The website states, “The name Brazil is derived from the Portuguese and Spanish word ‘brasil’, the name of an East Indian tree with reddish-brown wood from which a red dye was extracted. The Portuguese found a New World tree related to the Old World ‘brasil’ tree when they explored what is now called Brazil; and as a result they named the New World country after the Old World tree”.

The (East) Indian tree that is being referred to here is the Sappan, botanical name ‘Caesalpinia Sappan’ which in Sanskrit is known as ‘Bhaarya Vrksha’ (भार्या – वृक्ष). Bhaarya Tree has been used in India since ancient times to extract the red dye called ‘abira’. The word ‘brasil’ as in ‘brasil tree’ mentioned above in might therefore be a distortion of the Sanskrit ‘bhaarya’ or at least have the same source from where the name is derived.

Sappan Tree, or Bhaarya Vriksha, India.
The wood yields red dye
 known as ‘Abira’. The flowers are
‘Pitanga’,  Sanskrit for ‘yellow’.

In the 1550s when the Spanish and the Portuguese explorers and invaders reached what would later be known as Brazil, they found a similar timber tree which was later classified as Caesalpina Echinata. This tree yielded a wood with an orange-red hue and was used for making musical instruments by the locals. The Spanish and Portuguese called this land ‘Terra de Brasil’, or, ‘Red-Dye Wood Land’. [The word ‘brasil’ had already entered the Portuguese, Spanish, as also French dictionaries]. In these languages the word ‘brasil’ meant ’ember’ and referred to the reddish-orange-yellow colour of a dying fire.

The most interesting part of the story is that this Brazilian tree Caesalpina Echinata already had a name – the locals called this tree ‘Ibirapitanga’ in their own ancient Tupi language.

But then ‘ibira-pitanga’ are Sanskrit words and mean ‘red yellow (dye)’! ‘Ibira’ is the same as ‘abira’ (red dye) mentioned above, ‘pita’ (पीत) is ‘yellow’. The suffix ‘ang’ in ‘Pitanga’ is probably a distortion or cognate either of ‘ranga’ (रङ्ग) which is ‘color’ or ‘anga’ (अङ्ग) which means ‘constituent’ or ‘part’!

There is even a place in Brazil by the name ‘Ibirapitanga’.


Ibirapitanga, Brazil

How do Sanskrit place names appear everywhere around the world? It has been argued by some Indologists that ancient Indians were excellent navigators and travelled the world, carrying Indian culture and spreading ancient knowledge all around. People around the world, and especially in India, have to review their own history through the Sanskrit lens to have a clearer vision of who they really are.

Some of the readers of this blog have put forth the view that many languages have similar sounding words with the same meaning and therefore should be called ‘cognates’. Agreed. But when there is an amazingly large number of cognates in many languages which can be decoded with Sanskrit, what does that indicate? For example the place name ‘Ibirapitanga’ in Brazil in the Tupi native american language is a cognate of Sanskrit ‘abira-pitanga’. The word has a common ‘tree’ context.  It is obvious that the ancient world was more connected that we have ever believed in modern times.


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