NATIVE AMERICAN MYTHS , SHIVA AND SANSKRIT

Native American hunter-gatherers first arrived in what is now known as Appalachian region over 12,000 years ago in multiple migrations across the Bering Strait from Asia.

In 1789 Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I endeavor to collect all the vocabularies I can, of American Indians, as of those of Asia, persuaded, that if they ever had a common parentage, it will appear in their languages.”

In their research, ‘Linguistic Origins of Native Americans’, Joseph H. Greenberg and Merritt Ruhlen state,”The evidence of comparative linguistics indicates that the Americas were originally settled by three major migrations from Asia …… the recent discoveries at least in part fulfill Jefferson’s hope that one day the languages of native Americans would illuminate their relations to one another and will reveal the Asian origins of the first Americans.”

There is very little left of the Native American culture yet their are traces of some commonalities with ancient cultures of the East – some words that indicate that their languages might have been once close to that of Asia – even India. Of all the native American people, the natives of Guatemala have left a rich mythological history in their scripture ‘Popul Vuh’ which is regarded as one of the rarest relics of Quiche aboriginal thought.

In the Quiche account of the creation of the earth and its inhabitants, is the concept of a supreme, all- powerful Creator of all things, but the Creator is joined in a somewhat perplexing matter, much like in the Hindu texts, a huge number of auxiliary deities and makers. The texts also seem to say that man was created four times and destroyed four times- similar to the ancient mythology of India. This is recorded in the Native
Chimalpopoca manuscript, or the Codex Chimalpopoca named so by Abbe Brasseur de Bourbourg (1814 – 1874), a noted French writer,ethnographer, historian and archaeologist. He became a specialist in Meso-American studies, travelling extensively in the region.

In the Native American scripts, myths and mythologies survive names of their deities, gods and goddesses that stand out in their likeness to Indic-Sanskritic names. Included here are Viriseva and Vairubi.

Though Andrés Pérez de Ribas (1576-1655), a Spanish Jesuit missionary, and historian of north-western Mexico records in his book ‘My Life Among The Savage Nations Of New Spain’ Viriseva as a goddess and Vairubi a god, the names seem to be linked to God Shiva and Goddess Bhairavi of the Hindu tradition. He states, “The Sinaloas, from Culiacan north to the Yaqui River, have dances in honor of a certain Viriseva, the mother of the first man. This first man, who was her son, and called Vairubi, they hold in like esteem.” Virshaiva (वीरशैव) is a particular sect of Shiva in India, Bhairavi is the same as Parvati, the consort of Shiva.

What lends support to the above is the existence of two other names in the Meso-American tradition. In his book, ‘The native races of the Pacific states of North America’, author Hubert Howe Bancroft states, “The Pericues, also of Lower California, call the creator Niparaja, and say that the heavens are his dwelling-place…..The nations of Los Angeles County, California, believe that their one god, Quaoar, came down from heaven; and, after reducing chaos to order, put the world on the back of seven giants. He then created the lower animals, and lastly a man and a woman. These were made separately out of earth and called, the man Tobohar, and the woman Pabavit…”. (page20). Niparaja is most likely a distortion of Nataraja – yet another name of Shiva, and Pabavit is most likely the equivalent of Parvati. There is another name for Creator, referred to as ‘Chareya’ translated as ‘Old man Above’ – which may just be the same as the Sanskrit ‘acharya’ with a syllable dropped.

In his book, ‘The native races of the Pacific States of North America’, Hubert Howe Bancroft et al state that the eminent Alexander Von Humboldt (1769-1859), German Naturalist and explorer, was of the view that the Native American myth of the snake cut into pieces was a reflection of the famous serpent Kaliya or Kalinaga conquered by Vishnu when he took the form of Krishna. The Mexican Tonatiuh, the Meso-American sun-deity of the daytime sky, according to Humboldt was the reflection of “the Hindu Krishna, sung of in the Bhagvat-Purana”. (page 40-41).

Bancroft then quotes Count Stolberg, (house of Stolberg was a large German dynasty of the former Roman Empire’s higher aristocracy) of the time and states, “The two great religious sects of India, the worshippers of Vishnu and those of Shiva, have spread over America, and that the Peruvian cult is that of Vishnu when he appears in the form of Krishna, or the sun, while the sanguinary religions of the Mexican is analogous to that of Siva, in the character of the Stygian Jupiter. The wife of Siva, the black Goddess Kali or Bhavani, symbol of death and destruction, wears, according to Hindu statues and pictures, a necklace of human skulls. The Vedas ordain human sacrifices in her honour. The ancient cult of Kali, presents, without doubt, a marked resemblance to that of Mictlancihuatl, the Mexican goddess of hell..”. Count Stolberg however was of the opinion that one could not assume that there was communication between South Asia and the Americas.

But Humboldt felt differently. States Bancroft, “Humboldt who inclines strongly toward the belief that there had been communication between America and South Asia, is at a loss to account for the total absence on the former continent of the phallic symbols which play such an important part in the worship of India. But he remarks that Mr. Langlies observes that in India the Vaishnava, or votaries of Vishnu, have a horror of the emblem of the productive force adored in the temples of Shiva and his wife Bhavani, goddess of abundance.”

Of the many myths in their tradition the Native Americans describe of a great flood in their land of origin. It is generally accepted that the Native American word ‘apache’, a collective term for several Native American tribes, has its source in the Yavapai word ‘epache’ meaning ‘people’. It is also sometimes traced to a Zuni word meaning ‘enemy’. The Zuni who considered Navajo as their enemies referred to the Navajo as ‘apache’. The Zuni called themselves Inde or Nide. Might that have been a truncated form of Sindhu – after all there is a river by the native American name Xingu that flows in South America. The native name for Zuni river was the Shiwinan.

The Zuni traditionally speak the Zuni language, a language isolate that has no known relationship to any other Native American language. Linguists believe that the Zuni have maintained the integrity of their language for at least 7,000 years. The Zuni name for their language is Shiwi or Shivi. The word for priest is ‘shivani’. The Zuni came from a culture that had the knowledge about the winter and summer knowledge which they celebrated as major festivals – which they called Yatakiya -ittiwana and Tetsina-wittiwa.

The ‘Apalachee’ were a tribe of present-day Florida who lived in a village by the same name near Talahassee. The village got its name perhaps from the Apalachee word ‘abalahci’ which meant ‘the other side of the river’. Or it may have originated from the Muskogean ‘apalwahči’ which meant “dwelling on one side.”

In Sanskrit, ‘vasa’ (वास) means ‘dwelling’. ‘Para’ (पार) means across or on the other side. In some Indian languages that are derived from Sanskrit such as as Kashmiri, ‘apara’ means on the other side. “Paravasi’ or ‘aparavasi’ would then mean ‘dwellers on the other side’.

Click here for an interesting observation about the Sanskrit and Vedic connection to the Seven Peaks of the Appalachian Mountains, one of which is named Maneka, and the nearby Mononghaela River .

In Sanskrit the word ‘apachi’ (अपाची) has to do with direction and means ‘South’. Other close cognates, Apara’ (अपरा), Apachya (अपाच्य) and ‘apanchya’ mean ‘west’ or ‘western’.

Even today Apache is the collective term for several culturally related groups of Native Americans that originally moved in from the Northern part of America to Southwest United States. Given the fact that many Native American languages have many words similar to or even identical with Sanskrit, could it then be that Apache referred to the tribes that resided or moved to the south or south west from North America as the Sanskrit meaning of their name suggests.

Suggested Links:
1. Sanskrit Roots of some Pre-Columbian Native American Words
2. Sanskrit found in Native American Tribal Names

3. The Native races of the Pacific states of North America

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