easy task. It does not turn out to be so in a thesaurus. Let us take a look.

How do we place various animals and living beings with reference to others? One may choose to place lion either alphabetically within a broad group called animals or under a true hierarchical and zoological categorisation. Nobody has done this.

Susan Lloyd's edition places lion under the heading 365 Animals/cats. Roget's International Thesaurus (Fourth Edition) (revised by Robert L. Chapman), Harper & Row, 1997, puts lion under the heading 414 Animal/27 (wild cats) and lists it also under the subheading 58 Mammals. Another edition, Roget's International Thesaurus, Third Edition, Collins, London and Glasgow, reprinted 1974, lists lion under the heading 413 Animals/4 (wild animals). However, and quite mysteriously, the same edition puts lioness much later under the heading 420 Feminity/10 (female animals).

All these editions are published under the selling brand name of Roget, and broadly follow the original structure devised by Roget. None of these placements is very scientific or methodical, if one may say so. All of them derive inspiration from a societal context.

Tom MacArthur breaks new ground in his Lexicon of Contemporary English (Longman 1981) by devising a totally different structure. In this work, A50 Animals/Mammals is an independent heading having various subheadings. Lion is included (with illustration) under subhead A53: the cat and similar animals. He gives words for a female and a young lion at the same place. However, this work is not a thesaurus in the sense that it does not offer synonyms. Its purpose is to place words of a similar nature for a user to understand and appreciate subtle semantic distinctions.


To a poet a lion may remind of the deer that the lion hunts, as it certainly would a Sanskrit poet in whose imagery the two are linked through the sport of hunting. Thus, in Amar Kosh, we find lion as the first subcategory in the Second Canto's heading 5 Lions etc. Amar Singh starts with lion considered to be the king of animals and puts many other wild animals just after it and concludes the subsection with cat, iguana, and porcupine. The wild animals lead him to deer that the lion hunts. From the deer, he goes on to enumerate legendary beings that in his times were counted among animals.

What is remarkable is that Amar Singh does not list all the animals here. One finds cattle like cow, sheep, under the Vaishyas, because animal husbandry was their profession. Elephants, horses, etc. are under the Kshatriyas. It was they who used them in warfare. Similarly, in Susan Lyod's Longman edition the main entry for horses is under the heading 273 Carrier.


This brings me to another and perhaps more important aspect of the subject: How to arrange, in a thesaurus, various headings with reference to others. Let us, for the time being, remain with the lion and the deer and consider where may the word-groups connected with hunting be placed. Under sport? To the kings in historical times, it was a sport. To many it is a sport even now. Under jungle? Why not? Jungle may remind one of hunting? Under bravery? Under adventure? Under professions? To a hunter who lives on his spoils from it, it is a profession. In such a scheme, it might be placed near butcher. Under violence? To a Vaishnavite Hindu or a Jain, who believes in non-violence, it represents nothing but abhorable violence.

Susan Lloyd's edition puts hunting under the heading 619 Pursuit. In Roget's International Thesaurus (Third Edition) Collins 1963, the headword is Pursuit, but the heading number is 653. In Roget's International Thesaurus (Fourth Edition) revised by Robert L. Chapman, Harper and Row, 1977 the heading number is 655.

The concept Pursuit forms a minor part of this heading. It gets two paragraphs pursuit and pursuer as nouns, later followed by one paragraph as verbs, one as adjectives and another as adverbs. The rest of the word-groups under Pursuit are: hunting, fishing, hunter, fisher, quarry, (to) hunt, fish, and the interjections hunting cries.

At times one wonders that the topic of Pursuit did not remind Roget of a policeman in pursuit of a thief. Or why did he not create an independent heading hunting which could have found its due place elsewhere? Maybe the idea of pursuit could remain where it is with more word-groups like following, coming after. But following reminded Roget of followers and courtiers--the concepts that could be accommodated elsewhere.

As far as the question of placement of the heading Pursuit is concerned, in all the Roget editions, it comes under the general class Volition. Susan's edition puts it under 2 Prospective volition/conceptional with the following plan:

617 Intention
618 Nondesign
619 Pursuit
620 Avoidance
621 Relinquishment

In Roget's International Thesaurus (Fourth Edition) by Chapman (Harper & Row) it is under Volition/Purpose with this plan:

653 Intention
654 Plan
655 Pursuit
656 Business, Occupation
Roget's International Thesaurus (Third Edition) (Collins) follows the above plan with no divergence.


Tony MacArthur, in his Lexicon, again breaks new ground. He puts hunting in the broad category M Movement, Location, Travel, and Transport/Moving, Coming, and Going, where under M34 are found following, chasing, hunting. This is preceded by M33 hurrying and rushing, and followed by M35 escaping, etc.

In the same work, hunting also features in the broad category N General and Abstract Terms/Showing, Hiding, Finding, Saving, and similar words where under N359 seeking and searching, one finds hunt as one of the keywords. In the same subcategory, hunt features as a keyword in N361 finding, discovering, etc. However, fishing has been delinked from hunting and features under K Entertainment, Sports, and Games/K 190 Outdoor Games.

One can understand this rather easily. Hunting is no longer a sport in western society, while fishing continues to be. Still one feels some sort of a link could be provided between hunting and fishing.

Even though hunting was a kingly sport in Amar Singh's time, in Amar Kosh, it features as a profession, and is placed under heading 10 Shudras.

Another important point to be noted here is that while the dramatics was a heavenly activity and was listed along with gods, professional dramatists, along with musicians feature under Shudras. It may be shocking to many today, but was quite natural at that time!

All this goes to show that any placement of words or word-groups in a thesaurus is at best arbitrary. Everyone tries to be as logical as possible in a field that can only be partly logical. At this point one may say in the passing that the study of language may be a science, but development of languages is generally associational which is mostly unscientific in the sense that it defies the rules of scientific taxonomy.


When we (I with my wife Kusum as the only assistant) started work on our Samantar Kosh, we thought our job would be rather easy. Did we not have the excellent model of Roget to follow! As a first step, we assigned numbers to all the concepts as per our model. We thought that now all we had to do was to add Hindi words to them. Very soon we discovered that it would not work. Indian sensibility did not lead the reader as per Roget.

To give an example, Roget saw hereafter and doomsday in the context of Future. An Indian would be more comfortable if hereafter led him to life after death, rebirth, incarnation, this incarnation, past incarnation, moksha. To an Indian's way of looking at things, doomsday may have more to do with the end of the world juxtaposed to creation. A God-fearing Muslim or Christian would think of doomsday linked to heavenly justice and retribution.

When Roget failed us, we thought of pursuing Amar Kosh! However, we found that Amar Singh was too much out of tune with the expansion of knowledge and language. Also, Indian society has changed radically since Amar Singh's day. No longer is an Indian reminded of war or arms with reference to a Kshatriya. Nor would he think of lion in the context of a Kshatriya or of cow in that of a Vaishya. The Shudras are no longer menials or servants.


The sombre realisation was that we had no model to follow. We decided to develop our own system as we progressed with the work. The most important question was: What order, sequence, and pattern to give to our word-groups so that a reader could make the best use of it? Do we divide our headings in broad classes as Amar Singh and Roget had done?

We know Amar Singh divided the whole language in three broad Cantos: 1. Heaven. 2. Earth. 3. Words in General. Roget compartmentalized the whole language into eight classes: 1. Abstract Relations. 2. Space. 3. Physics. 4. Matter. 5 Sensation. 6. Intellect. 7. Volition. 8. Affections.

While organizing our data of some 4,00,000+ expressions arranged in 1,100 headings and 23,759 subheadings, we forgot all about Amar Singh and also decided to do away with the Rogetian classification. We kept ourselves to the basic line that our word-groups should be collected under specific headings. Some of these headings could be clubbed together on the basis of commonness, but it would not be necessary for them to follow any strict hierarchical order. The only guiding principle in their mutual placement should be that one idea should lead to the next by association or juxtaposition. We would jump to an unrelated topic only when it became unavoidable.

If you look at the list of 1,100 headings in our Kosh, given at the beginning of the book, you will find that there is just no attempt to have any sort of classification. Only the names of some headings have been printed in bold letters. This does not indicate any logical change from one class to another. It only draws a user's attention to the nature of subjects which one may find in its vicinity. We start with

The Universe
Stellar Body
Movement of Stellar Bodies
Rotation of Earth
Solar System (all the non-earth planets)
Sun and Moon
Plains and Deserts
Jungles and Gardens
Garden and Urban Trees
Garden Flowers
Pits and Caves
Mountains and Valleys
Indian Mountains (list and synonyms of important mountains like the Himalayas--we give only 30 out of many)
Ponds and Lakes
Water Supply (types of wells for drinking and irrigation, water carriers, water taps)
Indian Rivers (Ganges has 37 synonyms here, Yamuna 20)
River: From its source to the end (source of a river, waterfall, flow of water, confluence, delta, submergence in the sea, etc.)
Flood Control (dams, etc.)
Draining Out (canals, drains, sewers, etc.)
Seas and Bays

As in the popular mind a body of water is associated with its banks and landmass, we go to:

Landmass (coast, ground recovered from water, marsh, etc.)
Islands and Continents
Asia and Countries of South Asia
India and the States of India


Now, let me tell you briefly how we have treated the living beings. After various headings devoted to matter and energy, Samantar Kosh goes to animate mater. We start with 111 Vegetation, its aspects like 112 seed, root, 114 branches, 115 leaves... to 121 living beings...122 Worms and Insects, 123 Reptiles, 124 Water Animals, 125 Fish, 126 Birds, 127 Animals. While individual fish and birds are placed alphabetically, the Animals section starts with types of animals like wild animals, pets... dairy cattle...animals used for riding and as carriers, to deer, lion,...cats, rats...dogs...monkeys and concludes with primates to lead up to the next heading 128 Man.

Once again to revert to the placement of hunting, in Samantar Kosh, under heading 252 Hunting, one finds most of the concepts related to hunting, including fishing, bird catching, big game, machan or concealed platform built for hunting, covered pit to catch elephants... Hunting follows heading 251 Killing.


Synonyms Galore. It will be very much in place if, before ending this section of our discussion, I mention another major difference between the English language and many eastern languages. In English, most of things have only one word. Lion is lion, at the most also Leo. Mango is mango. In Hindi, they have many synonyms. In our main data bank of 5,40,000 records lion has 129 synonyms, cheetah 29, deer 55, elephant 165, wheat 30, mango 46, grape 34.... Among gods, we collected 2,317 names for Shiva! It may not be necessary to include all the synonyms in a thesaurus designed for day-to-day use. Yet, very many of them have to be included and special methods have to be devised to contain them. Let us look at the problem in some detail.

The fact that many concepts do not have a large number of synonyms allows the makers of English thesauruses to include alphabetical lists for groups of things (to change to subject from animals) like minerals, ores, elementary metals, alloys. In these, iron features in elementary metals (here the thesaurus maker gives two more words [Ferro- or ferri- sider(o)-], also as iron pyrites in minerals, steel is listed under alloys. One may comment here that, in the reader's mind, iron is linked to steel. The flow of thought in this list fails to take a user from iron directly to steel. He has to remember that steel is an alloy of iron with carbon and various other metals like nickel, chromium, manganese. Only then will he be able to locate the word steel in the next list Alloys.

This device of providing simple lists just does not work in Hindi. To give an example, the first edition of our work contains 20 synonyms for iron (out of 57 from our data). Similarly, the device of lists does not allow the inclusion of other related things like raw iron, cast iron, iron dust--for all of which the Hindi language has many words. Besides these, our work under heading 93 Metals goes on to steel, alloy steel, stainless steel, steels which were used in India earlier, e.g., armour steel.


Thus, we see that the very scope and design of a lexicographic work and its success depends on the clear understanding of the target audience on the part of its makers. On this depend the criteria for the basic format, framework, or structure of a work. For example, a dictionary made for poets has to be arranged by the last letters of words, to be of help in rhyming. Thus, a large number of earlier dictionaries in many oriental languages follow this pattern. And we today have many rhyming dictionaries. On the other hand, dictionaries in the modern age of the printed book are made for writers of prose. We find them following the alphabetical order so familiar to all of us.

Similarly, it is the users who dictate the placing and inter-relations in which various word-groups in a thesaurus are to be arranged in proximity of others. If a thesaurus has to lead its users from one word-group to another, it will have to follow the cultural and mental perceptions of its society to be of any practical use to it.

It is a clich?, but bears repetition. Like a piece of art, a lexicographic work, too, be it a dictionary, glossary, vocabulary, or a true thesaurus in the modern sense, has to be addressed to its own society at any given point of time. It has to take care of the understanding levels, mental perceptions and thought patterns of its target audience.



Arvind Kumar
c/o. Ms. Meeta Lall
Block 3, Villa 1, Eros Garden
Charmwood Village, Faridabad (Haryana)

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