THE SANSKRITIC NAMES OF THE RIVERS OF MT. MERU AND MT. KILIMANJARO

It is the aim of this post to review the names that the ancients had given to the mountains, rivers, streams and waters, or to towns near Mt. Kiliminjaro and Mt. Meru in Tanzania to discover any principles, if discoverable, on the basis of which these names were given. 

It is also the purpose of this post to investigate whether the aboriginal or the ancient most known names given to the rivers emanating from Kilimanjoro and Meru 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 followed the same general principles in naming mountains and rivers and other water bodies which are found to prevail in Sanskrit river names of India. 

I. To make a beginning, a selection of nine Sanskrit root words which carry the meaning either of river, or water, or flow, or fluid, or river banks, are being investigated to analyze how often they appear in the river, mountain and town names in the vicinity of Kilimanjaro and Mt. Meru.

The selected Sanskrit roots which follow all pertain to water or waterbodies in some form or the other. They include:
1. ‘jhar’ (झर) meaning ‘waterfall’ or ‘river’,
2. ‘gara’ or (गर) meaning fluid or wetting,
3. ambh’ (अम्भ) meaning water, fluid, or juice;
4. ‘apa’ (अप्) or river;
5. ‘kula’ (कूल) or ‘river’, river names with variations of the word kula, or town names with the suffix ‘kula’ or its ‘variations’,
6. ‘ganga’ (गङ्ग ) or some variation of it, meaning ‘swift’

7. the suffix ‘ga’ ( गा ) meaning to ‘go’, ‘move’ or ‘flow’,
8. ‘sindhu’ (सिंधु) meaning river
9. ‘sara’ (सर) also meaning river or lake.

All of the above root words appear in the names of rivers emanating from Mt. Kilimanjaro and include:


1. The Masanga, Mrusanga, Karanga and the Nanga which like the Ganga bear the suffix ga (गा), meaning to go or flow. Also the word ‘sanga’ (सङ्घ) that appears in the names Masanga and Mrusanga is Sanskrit for ‘combined’ or ‘together’. The river Congo was once known as the Sangha and today has a tributary that bears the same name.

2. River Mongoro. This name includes the root word ‘jhara’ or ‘gara’ meaning ‘waterfall’ and ‘fluid’ respectively. ‘Gara’ should not be confused with ‘giri’ which also appears either as ‘giri’ itself or as its variation in many mountain names in Africa in which case its meaning stems from ‘giri’ (गिरि) or ‘mountain’, not to be confused with ‘gara’ (गर) or fluid.


3. River Engere Den includes the root ‘jhara’ (झर) in the form ‘gere’. A Sanskrit tweaking of this name would render Engere Den to ‘Jharadana’ or ‘abundant water’ which has another equivalent elsewhere in the river Jordon.


4. The Ngomberi and Umbwe rivers, their names include the root ‘ambh’ (अम्भ्) meaning water or fluid. In their Sanskritic form the names may have once read as Ambavari and Ambhve. There is a lake by the name Amboseli


5. River Tarakia. Tara is Sanskrit for star. Since Sanskrit ‘tara’ has nothing to do with water, it may be ignored. What is of note though is that the Tarakia flows into the Musangiro where once again the root ‘gara’ (गर) appears as ‘giro’.


6. River Garagua. The root ‘gara’ (गर) appears as the prefix here.


7. River Engare Rongai. The root ‘gara’ appears as ‘gare’.


8. River Sere. Here the Sanskrit root ‘sara’ (सर) meaning lake or waterbody appears in the name of the river.


9. Many other Sanskrit root words also appear in names in the Kiliminjaro and Mt. Meru vicinity, though sparingly, but these are significant because they are seen in innumerable river and mountain names elsewhere in the broader area of the African continent. These root words include variations of ‘gana’ (घन) meaning dense or deep which appears in the name of rivers Makogani and Njugini, variations of Sanskrit ‘varI’ (वरी) water, vAri (वारि) water pot or ‘vari’ (वरि) ‘stream’ appear in various forms in the names of rivers Nagomberi and Weru Weru.

II. River names in the vicinity of Mt. Meru.

Sanskritic names that exist in the vicinity of Mt. Meru today where we see the root words mentioned at the beginning of the post. These include:
1. Embakasi, Kiambu, Nambair and Samburu where we see the root ambh (अम्भ्),


2. Bogoria, where we see ‘gara’ (गर) appear as ‘goria’, and Engare Goria where we ‘gara’ as ‘gare’, Tarangire National Park, where once again the ‘gara’ appears as ‘gire’, etc, etc.


3. The root word ‘sara’ (सर ) meaning lake appears in the name Kwansari which is located at -3.24 Latitude, 36.37 Longitude.

4. Then there is Lake Abhijatha, sometimes spelled as Abhijatta which at once is a reminder of Abhijita, the name of a lunar asterism. Then there is Kibera, a distortion perhaps of Kubera.

Whether or not Mt. Meru of Tanzania is the mystical Meru of the Vedic and Puranic texts of India is not known but some details of the two certainly match.

First, Mt. Meru is located in the Arusha Region of Tanzania and its highest peak is known as Ngurudoto. Researcher Mukundchandra Raval states in his book The Mount Meru, “It is interesting to note that the name of the highest peak of Mount Meru is Ngurudoto. Guru Data is one of the three sons of Seer Atri and Ansuya. Guru Datta is always found at the top peak of any mountain wherever he has his abode. His abode is on the highest peak of the Mount Girnar in Gujarat and the Mount Abu in Rajasthan. Likewise his abode is Ngurudoto on the highest peak of Mount Meru.” Raval also adds that Arusha is a distortion of the name Usha. In the Indic tradition Usha is the daughter of the demon king Banusura who had once undertaken a severe penance to win the blessings of Lord Shiva and asked that Shiva guard Banusura’s city of Sonapuri as a boon. Sanawari ia PLce name in Tanzania and may be explained by the Puranic name Sanawari. A river Usha, (spelt Usa) flows near Mt. Meru into the Great Rift Valley.


Second, according to the Varaha Purana, to the east of the mystical Mt. Meru lies a peak by the name of Mandara. There are a couple of options that one may explore to identify the location of Mandara near Mt. Meru in Tanzania on the map of which a peak by the name of Monduli lies at -3.242952, 36.479749, very close west of Mt. Meru which itself is located at -3.247214, 36.751834.


However, a second option for the location of Mandara appears on a map published in 1885 in the Meyers Gazetteer. In this map Mandara is clearly marked, located just south of Kimawenzi (now Mt. Mewenzi), on the top left end of the map just below the area marked Kilima Ndscharo. Other Sanskritic names appear in the vicinity of Mandara.


A map of Kilimanjaro and surrounding areas
published by the Meyers Gazetteer in the 1800s.
Places identified include Sanskritic names such as Mandara,
 Girijama, Sapanga, Khiwa, Siwa and Usagara.

In the Puranic lore Mount Mandara was used as the cosmic pivot on which was twisted Vasuki, the king of serpents, who resides around Shiva’s neck, and which became became the churning rope during Samudra Manthan or ‘Churning of the Ocean’. By tugging on the two ends of the coil, the devas and asuras together extracted amrita, or the Nectar of Immortality from the ocean. The cosmic pivot or Mount Mandara is believed to be the centre of the cosmic world. The point or tip of this cosmic world arrangement on which the entire universe spins is known as Mt. Meru. Because Mandara on Kiliminjaro and Mt. Meru, both mentioned in the Puranas, are located so close together in Tanzania, some scholars have argued that the Puranic texts in the lore of the Churning of the Ocean are in fact referring to Mt. Meru and Mandara of Tanzania. In fact, since on the Meyers map Kilimanjaro and Mandara are located so close to one another, Kilimanjaro may itself be the Mandara of the Puranas, Kilima is ‘hill’ in Swahili, Kilima + Mandaro may have over time distorted to Kilimanjaro.

Some other names of mountains, rivers, forests and lakes located in the proximity of Mt. Meru mentioned in the Varaha Purana include a set of five names – Ketumala, Sarasa, Pandava, Mt. Sisira, Mt. Suparsva etc. which may correspond to present day locations of Ketumbeine, Sagasa, Panda, Mt. Sisaba and Mt. Suswa in the area that lies in and around Mt. Meru and Mt. Kilimanjaro.

III. In the many hills and peak names in the vicinity of Kilimanjaro and Mt. Meru, the Sanskrit ‘giri’ (गिरि) or mountain, appears in some distorted form or the other in the names of the following:


1. Mt. Losiminguri ( -4.227086, 34.536748 )
2. Mt. Ol Lotigeli (-2.970763, 37.022442),
3. Mt. Kangiri ( -4.050119, 34.885925 ),
4. Mt. Mungori ( -4.019525, 34.830307 ),
5. Mt. Kisingisi (-4.310168, 34.535145),
6. Mt. Kinangilu (-4.227086, 34.536748 ).

That a considerable number of Sanskritic and Indic names appear on the map of Africa was noticed by many scholars who had studied the journals and travelogues of many explorers who had travelled in Africa, like Richard Lander and Mungo Park.

It is in this context of their writings that Edward Moor had recorded in his book Oriental Fragments, “But what is to be expected in the Cimmerian regions of Central Africa? Who looks thither for poetry or polish ? And who may not feel some surprise at finding the rivers, mountains, towns things which usually receive appellations least liable to change bearing Sanskrit (and Greek?) names; almost as commonly as the rivers, mountains, towns, of India or Greece ‘!”

Suggested readings and Links:
1. Oriental Fragments by Edward Moor, published  1834

2. The Sanskrit Connection to the names Niger and Nigeria

3. The Sanskritic Etymology of Mt. Kilimanjaro and a note on Mt. Meru of Tanzania


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