There are many theories regarding the arrival of Native American hunter-gatherers in the Americas across the Bering Strait, about 12,000 to 30,000 years ago. Scholars differ on and debate about whether the Natives came from West or East Asia or whether in a single or multiple waves. Though the debate continues, it has long been established through DNA studies, that there is an undoubted link to Asia. 

Here is a look at the remnants of their cultural heritage and languages, that sheds a little more light on the Native American Asian link. As early as 1789 Thomas Jefferson had written,”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, cultural heritage that indicates that they might have followed the same traditions and practices as that of ancient India

Of all the native American people, the Quiche 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 pantheon, a huge number of auxiliary deities and makers. 

The Popul Vah also suggest that man was created four times and destroyed four times – with some stories of creation similar to the Puranas. The story of creation is recorded in the Chimalpopoca manuscript, also known as 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, among which some stand out for their likeness to Indic-Sanskritic names. Included here are Viriseva and VairubiAndrés Pérez de Ribas (1576-1655), a Spanish Jesuit missionary, and historian of north-western Mexico records Viriseva, in his book ‘My Life Among The Savage Nations Of New Spain’, as a goddess and Vairubi as a god.  Ribas 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.” These names seem to be linked to Lord Shiva and Goddess Bhairavi of the Hindu tradition. 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…”. Niparaja is most likely a distortion of either Nataraja or Nagaraja. Nataraja is a name of Shiva, and Pabavit is most likely the equivalent of Parvati, Shiva’s consort. Nagaraja is the ‘god of snakes’ in the Hindu pantheon.

There is an interesting tidbit about a group of Native American tribes in Idaho who are known by the name Snakes. It is a collective name given to the Northern Paiute, Bannock, and Shoshone Native American.

The term Snake was used as early as 1739 by French trader and explorer Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, Sieur de la Verendrye when he described hearing of the Gens du Serpent (Snake people) from the Mandans – another tribe from North Dakota. This is probably the first written mention of the Shoshone people. The term “Snakes” is also used to refer the Shoshone by British explorers David Thompson and Anthony Henday. No one has a clue why the Snakes were referred to the Snakes – though even the river in the area that they inhabited later came to be known as the Snake.

But the origins may be hidden in one of their tales related by Herbert Howe Bancroft, “In Idaho there are certain famous Soda Springs whose origin the Snakes refer to the close of their happiest age. Long ago, the legend runs, when the cotton-woods on the Big River were no larger than arrows, all red men were at peace, the hatchet was everywhere buried, and hunter met hunter in the game- lands of the one or the other, with all hospitality and good- will. During this state of things, two chiefs, one of the Shoshone, the other of the Comanche nation, met one day at a certain spring. The Shoshone had been successful in the chase, and the Comanche very unlucky,
which put the latter in rather an ill humor. So he got
up a dispute with the other as to the importance of their
respective and related tribes, and ended by making an
unprovoked and treacherous attack on the Shoshone,
striking him into the water from behind, when he had
stooped to drink. The murdered man fell forward into
the water, and immediately a strange commotion was
observable there; great bubbles and spurts of gas shot
up from the bottom of the pool, and amid a cloud of
vapor there arose also an old white-haired Indian, armed
with a ponderous club of elk-horn. Well the assassin
knew who stood before him ; the totem on the breast
was that of Wankanaga, the father both of the Shoshone
and of the Comanche nations, an ancient famous for his
brave deeds, and celebrated in the hieroglyphic pictures
of both peoples….”. The name Wankanaga may say it all – Naga is Sanskrit for ‘snake’ – hence snake people!

In the Native Races of the Pacific, Bancroft mentions many other names that are very close cognates of the names of Vedic Gods, goddesses and other deities. For example he writes, “..the Clallams, a coast tribe on the mainland opposite the south end of Vancouver island, have  a principle good deity called by various names; and an evil spirit called Skoocoom; to these some add a certain Teyutlma, ‘the genius of good fortune’.”  These names seem to be characters from the Ramayana, Sukshama was a demon, certainly an evil spirit. He was the cursed son of Rishi Kashyap, by his wife Danu. Teyutlma, a close cognate of Tillottama, was an apsara or celestial nymph who was made of ’tila’ or ‘tiny particles’, each particle ‘uttama’ or ‘of excellence’. There seems to be a thread here, Sukshama also means ‘tiny’ or ‘minute’.

Bancroft adds, “The medicine men of the tribe (Clallam) are supposed to have much influence both for good and evil with these spirits and with all the demon race.”

There are many other names that make perfect sense in Sanskrit. The Cahrocs of Klamath River in Northern California believe in a  Chareya, Old Man Above, who made the world, sitting upon a certain stool. Bancroft adds, “The Cahrocs of Klamath River in Northern California…believe in a certain Chareya, Old Man Above, who made the world, sitting the while upon a certain stool now the possession of the high-priest, or chief medicine-man.”  Chareya‘ may be the same as the Sanskrit ‘acharya‘ with a syllable dropped. Gene D. Matlock links the name Quaoar to the Vedic Kubera or Kuvera.

There are many other deities in the native American pantheon. Ikanam, the Creator of the Universe is a powerful deity among the Chinooks. Iknam translates as ‘One Name’ in Sanskrit. The Mexican God Tlaloc is a close cognate of Trilok, Sanskrit for  ‘three worlds’, referring to the Heaven, Earth and Hell or the world underground. 

The Mexican tribes worshipped the moon-god under the name Meztli, as a deity presiding over human generations. Meztli is considered by some experts of Meso-American studies as identical with Joaltecutli. This is reminiscent of Shiva in the Hindu context where Shiva is the moon-god and the god of night as well. Abbe Brasseur de Bourbourg describes in his writings a time when the forefathers of the natives lived in a certain Crescent land, the cradle of their civilization, which was lost in a deluge. There they had practiced what they referred to as Saba-ism! Saba is most likely  a distortion of Sava or Siva, the ‘v’, as established by Grimm’s Law of Consonant Shift, distorts into a ‘b’ with passage of time. 

“It is the moon”, writes Abbe, “male and female, Luna and Lunas, personified in the land of Crescent (Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean) , engulfed in the abyss that I believe I see at the commencement of this amalgam of rites and symbols of every kind.” The deluge is described in the ancient texts of India, which say that following the deluge the survivors, left with no option, set off to distant lands, taking with them their scriptures and culture, language, myths and practices. “The saved remnant of the people wept the loss of their friends and of their old land, making the latter, with its Crescent shape, memorable forever by adopting the moon as their god.” 

The Crescent Shaped Lesser Antilles

Suggested Links:

1. Sanskrit Roots of some Pre-Columbian Native American Words
2. Sanskrit found in Native American Tribal Names
3. Native American races of the Pacific States of North America
4. Native Americans with Ancestors from India
5. The Old Santa-Fe Trail by William F. Cody
6. Indian Legends from the Northern Rockies by Ella Elizabeth Clark
7. Allied Chambers Transliterated Hindi-Hindi-English by Henk W. Wagennaar & S.S. Parikhh


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