The Sarita River Watershed in British Columbia is the heart of Huu-ay-aht First Nations and is the most important of the 35 streams and rivers in the nations’ traditional territory. Surrounded by giant cedars the Sarita River was one of the most productive salmon rivers in Barkley Sound in Vancouver, and, since time immemorial, the Sarita and surrounding watersheds replete with many waterbodies have sustained the Huu-ay-aht.

Generally, the etymology of the name Sarita is traced to the Spanish sarita interpreted as princess, however it the Sanskrit ‘sarita’ that explains the name and the geography of this region in a more appropriate manner. Sarit (सरित्) which means ‘good flow, creek, spring, brook, river, and ocean or anything that flows’, is the name of the river Ganges or Ganga itself. The region of the Sarita river in BC is also surrounded by a creek, lake and waterfall which have the same name.

Lake Sarita, British Columbia, Canada

Sarita is an extension of the Sanskrit ‘sara’ (सर) which means ‘spring’ or ‘brook’ or ‘waterbody’ in general is used in the names of towns or villages which are located on or around a spring. The word ‘sara’ appears in the name of the city of Saratoga in New York. Saratoga 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’.

But there is a link to Sanskrit. To people who are familiar with the language, the native names in this region seem uncannily familiar. Here is the reason. First, ‘sara’ (सर) is used in the names of towns or villages which are located on or around a spring in many parts of the world such as Amritsara in India and Ramsar in Iran. The suffix ‘ga’ in the name Saratoga does not occur in isolation in the Americas. Rivers such as the Cuyahoga in Ohio or the Shequaga in New York sport the same suffix which occurs in the names of world rivers such as the Volga and the Ganga. In both these names the suffix ‘ga’ is interpreted to mean ‘moving’ or ‘going’.

Saratoga Lake 

Neither does the Sanskritic name Sarita appear in isolation in British Columbia. The longest river here is now called the Columbia and is named so by American sailor Robert Gray, who was the first to explore this river and its region, who named it after his ship, the Columbia Rediviva. In antiquity the Columbia was known as Wimahl or Wimal, which may be corelated with the Sanskrit ‘vimal’ (विमल), pure, pristine, clear.

Columbia rises in the Rocky Mountains in northwest Canada The name of the mountains is a translation of an Amerindian name that is closely related to Algonquian, the Cree name as-sin-wati is given as, “When seen from across the prairies, they looked like a rocky mass”. Intriguingly Akurvati is the name of a rocky hill mentioned in the Ramayana.

Another river, the Okanagan, rises in southern British Columbia, issuing out of the southern end of Okanagan Laake. It is said that the river takes its name from the Okanagan place name ukwnaqín. ‘Nag’ and ‘nagan’ are Sanskritic in nuance and refer to places of origin of rivers in India, or else to water springs. In British Columbia the word occurs once again in the name of Shawinigan Lake, where the word naga or nagan changes to nigan.

Early maps of the fur trade era, corresponding to the 1500s show the Okanagan River as the Caledonia River. The word ‘Cala’ or its cognates occur in names of English and Scottish rivers especially if they have something to do with black. Edward Moor states in his book “Oriental Fragments’, “Cala is not an uncommon name for a river in regions very distant from each other meaning, where a meaning can be traced, black. The river Blackwater runs near Colchester…”.

Referring to the name Kalinadi, another name for Yamuna in India, Moor states,” (It is) a Sanskrit compound name of more than one river in India; best translated by Black-river, or Black-water ; and the name of more than one (river) in Britain”. His estimate was that near the Colne and Blackwater rivers, archaeological excavations and time must reveal ancient sites or temples.

Moor was intrigued by what what Pausanius, an ancient Greek traveller and writer, had noticed in the town of Kalamata – that is, a temple of the Syrian goddess! The temple of Syri, Edward Moor says, could really have been the temple of Kali or Parvati! Syri is a cognate of the Vedic name Sri, which is yet another name of Kali!! Hence the name of the town – Kalamata!!! The Okanagan people called themselves the Syilx.

About Scotland Moor states, “In Scotland I could find many Kalic-isms, as the recent spelling of Caledonia may lead us to infer. I have before hinted that Kali-dun is the Hill of Kal, Caldew a name of Siva, Cal another…. “. Read Caldew as Kala-deva, and Cal as Kal. The same names were used by the Europeans to rename rivers and mountains in the Americas and appear in many native place names.

Legends around the name Siva may not have been unknown in the Native American tradition. For example, Siwash Rock, also known by its Squamish name Skalsh’ is a famous rock outcropping in Vancouver. Siwash is a Chinook Jargon word. A legend among the Indigenous Squamish people surrounds the rock This name refers to the story of a man called Siwash or Skalsh transformed by Xaays, a spirit being who could transform people as a reward for their unselfishness.

The Squamish name Xayaas has two more versions, in Halkomelem the name is Xaːls or Xayetm and in Lummi the name of the Transformer is Xelas, sometimes Xeʼlas. All these names seem to be a variations of the name Shiva. Though Siwash is said to etymologically stem from the French equivalent of the word ‘savage’, the rest of the story is too close to the lore of Shiva. Besides why would the natives revere someone that they would have equated with a savage. What adds to the lore is the fact that the Siwash rock was in known times always naturally adorned by a Douglas fir atop the rock, much like the topknot of Shiva.

Siwash Rock, Vancouver , Canada

But now back to the name ‘sara’. Other examples in the United States include the Saranac Lakes in the state of New York. There are three of them, and go by the names of the Upper, Middle and Lower Saranac. The region was occupied for centuries by Iroquoian speaking people and before them by other indigenous people.

There is also a river by the name Saranac which is an 81-mile-long river. In its upper reaches is a region of mostly flat water and lakes. The river has more than three dozen source lakes and ponds north of Upper Saranac Lake. In other words the entire area is replete with waterbodies.

Wood Creek in Central New York State was 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. The Sarita River- Huu-ay-aht First Nations
2. Wisdomlib.org
3. Sanskritdictionary.com
4. https://sanskritdictionary.com/scans/?col=1&img=mw0127.jpg
5. https://sanskritdictionary.com/?iencoding=iast&q=rocky+hill&lang=sans&action=Search
6. . Native names of Canadian Mountains
7. List_of_place_names_in_Canada_of_Indigenous_origin


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