top of page
  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

Word Play

A favorite “move” in depth psychology is to dive deeply into words. Lockhart (1983) in Words as Eggs talks about this in depth! Essentially, words themselves open up worlds and we can learn things we never dreamt of, see hidden meanings, and get new insights into our subjects when we go back and discover the roots of words and associated meanings. Another way that I like to play with words is through the thesaurus tool in Microsoft Word. By looking up a particular word, you can get other related words that might help you to see things in a new light. This is more of a horizontal move than the etymological move, and yields fascinating discoveries, making new links and connections. So with that in mind lets engage in a bit of word play with the word lila.

The Roots of Lila

Coomaraswamy (1941) in his article on Lila, after noting and discussing the pervasiveness of play, points out that the actual Sanskrit word lila is of post-Vedic origin. He traces lila’s roots, which he contends “must be related with lelay, ‘to flare’ or ‘flicker or ‘flame’ ” (p. 99) concluding:

We have been able to trace, accordingly, not only the continuity and universality of the notion of the divine activity thought of as a kind of game and dalliance, but also to recognize in the “play” of a flickering flame or vibrant light the adequate symbol of this epiphany of Spirit. (p. 101)

In Homo Ludens, Huizinga (1944/1955), also discusses the etymology of lila in his chapter on the play concept expressed in language. He notes that rapid movement is at the heart of all Sanskrit words involving play, and that the idea of lila also connotes “all of the light effortless, and insignificant sides of playing… lila is used in a sense of ‘as if’ to denote ‘seeming,’ ‘imitation,’ the ‘appearance’ of things, as in the English word ‘like,’ ‘likeness’” (p. 32).

Divine Playfulness

Etymologically, play is innate to the divine because the word “divine” comes from the Indo-European root dyeu meaning "to shine" (AHD, 2000b, online). The Sanskrit words deva and devi meaning "god" and "goddess" reflect this, too, and one of the meanings of the word div is sport (Baümer, 1995). Other interesting meanings are quicksilver, the supreme spirit, a fool, a child, and a lover (Apte, 2000, online). Out of this root, come familiar words associated with different divinities: deus, Zeus, Dione, Diana, Iovis, Jupiter, Jove, and Tiu—the Nordic sky god (Tuesday) (AHD 2000a, online). Cousineau (2004b) talks about the origin of the word sport as being desporto, "carried away, transported."

With this divine playfulness in mind, we will first look at the lila of the goddess and then the explore concept of maya (illusion) with which she is most often associated, before later considering the lila of the gods.


bottom of page