Sunday, 5 August 2012


Scholars say that no convincing explanation to the etymological origin of the name 'Nigeria', or the name of its neighboring country 'Niger', has been found among the 30 native languages spoken in the area. But it is known that both the countries are named after the River Niger.

The origin of the name Niger stares us in the face but remains un-coded due to a deep rooted bias against this powerful tool- the Sanskrit language. Lets therefore turn west then and look at Ptolemy's analysis of the name Niger. In his writings Ptolemy mentioned two rivers in the desert of NIger, one by the name 'Gir' and farther south, the 'Ni-Gir''. Roman historian, Suetonius (69-122 AD) wrote that the name 'gher' originates from the Bereber language, spoken in Morocco and Algeria and means 'watercourse'.

But it is obvious that the word 'gir' is a distortion of the same Sanskrit word that appears in the names of rivers around the word. The word is 'jhara', and appear in the names of many rivers and water bodies around the world such as the 'Jari' which is the northern tributary of the River Amazon, River Jara in Melbourne, the Jara River (a tributary of the Susita River) in Romania, or Lake Jara in New Mexico - not to mention many more in India and Nepal. In Sanskrit the word 'jhara' (झर) means a waterfall or a water body, and 'jhari' (झरी) means a river.

Popular explanations include explanations such as that the name Niger is a distortion of the local Tuareg phrase 'gher n gheren' which means 'river of rivers', and the belief is that 'gher n gheren' has been shortened to 'ngher'. However, the analysis gets a little more interesting if one were to decode 'gheren' and 'gher' and 'gheren', or the cognates of these two words, with the help of Sanskrit.

The Great Crescent of the River Niger. The River Niger has
towns by the names of  Ganga, Kamala, Yamina and Gaya on its banks.
Close to the bend lies an island with a large stone called
Mt. Kesa which is revered by the local population.

Kesa is another name of Lord Vishnu and Krishna both.
Lord Shiva is known as Vyoma-Kesa

First of all 'gheren' may again be a distortion 'jhara' itself. Or then there is 'gehevra' (गह्वर) or 'gehena' (गहन), both meaning 'deep'. Uncannily, it is the Hindi 'ghehra' (गहरा), also derived from Sanskrit 'gehevra' (गह्वर), which phonetically comes closest to the Tuareg word 'gheren'. 

Now, a look at the word 'Nigeria'. In Sanskrit 'Nir-ghurini' (निर्घूरिणी) and 'Nir-jhari (निर्झरी) both mean 'river'. Nira (नीर) by itself means 'water' and 'jhara' (र्झर) means 'flowing or falling (water) or water-fall'. The connection of these words to 'Nigeria' is obvious if one considers the fact that of the 36 states in Nigeria 15 have waterfalls! Besides, in Sanskrit, 'nairjhara' (नैर्झर) means 'belonging to a water-fall'.

River Niger, which is the third longest in Africa, flows through both Nigeria and Niger. Though Nigeria is full of water bodies and waterfalls, a vast majority of the Niger land is essentially dry and arid. Lets look at its name.

Nira (नीर) means water. However, 'Na' or 'ni' () means 'not or 'no'. 'Jhar' (र्झर) by itself means 'flowing water'. So a civilization somewhere on the ancient time line of Africa might have named this neighbouring area of NIgeria as Niger (निझर), which means 'Without Water' - it after all aptly describes the arid topography of Niger.

With time and change in pronunciation, and the impact of rising and falling civilizations, we today are left with the slightly distorted 'Nigeria' and 'Niger' from their original form in Sanskrit, but the essence of their meanings is still there!

For more information check out the following links:
1. Nigeria & Niger
2. Earth Mysteries Awaiting Discoveries

3. Eden in Sumer: On the River Niger

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