Tuesday, 7 August 2012


Three commonly accepted etymological explanations for the name 'Niagara' are the following:

1. It derives from the Iroquois word Onyahrah, or 'neck', which the Iroquois applied to the neck shaped land (peninsula) between the two lakes - Erie and Ontario.

2. Some scholars think Niagara is named after the 'Onghiahrah'  tribe.

3. Most scholars contend Niagara comes from the Huron word Oniahgahrah, or 'Thunderer of Waters'.

Here is an excerpt from 'Niagara Township, Centennial History' that refers to these meanings:

"Some scholars think the word Niagara comes from the name of that Indian tribe, the Onghiahrahs. Others think it derives from the Iroquois word Onyahrah, or neck, which the Iroquois applied to the peninsula (or neck) between the two lakes. 

Most scholars think Niagara comes to us from the Huron word 'Oniahgahrah', or 'thunderer of waters', which was applied by that nation to Niagara Falls.

In any case, the word Niagara was applied first to the world-famous falls, then to the equally famous river, and still later to Township Number One, now better-known as Niagara Township."

'Oniahgarah', sounds like a cognate of the Sanskrit 'Nira-Gagarah' (नीर-गागरा). But it is the meaning that is fascinating. 'Nira' (नीर) means 'water and 'gagara' (गागर) means 'pitcher' or 'vessel', ' Nir-Gagarah, therefore would mean 'Gushing Water'. 

One of the major tributaries of the ancient Saraswati River (on the banks of which ancient India developed) was the 'Ghagara'. The Ghagara today flows as an intermittent river and is known as the Ghaggar or Ghaggar-Hakkar.

There is yet another Himalayan River by the name of Ghagara that flows into the River Ganges.It originates in Tibet near Mansarovar, and crosses into India, via Nepal.

Could it be that the Asians who are believed to have crossed into America about 30000 years ago originally named the Niagara River as 'Nira-Ghagara'. Or maybe the Native American equivalent of New-Ghagara! Even New-Ghagara would translate as 'Nav-Ghagara' in Sanskrit!

And if there is a Sanskrit connection, Niagara may simply be derived from 'nirjhar' (निर्झर) which means 'Waterfall' !!

And here is an observation about the legacy of the Native American names of the rivers of America that Edward Moor made in his book 'Oriental Fragments' in 1834, "In America what fine names might probably have been left of the vast lakes and streams and hills, which ennoble, beautify, and enrich those extended regions. How poor and uninstructive are the Hudson, the St. Lawrence, in comparison with Niagara - pure Sanskrit I suspect....".

1 comment:

manisha mittal said...

this is a very important and interseting information which i did not know earlier.