A Glossary of Indian Words

abhinaya: technique of facial expression in dance.

angrezi: something British; from angrez: Englishman.

anna: Indian coin, worth about one cent; see rupee.

ashram: community of devotees withdrawn from active life for contemplation or study.

azaan: Muslim call to prayer.

Begam: title for any Muslim lady of rank.

Bhagavad Gita: most famous section of the Mahabharata epic; dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna.

bol: rhythmic sequence used in Kathak dancing.

Brahma: Hindu deity; the creative power in the Brahminic trinity; the universal divine spirit.

Brahmin: member of the highest or priestly Hindu caste.

chakra: symbolic “wheel of law” in the Indian flag.

chakora: species of bird like a partridge.

chaprasi: office boy or messenger.

dhoti: Hindu male garment, like a tucked-up skirt.

Dhum! Qalandar: roughly, “alms to the holy!”

Dravidian: ancient races of southern India.

Durga: Hindu deity; goddess of Death; Durga-puja: nine-day festival in Bengal in early October.

ekka: one-horse carriage.

Farangi: foreigner.

Gautama: one of the names of Buddha.

ghazal: metrical form in poetry; of Persian origin.

godown: small shed used for storage.

Gopi: one of the legendary milkmaids of Brindavan who loved the god Gopala Krishna.

Govinda: another of the names of the god Krishna.

gram: pulse; seed of plants such as chick-pea.

Gupta: North Indian dynasty; see Chronology.

Hari: one of the names of the god Vishnu.

hookah: water-cooled pipe.

jagirdar: one who holds a jagir — the right to collect revenue in a district; hence, a landowner.

Jainism: sect of Hinduism; Jains believe all forms of life are sacred.

khaddar: homespun cotton cloth.

korakora: Manipuri term for a white man.

kotha: upper-story house.

Krishna: Hindu deity; the eighth reincarnation of Vishnu; the cowherd god; see Bhagavad Gita.

Kwaja: Muslim title of respect; a learned man.

maibi: Manipuri female ceremonial dance leader.

mandal: pavilion for ceremonies or religious dancing.

Memsahib: title of respect for ladies.

Mir: Muslim title: member of the landowning classes.

Mogul: dynasty of Muslim emperors; see Chronology.

mohallah: locality or part of a town.

mudras: language of the hands in dance and art.

mushaira: gathering of poets reciting their work.

Muslim: follower of Islam; Mohammedan; Mussulman.

nattuvanar: scholar or director of dance.

paan: green leaf in which betel nut and like astringents are wrapped for after-meal chewing.

pandit: learned man; Brahmin scholar.

punch: sarong-like garment worn by Manipuri women.

pariah: member of a low caste in South India; outcast.

Parvati: Hindu deity; consort of Siva.

pice: very small Indian coin; see rupee.

Radha: Hindu deity; consort of Krishna.

raga: a mode in Indian music.

Rama: Hindu mythological figure; hero of the Ramayana epic; an incarnation of Vishnu.

rani: Hindu queen or princess; rajah’s wife.

rebab: two-stringed musical instrument.

rupee: basic Indian monetary unit; worth about 21 cents; 1 rupee = 16 annas, 1 anna = 4 pice or 12 pies.

sadhu: Hindu ascetic or holy man.

sahukar: rich man who lends his money at interest.

Sanchi: chief Indian Buddhist shrine; in Bhopal State.

sanyasin: Hindu monk.

sari: garment usually worn by Indian women; a long cloth draped around the body to form a dress.

satyagraha: Gandhi’s principle of civil disobedience and nonviolence; literally, “holding on to truth.”

shabash: “ Bravo! ”; “ Well done! ”

sherwani: long straight coat, usually black, with high collar and row of buttons down the front.

Siddhartha: one of the names of Buddha.

Sikh: member of a sect of Hinduism; Sikhs are famous as soldiers, let their beards grow and wear turbans.

Siva: Hindu deity; the “destroyer” in the Brahminic trinity, but, in other aspects, a creative force.

stupa: Buddhist mound containing sacred relics.

subedar: army non-com; hence, any deputy official.

Sudras: lowest caste in Hindu society; menials.

suttee: cremation of Hindu widows in ancient times.

Swami: title of respect for a Vedanta monk or teacher.

tala: rhythm in Indian music.

uchkin: see sherwani; same type of garment.

Vedas: ancient sacred scriptures of Hinduism.

Vedanta: one system of orthodox Hindu philosophy.

Vishnu: Hindu deity; the “preserver.”

yogi: one who practices yoga: exercises and contemplation to unite the soul with God.