It is the aim of this post to review the names that the ancients have given to the rivers, streams and waters, or to towns near rivers or lakes of the land that they occupied. More specifically, it is the purpose of this post to discover any principles if discoverable, on the basis of which these names are given. It is also the purpose of this post to establish that the aboriginal, or the ancient most known names of all the major rivers around the world converge to the same few Sanskrit root words or their variations.
In this inquiry the focus will also be on the question whether the ancients around the world followed the same general principles in naming rivers and other bodies which are found to prevail in Sanskrit river names of India.
The focus is on countries and cultures where a large number of languages were spoken by different tribes such as in the Native American cultures, and diverse communities within a limited territory such as in Nigeria, and also territories which had an extensive aboriginal population such as in Australia.
To make a beginning, a selection of six root words are take from those that were examined by Reverend MacPherson in his paper, The Aboriginal Names of Rivers in Australia Philologically Examined, in 1886. These root words carry the meaning either of river, or water, or flow, or fluid, or river banks, in the aboriginal languages of Australia are being investigated to see if they have their origins in Proto-Indo-European, in particular the Sanskrit language. It is also the aim to check how many ancient river names around the world have their names based on these few root words. The selected roots include ‘ambh’ (अम्भ) or water, fluid, or juice; ‘apa’ a’ (अप्) or river; ‘kula’ (कूल) or ‘river’, river names with variations of the word kula, or town names with the suffix ‘kula’ or its ‘variations’, ‘ganga’ (गंग )with the root word ‘gang’ or some variation of it, meaning ‘swift’ along with its suffix ‘ga’ meaning to ‘go’, ‘move’ or ‘flow’, sindhu (सिंधु) meaning river and ‘sara’ (सर) also meaning river or lake.
The first imitative root word chosen as the basis of this study is ‘ambh’, meaning, water or juice, sometimes linked to the meaning of mango which in Sanskrit is aamra (आम्र) but is related to ‘ambh’. In his paper, The Aboriginal Names of Rivers in Australia Philologically Examined, Rev. Peter Macpherson, makes the observation, “Proceeding tentatively then with the letter m, is it to be found embodied in root words meaning water within the four corners of Australia? To this question there is the answer that the simple form amu, meaning water, is found in the region of the Ballonne. At Rockingham Bay the form hammoo is found also meaning water’. Here, there can be no doubt, the same root is concerned, although the m is doubled and the word is increased by the addition of an aspirate at the beginning. In Victoria such forms as ununut and ammitch for sea are found. Here then are tolerably plain evidences that the letter m, as a matter of fact, was used by the aborigines as in some way specially fitted to occupy a place in words intended to represent water. ”
Turning now to the Indian-Sanskritic texts there we find the root word ambh (अम्भ) meaning ‘water’, appear in the names of river Ambi in Maharashtra and river Ambika in Gujarat. Out of India we find ambh appear in the names of Amburayan river in Phillipines, river Amber in United Kingdom, Reka Ambarnaya in Russia, and the Yamba in Australia. Samba is a river town in Jammu province of India, located on the river Basantar, earlier called Vasantara. The Sambre is a river in northern France. Then there is the sea port of Colombo in Sri Lanka, its name derived from Sanskrit ‘Kola’ and ‘amba’ (अम्भ), with amba either translated as ‘water’ or sometimes as ‘mango’ from the local Singhala language, though it is the same as the Sanskrit ‘aamra’ (आम्र) ‘mango’; kola or ‘kula’ (कूल) is sea or waterbody. Then there is the river Jambi in Sumatra or the Chambeshi in Zambia, the name Zambia itself an extension of the name Ambh. Another example is the Wamba river in Congo which is known as the Uamba in Angola.
Then there is the river Gambia in the country of Gambia or river town Gambhu on the river Mwanza. On the map of Tanzania you see river names such as the Gombhe and the Limba as well as the Pemba Island and the Pemba Channel.
A major river in Peru is the Urubamba. Urvi (उर्वी) in Sanskrit has many meanings such as ‘soil, earth, heaven & earth, wide region, river and earth’. Bamba is an extension of amba (अम्बा). On the left bank of the river ‘Patakancha’ (पातकंचन), Sanskrit for ‘Descending Gold’ or ‘Flowing Gold’ lies the ancient town of Ollantaytambo famous for its temples and agricultural terraces. Though the ancient South American, including pre-Incan, pre-Mayan & pre-Aztec civilizations, practiced terrace farming extending from the villages of Chihuaahua to Chile, no where did the art of agricultural terrace farming reach the excellence that it did at Ollantay-tambo, where, the terraces were built to a standard higher than any other town. Ollantay appears to be a variation of ‘alinda’ (आलिन्द) or ‘allindaka’ (अलिन्दक) both mean ‘terrace’ or ‘balcony’, tambo a variation of amba. In the ancient Native American language Aimara, also called Aymara, ‘Ullan-tavi’ means ‘looking down from’, a variation of ‘looking down from a height or terrace’, of Sanskrit ‘aalindak’.
Miles Poindexter (April 22, 1868 – September 21, 1946), an American politician who served as a United States Representative, a United States Senator and also as the Ambassador of the United States to Peru made the following observation, “There is nothing strange in the fact that much of the religious mythology of the Mexicans and Peruvians was undoubtedly of Asiatic origin when it is considered that all of our religions come from Asia….Both the Inca and Mayan civilizations, even their languages, had much in common with our own, inherited from the same common far eastern Cradle-land of the race….America in race and culture was but an extension of Asia, and it is said that in pre-glacial times it was geographically so…The name Asia itself appears on the Peruvian coast, south of Lim.”
Around the world ‘Ambh’ appears in the name of Ambarra river in Tamil Naidu. There is the Ambarnaya in Siberia that flows into Lake Pyasino, pyan (प्यान) is Sanskrit for sea. There is the River Amba in Primorsky Krai in Russia near its border with China. Then there is the river Amba that flows in the Nasarawa state in Nigeria. There is also the Anambra in Nigeria, the Quicombo in Angola. Then there is the town of Cochababmba in Bolivia, the Pernambuco state in Brazil, Ambato in Ecuador, and Lambayeque and Moyobambo in Peru.
We now look at some Malay names which are variations of ‘ambh’ that Mcpherson had presented. There is the Ombak, which means wave, and has its source in the Sanskrit ‘ urmi’ (उर्मि). Then there is ‘kumbah’, to wash, its source is most certainly the Sanskrit ‘kumb’ (कुम्भ) meaning ‘jar’ or ‘pitcher’, then there is ‘tumba’, ‘to draw water’ which is the same as the Sanskrit ‘dambha’ (दम्भ) or ‘to collect’. In south of India, in the Dravadian area ‘uma is water.
But perhaps the name ambh appears most in the Australian aboriginal names of rivers and creeks and streams such as Amby River and Einbo Creek, Uamby Creek, Wambo Ponds, Combo Creek, Vecomba Lake, Mowamba River, Wallombi Brook, Yarimba Creek. Also, it is this combination of ‘rnb’ with ‘ambh’ which supplies some of the most stately forms for names of streams, as Wararnba and Warragamba Rivers. Also, such a name as Tumby Island in South Australia, illustrates the fact that root-words for water are perhaps used to denote islands and promontories. ‘Rambh’ (रम्भ) is Sanskrit for ‘sound’ or ‘roar’.
Another variation of the word ‘ambh’ is Sanskrit ‘ambhu’ (अंभु) meaning ‘water’ or ‘cloud’ and and appears in river names around the world such as the Dambhu, also called the Dambhuvita in Romania. There is a river town called Ambutirtha on the river Sharavathi river in Karnataka in India. There is the Ambu Lapcha Glacier in Nepal.
Addition of liquid letters such as l, n, r generates other such names as the Ambur, a town situated on the river Palur between Chennai and Bangaluru in India. There is River Amber, the left bank tributary of the River Derwent in Derbyshire, England. It gives its name to the borough of Amber Valley. The name Amber is said to be a pre-Celtic word with uncertain meaning, but it can be easily explained by the Sanskrit root word ‘ambh’. There is a river Amber in Botswana flowing into the Machaba Gomoti plains and then into the Okavango Delta. Gomoti (गोमती) too has a Sanskrit nuance, there is a river by this name in India, and means ‘that which abounds in cattle’. Mountains which are the source of most rivers too bear the name ‘ambh’ in different forms such as the ‘Amambai’ in Paraguay.
The root word ‘ap’ (अप्) or water in Sanskrit too appears in river names in different forms such as the Persian ‘ab’, Celtic ‘abh’, Turkish ‘abi’, be’ and ‘bu’ in African dilects, while in South American dialects they appear as ‘beai; and ‘eubi’. In the west of Europe, numerous streams whose names end in p are understood to embody the same root: thus Barop, Lennep, Oppa.
From the Amambai Mountains of Paraguay originates the river Apa. The Barazauta in Romania is also known as Apa Rosie in its upper course. There is the Aba river in Nigeria.
The root ‘apa’ also quite often merges with another root word ‘apara’ (अपार) which means ‘distant’, ‘across’ or ‘river bank’ or ‘the river bank across the river’. In the Vedic tradition ‘apara’ has a deeper meaning. It is equated with boundless, unlimited, and interminable. ‘Ra’ is also earth, ‘apara’ therefore is ‘carrying over the boundless earth or sea’.
‘Apu’ (आपू) a variation of above mentioned ‘apa’ means ‘to flow forward after purification’, ‘to purify’ or ‘flow forward in a course as a stream’. The form ‘Apurima’ (आपूरिमा) would covert the verb ‘Apu’ into a noun or pronoun of feminine gender, which aptly describes a river.
There is the Apurimac river in Peru which can be explained by the above names. Even if the word Apurimac is split into two words ‘Apu’ (आपू) and ‘Ramac’ (रमक) it still makes perfect sense in Sanskrit. ‘Apu’ (आपू) as mentioned above means ‘to flow forward after purification’, and, ‘ramak’ (रमक) means ‘sporting, dallying, toying amorously’ – again an apt description for a flowing river. Another variation ‘Aparamak’ roughly translates as ‘dallying flowing water’. ‘Aparima’ (अपरिमा) means ‘that which is immense or immeasurable’ – which could be a reference to the size of the ‘Aparimac’.
Then there is the Para river in Brazil. There is also the Pará, estado (state) of northern Brazil through which the lower Amazon River flows to the sea. It is bounded to the north by Guyana, Suriname, and the Brazilian state of Amapá. The name Amapa contains both the Sanskrit root words, ‘ambh’ in its truncated form ‘am’, and the root ‘apa’. There is an Okpara river in Nigeria.
A look at the name Dnieper, the fourth longest river in Europe, that flows through Ukraine and Belarus where one sees the root ‘apa’ as ‘eper’. Then there is the Danube, the second longest river in Europe, which was known as ‘Danu Apara’ or the ‘distant river’ to the Scythians in their language. The prefix ‘danu’ (दानु ) is also Sanskritic and means ‘dew drops’ or ‘fluid’. The Danube was also known as Istros or ‘fast flowing’ in ancient Greece, same as the Sanskrit (इषिरम्) or ‘swift’.
Then on the other side of the world there is the Little Para River, a seasonal creek running across the Adelaide Plains in the Australian state of South Australia, whose etymology is traced to the aboriginal Kaurna language where ‘pari’ means ‘a stream of flowing water’.
The forms ‘apa’ and ‘para’ appear together in the name of the Apure River is a river of southwestern Venezuela, formed by the confluence of the Sarare and the Uribante. The Sanskrit root word ‘sara’ (सर) or lake appears in the name of the Sarare. On the map of Venezuela there are rivers Cpanaparo and the Masparro with the ‘para’ root. Other rivers bearing the name ‘para’ around the world are the Ogunpa in Nigeria,
Another variation of ‘para’ appears is lake Gaurapari in Brazil. In Sanskrit ‘gaura’ (गौर) means ‘shining’ or ‘splendid’. ‘Pari’ (परि) means ‘abundant’. Put together GauraPari means ‘Abundantly Splendid’.
A third root that we proceed with is ‘kula’ (कूल), Sanskrit for ‘shore’, ‘river bank’, ‘pond’ or ‘pool’. One also sees the name ‘kala’ (काल) meaning ‘time’ which sometimes distorts to cara or kara in ancient river names. In Sanskrit, ‘karshu’ (कर्षू) means ‘river’, a ‘kupa’ (कूप) is a ‘well’ and ‘kulya’ (कुल्या) is a small river. Derivatives of ‘kula’ such as ‘kulini’ (कूलिनी) and ‘kulvati’ (कूलवती) also mean ‘river’.
Tallahassee, Florida. Home to one of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world – the Wakulla Springs. ‘Wakulla’ is a Timicuan (Native American) word. Wikipedia says, “‘Wakula’ may contain the word ‘kala’ which signified a ‘spring of water’ in some Native American Indian dialects”. This is where the Sanskrit connection with Sanskrit ‘kula’ is evident.
Tallahassee has a similar meaning. In Sanskrit, ‘tala’ (ताल) again means a ‘water body’ and ‘talak’ (तलक) means ‘spring’ or ‘pond’. ‘Ulhas’ (उल्लस्) means ‘joyful’, ’cause movement’, ‘jump’, ‘shine forth’ or ‘come forth’. Tallahasee, therefore means ‘a place where the ‘water springs emerge’ or ‘white water springs emerge”.
Even though Tallahassee is generally translated as ‘Old Town’, it is interesting that the water-springs area of Calistoga in California, which was earlier known as ‘Tu-la-huasi’ is translated from Native American as ‘Place of Healthy Springs’.
In another part of the world in Siberia, is Lake Baikal. Its name is traced to the Turik languages and is said to mean ‘rich lake’. However, the Sanskrit translation of its name is more appropriate. In Sanskrit ‘Bha’ (भा) means ‘lustre’, ‘shine’ or ‘splendor’. “kal’ is distorted ‘Kula’ (कूल) which means ‘lake’, ‘pond’ or ‘pool’.
The coast of Florida has many interesting names such as Apalacheecola, Pensacola and so on. According to Florida State Department, “Apalacheecola” comes after the name of the Apalachicola tribe and is a combination of the Hitchiti words apalahchi, meaning “on the other side”, and okli, meaning “people”. In original reference to the settlement and the subgroup within the Seminole tribe, it probably meant “people on the other side of the river”. So in ‘apala’ one can detect the Sanskrit ‘apara’, with the meaning ‘on the other side’, and ‘kula’ (कुल ) in the native American ‘cola’. About Pensacola Gene Matlock says, “Now for Pensacola. Pensacola is a great port. It has a gigantic, safe harbor. Therefore, it doesn’t take much guesswork to intuit that its original name was Panisha-Cola, or the coast of the Panis or Phoenicians.”
In antiquity, in Turkey the Batman River was known as the Kalata. This name meant ‘bride’ to the Syriac people who populated the area; it was thus translated into Greek as Nymphios. In Sanskrit the word ‘kala’ has to do either with ‘the cycle of time’ or ‘calendar’ or with ‘blackness and death. In this context the interpretation of Kalata as ‘blackness’ makes a lot of sense. The Batman, near its confluence with the Tigris, flows just a mile or two off Turkey’s largest petroleum field. Petroleum is often referred to as black gold and lends a darkish tinge to the water of Batman. The word Kala is often found in ancient river names around the world, or in the names of towns near rivers, and there is also a possibility maybe a distortion of the Sanskrit (कुल) ‘kula’ meaning ‘river’.
The Kalabari river in Nigeria is acombination of bothe ‘kala’ and ‘bari’ which is an approximation of ‘pari’ and ‘para’. River Kura, that flows in Georgia, gets its name from the ancient Albanian term for ‘reservoir’. Once gain the Sanskrit connect is evident. The Georgian name of the river Kura is Mt’k’vari and its roots are traced to the Georgian ‘good water’. That too has a Sanskrit connect, for ‘vaari’ (वारि) and ‘vaarii’ (वारी) both mean ‘water’ in Sanskrit.The Mt’k’vari forms a confluence with river ‘Araghave’. Mainline sources say that the name ‘Araghave’ originates from old Iranian Ragvi meaning ‘swift’. Once again compare this to the Sanskrit ‘raghu’ (रघु) meaning ‘rapid’ or even ‘raghav’ (राघव) meaning ‘sea’ or ‘ocean’. ‘Araghave’ is the Armenian version of the name ‘Raghave’. Other rivers or rivulets bearing the suffix ‘kula’ around the world are the Paaskula in Estonia, and the ‘Kula’ river in Nigeria.
A fourth root word that appears in many forms is ‘gang’ (गंग), Sanskrit for swift or fast, such as the Ganga in India, the suffix ga meaning to go, Variations of Ganga appear in the name Mekong in China, where the root ‘gang’ changes to ‘kong’. In Thailand there ie the Bang Pakong, and though its name is believed to be a distorion of Bang Makong or ‘place of catfish’, its confluence with the river Hanuman in Prachinburi, or Prachinpuri, tells a different story. In the name of the river Congo, ‘gang’ appears as ‘cong’. There is the town of Gangu on the Niger near its confluence with Madije. Variations of gang include the Pangani in Tanzania. Lake Victoria was known as Nayanza, perhaps Nayanga in the Bantu language. There are the Longa, Loango, and Kwango rivers in Angola. The ancient name of Volga was ‘jlaga’ and the Sanskrit ‘ga’ appears as in its suffix. The prefix ‘jala’ (जल) is Sanskrit for ‘water’.
|The etymology of Volga as proposed by the linguist Trubetzkoy — in his lectures at the University of Vienna — was as follows: in primitive eastern Slavic, unrounded front vowels changed into rounded back vowels before a tauto-syllabic l, so that jilga must have changed to julga; the initial j was lost before rounded vowels in eastern Slavic, and the initial u acquired an obligatory prothetic v. Thus the form vulga arose, and short u changed in the 12th-13th centuries into o. So through a long series of changes Jilga became Volga. (Oral information by Roman Jakobson.) 12 Thomsen (4) 13 B. A. Serebrennikov, “O nekotorykh sledakh izcheznuvshego indoevropejskogo jazyka v centre Evropejskoj chasti SSSR, blizkogo k baltijskim jazykam” (Traces of an extinct Indo- European language related to the Baltic in the centre of the European part of the USSR), Lietuvių Mokslų Akademijos Darbai (Trudy AN Litovskoj SSR), serija A, vyp. 1 (2), Vilnius, 1957. 14 M. Vasmer, “Die alten Bevölkerungsverhältnisse Russlands im Lichte der Sprachforschung,” Vorträge and Schriften der Preussischen Akademie, No. 5, 1941. ‘
It is more likely that the original name was ‘Julga’ rather than ‘jilga’ if one were to look at the name through the Sanskrit lens. ‘Jala’ (जल) is ‘water’, both in Sanskrit and in Hindi.
River Cuyahoga, Ohio. The current name of Cuyahoga, is a cognate of the Iroquios word Cuyohoga which means crooked river’, but the name is said to derive from the original Mohawk name Cayagaga.
The name ‘gaga’ may be a distortion of the Sanskrit root word ‘gang’ (गंग) meaning ‘swift’. The occurrence of the name ‘gaga’ in the native American name indicates that there may be a common thread to the aboriginal and ancient names of rivers around the world. Also the name Cayagaga may have Sanskritic links. Here’s why.
In his article ‘The Aboriginal Names of Rivers in Australia Philologically Examined’, the late Rev. Peter McPherson, read before the Royal Society of New South Wales on 4th August, 1886, it was stated about the form ‘gong’, “Here is a form which is common to mountains and streams. There is also a goodly array of gongs from the side of the waters. There are Burrangong, Cudgegong, Brongong, Kallobungung Creek, Vagonga Inlet, Tragong Oreek. In such forms as the following the gong or some equivalent is also plain enough-Bongongalong Creek, Gangangar Creek, Kangaloola Creek. Also the forms in y, Noeyango Lake, Yango, Yanka, Yengo, Yonpa Creeks. Now leaving the mountains aside, we have to see whether there are any root forms in gong or its equivalents meaning water. The vocabularies supply us at once with such words as kung or kong, meaning water at Moreton Bay, and kongun, water on the Peel River. The forms guong and guang, min, occur at Wellington. Kaiung at Illawarra means sea; in compound words turaguny at Port Jackson meant a creek. Nullakonggor in Kamilaroi means a watel·lwle. At Illawarra ngaityung is water. Nagung is water at George’s River. These materials prove abundantly that there is a root-word for water which may be represented with its variations by the form gong, which occurs in the names of so many creeks and designations for water. When we look beyond the Australian area our attention is arrested by the great River Ganges in India. The word ganga or gunga is the Sanscrit for river. To those who settled in the far back ages upon its banks, it was simply the river, So, after all the illustrations which have been given that the same radical form exists among the aborigines here, we cannot doubt that such names as appear in the gazetteer as Congai, and Gungulwa and others, just meant the river or the water.”
The same logic may be applied to native American names for rivers in the United States. In the context of Cuyahoga, one may state that in Sanskrit, ‘Kulya’ (कुल्या), ‘KUlya’ (कूल्या) and ‘Kulini’ (कूलिनी), all mean ‘river’. These may all lead to the genesis of the word ‘Cuya’. Or ‘Cuya’ may be a distortion of the Sanskrit ‘kruta’ (क्रुक्त) or ‘Kutila’ (कुटिल) both of which mean ‘crooked’.
‘Apaga’ (आपगा) means river, ‘aga’ (अग) means ‘water-jar’ or ‘water-pitcher’. You see the word ‘aga’ in the names of rivers such as ‘Ganges’ which is known as ‘Ganga’ in Sanskrit. The word ‘aga’ also appears in the name ‘Volga’ which incidentally was also known as ‘J-aga’ in ancient times. By that logic the suffix ‘hoga’ in Cuyahoga may be a distortion of ‘aga’ .
The Cuyahoga originates in springs in the highlands of Geauga County, in the adjoining townships of Hambden and Montville. The headwaters of three watercourses in the Lake Erie basin are located in Geauga County. It is said that Geauga County is named after the Onondaga word ‘jyo’ä·gak’ or Seneca ‘jo’ä·ka’, both meaning ‘racoon’. In Sanskrit a close cognate of ‘jyo’ä·gak’ and ‘jo’ä·ka’ is ‘jahaka’ (जहका) translates as ‘hedgehog’ – not quite rocoon. But ‘Geauga’ seems to be closer in meaning to the Sanskrit ‘Jalaja’ (जलज) which means ‘born in water’.
But is there a link between the Sanskrit language and Native American languages? In 1909, a white lady by the name of Mrs. Helen Troy, was initiated into the Onondaga tribe. Mrs. Troy and her mentor, Mrs. Isaac Thomas, had “delved deeply into the fascinating mythology of the Indians, of which comparatively little is known.” Troy and Thomas were both reportedly working on “a dictionary of the languages of the Six (Iroquious) Nations.” Their compilation of Onondaga and Mohawk words was said to total 30,000. On completion of the manuscript, Mrs. Troy commented “There exists no doubt,” stated Mrs. Troy, “that the mythology of the Iroquois antedates that of the Greeks and Romans, and in fact all other peoples just as their language does that of the Hebrews and all others.” She further claimed “that Onondaga, the mother tongue of all the ages, mothered also Sanskrit.” She had indeed found the two languages to be closely linked.
We now look at the Sanskritic links to river names in the Native American languages. In his paper, Similarities between the Asiatic and American Indian Languages, published in October 1960 in the International Journal of American Linguistics author Tadeusz Milewski pointed out similarities between the cultures of the American peoples before the coming of the whites and that of Asia and Oceania. “It results from either mutual contacts or independent but parallel evolution….Moreover it may be interesting to note the same coincidences are found in the sphere if linguistic facts. Striking structural similarities whose origin may be conceived in different ways occur between some Asiatic and American Indian Languages.”
He further states, “According to generally accepted hypothesis ancestors of the American Indians was Asia and they reached America by crossing the narrow and often frozen Bering Straits. As the sheet retreated different nomadic hunting tribes moved from Central Asia to the north, came to Bering Straights and having crossed over the ice and reached the coast of Alaska…. These facts prove that the primitive peoples if America brought with them the languages they had spoken earlier in Asia.” The author adds, ‘…the similarities between the languages are too complex and too numerous to be the result of parallel and independent development. It is therefore imperative to look for the remnants of these similarities.”
In his book, “On the Composition of Indian Geographical Names”, J. Hammond Trumbull states, “Near the Atlantic seaboard, the most common substantival components of river names are (1) -tuk and (2) -hanne, -han, or -huan”. Neither of these are independent words, they are suffixes that are seen in the Native American names of rivers.
‘Tuk’ normally denotes a river whose waters are driven in waves, by tides or wind. Trumbull pointed out that tuk is found in names of tidal rivers and estuaries; less frequently, in names of broad and deep streams, not affected by tides. He states ,”With the adjectival missi, ‘great,’ it forms missi-tuk,—now written Mystic,—the name of ‘the great river’ of Boston bay, and of another wide-mouthed tidal river in the Pequot country, which now divides the towns of Stonington and Groton……Near the eastern boundary of the Pequot country, was the river which the Narragansetts called Paquat-tuk, sometimes written Paquetock, now Pawcatuck, ‘Pequot river,’—the present eastern boundary of Connecticut. Another adjectival prefix, pohki or pahke, ‘pure,’ ‘clear,’ found in the name of several tidal streams, is hardly distinguishable from the former, in the modern forms of Pacatock, Paucatuck, &c.”
But what is the etymology of the word ‘tuk’. Are the American Indian languages unrelated to the Indo-European languages of the world. The ‘Etymologiocal Dictionary of the Gaelic Language’ identifies the word ‘ teich’ which means ‘flee’. And variations of ‘teich’ appear in many Indo-European languages such as Irish teithim, Early Irish techim, Old Irish teichthech, vitabundus, Welsh techu, skulk, Middle Breton techet, flee: *tekô, *tekkô, flee.These words are derived from the Indo-European root teq-, flow, run; whose oldest forms appear in Sanskrit ‘tik’ (तीक्) – ‘go’, ‘taku’ (तकु) – ‘rushing along’ and ‘toka’ (तोक) – ‘race’.
As for -hanna, -han or -huan, these seem to be the truncated form of Sanskrit ‘vahana’ (वहन) meaning ‘carrying’ or ‘sailing’, or ‘vAhana’ (वाहन) meaning ‘vessel’ or ‘boat’. Vahana relates to carrying or flowing. In the Vedic context a vahana is the vehicle of the gods. For example the river Ganga in India is considered to be the vahana of Goddess Ganga as well as that of Varuna, the god of the Seas.
In the Native American tradition Seip or sepu, the Algonkin word for ‘river’ is derived from a root that means ‘stretched out,’ ‘extended,’ ‘become long’. and correspond to the Sanskrit ‘ksepa’ (क्षेप) meaning ‘stretched’ or ‘extended’. Mississippi is missi-sipu, ‘great river;’ Kitchi-sipi, ‘chief river’ or ‘greatest river,’ was the Montagnais name of the St. Lawrence.
Hammond Trumbull makes the observation, “In Pennsylvania and Virginia, where the streams which rise in the highlands flow down rapidly descending slopes, –
hanné is more common than -tuk or sepu in river names”.
Of names such as Pawtucket and Pawtuxet, he states , “Of Pawtucket and Pawtuxet, the composition is less obvious; but we have reliable Indian testimony that these names mean, respectively, ‘at the falls’ and ‘at the little falls’. Pequot and Narragansett interpreters, in 1679, declared that Blackstone’s River, was “called in Indian Pautuck (which signifies, a Fall), because there the fresh water falls into the salt water.” In Sanskrit too, the root word ‘pata’ (पत् ) corresponds to a ‘fall’, hence ‘jala-patha’, ‘water-fall’, which appears as Jog Jalapatha, in the name of the highest waterfall in India.
Trumbull then observes that , Nippie, Nipi and its diminutives, nippisse and nips, in Native American river names were employed in compound names to denote water, generally, without characterizing it as ‘swift flowing,’ ‘wave moved,’ ‘tidal,’ or ‘standing’. By the northern Algonkins, it appears to have been used for ‘lake,’ as in the name of Missi-nippi or Missinabe lake (‘great water’), and in that of Lake Nippissing, which has the locative affix, nippis-ing, ‘at the small lake’ north-east of the greater Lake Huron, which gave a name to the nation of Nippissings. Whatever the interpretation, it may be added here that Nippar and Sippar were the names of two Mesopotamian river towns on the river Euphrates. Second, both the words are explained by the Sanskrit ‘sipa’ (सीप ) meaning ‘vessel’, and ‘nipa’ (निप ) meaning ‘water-jar’.
The suffixes -Paug, -Pog, -Bog, an inseparable generic, denoting ‘water’ but ‘ ‘standing water,’ is the substantival component of names of small lakes and ponds, throughout New England, including Massapaug, Quinnipaug, Wongun-paug and so on. In the Sanskritic tradition, the suffix ‘bagh’ appears in the name ‘Bhagirathi’, The Tribagha, and “Chandrabagh’ and refers to a division of a major river, Such as the Bhagirathi is the tributary of the Ganges, Chandra and Bhaga are tributaries of the Indus, the Tribhagha is a river mentioned in the Matsya Purana that descends from the Mahendra Mountain.
Trumbull then mentions another noun-generic that according to his research denotes ‘lake’ or ‘fresh water at rest,’ found in many Abnaki, northern Algonkin and Chippewa names, This is the Algonkin -gămi, -gŏmi, or -gummee. Names include Kitchi-gami or ‘Kechegummee,’ the Chippewa name of Lake Superior, is ‘the greatest, or chief lake.’ Caucomgomoc, in Maine, is the Abn. kaäkou-gami-k, ‘at Big-Gull lake.’ Temi-gami, ‘deep lake,’ discharges its waters into Ottawa River, in Canada; Kinou-gami, now Kenocami, ‘long lake,’ into the Saguenay, at Chicoutimi. There is a Mitchi-gami or (as sometimes written) machi-gummi, ‘large lake,’ in northern Wisconsin, and the river which flows from it has received the same name, with the locative suffix, ‘Machigāmig’ (for mitchi-gaming).”
In the Indic tradition ‘gami’ or ‘gamini’ in fact conveys movement and motion with the name Tripath-gamini the name of the Ganges itself. Then there is the Puranic river Durgama that arises in The Vindhya mountains.
Scholars say that no convincing explanation to the etymological origin of the name ‘Nigeria’, or the name of its neighboring country ‘Niger’, has been found among the 30 native languages spoken in the area. But it is known that both the countries are named after the River Niger.
The origin of the name Niger stares us in the face but remains un-coded due to a deep rooted bias against this powerful tool- the Sanskrit language. Lets therefore turn west then and look at Ptolemy’s analysis of the name Niger. In his writings Ptolemy mentioned two rivers in the desert of NIger, one by the name ‘Gir’ and farther south, the ‘Ni-Gir”. Roman historian, Suetonius (69-122 AD) wrote that the name ‘gher’ originates from the Bereber language, spoken in Morocco and Algeria and means ‘watercourse’.
But it is obvious that the word ‘gir’ is a distortion of the same Sanskrit word that appears in the names of rivers around the word. The word is ‘jhara’, and appear in the names of many rivers and water bodies around the world such as the ‘Jari’ which is the northern tributary of the River Amazon, River Jara in Melbourne, the Jara River (a tributary of the Susita River) in Romania, or Lake Jara in New Mexico – not to mention many more in India and Nepal. In Sanskrit the word ‘jhara’ (झर) means a waterfall or a water body, and ‘jhari’ (झरी) means a river.
Popular explanations include explanations such as that the name Niger is a distortion of the local Tuareg phrase ‘gher n gheren’ which means ‘river of rivers’, and the belief is that ‘gher n gheren’ has been shortened to ‘ngher’. However, the analysis gets a little more interesting if one were to decode ‘gheren’ and ‘gher’ and ‘gheren’, or the cognates of these two words, with the help of Sanskrit.
First of all ‘gheren’ may again be a distortion ‘jhara’ itself. Or then there is ‘gehevra’ (गह्वर) or ‘gehena’ (गहन), both meaning ‘deep’. Uncannily, it is the Hindi ‘ghehra’ (गहरा), also derived from Sanskrit ‘gehevra’ (गह्वर), which phonetically comes closest to the Tuareg word ‘gheren’.
The name Jhara also occurs in Australia in the form of ‘Yarra’. It is said that the River Yarra was called Birrarung by the Wurundjeri people who occupied the Yarra Valley. Upon the arrival of the Europeans in Victoria it was given the name ‘Yarra Yarra’ in 1835, in the mistaken belief that this was the aboriginal name for the river.
John Wedge, British surveyor, explorer and politician who moved to Victoria, joined the Port Phillip Association that surveyed 600000 acres of aboriginal land and named the Yarra river had this to say about the name ‘Yarra’, “On arriving in sight of the river, the two natives who were with me, pointing to the river, called out, ‘Yarra Yarra’, which at the time I imagined to be its name ; but I afterwards learnt that the words were what they used to designate a waterfall, as they afterwards gave the same designation to a small fall in the river Werribee, as we crossed it on our way back to ‘Indented Head’.”
It is interesting that the aboriginal word for ‘waterfall’ is ‘yarra’. For in Sanskrit the word for waterfall is ‘Jhara’ (झर). ‘Yarra’ seems to be a distortion of the word ‘Jhara’, especially because a very close cognate of ‘jhara’ also appears in aboriginal names such as ‘Purit-jarra. The distortion of ‘jhara’ also appears as ‘jarpa’ in the name Puntujarpa. The exact word ‘jhara’ appears in the name ‘Kaltukat-jara’ as ‘jara’ which is the aboriginal name for River Docker.
‘Puritajarra’, an ancient aboriginal site lies close to the only permanent water in the Cleland Hills, near the eastern boundary of the Western Desert. Researchers have described the ‘Puntujarpa’ rock-shelter as a form of ‘oasis’, due to water bodies in this area. All these place names indicate their importance to the aboriginal settlements in ancient times due to the availability of water in an area which is essentially a desert, thus establishing the fact that ‘jara’, ‘jarpa’, ‘jarra’ and ‘yarra’ are distortions of the Sanskrit ‘jhara’ meaning ‘water-fall’ or ‘water-body’.
Now a bit about Niagara in the United States. Here is an excerpt from ‘Niagara Township, Centennial History’ that refers to these meanings of the word Niagara:
“Some scholars think the word Niagara comes from the name of that Indian tribe, the Onghiahrahs. Others think it derives from the Iroquois word Onyahrah, or neck, which the Iroquois applied to the peninsula (or neck) between the two lakes.
Most scholars think Niagara comes to us from the Huron word ‘Oniahgahrah’, or ‘thunderer of waters’, which was applied by that nation to Niagara Falls.”
The second syllable of the word ‘Oniagarah’ is a cognate of the Sanskrit word ‘jarah’ which as mentioned above means ‘waterbody’ or ‘waterfall’. The second syllable in the name Niagara carries the same meaning – waterbody or a fountain of waters waterfall. Hence, if there is a Sanskrit connection to the name Niagara, it may simply be derived from Sanskrit ‘nirjhar’ (निर्झर) which means ‘Waterfall’!!
And here is an observation about the legacy of the Native American names of the rivers of America that Edward Moor made in his book ‘Oriental Fragments’ in 1834, “In America what fine names might probably have been left of the vast lakes and streams and hills, which ennoble, beautify, and enrich those extended regions. How poor and uninstructive are the Hudson, the St. Lawrence, in comparison with Niagara – pure Sanskrit I suspect….”.
Jordan gets its name from River Jordan. The origin of the name ‘Jordan’ is generally traced to the ancient Semitic word ‘Arda’. ‘Arda’ in turn comes from the Hebrew ‘Yorad’ which is derived from the Aramaic ‘Yarden’ or ‘Jarden’ meaning ‘down-flowing’ or ‘that which descends’. A step further takes us to the Sanskrit Jhara or Jharat.
Jari River, also spelled Jary, river, northern Brazil, rising on the southern slopes of the Tumuc-Humac Mountains and flowing in a generally southeasterly direction for about 350 miles (560 km) to join the Amazon river.
In his book, Mysteries of Ancient South America, author Harold T. Wilkins writes about the findings of an expedition in the 1920s lead by Colonel P.H. Fawcett into the woods of the Brazilian Amazon where he chanced upon an ancient city and some rock inscriptions, about which Wilkins says, “… those strange writings are something more remarkable… they are of an esoteric Hindu cult.” (page 63).
Writing about the inscriptions, he further adds,” I have myself discovered some queer links between these strange letters of old Brazil, and characters found in Tibet and Vedic Hindostan”. (Page 118).
Brazil which has no apparent link to Vedic India holds many a clues to its Vedic past in its ancient place and river names. First Brazil was once known as Pindorama and though it is said that ‘Pindorama’ translates as ‘Land of Palms’, Sri Rama was not unknown in this part of the world. Also, the Brazilian Amazon is home to several tribes which seem to have a link to India.
There is an ancient tribe of Brazil by the name ‘RamaRama’. The RamaRama were a Tupi speaking group of considerable size living in the Brazilian Amazonian area in a place called Rondonia who inhabited the banks of the Machadinho and Ahara river. The Amazon was itself known as the ‘Maranon’ in ancient times. In Sanskrit marmahan (मर्महन्) is the equivalent of ‘striking the vitals’, ‘mardana’ (मर्दन) is ‘tormenting’, and both the names describe the temperament of the river well. RamaRama is also the name of a Tupian language.
Then there is the ‘Kaiapo’ – a powerful and well-known Brazilian tribe who lives in villages along the Xingu River across the Central Brazilian Plateau. The Kaiapo call themselves Mebengokre, meaning ‘the men from the water place’. The name Kaiapo was given to them by the neighbouring native tribes, which means ‘resembling apes’ and was probably given because the men used to dance with monkey masks. It is interesting that ‘kaipo’ is a cognate of the Sanskrit ‘kapi’ (कपि) which means ‘monkey’ – in fact the etymological source of the English ‘ape’ is unknown and is sometimes attributed to the Sanskrit ‘kapi’.
The Indic name Sindhu, which means ‘river’, and is the Sanskrit name of the river Indus in India, appears in Brazil as river Xinghu and in China in the name of Xinghu Lake in Zhaoqing. There is the Sinda river in Zaire and the Sindabezi Island on the Zambezi river. An ancient river town in Greece was known as Sinda or Pisidia.
|The etymological source of the name ‘Xingu’ in Brazil is largely unknown though it is conjectured that ‘Xingu’ may derive from the name given to it by a tribe named Asurini who called the river ‘Yh Uu’ meaning ‘Great Water’. The fact remains that the tribe name ‘Asurini’ itself is Sanskrit. The name ‘Xingu’ is just one syllable away from the name ‘Sindhu’. Sindhu is one of the most important rivers of India, and though Sindhu is a pronoun, it is also a generic word for ‘river’. The Asurini ‘Yh Uu’ is probably a distorted form of ‘sindhu’. The Asurini language belongs to the Tupian group of languages and the most widely spoken language of this group, the Tupi-Guarani is close to Sanskrit.|
The name ‘sara’ occurs repeatedly in Native American names. The city of Saratoga in New York is known for its mineral springs. Its name ‘Saratoga’ is believed to be a corruption of a Native American word in Mowahk language meaning ‘water springs’. In ‘sara’ (सर) means ‘spring’ or ‘brook’ in Sanskrit and is used in the names of towns or villages which are located on or around a spring. The most known of such city in India is ‘Amritsara’ – amrit nectar, sara ‘spring’. In Iran there is the city of Ramsar on the Caspian.
Wood Creek in Central New York State flows westward from the city of Rome, New York to Oneida Lake. Its waters flow ultimately to Lake Ontario, which is the easternmost of the five Great Lakes. Wood Creek is less than 32 km long, but has great historical importance. Wood Creek was a crucial, fragile link in the main 18th and early 19th century waterway connecting the Atlantic seaboard of North America and its interior beyond the Appalachian Mountains. It is also known as Ka-ne-go-dic but its most ancient known name is Os-sa-ra-gas or Osaragas. The Sanskrit sara once again appears in this name.
Suggested Readings:1. Similarities between the Asiatic and American Indian Languages by Tadeusz Milewski (International Journal of American Linguistics)
2. Five Native American Indigenous Languages you should learn
3. The Aboriginal Names of Rivers in Australia Philologically Examined.
4. The Composition of Indian Geographical Names
James Hammond Trumbull