Books, Current Events, Words

Wondrous Words of Indian Origin

Keeping in theme with my posts this week for Navratri and Dussehra, today’s list is what the post title says – that of wondrous words of Indian origin. Some might surprise you while others are more obvious.

I tried to pick words that are also in some way associated with festivities and celebrations! So I have the word, the meaning, language of origin, and its link to festivities in general 🙂 Without further ado, here are a few

Wondrous Words of Indian Origin

Note: Definitions are paraphrased from Oxford Learner Dictionaries or Wikipedia

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  • a manifestation or incarnation of a deity in bodily form on earth
  • a picture representing a particular computer user, most often in computer games or on social media

Word origin – from Sanskrit avatarana “descent”; ava- “off, down” + base of tarati – “cross over” 

One of my favorite Amar Chitra Kathas – Dasha Avatar – is worth a read to learn about the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu.



  • a piece of jewelry worn around the wrist; could be made of gold, silver, glass, or sometimes even wood or plastic

Word origin – from Hindi bangri  or bangli meaning “glass bracelet”

We do deck up in finery during the Navratri festivities as we do golu hopping, or invite guests home to view our golu. And then there is the garba dance, or going to one of the many Durga pujos in the area. One favorite colorful accessory is the bangle, or rather bangles. We have glass and metal bangles in various colors to match our outfits!

I love this poem by Sarojini Naidu – ‘The Bangle Sellers


noun – the leaves of a climbing plant chewed by people in Asia

Word origin – via Portuguese betel, from Malayalam (also in Tamil) vettila, from veru ila “only leaf.”

The betel leaf is an important aspect of Indian rituals and celebrations. It is offered to gods during pujas, to guests after meals and/or before they head home during events like Navratri. In fact, we invite guests asking them to come home for vethalai-paaku. This basically denotes that they will have a meal of some sort at our place after which we will offer them the betel leaf(ves)!

The betel leaves are below the fruits in this photo; as part of an upanayanam ceremony.


noun – sweet food made using sugar and/or other sweeteners

Word origin – from the Old French word çucre candi meaning “sugar candy”. >> from Arabic qandi >> Persian qand >> Sanskrit khanda (fragment/sugar)

This can bring to mind so many things; but for a moment, forget about what you normally think of when you hear this word, for instance, the candy you eat at Halloween (or try to finish!) Candy can also refer to sweet-treats of many kinds. In fact, lists Kaju Katli as the second most popular Indian candy. Check out how to make this easy sweet here.


noun – a spread /condiment in the cuisines of the Indian subcontinent. These are made in a wide variety of forms, from tangy to sweet and spicy as well.

Word origin – from Hindi chatni meaning “to lick.”

This one might be obvious to many as to its origins. During the Navratri festivities, we invite guests home for vethalai-paaku, which means —- yes — meals! Now, considering people are golu hopping and visiting tons of homes, we try to keep the meals light, or snack-like so they can do justice to the treats each host prepares. Some popular light tiffins (another Indian origin word) include idli and chutney, vada and chutney, and more.

A few of our favorite chutneys are the quintessential coconut chutney, the very satisfying peanut chutney, and the tangy sweet chutney. Here is a quick recipe for one of them.

Coconut Chutney

This one has so many variations that we can serve up a buffet just of coconut chutneys! But today I give you one of the simplest recipes for this.

Ingredients –

  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut
  • 1 to 2 green chilies (or per desired heat levels)
  • 1/2 inch ginger
  • salt to taste.
  • For tempering – 1 tsp coconut oil (or other if you don’t have this), 1/2 tsp mustard seeds, 1/2 tsp urad dal (split black gram dal – skip if you don’t have), a few curry leaves, a pinch of asafetida


  • Grind the coconut, chilies, ginger, and salt together with 1/2 a cup of water in a blender till smooth.
  • Heat the oil for tempering in a small pan and add the mustard seeds.
  • When they sputter, add the urad dal.
  • When the dal browns slightly, add the curry leaves and the asafetida, and stir for a bit while ensuring the urad dal or leaves do not get burnt.

Turn the heat off and pour the tempering over the prepared chutney.


noun – a clarified butter. Ghee is commonly used in India for cooking, as a traditional medicine, and for religious rituals.

Word origin – from Hindi ghī, from Sanskrit ghṛtá ‘sprinkled’.

You will find this word appear many times in my blog, and one of them that I loved writing about is when I discovered it is lactose-free (well, almost, depending on how it is processed). We use it in so many dishes, ranging from sweets to adding a dollop of golden ghee on rice or rotis to simply elevate the culinary experience!! I am not exaggerating here. You should try it for yourself or make ghee at home (the smell is wonderful).


noun – a huge, powerful, and overwhelming force or institution; a figurative use of Juggernaut, referring to the ‘giant chariot bearing the god Krishna,’ in specific to that at the town of Puri in the state of Orrisa, India, drawn annually in procession.

Word origin – from Hindi Jagannath, literally “lord of the world.” From Sanskrit jagat “the world, men and beasts” or “all that moves” + nath meaning “lord”

While the Navaratri festival predominantly celebrates the divine feminine, or Shakti, in her many forms, we also use this occasion to celebrate the victory of Lord Rama (another form of Vishnu, who is Jagannath in one of his forms) over the demon king Ravana. Plus, isn’t Shakti a veritable juggernaut in herself??!!

On a side note, we went to the town of Puri and visited the Jagannath temple there this summer. It was truly a unique experience. The town, the temple, its beaches, the hotel we stayed at, and more – all made our trip so very memorable.


noun – a word, phrase or sound that is repeated many times over, during prayer or meditation, to aid concentration; also a slogan that is often repeated for emphasis and to help gain desired results.

Word origin – literally “instrument of thought,” from the root man- “to think”

During the Navaratri, certain mantras hold more importance, especially and obviously the ones related to and for worshipping the goddesses. You can check out one such video here(Ya Devi Sarvabhuteshu), and one I listen to many times over is here (Mahishasura Mardini).


noun – an expert in a particular subject or field frequently called on to give opinions about it to the public. Also spelled pandit. In Sanskrit, it generally refers to a learned man with specialized knowledge.

Word origin – from Hindi payndit  >> from Sanskrit payndita – both meaning “a learned man, scholar.” Derived from paṇḍ meaning “to collect, heap, pile up,” and this root is used in the sense of knowledge. Interestingly, or maybe deliberately, the word padhna in Hindi means to read.

Often during the festival, we call upon pandits to help perform sacred rituals or pujas. Pandits also perform the Durga puja

And Then Some More Words of Indian Origin + Extra, Extra!

Here are a few more words of Indian origin (mostly random ones and of Tamil origin) that I had to include here:

  • Aiyo. !! I had no idea this word is now in the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) as of 2015. My parents would frown upon us when we used it. It is not a curse word, nor really slang, but it was just one of those things:-)
    • Tamil English: exclamation: used to show that you are surprised or upset
      • Aiyo! That hurts!
  • Cash. I was aware of this for a long while; kind of noticed the connections when I was a kid, between the Tamil word, kaasu and the English cash (both used to denote money).
    • From Tamil word pronounced as kācu, which means coins
  • Catamaran. This is a cool connection indeed.
    • From Tamil kattumaram, which literally translated to tied (kattu) wood (maram)
  • Mulligatawny. Again, this is kind of an obvious one for those who have tried this dish.
    • From Tamil milagu tanni, which translates to pepper (milagu) water (tanni)

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where you can share new words that you’ve encountered, or spotlight words you love.  Feel free to get creative! It was first created by Kathy over at Bermuda Onion and is now hosted at Elza Reads.

Image is of India map with pin title saying Wondrous Words of Indian Origin

And Now, the End of This Post

Dear reader, which of these words of Indian origin surprised you of the fact that it is of Indian origin (minus the obvious ones, of course)!? Do you speak a language other than English? What words from that/your language have made it into English? Share a word or two with me here. I love word origin stories…

6 thoughts on “Wondrous Words of Indian Origin

  1. I have learnt so much more on some of the words that I actually know & used before. Bangle I didn’t realized it’s associated as glass bracelet, candy we used a lot for kids & now get better that it’s with Indian colourful candy, before this I always thought Ghee is Indian cheese. Love this as I learnt now. Cheers Siennylovesdrawing

  2. Hi Vidya! Oh how lovely this post is! I loved everything about it. Bangle and chutney are words that are very common in South Africa and I didn’t know Avatar is an Indian word? Ha. Always great to learn something new!!

    You put a lot of effort into this post and it was great fun to read it.

    Thanks for taking part in WWW!

    Elza Reads

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