Polysemy in Sanskrit


Sanskrit is fabulously polysemous - each word may have a diversity of meanings.

There are in every language polysemic words for which there are no English equivalents, words that have not a single meaning but a range of meanings, and Sanskrit is particularly prone to this semantic proliferation: it has been said that every word in Sanskrit designates its basic meaning, the opposite of that, a word for an elephant, a name of God, and a position in sexual intercourse. In confronting a Sanskrit text, therefore, the translator must make choices that reflect his or her opinion of what the text is most likely to be about (an elephant, God, …) - Wendy Doniger, The Laws of Manu (Penguin Classics) p. lxxiii

-
The laws of Manu. By Manu, Wendy Doniger, Brian K. Smith, p. lxxiii

*This is clearly an exaggeration, for a search of the Monier-Williams reveals only 845 words with “Elephant” in the definition. That leaves thousands of Sanskrit words without elephant-related meanings.



āsana-Sitting, or the place on an elephant where the driver sits


-sitting , sitting down
-sitting in peculiar posture according to the custom of devotees, (five or , in other places , even eighty-four postures are enumerated ; » padmā*sana , bhadrā*sana , vajrā*sana , vīrā asana svastikā asana: the manner of sitting forming part of the eightfold observances of ascetics)
-halting , stopping , encamping
-abiding , dwelling
-seat , place , stool
-the withers of an elephant , the part where the driver sits L.
-maintaining a post against an enemy

sevā- Visiting, service, worship, sexual intercourse with, addiction to, indulgence in


f. going or resorting to , visiting , frequenting.
service , attendance on, "to be in the service of ") Mn. MBh. &c
worship , homage , reverence , devotion to (gen. or comp.) ib.
sexual intercourse with (comp.) Hit. Subh.
addiction to , indulgence in , practice or employment or frequent enjoyment of (comp.) Nir. Mn. MBh. &c

Great puns there within the word sevā!

The word
samdhi (saṃdhí) used to describe the modifications to Sanskrit words, the way they are always messing with the pronunciation of their sounds.

Sandhi (saṃ-dhí)- Junction


- containing a conjunction or transition from one to the other
- association, intercourse with
- euphonic junction of final and initial letters in grammar (every sentence in Sanskrit being regarded as a euphonic chain)
- contrivance
- place or point of connection or contact
- the space between heaven and earth
- the vagina or vulva
- a juncture or division of a drama
- a period at the expiration of each yuga or age
- a part, portion, piece of anything
- a goddess presiding over junction or union