The name Shiva appears on the map of Turkey as the name of a town, on the banks of river Kizilirmak which originates in the mountains of a Turkish province by the same name – Sivas. In popular Turkish literature the etymology of the name Sivas is commonly explained as the truncated form of a Greek word, sebastos, meaning ‘venerable’. In Greek vocabulary sebastos was equated with the translation of a Roman word ‘augustus’, an epithet which the Roman emperors of the Caesar clan used for themselves. The word travelled into Greek language at the height of Rome’s power. In turn, the Romans believed ‘augustus’ to have its origins in Latin ‘augustus’ meaning ‘consecrated’ or ‘venerable’. In other words, it was more or less all conjecture. The Europeans did not have a cultural context in which to place any of these names.

Sanskrit provides that cultural context. In Sanskrit a cognate of the Roman augustus is ‘agastya’ (अगस्त्य), which is the name of Canopus, the second-brightest star in the night sky after which Sage Agastya was named. As the Vedic texts say Agastya was one of the stars in the Great Bear Constellation, more precisely one of the rishis in the Sapta Rishi cluster of stars. Agastya is derived from ‘aagastiya’ (आगस्त्य) meaning ‘assiduity’ or ‘diligence’. The Sanskrit ‘shiva’ apart from being the name of Lord Shiva from which it derives its sacredness, also means ‘benign’ or ‘gracious’. As for the name Caesar, that too was a cognomen for Roman emperors. Its source to them was unknown, however, its German counterpart Kaiser (king) is linked to Sanskrit kesarI (केसरी) or lion, but literally means ‘mane’, derived from ‘kesha’ (केश) hair.

From historical sources it appears that the name Sebastos was given to the Turkish city in 64 BCE when the Romans gained control over the land. Unfortunately at the time of its conquest much of the city’s history was erased such that no clues remain about whether the culture and traditions had any links to Vedic India.

That the town of Sivas gets its name from the Sanskrit Shiva is highly likely considering that many towns on the river Kizili have Indic-Sanskritic names such as Salarkolu (‘kula’ is Sanskrit for river), Karanar (‘Karan’ is a character in Mahabharata), Yalmansaray and Saraycik (‘sara’ is Sanskrit for a ‘lake’ or ‘waterbody’), Deveci Deg (‘deva’ is Sanskrit for ‘god’ or ‘deity’, Devaki is the name of Sri Krishn’s mother), Avsar (‘ava’ is water, ‘sara’ is lake as mentioned above), Sarmasikkaya (‘sarma’ is Sanskrit for ‘flowing’, ‘kaya’ is ‘form’), Kula (‘river’ or ‘well’), Sakarca (‘sakaar’ or ‘beautiful’), Kapulukaya (‘kapil’- fire, ‘kaya’-form) Sagirkavak (‘Sagar’ is Sanskrit for ‘sea’), Amarat (‘amar’ or ‘immortal’), Keysar (hair or saffron, but more about this later), Ahmetisar (‘ahmati’- abounding in ‘snakes’, sara – ‘lake’) and Kullu (‘kula’ ‘well’ or ‘waterbody’). None of these names have any meaning in Turkish or the Greek language. With so many Sanskritic names on the river Kizili alone, it is evident that the etymology of the name Sivas too was Sanskritic and must therefore be researched to a date far earlier in antiquity than just about to a mere 2000 years.

As an aside, there is a lake by the name of Sivan in Armenia too, with an entirely different explanation for its etymology, that is, no researcher has tied the name of the lake to Sebastos. Logically a common thread should exist to the etymology a name that appears more than once in the same geographical area to give credibility to that explanation. The three largest lakes in the vicinity of the Turkish Sivan province, are the lake Van, Urmia and Sewan. All three are legitimate Indic-Sanskritic in nuance and meaning.

The river Kizilirmak itself was known to the ancient Hattussa or the Hittites (1600 – 1178 BCE) as the Marassantiya. Since the Hittites spoke an Indo-European language a decode of this name is possible via Sanskrit. Its fairly evident that Maraasantiya is a combination word, ‘maras’ is Sanskrit for ‘rain water’ or ‘stream’, and ‘santiya’ or ‘shanti’ is ‘peace’.

The Hittites called the Kizilirmak river as the Marassatiya. Sanskritic names such as Samuha, Purushanda, Harana, Untersh and Mira and many more abound on this Hittite map.

Wassukani, which was the capital of the Mittani Kings is translates as ‘mine of wealth’ from ‘Vasu+khani’.

The river flows close to a salt lake by the name Tuz, whose earlier Greek name was ‘Tatta’. However since ‘Tatta’ has no meaning in Greek it becomes obvious that the lake too got its name from some other source or language, in this case Sanskrit via Hittite. We can trace Tuz to ‘Santiya’ via Tatta, in other words Santiya shortens to Tatta when the prefix san is dropped, and then and then to Tuz from Tatta.
But where does the name Kizilirimak stem from. And is there a connection to its more ancient Hittitie name Marassantiya. And why do Sanskritic town names such as Keysari, Kanesh and Sivas spring up on the banks of this river.

First one must look at the geography of this land and the course of the river. A significant observation here is that the river flows in the shape of a wide bend. It originates from Kızıli Mountains in north-central Anatolia and flows southwest, past the towns of Zara and Sivas. The name Zara is almost certainly a distortion of the Sanskrit Sara or ‘lake’ and as one must have noticed the word ‘sara’ abounds in place names in Turkey. The river then turns northward in a great crescent-shaped bend, where it breaks through the Pontic Mountains. The Pontic is also known as the Parhar Mountain in the local Turkish and Pontic Greek languages. It is generally believed that the term Parhar originates from a Hittite word meaning ‘high’ or ‘summit’ but it is evident that it is a close cognate of the sanskrit ‘parvat’ which means ‘mountain’, that distorts into ‘pahad’ or ‘pahar’ in many Sanskrit derived languages.

The Crescent shaped bend on River Kizilirmak in Turkey which flows
in the province of Sivas before it reaches the big bend.
In the Vedic tradition rivers with big bends are revered as
the representation of Lord Shiva’s top knot in which he holds the Ganges River.

In the Vedic-Indic tradition any river that flows in the shape of a bend is always linked to Shiva, the bend a representation of Shiva’s top-knot, in which he is believed to have held the unruly Ganges captive. Examples of sacred sites on river bends are common in India, such as Shivpura on the river Jhelum (Vitasta) in the city of Srinagar, however in the ancient world, instances of this phenomena were seen around the world rather than just in India, and that too on a large scale.

For example, we find that on the Great Crescent of the River Niger as it flows through both Nigeria and Niger, are located many towns by Indic-Sanskritic names such as Gangu, Kamala, Yamina and Gaya. Close to this great bend, on river Niger, where the Madije forms a confluence with the Niger, lies an island, with one single 300 foot stone called Mt. Kesa which was once revered by the local population who believed that worshipping it would bring peace, harmony and prosperity to them. A description of this is given in great detail in a travelogue called ‘Journal of an expedition to explore the course and termination of the Niger’ by explorer Richard Lander who died at the age of only 29 in 1834! Click here for more on this.

The big bend on the river Niger
is the location of Mt. Kesha.
In the Vedic tradition Kesha is the name of Lord Shiva.

Mt. Kesa on the island where the River Niger meets River Moussa or Madije,
‘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.
Picture Courtesy:

Gangu, Yamina and Kanika on the banks of River Niger
mentioned in explorer Mungo Park’s travelogue

At this point we tie in the significance of the town of Keysari on the river Kizilirmak to Lord Shiva. Intuitively, we known that Keysari is a reference to the ‘kesha’ (‘jata’ or ‘mane’) of Shiva, similar to Mt. Kesha of Nigeria, or the more accepted ‘Hishikesha’ in India. Perhaps Kizili is a distortion of Keysari and explains the name Kizilirmak.

But there is a hitch. We find that Keysari is not the ancient most name of the city. It was known as Mazak about 2000 years back. However, we also know that the city has a history of 6000 years and it is quite likely that in its present name Keysari, lies a reflection of its ancient most name, of a time prior to when it got the name Mazak. This is especially so, because two shiva-lingham like stone idols were excavated in the vicinity of present day Keysari. See picture below. The name of that site, which lies 20 km away from present day Keysari, is KulTepe. The ancient most Hittite name of Kul Tepe is Kanesh, perhaps Kamesh, another name of Shiva.

The Shivalingham shaped stone idols excavated at Kul Tepe, near
Keysari in Turkey
A bit about the history of Kanesh. In the paragraph below which relates an incident from Hittite history, more than history itself, the occurrence of Sanskritic names in the story are of interest to us. This is how the story goes:

“The king of Zalpuwa, Uhna, raided Kanes, after which the Zalpuwans carried off the city’s Šiuš idol. Pithana, the king of Kussara, conquered Neša “in the night, by force”, but “did not do evil to anyone in it.” Neša revolted against the rule of Pithana’s son, Anitta, but Anitta quashed the revolt and made Neša his capital. Anitta further invaded Zalpuwa, captured its king Huzziya, and recovered the Šiuš idol for Neša. In the 17th century BC, Anitta’s descendants moved their capital to Hattusa, which Anitta had cursed, thus founding the line of Hittite kings. The inhabitants thus referred to the Hittite language as Nešili, “the language of Neša”.

Zalpuwa, is an undiscovered Anatolian city that was located by the Sea of Zalpa close to the Black Sea. Zalpa can be interpreted as the Sanskrit ‘jala’ (जल) or water, the ‘puwa’ suffix in the word has to be ‘pura’ or city.

And though Kussara is the name of the town here, it is the same as the Sanskrit Kesari mentioned above. And though the son of the king of Kesari calls himself Annitta his name should read as Annadata, ‘one who grants food’, a common Sanskrit name of Kings, rather than Annahita which means ‘somebody who does nobody’s good’. Uhna’s name can be interpreted as Uhana (उहन) ‘the reasonable one’, and Pitthana can be explained by the word ‘peeth’ (पीठ) ‘royal seat’, or ‘pedestal’.

Two rivers fall into the Kizilirmak in its course to the Black Sea, the Devrez and Gokirmak. Devrez too is Sanskrit in that Deva means ‘god’ or ‘deity’, Goki appears to be a distortion of ‘Gauri’, the consort of Lord Shiva. The river flows into the Black Sea between Sinop, a beautiful town with a long history, and the town of Samsun which lies close to Zalpa mentioned above, after a total course of about 734 miles from its source in Kizilirmak.

Notice the Sanskritic name Purushattum on the map of the Hittite kingdom

1. Mittani Names
2. Vedic Mythology
3. Urvara: Definitions in Hindu Texts
4. Indian Influence Abroad by Subhash Kak
5. Vedic Culture in the Middle East by Stephen Knapp
6. Two stone idols from Asia Minor

For Sanskritic links to the name Gobekli Tepe, click here.


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