THE SANSKRIT CONNECTION – RIVER CUYAHOGA, OHIO

River Cuyahoga, Ohio

River Cuyahoga, Ohio. The current name of Cuyahoga, is a cognate of the Iroquios word Cuyohoga which means crooked river’, but the name is said to derive from the original Mohawk name Cayagaga. 


The name ‘gaga’ may be a distortion of the Sanskrit root word ‘gang’ (गंग) meaning ‘swift’. The occurrence of the name ‘gaga’ in the native American name indicates that there may be a common thread to the aboriginal and ancient names of rivers around the world. Also the name Cayagaga may have Sanskritic links. Here’s why.

In his article ‘The Aboriginal Names of Rivers in Australia Philologically Examined’, the late Rev. Peter McPherson, read before the Royal Society of New South Wales on 4th August, 1886, it was stated about the form ‘gong’, “Here is a form which is common to mountains and streams. There is also a goodly array of gongs from the side of the waters. There are Burrangong, Cudgegong, Brongong, Kallobungung Creek, Vagonga Inlet, Tragong Oreek. In such forms as the following the gong or some equivalent is also plain enough-Bongongalong Creek, Gangangar Creek, Kangaloola Creek. Also the forms in y, Noeyango Lake, Yango, Yanka, Yengo, Yonpa Creeks. Now leaving the mountains aside, we have to see whether there are any root forms in gong or its equivalents meaning water. The vocabularies supply us at once with such words as kung or kong, meaning water at Moreton Bay, and kongun, water on the Peel River. The forms guong and guang, min, occur at Wellington. Kaiung at Illawarra means sea; in compound words turaguny at Port Jackson meant a creek. Nullakonggor in Kamilaroi means a watel·lwle. At Illawarra ngaityung is water. Nagung is water at George’s River. These materials prove abundantly that there is a root-word for water which may be represented with its variations by the form gong, which occurs in the names of so many creeks and designations for water. When we look beyond the Australian area our attention is arrested by the great River Ganges in India. The word ganga or gunga is the Sanscrit for river. To those who settled in the far back ages upon its banks, it was simply the river, So, after all the illustrations which have been given that the same radical form exists among the aborigines here, we cannot doubt that such names as appear in the gazetteer as Congai, and Gungulwa and others, just meant the river or the water.”

The same logic may be applied to native American names for rivers in the United States. In the context of Cuyahoga, one may state that in  Sanskrit, ‘Kulya’ (कुल्या), ‘KUlya’ (कूल्या) and ‘Kulini’ (कूलिनी), all mean ‘river’. These may all lead to the genesis of the word ‘Cuya’. Or ‘Cuya’ may be a distortion of the Sanskrit ‘kruta’ (क्रुक्त) or ‘Kutila’ (कुटिल) both of which mean ‘crooked’.

‘Apaga’ (आपगा) means river, ‘aga’ (अग) means ‘water-jar’ or ‘water-pitcher’. You see the word ‘aga’ in the names of rivers such as ‘Ganges’ which is known as ‘Ganga’ in Sanskrit. The word ‘aga’ also appears in the name ‘Volga’ which incidentally was also known as ‘Jal-aga’ in ancient times. By that logic the suffix ‘hoga’ in Cuyahoga may be a distortion of ‘aga’ .


The Cuyahoga originates in springs in the highlands of Geauga County, in the adjoining townships of Hambden and Montville. The headwaters of three watercourses in the Lake Erie basin are located in Geauga County. It is said that Geauga County is named after the Onondaga word ‘jyo’ä·gak’ or Seneca ‘jo’ä·ka’, both meaning ‘racoon’. In Sanskrit a close cognate of ‘jyo’ä·gak’ and ‘jo’ä·ka’ is ‘jahaka’ (जहका) translates as ‘hedgehog’ – not quite rocoon. But ‘Geauga’ seems to be closer in meaning to the Sanskrit ‘Jalaja’ (जलज) which means ‘born in water’.


But is there a link between the Sanskrit language and Native American languages? In 1909, a white lady by the name of Mrs. Helen Troy, was initiated into the Onondaga tribe. Mrs. Troy and her mentor, Mrs. Isaac Thomas, had “delved deeply into the fascinating mythology of the Indians, of which comparatively little is known.” Troy and Thomas were both reportedly working on “a dictionary of the languages of the Six (Iroquious) Nations.” Their compilation of Onondaga and Mohawk words was said to total 30,000. On completion of the manuscript, Mrs. Troy commented “There exists no doubt,” stated Mrs. Troy, “that the mythology of the Iroquois antedates that of the Greeks and Romans, and in fact all other peoples just as their language does that of the Hebrews and all others.” She further claimed “that Onondaga, the mother tongue of all the ages, mothered also Sanskrit.” She had indeed found the two languages to be closely linked. 

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