Gauri, the Garish Goddess?
by Richard Stoney of Orleans, CA
The following is an essay suggesting an etymological connection between the English word garish and the Hindu goddess, Gauri.

First, consider the English word: garish, from previous forms gaurish, gawrish, or gaerishe, the earliest occurrence of which in English is circa 1545, according to Oxford English Dictionary, which defines it as "excessively bright in color, gaudy." Is the word actually gauri-ish, i.e., "Gauri-like"? Now we come to the Sanskrit side of the equation: Cf. gaura/gaurii, which means the following: "white, yellowish, reddish, pale red; gold; white mustard; red chalk; yellow dye; orpiment ["yellow or gold mineral substance"]; saffron [which is used as a coloring agent.]; shining, brilliant". It is also associated with the Sanskrit word kadaaradi, "tawny-colored"; and it also refers to the goddess, Gauri, the wife of Shiva.

Color is definitely part of ceremonies involving Gauri. "In some parts of India the harvest-goddess represented both by an unmarried girl and by a bundle of the wild flowering balsam plant touch-me-not...which is tied up in a mummy-like figure with a woman's mask, dress and ornaments. Before being removed from the soil to represent the goddess the plants are worshipped. The girl is also worshipped. Then the bundle of plants is carried and the girl who impersonates the goddess walks through the rooms of the house, while the supposed footprints of Gauri herself are imprinted on the floor with red paste. On entering each room the human representative of Gauri is asked, 'Gauri, Gauri, whither have you come and what do you see?' and the girl makes appropriate replies. Then she is given a mouthful of sweets and the mistress of the house says, 'Come with golden feet and stay forever'". (Frazer, p. 77, vol. 2) Then the ceremony continues on about rice crops, but that need not concern us.

. As will be shown in the following paragraphs, mythology involving Gauri entails changes in personalities. With that in mind, around 1600, gaurish gained an additional definition, "lacking self-restraint; flighty or inconstant behavior or emotions". "In the Vamana Purana Parvati is called Kali ["Black, dark-blue"] because of her dark complexion. When Parvati hears Shiva [call her by] this name, she takes offense and does austerities to rid herself of her dark skin. After she succeeds this, she is renamed Gauri, the golden one [also "Fair One". Note extremes between black and white.]. Her dark sheath, however, is transformed into the furious battle queen Kaushiki, who subsequently creates Kali herself in her fury. So again, although there is an intermediary goddess, Kaushiki, Kali is shown to play the role of Parvati's dark, negative, violent nature".

On the subject, C.J. Fuller writes, "...[a] goddess exists in a kind of dynamic state, sometimes unmarried and able to wield her power with all its attendant hazards, sometimes united with a god and restrained by the bond of marriage, and sometimes in an intermediate position in which she is married but apart from her husband. Actually, many goddesses largely remain in one particular state; nonetheless in both myth and ritual, the same transformative solution to the ambivalence of the goddess's power perennially emerges, so that dark and light forms of the goddess are never truly parted from each other. Black Kali, dancing on Shiva's corpse, repeatedly transforms into golden Gauri.... and back again."

Continuing on the theme of being unrestrained, Gauri is also known as Rambhaa, "roaring" (Stutley, p. 96). OED supplies these quotes regarding garish, garishness and garishly, indicating the idea of rowdy speech:

**"1662-87 Blurting out any garish tomfoolery that comes into their mind."

**1680 Who would venture rashly and garishly into the presence of...a king upon his throne?"

*"1716 That pride and garishness of temper, that render it impatient of the sobrieties of virtue." There is also the Sanskrit phrase, gaura-khara, a reference to a wild (and noisy, braying?) donkey: gaura + khara, "harsh, injurious", which can refer to speech.

. In volume 2 of Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics (page 492), it reads, "The cult of Devi ["Goddess"] is similar to that of Kali. It sometimes represents her as benignant, but more often in her chthonic or malignant aspect. It is, in fact, practically impossible to distinguish the double manifestation of the goddess. Speaking generally, when kindly she is...Gauri, 'the yellow or brilliant one' [among others]. But in the popular conception these functions so completely merge and interchange that more precise definition is impossible."

. Oxford English Dictionary also lists a different adjective, garish (a2), which is related to gare, gaer (sb2, 1606), "a sudden and and transient fit of passion" from gere, geer (1369), "transient passion, a wild or changeful mood." Again, note the dropping of the suffix -ish. There is also a similar tale in which at one point, Parvati is out of town at a yogic beauty parlor having her complexion made lighter to please the lighter-skinned Shiva. She sloughs off her old, dark persona of the violent, man-eating Kali and returns as Gauri, the pretty wife, the acceptable consort.

Shiva jyotir, "Shiva-light", the fire, is considered a linga of Shiva. Jyotii can also refer to sunlight, so consider English shivelight, a "sliver of light" (1850). For the sake of this paper, the word sliver is interpreted as a small part of a whole:

There is "a story [about the jyotir-linga] of ascendancy that is very important in Kashi [Benares] lore: the famous myth in which Shiva's linga splits open the earth as a fiery column of light. The [resulting] shaft is flanked by Brahma on the one side, and Lord Vishnu on the other, both kneeling in reverence upon their divine lotus blossoms. The shaft, with flames shooting from its sides, has been broken" (Eck, Banaras: City of Light, p. 70). There are "twelve places where the linga…shone forth in a fiery column of light [all in Kashi/Benares]; the sixty-eight places where Shiva's lingas are said to have emerged from the earth" (IBID, p. 38). There are several temples in Benares, one of which is three feet underground with only enough room for one worshipper and a stone linga (IBID, p. 114).

The light linga is the supreme "partless" reality, out of which Shiva may sometimes appear in bodily form as a "partial" reality (IBID, p. 107). At one point, "Shiva vowed that this [large] unfathomable linga would become small so that the people might have it as an emblem for their worship."

The preceding is the author's theory. Oxford English Dictionary has suggested that shivelight is made of two words: shiver, "fragment" + light.

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