Mexico, today officially known as the United Mexican States, was home to many advanced Mesoamerican civilizations in the pre-Colombian era before its first contact with Europeans in the early 1500s. In Nahuatl, the native language of the Mexicans, Mēxihco or Machico – was a term used to refer to the heartland of the Aztec Empire, namely, the Valley of Mexico. Its capital was known as Tenochitilan.

There is much debate on the etymology of the name Mexico and Tenochitilan. It has been suggested that Mexico is derived from Mextli or Mēxihtli, a secret name for the god of war Huitzilopochtli. The name Tenochtitlan was thought to come from Nahuatl ‘tetl’ (rock) and ‘nōchtli’ (prickly pear) and is often thought to mean ‘among the prickly pears growing among rocks’. However, one attestation in the late 16th-century manuscript known as ‘the Bancroft dialogues’ questioned the logic here, so that the true etymology of both the words remains uncertain.

Mainstream historians ignore the theory propounded by many other scholars who are of the view that there is a definite connect to the etymology of Mexico with Sanskrit. The basis for this is the many common features and attributes in the culture, the remains of Aztec architecture and languages spoken by pre-Colombian natives of the Aztec empire to that of some of the ancient cultures of Asia.

In the Asiatic Society Researches, Volume 11, published in 1808, Major F. Wilford states in his paper ‘An Essay on the Sacred Isles in the West’, “….various etymologies are given of the name of the city of Mexico, the true pronunciation of which is Machico. The most probable is from the Sanscrit Matsya, or Mach’ha, fish; and, in a derivative form, Matssyacha, and Mach’hica. This word, in the Machico language, is pronounced Mecho, and Mechoa. According to the learned Abbe Clavigero, a native of that country, the name of the town and province of Mechoacan, signifies the place of fish. In Hindi, Mach’hi-c’han’a implies the same, and Mach’hwa-c’hana, a place of fishermen, or Mechoa-can…In the Mexican tongue Teu-Calli signifies the house or cell of god, in Latin Dei-cella, which is to be pronounced Dei-kella….”.

Major Wilford links the suffix ‘co’ in Mexico and -kella in Latin to the Sanskrit ‘kula’ (house) – as in ‘deva-kula’ (देव-कुल) or ‘house of god’. The prefix ‘Teu’ in Teu-Calli according to Wilford is a distortion of
Sanskrit ‘dev’, which we know changes to ‘deu’ in Latin.

The largest Teucalli was located in Tenochitilan which was the most venerated of all Teocallis for the Aztecs. As mentioned above in the popular literature, the name Tenochitilan is translated as ‘place of the nopal rock’, but this argument is not convincing for the simple reason that it is unlikely that a place as important as Tenochitilan be named after nopal, a cactus plant.

The two prefixes, Teu & Teno in the names Teucalli and Tenochitilan probably have the same root – both a distortion of the Sanskrit Deva, much like the Latin Deu, all meaning ‘god’. ‘Chitilan’ is a close cognate of ‘sthalam’ (स्थलम), or ‘place’. Hence, Tenochitialn – as a distorted form of ‘Deva-stahalam’ translates as ‘place of god’.

A reconstruction of the ruined Temple of Tenochitilan

has features of vaastu-shastra of South Indian Temples

Tenochitilan stands in ruins today, almost completely destroyed by the Spanish missionaries, but thirty miles away from it stands the city of Teohuacan which has a much better preserved temple. Teohuacan sometimes also pronounced as Teotiguacan was, according to Giovanni Francesco Gemelli Careri (1651–1725) – an Italian adventurer and traveler who was among the first Europeans to tour the world by securing passage on ships involved in carrying trade, a distortion of the Sanskrit ‘devakhani’, ‘khani’ (खानि) – meaning ‘area’ or ‘mine’.  

It is more likely though that the suffix ‘huaca’ in the word Teohuacan is a mispronounced form ofSanskrit ‘khanda’ (खण्ड) meaning ‘section’ thus making Teotiguacan an altered form of ‘Deva-Khanda’ or ‘god’s area’.

There are examples of such distortions of the word ‘khanda’ in other languages too. For example, in Avestan, the mother of old Persian’, the Sanskrit ‘khanda’ deviates two ways – from one deviation stems the word ‘khaneh’ which in Persian means ‘house’ and from the other stems the word ‘haiti’ which means ‘section’. *

Another possibility for the source of the word ‘huaca’ is khetra or shetra (क्षेत्र) or ‘area’. This may seem unlikely at first but once again there is an example in Avestan where ‘kshetra’ distorts to ‘shoitra’ but keeps the same meaning. 

*[Words in English or Hindi or any other language that are traced to Persian are really just a step away from Sanskrit via Avestan]. 

Suggested Readings & Links:1.  Asiatic Researches or Transactions of the Society instituted in Bengal, Volume 11
2. Nahuatl-English Dictionary

3. History of Mexico by Francesco S. Clavigero, 1806
4. Sanskrit Scholars in Spain and Mexico by Juan Miguel De Mora

5. Mexico – Siva Temple
6. Avestan-English dictionary


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