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  • Writer's pictureAkanksha Damini Joshi

It’s all in the Name, and ahem, the taste-led fame: Story of Aubergine

An old Indian vegetable.

In Sanskrit it is known as वार्ताका vartaka, but like most things in India, it also as many other ways of making itself be known : चित्रफला कण्टकिनी महती कट्फला मिश्रवर्णफला नीलफला रक्तफला शाकश्रठ वृतफला नृपप्रियालफला !

In Hindi, Baigan.

The English adapted the sound of Baigan to Brinjal.

Now it’s other more stylish name, #aubergine is where the history of our world reveals itself.

The word comes from, of course, the ‘high’ culture, French, 18th century. They get it from their bordering language, Catalan: albergina. Which, in turn, comes from their bordering Spain, berenjena and Portuguese, beringela.

Which - hold on tight, for we have some way to travel - comes from the Arabic, Al-badinjan. Who get it, closer home, from the Persian, Badenjan (baadenjaan) adding the Arabic ‘Al’ to it.

The Persians of course get it from the mother country, India’s word which in Sanskrit is

vātigaṃgaṇa वातिगंगण

This may well come from an even older Munda word.

Encyclopaedia Iranica says Aubergine came to Iran from India. The Iranian sailors carried it to East Africa. It possibly reaches eastern Mediterranean lands via Arabs, after Arab conquest of Iran.

In Christian Western Europe, with the exception of parts of Spain/Italy which had been under Muslim rule, the eggplant only became known after Renaissance.

The ‘Au’-bergine may well be the French twist on the ‘Al’ the vegetable picked up in the Arab land!

The word वातिगंगण is also likely root of the Hindi Baigan from which comes the other English word, brinjal.

Then it’s also called, funnily, Egg-plant. Ever wondered why?!

Well. There are four varieties of this yummy veggie. One of them is oval and white! No the Brits were not the first to notice that.

अपरं श्वेतवृतांक कुक्कुटाण्डसंम् भवेत् ...

... the white one is like the egg of a hen.

Incidentally, the white baigan although less nutritious than the purple one, is stated as being helpful in bawaseer, hemorrhoids aka piles.

And with all this story masala: the histories, the journeys of our world, I head off to eat some Baigan ka Bharta aka the ancient भरित्र.

Savouring with each bite how a seed travels, how it becomes a word, how it’s made into a dish, woven into a story and how ... one day, it all loops back, where it belongs. In the deliciousness of Life itself! ☺️


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