Friday, 30 November 2012


The River Volga! Russians call it 'Volga Matushka' (Mother Volga). It is said that the name probably derives from Proto Slavic*  'vòlga' which means 'wetness' or 'moisture'.

Here's a look at the Sanskrit connection. A word that corresponds to Volga and its meaning 'moisture', and is at the same time a cognate of 'Volga' is the Sanskrit word 'Vigala' (विगल्), which means 'flow' or 'ooze away' and 'drain-off'. A derivative of 'vigal', is 'vigalita' (विगलित) which has the same meaning. 'Volga' may just be a distortion of the word 'Vigal' or 'Vigalita'.

In Sanskrit the sound 'vi' (वि) means 'apart' or 'away'; and 'vI' (वी) (with emphasis on 'i') means 'set in motion'. 'Gala' (गल) means 'oozing'. 'GAla' (with emphasis on 'a') (गाल), means 'liquefying' and also 'flowing'.

Hindi speakers are familiar with the word 'pigala' (पिघल) which means 'melt away' or 'ooze'. This Hindi word has the same Sanskrit origin.

The etymology of Volga as proposed by Russian historian and Linguist Nikolai Trubetzkoy (1890-1938), in his lectures at the University of Vienna,  links the name 'Volga' to the Slavic 'Julga', which he says in course of time changed to 'Volga'. 

Roman Jakobson, Russian linguist and literary theorist, quoted Nikolai Trubetzkoy's research thus, "In primitive eastern Slavic, un-rounded front vowels changed into rounded back vowels before a tauto-syllabic 'l', so that 'jilga' must have changed to julga; the initial j was lost before rounded vowels in eastern Slavic, and the initial u acquired an obligatory prothetic 'v'. Thus the form 'vulga' arose, and short 'u' changed in the 12th–-13th centuries into 'o'. So through a long series of changes Jilga became Volga"

Here is the actual quote from Ramon Jakabson's 'The Balts- Ancient Peoples & Places':
' 205 Notes CHAPTER I 1 Tacitus (90), XLV. 2 Orosius (87). 3 Adam of Bremen (82), 199. 4 G. Gerullis, Die altpreussischen Ortsnamen, Berlin-Leipzig, 1922; A Salys, “Prūsai,” Lietuvių Enciklopedija, XXIV (Boston), pp. 146-57. 5 L. Kilian, “Baltische Ortsnamen westlich der Weichsel,” Altpreussen, IV, 3 (1939), pp. 67-68; H. Krahe, “Baltische Ortsnamen westlich der Weichsel?,” Altpreussen, 1943: I, pp. 11-12. 6 V. N. Toporov, “Dve zametki iz oblasti baltijskoj tomonimii,” Rakstu krājums veltījums audd. J Endzelīnam, Riga, 1959, pp. 251-66. 7 A. Kamiński, Jaćwieź, Terytorium, ludnosć, stosunki gospodarcze i spoleczne (Jatvingia. Territory, population, economy and social structure), Ĺódź, Societas Scientiarum Lodziensis, sectio II, No. 14, 1953. 8 Polnoe sobranie russkikh letopisej, I, 1, Petersburg, 1908. 9 Būga (1). 10 Vasmer (6). 11 The etymology of Volga as proposed by the linguist Trubetzkoy — in his lectures at the University of Vienna — was as follows: in primitive eastern Slavic, unrounded front vowels changed into rounded back vowels before a tauto-syllabic l, so that jilga must have changed to julga; the initial j was lost before rounded vowels in eastern Slavic, and the initial u acquired an obligatory prothetic v. Thus the form vulga arose, and short u changed in the 12th-13th centuries into o. So through a long series of changes Jilga became Volga. (Oral information by Roman Jakobson.) 12 Thomsen (4) 13 B. A. Serebrennikov, “O nekotorykh sledakh izcheznuvshego indoevropejskogo jazyka v centre Evropejskoj chasti SSSR, blizkogo k baltijskim jazykam” (Traces of an extinct Indo- European language related to the Baltic in the centre of the European part of the USSR), Lietuvių Mokslų Akademijos Darbai (Trudy AN Litovskoj SSR), serija A, vyp. 1 (2), Vilnius, 1957. 14 M. Vasmer, “Die alten Bevölkerungsverhältnisse Russlands im Lichte der Sprachforschung,” Vorträge and Schriften der Preussischen Akademie, No. 5, 1941. ' IN

It is more likely that the original name was 'Julga' rather than 'jilga' if one were to loke at the name through the Sanskrit lens. 'Jala' (जल) is 'water', both in Sanskrit and in Hindi. The suffix 'ga' () means going or moving. Hence 'Julga' in Sanskrit means 'moving water'. The name 'Jilga' however cannot be explained through Sanskrit.

Also 'Julga' is very close to the name 'Ganga' - the
 Sanskrit name of the great Indian river - the Ganges. Incidentally the name Ganga (गङ्गा) means 'swift goer' or 'fast moving'. Indians call it 'Ganga Ma' - 'Mother Ganga' just as the Russians call Volga 'Volga Matushka'.

"I am convinced that everything has come down to us from the banks of the Ganges". - Francois Voltaire

Rivers 'Kama' and 'Vyataka' flow into the River Volga.
In Sanskrit the verb 'vyati' means both to  'flow on' and 'vanish'.
'Kama' means 'desire' and is also the name of Lord Vishnu.

The Volga flows into the Caspian Sea. The name Caspian is said to be derived from the ancient Vedic name of the Caspian, which was 'Kashyapa', named after the sage 'Kashyapa' who in the Vedic tradition is the father of all 'devas', 'asuras', 'nagas' and of all humanity.

*All languages names which are preceded by the name 'Proto' are languages constructed from groups of existing languages that, it is believed, might have had a common ancestor - it is at best only a conjecture).So Proto-Slavic is an engineered language which it is believed will be similar to the 'mother' of all Slavic languages - if the Slavic languages indeed originated from one single source.

**From the writings of Lithuanian American Archaeologist  Marija Gimbutas about the 'Balts'.
Suggested Links:
1. The Balts

Post a Comment