The Niger River is the principal river of western Africa, extending about 4,180 km. It originates near the Tembakounda city of Senegal. In Sanskrit ‘kund’ (कुण्ड) means a ‘pool’, and ‘kunda’ means a hill in the Dravadian idiom. Also in Sanskrit ‘kAanda’ (काण्ड) means a ‘heap’. ‘Khanda’ (खंड) is ‘piece’ or ‘section’. 

In his book, ‘Oriental Fragments’, author Edward Moore lists many names of African towns and villages which include Janakakonda, Tendikonda, Kootakunda, Barraconda, Seesekund, Tandacunda, Fatteconda and Mauraconda. Moore does a detailed analysis of these names and concludes, “I am deposed to refer them all to the Sanskrit kund or kunda.”

Then there is the name of the River Niger itself. Roman historian, Suetonius (69-122 AD) wrote that the word ‘gher’ in ‘Niger’ originates from the Berber language, spoken in Morocco & Algeria and means ‘watercourse’. However, the Sanskrit ‘jhar’ (झर) for ‘waterfall’ or ‘water-body’ explains the name better considering that there are towns by the names ‘Ganga‘, ‘Yamina‘ and ‘Kamala‘ on its bank. Then Chad has a place name by the nme gaya. There are two more towns by the name Gaya. One is In Nigeria, and the other in Niger. the Niger also has two towns by the name of Gaya on its banks – one in Nigeria and the other in Niger. 

Africa boasts of at least three places by the name Gaya.
There are many Sangama(s) with two located in Nigeria,
and one in Tanzania

The Gaya in Nigeria is located in the state of Kano. This Gaya is an ancient place, and precedes the foundation of Kano itself. The traditional ruler of Gaya is known as Sarkin Gaya. In India, the founder of the city of Gaya on the Ganges was knows as Gaya Sura.

The Gaya of Niger is located in the Dosso department. It is the wettest region in Niger. Attached to the Gaya town of Niger is the local legend of someone called ‘Bayajidda’. Bayajidda is a character from the traditional history of the Hausa people of Niger and Nigeria and the central figure of the Bayajidda Legend. The various versions of the legend differ on major points, but generally agree that early immigrants came to the western region of Lake Chad somewhere from the East. It is believed that Bayajidda is a personification of a group of immigrant people from a more or less distant region, rather than the name of one individual.

The story goes that in his travel across Africa Bayajidda reached the town of Gaya (on the River Niger) where a blacksmith made a knife for him. Bayajidda then goes to a town by the name of Daura where a serpent guarded a well and only allowed the village people to draw water from the well once a week. However, to help out the people Bayajida kills the serpent and helps the people to have a free access to water.  In the local Hausa language the word for serpent is ‘naja’ – obviously a derivation from the Sanskrit ‘naga’ (नाग). 

And the prefix Baya in the name Bayajidda maybe a distortion of Gaya. The suffix jidda may be a distortion of any number of Sanskrit words such as ‘jina‘ (जिन) which means ‘victor’, it is also one of the names of Lord ‘Vishnu’.

As far as lake Chad is concerned, some 7000 years ago it was one of the largest lakes in Africa and is estimated to have covered an area of 400,000 square kilometres. Its name in the local language means a large expanse of water or a ‘lake’. 

Lake Chad is fed by a river by the name of ‘Chari’, also called “Shari’. ‘Shari’ or its Sanskrit cognate ‘Sari’ (सरि) means a ‘cascade’ or ‘waterfall’ or a ‘river’ in Sanskrit. This also brings us back to the Sanskrit ‘jhara’ (झर) which as mentioned above means a ‘water-body’ and is a component in the name ‘Niger’! Shari may be a distortion of Jhara itself. The word jhar appears in many river and waterbody names in Africa and is atopic dealt with extensively in posts in this blog.

Mungo Park (1771 – 1806), a Scottish explorer of the African continent, was the first Westerner known to have traveled to the central portion of the Niger River. The central portion of the River Niger is where the path of the Niger takes the shape of the crescent. In his travelogue Mungo Park mentions the route that he had taken on one of his trips on the River Niger. The route that he took went hence – Downie – Jinbala – Kamala – Ganga – Yamina– Calimana. Notice the three highlighted names. If these were names of Indian towns, these names would have been expected. But these are names of African towns on the River Niger. To cross check these details turn to page 378 of Edward Moore’s ‘Oriental Fragments’. To read Edward Moore’s analysis of these names click here.

The River Niger which originates in the Guinea Highlands in Southern Guinea runs in a crescent like Lord Shiva’s top knot, through Mali, Niger, on the border with Benin and then through Nigeria, discharging through the Niger Delta.

The Crescent shaped bend on the River Niger

As it flows through Mali, near the island of Madjie, the Niger branches into three streams, forming a sort of a ‘Triveni’.

The encircled part where the River’s Moussa and River Niger.
meets and form a ‘Triveni’. In the middle of this intersection is
a small island and the location of the revered Mt. Kesa.

Mt. Kesa on the island where the River Niger meets River Moussa,

‘Kesa’ is the name of Vishnu and Krishna both. 

Lord Shiva is also known as ‘Vyoma-Kesha‘.

The local inhabitants worshipped this 300 ft. stone.

For a note on the Sanskrit connection to the name Niger click here.

Suggested Links:

1. The story of the Niger

2. Celebrated Travels and Travellers, by Jules Verne

3. Mt. Kesha

4. Journal of an Expedition to Explore the course and the termination of the Niger by Richard. Lander and John Lander

5. Encyclopedia Dictionary of Puranas

6. The Hindu Pantheon by Edward Moor


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