Thursday, April 14, 2005

I Am Not A Linguist

As I commented on Sepia Mutiny's Vaisakhi post of yesterday, I was struck by the similarity in the names for the spring/harvest festivals in a few different cultures.

Vaisakhi/Baisakhi is the name of the harvest festival/new year's day in the Sikh Calendar. According to this commenter Vaisakhi is about renewal and the end of winter. In fact the new year in various indian linguistic groups (that follow solar calendars) is known by some variation of that name (for eg. Baishakh in Bengali, and a little less similarly, Vishukkani Vishu in malayalam --- ok the malayalam one is a little bit of a stretch, but it does have the B/V-sh-k B/V-sh pattern). The first month in the Sikh calendar is Vaisakh.

These words sound a lot like a set of related words describing spring/"renewal" observances in judeo-christian traditions: Pesach (passover in judaism), Pascha (Easter in eastern-orthodox-speak), Pesacha/Pesaha (easter-week in kerala; atleast Maundy Thursday is known as pesaha wyazhazhcha i.e. Pesaha Thursday). Also Pascha/Easter is the start of the year in Orthodox churches.

Sounds like more than a coincidence to me. Is the similarity simply because they are all indo-european languages, or is it because of something more recent ? I don't know. But perhaps if enough people agree that the relationship sounds plausible, people will start believing it. I imagine that's probably how a lot of etymological research is done anyway.