RIVERS OXUS (AMU DARYA) AND JAXARTES – THE SANSKRIT CONNECTION

The River Oxus, also called Amu Darya flows through Afghanistan, Tajakistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. In antiquity, the river was known by its Sanskrit name Vaksu (वक्षु). The name ‘vakshu’ now survives in the name Vaksh, a tributary of the Amu River. Most encyclopedia only trace the name of the Amu river to its Greek and Latin name Oxus, and generally omit mentioning its Sanskrit name Vakshan (वक्षण) , from which the name ‘Oxus’ was derived. The reason probably is the fact that not many records about the ancient history of this region and the etymology of the names of its rivers exist except in the ancient Hindu annals, including the Mahabharata and the Puranas. The Vakshu was referred to as the Chakshu in the Mahabharata.


Present day Vakshu River is a tributary of Amu Darya

Amu Darya was known as Vaksh River in antiquity.

In the ancient Indian Vayu Purana, the region between the Amu Darya (Greek name – Oxus River) and the Syr Darya (Greek name – Jaxartes River) was known as Kumuda-dvipa. Just as the name Oxus derives from the Sanskrit Vakshu, the name Jaxartes derives from the Sanskrit name Yakshu (यक्षु). The Avestan texts too refer to the River Jaxartes as Yaksha-arte. Also, the name Kumuda (dvipa) changes from Sanskrit to Komedes in the Greek and Latin texts.

Captain John Wood (1811–71), an officer in the navy of the East India Company who in 1836 was appointed to take part in a mission to Afghanistan led by Alexander Burnes in February 1838 discovered what he thought that was the source of the Oxus (Amu Darya) River, located in the Pamir Mountains at what he estimated was latitude 37° 27’ North and 73° 40’ East and was and is the Lake Zorkul in Tajakistan.

Kula (कूल) is Sanskrit for pond or lake. Lake Zorkul is also known as Sir-i-kul and Syr Kul. The two prefixes Sir and Syr are also variations of Sanskrit ‘sara’ (सर) also meaning lake. The two words, Sara and Kula and their variations, appear in many names in the vicinity of Zarkul as well as on the path of Amu Darya such as Sarygamysh Koli at 41.821999, 57.460657 . Other Sanskritc-Indic names that appear here include Kowie Shiveh at 37.392041, 71.363778 and Kuli Sarez at 38.208054, 72.795971.

Suggested Links:

1. India and Central Asia: J.N. Roy, J.N. Roy & B.B. Kumar

2. Vedic Civilization and the Sarasvati River

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