By Wendell W. Solomons
The task of decoding the cypher reaches us Perhaps clues do exist in history?
Dictionaries tell us that the noun `Serendipity` was coined around 1754 by Horace Walpole. He did so after being impressed by a traditional story, `The Three Princes of Serendip.` In the latter story, three princes make unexpected, delightful discoveries.
`Serendip` might have been a name in long use somewhere. Such a clue comes to us from `A Concise History of Ceylon,` edited by C. W. Nicholas and S. Paranavitana. Their volume says, `Roman commerce with the East was revived by Constantine, and it is recorded that in the year 361 an embassy from Serendivi (Ceylon) was received by emperor Julian...` (p.9)
Suffixes such as `-diva` and `-dip` had signified `island` in early languages of India such as Pali. Several variations of the suffix have remained by good fortune in contemporary maps.
In India`s southwest, just off Cochin, we have the Lakhsadip (Lakshadweep) group which consists of 36 islands. Copra and other coconut products serve as major export there. This group contains the Laccadive, Minicoy, and Am nd vi Islands.
A still more famous group of islands is available on the map in the Maldives.
These names provide the speaker of any South Asian language with a confirmation: The suffix `-dip` in Serendip signifies `island.`
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To qualify this suffix we might explore it in conjunction with the prefix `Seren-`
The Persian story `The Three Princes of Serendip` entered Europe through Italy. In Italy`s east, water from the Alpine mountains flows into the Adriatic Sea through the Po and the Piave rivers. Over millennia the two rivers have also carried silt and carved out islands, mud banks, marshes and lagoons in the landscape.
This landscape provided sanctuary to fleeing notables during the raids of the Huns that peaked in year 452 AD. Settlements developed there. Later, boats served for regular communication between the landforms that include 120 main islands. Still later came bridges between islands. The sanctuary chanced to become a haven for goods being imported by traders into the European mainland from the Orient.
The East-West trade route brought affluence. Dignitaries there called the island archipelago `the Serene Republic of Venice` (or in Italian, `La Serenissima Repubblica de Venezia`.)
Besides being incorporated in the name of the republic, in several countries of Europe, `Serene` was used in titles for princes and members of their families as, His Serene Highness (referred to by Webster`s dictionary.)
What did `Serene` mean in these contexts?
Usage by men of letters provides us with substance.
`The moon, serene in glory, mounts the sky.`
`Calm placid undisturbed unruffled as, a serene aspect a serene soul.`
`His face beaming with a quiet serene joy.`
Oxford helps us onwards. Here are illustrative contexts for `Serene` from the multi-volume `Shorter Oxford Dictionary.`
Contented tranquillity of mind, temper, countenance, etc. inner calm tranquillity or peacefulness of conditions etc.
(Of a place, a period of time, a person`s demeanour, etc.) calm, tranquil, untroubled, unperturbed poet. (of light) clear and pure expressive or suggestive of tranquillity.
Free from obstructions, obstacles, encumbrances, burdens, contents, or occupants open for passage or operations free from the presence of...
Free from contact disengaged apart, out of reach.
Free from limitation or qualification absolute, complete, entire sheer.
Perhaps what city elders wanted to say about the republic of Venice is put in a nutshell by `Free from limitation or qualification absolute, complete, entire sheer.`
Besides the many forms of `Serene` in Western and Southern European languages, could a form extend in the Indo-European language group towards the Pali language to dovetail with what we have seen on the map of geography for `-dip`?
The ancient Buddhist adieu or goodbye, `Buddu saranai!` remains to be heard in the island of Lanka.
Historically Pali was carried with Buddhism to the island by missionaries of Emperor Asoka the Great who reigned till 232 BC. The Mauryan dynasty that began with Asoka the Great`s grandfather lasted less than one and a half centuries because all members of the family were killed by a Brahmin army commander. As a result, Brahmin priests took over what was the heartland of Buddhism.
In the context of Pali , `Sarana` is often proposed as `sanctuary` or `refuge.` In Sanskrit meanwhile `Sharana` means `hut` or `shelter.` These may have been primary meanings.
Reflective or derived meanings of `Sarana` that occurred in Buddhism would come from its cosmopolitan, tolerant and kindly ethic: for Buddhist doctrine there is no Evil Other (it is not a sacrificial faith.) The meanings that can be derived from Buddhist concepts bear comparison with `calm` and `tranquil` of the Oxford dictionary.
In the accompanying map that was originally prepared in Greek times, the Saranadipa of this research bears the Greek name Taprobane (a subject of a forthcoming socio-linguistic study.)
The map shows the island of the era proportioned large. It is drawn to extend from the Indus almost to the Ganges. Most early maps show such emphasis. If at the same time nearby, vast South-East Asia is little defined in maps of the era, that might suggest merchants found in the island a hospitable, calm and tranquil venue for buying precious stones and spices and for exchanging silks and other products of East and West.