Not long ago a discussion on a Buddhist forum I follow came to an end when one of the proponents quoted “the Trimondi couple” in support of their argument. In Tibetan Buddhist circles, this is equivalent to the dictum that once a discussion gets to the point of calling people Nazis, it’s probably gone beyond its usable life – any remaining fizzling is best ignored.
I was reminded of this today when I was reading up about Nicholas Roerich, a fascinating character of the late 19th and first half of the 20th century. In a review of a book by one Andrei Znamenski (previously unknown to me) the Trimondis note that in 1923 the Roerich family stopped for a while in Darjeeling. The Trimondis decide to gloss the name of that town, which they incorrectly call the capital of Sikkim, as “a corrupted version of Dorje Lingam (Hard Penis)”. In this “explanation” it is not to be denied that “hard” is one potential equivalent to the Tibetan word “dorje”, although meanings such as indestructible, adamantine and diamond are perhaps more straightforward. “Noble” or “kingly” stone would be a perhaps overly simple equivalent. It is of course one of the primary symbols of Tibetan Buddhism, representing the enlightened mind. “Ling” is the Tibetan for a “place”, and is the second part of innumerable two-part names: Samye Ling comes straight to mind, but there are plenty of This-ling and That-ling names. So it would appear obvious that the name originates with a meaning like “Dorjetown”, “Vajraville” etc. as a (very slight) corruption of Dorjeling. To the best of my knowledge this philology is not controversial.
The Trimondis, however, choose, without apparent evidence, to change languages and to interpret the “ling” as a corruption of “linga” or “lingam”, for which penis or phallus is a crude translation, one which probably misses the point of its use in Hindu worship.
Hey presto: a perfectly honourable name for a beautiful town has now been converted, with undoubted salacious intent, to “Hard Penis”. I don’t know if Darjeeling is specifically on the Trimondis’ hit list, but their motto seems to be something like: “Why let common sense stand in the way of a good smear.”