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.

Aryan Silver

Most people today associate the word “Aryan” with Nazis and swastikas, but what does the word really? Wikipedia speaks at length about how the term is an ethnic “self-designation” for tribes coming out of India, but nowhere do they state what this “self-designation” actually means. [1]

Arjuna-Krishna

The archer Arjuna riding into battle on a horse-drawn chariot alongside Krishna

A good place to start would be in India. Most people trace the word “Aryan” back to the Mahabarta and its hero Arjuna (अर्जुन), whose name means “white”, “clear” or “silver” in Sanskrit. [2] It’s a cognate of the Latin word “argentum” (which also means “silver”), and even of the French word “l’argent” (which again, means “silver”).

So what is the word for “silver” in other Indo-European languages?

If we look at the Brythonic (i.e., “Celtic”) languages of the British Isles, we can quickly understand why the British might fancy themselves to be “Aryans”:

English silver
Irish airgead
Scottish-Gaelic airgead
Welsh arian

The Welsh variant for “silver”, in particular, is very close to the word Aryan. It seems that Sanskrit isn’t the only language where the word for “silver” translates into a local ethnonym.

In some Nordic languages, the word “silver” is quite close to the modern term “Slav”:

English silver
Danish sølv
Norwegian sølv

Does this mean that Nordics might secretly be closet Slavs? 🙂

In the numerous Slavic languages, the word “silver” almost universally reduces to some variant on the root SRB, indicating a Serb or Sorb:

English silver
Belarusian срэбра (srebra)
Bosnian srebro
Bulgarian сребърен (srebŭren)
Croatian stříbro
Czech stříbro
Macedonian сребро (srebro)
Polish srebro
Russian серебро (serebro)
Slovakian striebro
Slovenian srebro
Sorbian (Upper) slěbro
Sorbian (Lower) slobro
Ukranian срібло (sriblo)

How about Mongolian? It’s not an Indo-European language, but let’s see what we get:

English silver
Mongolian мөнгө (mongo)

Are you starting to see the pattern?

In all these Eurasian languages, the racial ethnonym that a group picks for itself is almost universally the local word for “silver” — a tradition that seems to go all the way back to Vedic India, Sanskrit and the Aryans.

310473__3

Austrian Empress Maria Theresa Silver Coin

It’s ironic that most Nordic languages — with the exception of Danish and Norwegian, cited above — break with this rule, especially since the English and Germans are usually the ones most obsessed with trying to prove their “Aryanhood”. It’s also ironic that amongst the Slavic languages, only Serbian breaks this rule — since in all the other Slavic languages the word “silver” reduces to the ethnonym Serb:

English silver
Dutch zilver
German silber
Icelandic silfur
Serbian силвер (silver)
Swedish silver

The Indian Connection

We’re accustomed to speaking loosely about “Indo-European” languages and religions, but the two ethnic groups closest to each other on this axis are, respectively, the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe (on the European side) and North Indians living along the sub-Himalaya (on the Indian side).

A full review of the close similarities between Slavic and Indian culture are beyond the scope of this article, but briefly:

  • Genetics — The R1a genetic marker is found only amongst Slavs of Eastern Europe and high-caste Brahmins in India (and, to a lesser extent, amongst Iranians). [3]
  • Language — The modern Slavic languages are still extremely close to the oldest forms of ancient Sanskrit. [4]
  • Culture – The Slavs of Eastern Europe have lived for centuries (or more) alongside the Gypsies, who are now known to originate from northern India. [5]
  • Toponyms — Eastern Europe and northern India share an astonishing number of place- and river-names in common with each other.
  • History — Slavic chroniclers from the Middle Ages have documented the existence of the Slavic nation in India in ancient times. [6]
6b078331b6860e036400fbea6f021ac6

Frequency distribution map for the R1a “Aryan” genetic marker.

How amazing is it, then, that in Telugu — a regional Dravidian dialectic spoken in south-eastern India — the word for “silver” is “vendi”:

English silver
Telugu వెండి (vendi)

The Veneti were an ancient European race that once occupied most of northern and eastern Europe, including Anatolia and the area surrounding Lake Van, Turkey. They lent their name to Venice, Italy and are known to history under a variety of pseudonyms, including the Venedi, the Vani and the Vandals (who famously sacked Rome in 455 A.D.). To Germans they were known as the Wends, a name still used to refer to Slavs in parts of eastern Germany today.

venetic-origins-cover

Frequency distribution map for the R1a-Z92 genetic clade, associated with the Veneti. [7]

To the ancient Greeks, who did not have a “V” sound their language, the Veneti were known as the “Eneti”. Homer places the Eneti in Paphlagonia (Pontic Anatolia) and claims that they came to the aid of Troy during the Trojan War. [8]

Many scholars believe the Veneti, or Vani, to be the ancestors of modern Slavs. The map above, illustrating distribution of the R1a-Z92 genetic clade, suggests that this isn’t an altogether unreasonable idea. Scholars have speculated that the label “Slovani” — the Slavic ethnonym for themselves (in Slavic) — was coined circa the sixth century A.D. (possibly by Jordanes) to indicate either “Šlo-vani” or “Slo-vani”, meaning, “comes from the Vani” or “word/language of the Vani”, respectively.

Aryan

Colored areas indicate fullest extent of Aryan settlement into India.

Classically, it has been thought that Aryan settlement into India was largely limited to the Indus river valley (in what is today mostly Pakistan), and then later spreading down the Ganges river valley along the Himalayan mountains.

dravidian_lgs

Telugu is a Dravidian dialect spoken mostly in south-eastern India.

Telugu is a Dravidian dialect spoken much further south into the subcontinent than where Aryans are traditionally thought to have settled. Does the “silver-vendi” cognate in Telugu indicate that the Veneti, or the Aryans, or the Slavs, were once settled much further south into India than what is traditionally believed?

Are the Welsh Turkic?

Let’s keep pushing forward and see what the word for  “silver” is in some of the Turkic languages spoken on the vast Russian steppes:

English silver
Kazakh күміс (kümis)
Uzbek kumush

This word is quite close to Cumans, the name of a nomadic Turkic tribe that roamed the Eurasian steppes in ancient times. Pliny the Elder describes a large fortress named Cumania located in Darial Pass, whose purpose was to stop these tribes from transiting south through the Caucasus mountains. [9] The Greek philosopher Strabo refers to Darial Pass as Porta Caucasica or Porta Cumana. [10]

Ivan-Aivazovsky-Handmade-Oil-Painting-Repro-Daryal-Pass-Canvas-Wall-Art-Set-Room-Painting-Designs-Decorative

Darial Gorge by Russian painter Ivan Aivazovsky, 1862

The name “Cumans” also reminds me a bit of the Cimmerians, a large nomadic tribe  from the Pontic steppe also mentioned by classical writers. Some Western historians have tried to connect the Cimmerians to the Cimbri — an enigmatic tribe from Jutland that battled with Rome circa 100 B.C. – and from there, to the Welsh:

English Welsh
Scottish-Gaelic Cuimris
Welsh Cymraeg

and also:

English Wales
Scottish-Gaelic A ’Chuimrigh
Welsh Cymru

As you can see, the Welsh ethnonym for themselves, in their own language, is quite similar to the word for “silver” in some of the Turkic languages spoken on the Russian steppes! It’s worth pointing out, though, that most modern linguists regard this as a historical oddity, and derive the Welsh “Cymru” instead from a Brythonic root meaning “compatriot”:

English compatriot
Welsh cydwladwr

To me, the Turkic word for “silver” seems like a slightly better fit, and with a much more interesting backstory, but I don’t know enough about Turkic, or Welsh history to comment much further.

The Nobleman

A final point, in conclusion, is that “Aryan” has often been translated from the Sanskrit as meaning “noble” or “freeman”. This etymology is thoroughly documented, is widely known, and is the one that English and German authors tend to favor — but note that both English and German lack the “silver thread” relating to Aryans that is evident in nearly every other Eurasian language.

I didn’t think the “Aryan-as-noble” etymology was worth giving much attention to here since you can easily find hundreds of other Internet resources discussing it. One interesting point, however, is that in their respective languages, both the word “Frank” — in the Carolingian, King Charlemagne-sense of that word — and the word “Slavic” can trace their etymology back to the concept of being a “noble” or “freeman”. This is noteworthy insofar as King Samo, the first (documented) king of the Slavs, is usually described as being of “Frankish” descent, having been born circa 600 A.D. in what is today Belgium [11] — in this context, however, “Frankish” and “Slavic” could well have the identical meaning, i.e., “of nobility”, or being “noble-born”. [12,13]

Addendum

This post is largely an adaption and editorialization of the article “What Does Aryan Mean?” available on the blog Cogniarchae. More information on this subject can be found at the following link:

Footnotes

    1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aryan
    2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arjuna
    3. It’s worth noting that ‘Aryan” is the root of the modern name of Iran.
    4. French linguist Antoine Meillet once stated that anyone who wants to know what ancient Sanskrit sounded like should go talk to a Lithuanian farmer — http://vilnews.com/2011-04-incredible-indian-lithuanian-relations-2
    5. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/genetic-sequencing-traces-gypsies-back-to-ancient-indian-origin/
    6. In the 15th century, Jan Długosz of Poland wrote that: “It is worth noting hereby that the Slavic nation possessed great luck for fortune gave it such splendid lands. For no other lands in the world – save for India – which lands the Slavs possessed, produce more gold, silver, salt, brass, copper and other metals which the human race has learned of and values.” — http://www.jassa.org/?p=12140
    7. Source for the graphic and R1a-Z92 genetic clade — http://venetianambassadors.org/projects/your-venetic-origins/
    8. “The Paphlagonians were commanded by stout-hearted Pylaemanes from Enetae, where the mules run wild in herds. These were they that held Cytorus and the country round Sesamus, with the cities by the river Parthenius, Cromna, Aegialus, and lofty Erithini” — Homer, The Illiad, Book II.
    9. “Beyond the Sodii are the Gates of Caucasus, which many have very erroneously called Caspise Portae, or the Caspian Gates : a mighty Piece of Nature’s Work, by suddenly cleaving asunder those Mountains, where the Gates were barred up with iron Bars, whilst under the midst thereof, the River Dyriodorus runneth : and on this Side of it standeth a formidable Castle called Cumania, situated upon a Rock, able to arrest the Passage of a very numerous Army; so that in this Place, by means of these Gates, one Part of the World is excluded from the other.” — Pliny the Elder, History of Nature, Book VI
    10. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darial_Gorge
    11. Samo’s birth in Belgium suggests the possibility that he may have descended from the Britannic, or Amorican Veneti in what is today northern France.
    12. https://www.etymonline.com/word/frank
    13. Some linguists trace the word “Slav” back to the Slavic root “svoboda” which means “free” or “independent”. The cultural and historical context for this is that Slavs have traditionally regarded themselves as “freeman” in contradistinction to their neighbors, the Germans, who “bent the knee” and became subject to the Roman Empire.