What does the word “mlechha” (म्लेच्छ) mean in the context of Hinduism?
Mleccha is a Sanskrit word which means 'barbarian, uncultured, foreigner, non-Vedic'.
Aloka Parashara in his book, Mlecchas in Early India describes it as,
Mleccha (and its equivalent milakkha) are usually translated as foreigner or barbarian. A translation which is inadequate in so many ways but not least because it implies that it was a word used by Indians to describe non-Indians. In fact it is a term used by some writers who lived in certain parts of India to describe people native to what we think of as India but who lacked some important criteria the writer felt defined his cultural identity (language, religion, geographical location, ancestry etc.)
He describes the etymology of the word as,
As the earliest reference occurs in the Satapatha Brahmana, which is part of an oral tradition dating to before 500 BC, scholars have usually looked for various origins in the bronze age societies of the first and second millennium BC.
He also says,
...that language should feature heavily in the definition of Mleccha. In fact in early texts it is clear that mleccha status was defined largely in terms of language (either the inability to use Sanskrit, or the inability to use it correctly). Language was central to identity in ancient India, as evidence by the process of Sanskritization in the early centuries AD, the importance of the Grammarians from Panini onwards.
Mlechhas were mainly very context dependent and might have included Bactrians, Greeks, Huns, Scythians, and Kushans; while leftists argue that non-Vedic Indians like tribals were also included in this term.
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