Should we say Nanda is the Buddha's "brother"?

In Udāna 3.2, Venerable Nanda is said to be a close relation to the Buddha.

bhagavato bhātā mātucchāputto
The Buddha’s brother, son of his maternal aunt

After the death of the Buddha’s mother, Suddhodana remarried to Māyā’s sister, Mahāpajāpati. Nanda is presumably her son. That would make him both the Buddha’s half-brother (they have the same father) and cousin (son of his aunt).

The question is, in translation, should we render the Pali literally, or specify the relation in more comprehensible terms. Most translations seem to take the literal route. A justification for this might be that since we know so little about the Buddha’s relations, we should take care to render the text without making assumptions.

Still, it seems odd to me to just say “brother” here. Perhaps:

Venerable Nanda, who is both the Buddha’s half-brother and maternal cousin


The text itself is telling us that he was a half brother. He was brother and son to a different woman. Is there a term for half-brother in Pali, or is this just a case of English having more precise language for the relationship?


I agree that “half-brother” seems right. There is no reason to assume that “brother” and bhātā are used in exactly the same way, having a perfect semantic overlap. I fact, it is quite explicit that the Pali uses bhātā for half-brother, and so the latter would be the appropriate rendering.


I think that in “real life” half-sisters or half-brothers would often refer to each other as brother or sister, even if genetically this is not exactly true. But if they grow up together as siblings, this is how they feel like.

For example, my brother has a son with his wife, but she also has another son from her first marriage. Formally, the two are half-brothers. But as much as I know they did indeed consider themselves to be brothers, and my brother has been like a father to his foster-son. My parents have always considered both boys equally as their grand-children.

I have even heard that there are countries in Africa where the terms “brother” or “sister” are not so much applied with respects to genetic relationship, but rather to the environment where kids grow up. If they grow up together in the same family they are called brothers and sisters, whether this is genetically the case or not. If they are genetically brothers or sisters, but grow up in different environments, they are not called so.

So if bhātā strictly speaking means “brother” it could be applied to a half-brother just as well. Maybe we are more concerned with “scientific” precision than the concepts were in India in those days.


Just out of curiosity Bhante, but I have never come across this specification that Suddhodana married Mahāpajāpati after the death of Māyā :sweat_smile:
All of the biographies of Buddha that I have come across detailing his family relatives state that when the Bodhisatta was born, Suddhodana already had both Māyā and Mahāpajāpati as his consorts,with the former being the chief. If this information has been updated , I would be interested to know more about that! :smile:


For readers who ,culturally, have not been used to address other kids in their extended family as ‘brothers’ , perhaps a specification of the relationship might aid them !

Very much true !

Being an Indian, I have been used to calling my cousins as ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ without any need for special terms as such. So people like me in whose culture it’s normal for such encompassing terms to be used might not have a problem. But other readers might need specification to understand the context of social structure of ancient India at that time.


Thanks everyone for the comments, this is helpful, especially about the cultural context.

I’ve checked the Sanskrit, and—as one might expect—there are multiple terms for “half-brother”: bhinnodara, vaimātra, anyamātṛja, sāpatya. I can’t find any of these in Pali, though. Still, it means that it is possible to express the concept of “half-brother”.

You’re probably right! I wonder what the earliest sources are for this, as the EBTs themselves don’t state it directly.


Oh yeah. I know here in Caribbean. The Indian co-workers even let their son, call another hindu co-worker Uncle.

In my language we use a dutch word which indicates that he is not your real brother.
And another local word also is indicating he is not your real brother.

Its something as feeding brother :joy: i don’t know

1 Like

Yes, this detail is indicated by an EBT source, MN 142:

(SuttaCentral)4When he said this, Venerable Ānanda said to the Buddha, “Sir, please accept the new pair of garments from Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī. Sir, Mahāpajāpatī was very helpful to the Buddha. As his aunt, she raised him, nurtured him, and gave him her milk. When the Buddha’s birth mother passed away, she nurtured him at her own breast.

Unless Gotami gave milk miraculously, she already had a nursing child. And unless she had a much more complicated history than has been passed down, her baby would’ve been a child of King Sudhodana - and the future Buddha’s half-sibling.

Tradition says that the sisters Maya & Gotami both were predicted to have a son who would become a world-conquering victor, therefore the King married them both. Then when Maya died days after giving birth, her sister Gotami nursed the motherless Prince Siddhattha. Gotami had 2 children, Nanda and Nandā; they were the Buddha’s half-siblings. This narrative fits Ananda’s statement better than other speculations.