It is largely believed, for want of a better explanation perhaps, that the state of Arkansas which gets its name from that of the river Arkansas, is named after the ‘Akansa’ – a Siouan tribe. The initial ‘a’ in ‘akansa’, is an Algonquian (a language spoken by another neighboring tribe) prefix, found in the names of many ethnic groups.

Kansa tribesmen also go by the name Kaw, Kaza, Kosa, and Kasa meaning ‘People of the Wind’ or ‘People of Water’. In Sanskrit ‘Kush’ (कुश), ‘Kashas’ (कशस्), ‘Kulinas’ (कुलीनस), ‘Kritas’ (कृत्स) and ‘Kavan’ (कवन) all mean ‘water’. ‘Ka’ () and ‘Khaga’ (खग) mean ‘wind’ or ‘air’. ‘Ashuga’ (आशुग) also means ‘wind’. 

Whether there is any link to the Sanskrit words and the tribe name Kansa described as ‘People of the Wind’ or ‘People of Water’ is difficult to say. It is also said that the term Arkansas means ‘south wind’ and is derived from a name used by some Native Americans to describe the Quapaws, an early tribe in the area. Wikipedia says that ‘The French Jesuits pronounced the tribe name Oo-gaq-pa, which the Algonquins pronounced Oo-ka-na-sa, and Marquette wrote Arkansoa; LaSalle wrote Arkensa; DeTonti, Arkancas; and LaHarpe, Arkansas’. No matter what the original word, to the Sanskrit or Hindi speaking world, the names of many Native American Tribes, and the names of their rivers and mountains, just sound so familiar, that it is worth it to take a look at them, through the Sanskrit lens.

The word Kansa (कंस) pronounced Kamsa means copper, brass, bell-metal, or just metal, and any vessel made of these metals. Kansa is also the name of a prominent character in the Indian epic, Mahabharata- specifically the maternal uncle of Lord Krishna.

‘Washunga’, the Chief of the Kaw

or Kansa Tribe, circa 1885. 

In Sanskrit ‘Vasha’ (वश)

means ‘authority’.

‘Vashi’ means ‘one who controls’.

A look at the word ‘Arkansas’ out side of what is generally accepted as its source therefore is warranted. In Sanskrit, ‘Ark’ (अर्क) means the ‘Sun’ and ‘Ansha’ (अंश) means a ‘part’ or ‘day’. Arkansas would mean ‘Part of the Sun’ or ‘Sunday’!

Sanskrit words such as ‘arun’ (अरुण) mean ‘red’, ‘ruddy’ or ‘tawny’. ‘Arusha’ (अरुष) means ‘reddish’. That perhaps has something to do with the name of the ‘Arkansas River.

Not surprisingly, there is a major river in Arkansas which today goes by the name ‘Red River’. The river was named for the red-bed country of its water shed. Red beds are sedimentary rocks which typically consist of sandstone, siltstone and shale that are predominantly red in color due to the presence of ferric oxides. Did its ancient name have anything to do with the Sanskrit ‘arun’, or ‘arusha’ is not known. Who is to know!

Edward Moor in his book Oriental Fragments had stated that in Europe and elsewhere around the world, river names abound in words which mean black or white. Of Arkansas he said,”Arkanza – a river and a territory….and America has a red river, perhaps this…”.

The Red River, or sometimes the Red River of the South, is a major tributary of the Mississippi and Atchafalaya. ‘Atchafalaya’ is an interesting name – and sounds Sanskrit to the core. In his research ‘Native American place names of the United States’ published in the year 2004, Bright William stated that the name ‘Atchafalaya’ comes from Choctaw for ‘long river’, from ‘hachcha’, ‘river’, and ‘falaya’, ‘long’. As for Sanskrit, ‘Atchfalaya’ could be a distortion of many Sanskrit words. ‘Falam’ (फलं) means ‘fruit’ or ‘end result’ or ‘reward’. ‘Atcha’ may be a distortion of ‘atichar’ (अतिचार) ‘fast moving’ or ‘accelerating’, ‘atigha’ (अतिघ) or ‘aticha’ (अतीच्छ) meaning ‘desirous’.

Suggested Links:
1.Red River of the North
2. Native American Place Names of the United States by William Blight


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