The ancient Balts, ancestors of present day Lithuanians, Letts and Prussians are believed to have settled between the eastern shores of Baltic Sea and the upper Volga in the 2nd millennium B.C. The Balts followed an ancient Pagan religion by the name Romuva.

First, the name ‘Balt’. ‘Balt’ is said to derive from the name of the Baltic Sea. The Baltic Sea was known as Mare Suebicum or Mare Sarmaticum up until 11th century. Tacitus, a Roman historian of the 1st century, in his work ‘Agricola and Germania’, dated to 98 AD,  stated that Mare Suebicum was named for the Suebi or Suevi tribe (Suevi translates as ‘our own people’ in the Baltic culture) – a large group of people who lived in Germania that were first mentioned by Julius Caesar. Etymologists trace the name Suevi from the Indo-European root ‘swe’, which is the same as the Sanskrit ‘sva’ (स्व) meaning ‘self’. 

Even when the Russians, Poles and others finally accepted Christianity about a 1000 years ago, the Balts retained their pagan religion called Romuva for another four centuries. The Romuvans were fire-worshippers and kept their sacred eternal fire burning in the pagan temple in Vilnius. People still worshipped Perkunas, the Romuvan ‘god of rain & thunder’, who it is said is none other than the Vedic Parjanya, another name for Lord Indra. Parjanya (पर्जन्य) also has the meaning of ‘rain-cloud’ in Sanskrit.

The Cathedral at Vilinus is
built on the site of the Pagan Temple dedicated to Perkunas
which it is said was the same as the Vedic Parjanya or Indra

Like the Vedic institutions, the Balts had their official sanctuaries on high hills and on riverbanks. The ancient Lithuanian religion professed the virtue of tolerance which was encapsulated in the famous 14th century proclamation of Gediminas, one of the last of the Romuvan priests, “Let everyone worship their own Gods in Lithuania”.

The remains of a Pagan temple and a star observatory
in a place called Palanga on the Baltic Sea.

However the principal of tolerance did not serve the Romuvan Balts well. Their resistance against Christian aggression crumbled in 1387. The last of the Romuvan sacred fires was extinguished in Lithuania in 1413.

The Baltics today have little recollection of the source of the name of their religion called Romuva. The terms Romuva, Romovė and Ruomuva came from medieval written sources in East Prussia mentioning the pagan Baltic temple Romowe. Romuva has meanings of ‘temple’ and ‘sanctuary’, but, further, also ‘abode of inner peace’. Interestingly, the Baltic root word ‘ram’, has the meaning of ‘calm, serene, quiet’, stemming from the Proto-Indo-European ‘reme’ which is the same as the Sanskrit ‘ram’ (रम्) meaning ‘serene’, or ‘calm’. It of course the source of the name of Sri Rama. 

The supreme or leader of the Romuvan gods was known as ‘Dievas’, the name being derived from the Sanskrit ‘deva‘. The essence of Romuvan philosophy was the concept of ‘dharna’ – ‘the peaceful order of the universe, which again is the equivalent of the Vedic ‘dharma‘. There even is a lesser god by the name ‘Vejopatis’ who is the Romuvan ‘god of the wind‘, Vejopatis is obviously a distortion of the Sanskrit ‘Vayupati’ which has the same meaning.

The Romuvan prayers are composed of verses known as ‘daina’. Says Professor Lokesh Chandra, a prominent scholar of the Vedic period, Buddhism and the Indian arts, “ …. the Lithuanian word ‘daina’ that usually is translated as ‘song’…actually comes from an Indo-European root, meaning ‘to think, to remember, to ponder over’. This root is found in Sanskrit as dhi and dhya. The word also occurs in the Rigveda in the sense of ‘speech reflecting the inner thoughts of man.” The Sanskrit roots ‘dhi’ and ‘dhya’ are also the source of the word ‘dhyan‘.

Sanskrit names are interspersed in the ancient river and mountain names of Lithuania. The longest river is Nemunas, the name is a distortion of the sanskrit Yamuna. The second longest in Lithuania is Neris, ‘nira’ is ‘water’ in Sanskrit. 

Old and new town names in Lithunia reveal their direct and indirect links to Vedic culture and the Sanskrit language. An ancient town which was referred to as Mitau up until 1917 was given the name Jelgava, which the Lithuanian believe to be derived from the Livonian word ‘jalgab’ meaning “town on the river.” But ‘Jalgram is Sanskrit for ‘town on the river’ – ‘jalgab’ is obviously its distortion. Then there are the towns by the name Trikai, Kursenai, Radhikiai and Varena.  Much like the Vedic culture, the Romuvan festivals include the celebration of the winter and summer solstices.

Suggested Links:

1.Lithuanian Folklore as a source of Baltic Religion
2. Revival of the ancient Baltic religion
3. Indian Influence on ancient Lithuania


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