Classical Sanskrit noun dharma is a derivation from the root dhṛ, which means to hold, maintain, keep,
[note 3] and takes a meaning of "what is established or firm", and hence "law". It is derived from an older
Vedic Sanskrit n-stem dharman-, with a literal meaning of "bearer, supporter", in a
religious sense conceived as an aspect of
Rigveda, the word appears as an n-stem, dhárman-, with a range of meanings encompassing "something established or firm" (in the literal sense of prods or poles). Figuratively, it means "sustainer" and "supporter" (of deities). It is semantically similar to the Greek
Themis ("fixed decree, statute, law").
Classical Sanskrit, the noun becomes thematic: dharma-.
The word dharma derives from
- "dʰer- ("to hold"),
 which in Sanskrit is reflected as class-1 root
√dhṛ. Etymologically it is related to
Avestan √dar- ("to hold"), Latin
firmus ("steadfast, stable, powerful"), Lithuanian
derė́ti ("to be suited, fit"), Lithuanian dermė ("agreement")
 and darna ("harmony") and
Old Church Slavonic
drъžati ("to hold, possess"). Classical Sanskrit word dharmas would formally match with Latin o-stem
- dʰer-mo-s "holding", were it not for its historical development from earlier Rigvedic n-stem.
In Classical Sanskrit, and in the
Vedic Sanskrit of the
Atharvaveda, the stem is thematic: dhárma- (
Devanāgarī: धर्म). In
Pāli, it is rendered dhamma. In some
contemporary Indian languages and dialects it alternatively occurs as dharm.