The Cold, Snowy Winter Abode

The name of the Himalayan Mountain Range comes, as one might reasonably expect, from the Sanskrit — himá (हिम) signifying “snow” and ā-laya (आलय) signifying “dwelling” or “abode”. Hence, the Himalaya are the Snowy Abode.

Nanda_devi

Mount Nanda Devi in the Himalayan Mountain Range

However, it was recently pointed out to me — by a gentleman from India no less — that roughly the same etymology works coming from the Slavic as well, provided that we exchange the “H” in Himalaya for a “Z” — Zima-laya. Here, zima is the Slavic word for “cold” or “winter”, and “laya” could be derived from conjugating verbs like lehnout or ležet, which indicate “to lay down” or “to rest” in Slavic. In this case, Zimalaya would work out to something like the Cold Abode or the Wintry Place.

The point of this article is not to argue that the name Himalaya comes from the Slavic. It doesn’t, the name is from the Sanskrit. Rather, I just wanted to add yet another example to the long list of words that are in common, or at the very least, extremely similar between Slavic and Sanskrit.

A brief list of some of these cognates includes the following [1]:

English German Slavic Sanskrit
to ask fragen prosit prachhati (पृच्छति)
to awaken wecken budit budhyate (बुध्यते) [2]
to bake backen péct pacati (पचति)
to be sein být bhavati (भ्वति)
to burn brennen gorit gharati (घरति)
to cough husten kašlat kasate (कासते)
to dawn dämmern svítat svetate (श्वेतते)
to die sterben umirat marati (मरति)
to distribute verteilen vydávat vidhatte (विधत्ते)
to dry trocknen sušit susyati (शुषति)
to fall fallen padat padyate (पद्यते)
to hunt jagen lovit labhate (लभते)
to live leben žít jiv (जीव्)
to praise loben slavit sramyati (श्राम्यति)
to roll around herumrollen valet valate (वलते)
to rotate rotieren vrtat vartate (वर्तते)
to sell verkaufen prodat pradatte (प्रदत्ते)
to stick kleben lepit lepayati (लेपयति)
to swim schwimmen plavat plavate (प्लवते)
to think denken myslet manate (मनति)
to transport transportieren vozit vahati (वहति)

Note that the Slavic variants are all much closer to Sanskrit than the English or German equivalents.

There are also very interesting “near” cognates, where the same word has a complementary albeit slightly different meaning. We’ve already discussed one such example — the Slavic word zima, meaning “cold” or “winter”, being correlated with Sanskrit word hima, meaning “snow”.

Another interesting example is the word smrti, which in Slavic means “death” while in Sanskrit the same word means “memory” or “to remember”. This is interesting in the context of re-incarnation — for example, the ancient Greeks believed that upon death the Soul could suddenly regain full remembrance of all its past lives, and hence stop the cycle of re-incarnation.

1024px-Jupiter,_vermomd_als_herder,_verleidt_Mnemosyne,_godin_van_het_geheugen_Rijksmuseum_SK-A-3886

Upon death in Greek mythology, the Soul could drink remembrance from the
waters of the River Mnemosyne and stop the cycle of reincarnation.

As for the Germans, who persistently insist that they are the “Aryans”, how do toponyms like Kaltplatz or Winterstelle work out insofar as the Himalaya are concerned? These names translate with the identical literal meaning, but they’re not even remotely similar to Himalaya or its analogous Slavic counterpart. 🙂

Footnotes

    1. Source: Russian-Sanskrit Wordlist
    2. Obviously this is likewise a cognate of Buddha, which also indicates “awakened” in Sanskrit. Note that the cognate works well in both Slavic and Sanskrit, but not in English or German.