Wednesday, 11 December 2013


The Niger River is the principal river of western Africa, extending about 4180 km. It originates in the Guinea Highlands, which is a densely forested mountainous plateau extending from central Guinea, through Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cote d' Ivore. 

In his travelogue 'Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa', Mungo Park (1771 – 1806), a Scottish explorer of the African continent who was the first Westerner known to have traveled to the central portion of the Niger River lists a number of towns that he passed through while sailing up the Niger in the years 1795-97. The names include Joanakakonda, Tallika, Fatteconda, Sami, Jarra, Samapaka, Wavara, Mellacota.  Many of these names have a decidedly Indic nuance - many Sanskritic and as many explained through Tamil or Telegu. 

In his book, 'Oriental Fragments', author Edward Moor lists names of many African towns and villages mentioned by various European explorers in Africa which include Jonakakonda, Tendikonda, Kootakunda, Barraconda, Seesekund, Tandacunda, Fatteconda and Mauraconda. He then equates them with the names of towns in southern parts of India which have similar names.

In a letter to the Asiatic Journal of July 1817, Issue 1, Volume 1, Edward Moor states, " .. with a little of this license where wanted, and it may be allowed to others as well as distressed etymologists let us try to turn Park's names into Hindi. Jonaka-konda is Janeka-kunda, or the hill of Janeka...". Kootakunda may also be traced to India. 'Kuta (कुट)  means a mountain, while 'kUta' (कूट) means 'dwelling'.

Of the suffix 'konda' one may point out that unlike the Telegu 'kunda' which means a hill, in Sanskrit 'kund' (कुण्ड) means a 'pool'. However, 'kAanda' (काण्ड) means a 'heap' and it is this 'kAanda' which might be related to the Telegu 'kunda' or 'hill'. Also 'khanda' (खंड) means 'piece' or 'section'. In any case, the similarity of these names is unmistakable. 

The River Niger which originates in the Guinea Highlands in Southern Guinea runs a crescent course -shaped like the top knot of Lord Shiva -  through  Mali, Niger, on the border with Benin and then through Nigeria, discharging through the Niger Delta.

The Crescent shaped bend on the River Niger

As it flows through Mali, near the island of Madjie, the Niger branches into three streams, forming a sort of a 'Triveni'. 

The encircled part where the River's Moussa and River Niger
 meet and form a 'Triveni'. In the middle of this intersection is a
small island.

As one follows the most easterly of the three streams down the current for a few minutes, it is said that one will suddenly come in sight of an elevated rock. The mountain is called Kesa by the natives. Mt. Kesa forms a small island, and is about three hundred feet in height, which renders it a conspicuous and a remarkable object. In the book 'Celebrated Travels and Travelers', the author Jules Verne states, "Mt. Kesa is greatly venerated by the natives of this part of the country."

Mt. Kesa on the island where the River Niger meets River Moussa,
'Kesa' is the name of Vishnu and Krishna both
Lord Shiva is also known as 'Vyoma-Kesha'.
The local inhabitants worshipped this 300 ft. stone.

Kesha is the name of both Lord Vishnu and Sri Krishna. Lord Shiva is also known as Vyoma-Kesha, which means, 'one whose hair is widespread in space'. Lord Shiva is known for 'having bound the river Ganges in his hair'. Mt. Kesa or Kesha, located on an island made by the triveni-like intersection of the Niger and Moussa rivers, was a place of worship for the local inhabitants of this part of Africa.

in 1805 Mungo Park once again went on an expedition, on the central portion of the River Niger where the path of the Niger takes the shape of the crescent and Mungo Park mentions the route that he had taken on this trip in his travelogue . The route that he took included place names such as Downie - Jinbala - Kamala - Ganga - Yamina - Calimana. 

A section of  Mungo Park's Exploration route on the Niger
The three highlighted town names would be expected while someone was travelling in India. But these are names of African towns that Mungo recorded on his trip on River Niger more than 200 years ago. 

Other intriguing names that appears on the Nigeria-Cameroon border include 'Mandara'.The Mandara Mountains (Monts Mandara) are a volcanic range extending about 200 km along the northern part of the Cameroon-Nigeria border.  

The name Mandara is obviously Indian. It is the name of the mountain that appears in the 'Samudra Manthan' episode in the Hindu Puranas, where it is used as a rod to churn the ocean of milk. Vishnu's serpent, Vasuki, offered to serve as the rope pulled on one side by a team of asuras, and on the other, by a team of devas

The Mandara Mountain Range
forms the Nigeria-Cameroon Border

Kapsiki Peak is one of the most photographed
arts of the Mandara Mountains. 
Wikipedia states that the Kapsiki Peak, also called the Rhumsiki 'plug' (remnant of a dormant volcano) is very obviously phallic and traditionally barren women prayed at its foot". In the Vedic tradition, women make offerings of the 'mandara flower' to  the 'Shivalingas' - the symbol of Lord Shiva. 

For a note on the Sanskrit connection to  the name Niger click here.

Suggested Links:

1. The story of the Niger
2. Celebrated Travels and Travellers, by Jules Verne
3. Mt. Kesha
4. Journal of an Expedition to Explore the course and the termination of the Niger by Richard. Lander and John Lander
5. The Northern Star or Yorkshire Magazine: Conjectures Concerning the River Niger
6. The Jouranla of a Mission to the Niger by Mungo Park
7. The London Encyclopedia: Niger


Vinay Kumar Vaidya said...

अद्य रचिता मया !
कमला सरस्वती देवी गङ्गा देवी जाह्नवी ।
यामिना च कालिन्दी तिस्रः ताः त्रिवेणी स्युः ॥

Vinay Kumar Vaidya said...

मुझे लगता है कि यामिना 'यमुना' और 'यामिनी' का ही व्युत्पन्न है । 'यम' > 'यामिना' दृष्टव्य है ।

Neeta Raina said...

So then the 'Calimana' town on River Niger is 'Kalindi'. Enlightening and amazing!

Vinay Kumar Vaidya said...

जी, धन्यवाद नीता जी ! यदि सारी बातें सन्दर्भ के अनुकूल सही प्रतीत होती हों तो अनावश्यक संदेह करना बेमानी हो जाता है …!

Abey said...

Very enlightening. There is a Mount Meru in Kenya too.