The Discovery of source of Nile based on a Puranic map: Lake Victoria, also known as Nyanza, is one of the African Great lakes. The lake was renamed after Queen Victoria as recorded in the reports of explorer John Hanning Speke. Speke is credited with having discovered the source of the Nile. Speke reached Lake Nyanza in 1858, while on an expedition with Richard Francis Burton to locate the source of the Nile Rive. This expedition was financially sponsored by the Royal Geographical Society of United Kingdom. 

Speke acknowledged that the Egyptians themselves didn’t have the slightest knowledge of where the source of the Nile was. However, Lt. Colonel Francis Wilford (1761-1822), an Indologist, an Orientalist and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society of Bengal, who had spent four decades in India and had  prepared a map of the path of the Nile as early as in the 1790s. The map was based on information gathered from Hindu scholars and pandits who, they claimed,  were well acquainted with the geography of ancient Egypt. Wilford had also specifically engaged a pandit to gather as much material as possible from Hindu scriptures relating to the matter of the source and path of the Nile. This information and Wilford’s map led Speke to Ripon Falls, at the edge of Lake Victoria in the 1850s. 

A controversy later arose whether the Pandit had gathered the material from genuine sources or created this material based on information that he had gathered from Baniya traders who had travelled to Africa and from the researches of Wilford himself. Though it is said that Wilford had later confessed that maybe the pandit was fraudulent but he never completely dismissed him either. And there is a reason for that.

In spite of the fact that Wilford had been forced to admit in early 1800s that he had been duped by the Pandit and no references were really found in the Puranas about the source of the Nile, John Hanning Speke, the explorer who is credited with having discovered the source of the Nile still wrote in 1863 that Wilford’s map was used for directions to navigate to the source of the Nile. Why would Speke do so if Wilford’s map was not precise. This controversy is dealt with in detail in the upcoming post and demolishes the scholars of the time and current scholars who question the validity of Wilford’s and the Pandit’s work.

The Hindu connect to the discovery of the source of the Nile according to John Hanning Speke: So, in spite of the fact that Wilford was discredited in 1805 itself, in his ‘Journal of the Discovery of the Source of the Nile’ published in 1863, John Henning Speke nevertheless states, “Colonel Rigby now gave me a most interesting paper, with a map attached to it, about the Nile, and the Mountains of the Moon. It was written by Lieutanant Wilford, prepared from the Puranas of the ancient Hindus. As it exemplifies, to a certain extent, the supposition I formerly arrived at concerning the Mountains of the Moon being associated with the country of the Moon, I would fain draw the attention of the reader of my travels to the Volume of the Asiatic Researches in which it was published.” This was written in 1863, after the discovery of the source of the Nile in 1858. Wilford had died in 1822. Here is the map from the Puranas that Speke carried:

John Henning Speke further added, “It is remarkable that the Hindus have christened the source of the Nile Amara, which is the name of a country at the north eastern corner of the Victoria Nyanza. This I think shows clearly that the ancient Hindus must have had some kind of communication with both the northern and southern ends of the Victorian Nyanza.” This was in the year 1863. Wilford had died in the year 1822.

The Puranic names that Wilford’s map mentions that still exist today: Some of the Puranic names that Wilford’s map contains still exist. For one, lake Tanganayika and Lake Victoria both  lie in the vicinity of Amara.  Amara, now in the 2020s is known as Mara, and can be located on the south-eastern section of Lake Victoria and the land adjoining it. On the bank of this section of the lake also exists the town of Mara-Mara. Speke gives a description of the Amara people which is dealt with in the next post.

In the Lake Victoria surroundings, names such as Mara-Mara exist now as a truncated form of the ancient Puranic name Amara, Ganga appears as Iganga, the name of the Vedic Goddess Seeta appears as SeetaNamuganga and Sitalike. On the eastern end of Tanzania lies the Arusha region which is the location of Mt. Meru and Mr. Kiliminjaro. Minjaro is the distortion of the name Mandara which is dealt with at:


To the west of Lake Tanganyika, running parallel to it on the west, according to the Wilford’s map, lies the Sitanta mountain range, and on the east runs the Ajagara range. On the present day map, the  Siatanta of Purana perhaps survives in the name Sitalike which lies to the west of Lake Tanganyika, and Seeta Namuganga which lies on the banks of Lake Victoria at 0.715796, 32.767283. More about Lake Tanganyika, the sangama of Tanzania here: Vedic Cafe : LAKE TANGANYIKA IS THE ‘SANGAMA’ OF TANZANIA!

The name Mt. Ajagara perhaps still exists in a distorted form in the name of Mt. Sangara-wa in Karatu in Arusha region. The name Arusha, which is a distortion of the name Usha, is discussed in detail in a previous post at Vedic Cafe : THE SANSKRITIC NAMES OF THE RIVERS OF MT. MERU AND MT. KILIMANJARO .

The eastern region of Tanzania is home to Mount Meru, and Mt. Kiliminjaro, minjaro is a distortion of the name Mandara. The name appears as Mandera and Mandege in other parts of Tanzania as well as Kenya,

The Chandrasthan of Purana’s mentioned by Wilford and the Mountain of the Moon of Ptolemy:


The Egyptians of antiquity have stated, “We came from the beginning of the Nile where God Hapi dwells, at the foothills of The Mountains of the Moon.” Hapi was the god of the annual flooding of the Nile in ancient Egyptian religion. The flood deposited rich silt on the river’s banks. The silt enriched the soil making it fertile allowing the Egyptians to grow crops. As Speke later found out, based on the Puranic maps, the beginning of the Nile was at Lake Victoria in Uganda. On the west of Lake Victoria and stretching down to Tanganyika Lake lie the Mountains of the Moon.


On the Puranic map the entire region that stretches from the southern tip of Lake Tanganyika, and right up to the northern part of Lake Victoria is known as Chandrasthan, which means land of the Moon. This is the same as what the ancient Egyptians had referred to as their original home at the source of the Nile. This also confirms that authenticity of Puranic geography.


Other place names of western Kushadwipa as mentioned in Varaha Purana and the current map of Tanzania and Uganda.


The Varaha Purana mentions a host of names in the Amara Lake area which Wilford does not depict on his map. These include Kapila, Pingala, Sarasa, Madhuma, Garjana, Markata, Krsna, Pandava, Sahasrasini, and Srigavan.


Of these a few can be identified on the map today, Pandava perhaps appears as Pandu at 4.983493, 19.268408 on the River Uelele, Pingala as Mpingo in Singida and  Sarasa as Sagasa in Morogoro area.


Read more about the Sanskritic names of rivers of Meru and Kiliminjaro at Vedic Cafe : THE SANSKRITIC NAMES OF THE RIVERS OF MT. MERU AND MT. KILIMANJARO


Sanskrit decode of etymology of place names around Lake Victoria:

Lake Victoria is the origin of the White Nile and is located at the base of the Rwenzori Mountains. The name Rwenzori, which means “maker of rain” in local dialects, contains the root word ‘zori’ which is a distortion of Sanskrit ‘jhara’ (झर) or ‘waterfall’, which appears in many river names in Tanzania, as well as the continent of Africa and rest of the world.

Suggested Links:

1.Journal of the discovery of the source of the Nile : Speke, John Hanning, 1827-1864 : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

2. Hindu Wisdom – India and Egypt

3. Speke and the Discovery of the Source of the Nile: An Introduction – Faber & Faber Blog


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