I have been thinking about the word padālatā (v.l. badālatā) in Aggañña Sutta DN 27 on-and-off for about five years now. It’s the creeper that the beings eat at the beginning of the aeon. I noticed it because some translations had crazy stuff like “foot-vine” or had left it untranslated. I was starting to think that it might be unsolvable, but someone was telling me about the Sinhala language book “Baeddagama” (the forest village), and a lightbulb went off.
Anyway, I think I’ve finally cracked it. If we assume that Sanskrit vanalatā is a correct semantic translation, we can guess that the phonetic element badā means “forest”. Unfortunately, there is no Indic word bada meaning forest (ok, maybe arguably bada in Bengali…and Sinhalese baedda/baeda would obviously be an option). So I did a little bit of historical reconstruction of the word bada, assuming that we could find a variant ba.ta. I didn’t have to look hard to find it, as Marathi bē.ta does in fact, mean a “thicket”. Nepalese bo.ta means a “small tree”. This is actually what we are after.
So I conclude: the word badālata was originally ba.talatā, similar to Marathi be.ta. It means either a “forest vine” or “small trees and vines”, although I prefer the latter as a dvanda (c.f. Sinhalese turu-liya, trees and vines). The pun is on “aho bata” (aho vata). Ba.ta possibly became badā under influence from Sinhalese Prakrit.
Hope that helps someone out there in the world (so you don’t have to think about this like I did).