Vocabulary Diversity and Ancient Migrations


It is easy to make logical errors when implicit assumptions are not examined. Grief ensues when such errors form the basis of a polity or a state. Just think of the vast suffering unleashed by the communist ideology, which is based on simplistic ideas about human nature.

Another erroneous idea is that in the remote past there was a single language that transformed into many daughter languages. This was the driving force behind the imagined so-called Proto-Indo-European language, even though there is not the slightest shred of evidence in support of it. The indubitable relationship between Indian and European languages was explained by theory of invasion by the Aryans, but it could not explain how small bands of invaders were able to impose their language on the most densely populated region in the ancient world.

Leaving aside the approaches to the problem of ancient migrations from the perspectives of ancient DNA, archaeology, archaeoastronomy, and other fields, can some out-of-the-box ideas help us with this problem?


Nikolai Vavilov (1987–1943) was a brilliant agronomist and geneticist whose ideas helped identify geographical areas where specific modern plants developed their distinctive properties. The areas where domestication occurred first have generally continued to have the most diversity. Examining the diversity now helps us confirm that the origin of potato is Peru, that of sugarcane is India, and that of soybean is China.

Although Vavilov’s work was exceptional, his life was tragic. He was on the wrong side of the scientific orthodoxy of Communist Russia as articulated by Stalin’s favorite biologist Trofim Lysenko. For opposition to this incorrect scientific creed, Vavilov was arrested and sentenced to death in July 1941. The sentence was later commuted to twenty years’ imprisonment, but he died of starvation in prison in 1943.

The idea of domestication of a plant is similar to the first development of a literary language. We would expect that the area in which a language came to have its distinctive form will have the most diversity of names.

Sanskrit is exceptional in that it has many, many synonyms for common words and in that it is quite different from other languages that belong to its family. Here is just an example of diversity for seven words compared between Sanskrit and various European languages.


आवास, āvāsa — haus (German)

दम्, dam — дом or dom (Russian), domus (Latin) => domicile, domestic, democracy

गृह, gṛha — kaha => casa (Latin), casa (Spanish) => Casanova, Kasaba (town)

खानि, khāni mine (enclosed space) — khane خانه(Persian); वसुखानि, Vasukhāni, the home of wealth was capital of the Mitanni Empire

Amarakośa has over twenty names for house. One of these even throws light on the word harem (Arabic: حريم‎‎ ḥarīm, “a sacred inviolable place”). With exactly the same meaning, the word harmyam हर्म्यम् appears 12 places in the Ṛgveda (including RV 1.166, RV 7.55, and RV 7.66). It is the secure and pleasant part of the palace that consists of many rooms where women and children reside. The root of the word is √hṛ which means captivating.


क:, kah — aqua (Latin) => agua (Spanish)

वारि, vāri — water (Dutch)

उदक, उद, uda — voda (Slovak)

आपः, āp — آب āb (Farsi), apă (Romanian)

नीर, nīraνερό (neró) (Greek), dŵr (Welsh)

The words पानी, पेय (pānī, peya) and variants mean “drink”; जल, jala means fluid.

The range of names for water and how it appears to cover the entire European continent is simply mind-boggling.


फलिक, phalika — berg (German) from a transposition of consonants in their class labial (ph -> b), semivowel (l -> r) and velar (k -> g) as is common (for example in raghu -> laghu)

बलाहक, balāhaka — berg (German) (another derivation)

शैल, śaila — fjell (Norwegian)

मन्दर, mandara — मन्त्, mant => munte (Romanian) => mountain (English)

गिरि, giri — gora (Russian)

Also मस्तक, mastaka — summit as in Sagaramastaka => Sagarmāthā सगरमाथा, the Nepali name for Mt Everest.

Other names here.


अर्ध, ardha(region) — erde (German)

धरा, dharā — terra (Italian)

क्षमा, kṣamāziemia (Polish), zeme (Czech)

गो, go, gauh — gaia (Greek)

भूमि, पृथिवी, मही, मेदिनी and over fifty other names.


ख, kha, सगर, sagara— sky (English)

नभ, nabha — nebo (Croatian, Russian), nebe (Czech)

अश्मन्, aśman (sky vault)āsmān (Farsi), sama (Arabic) => hama => himmel (German)

केलि, keli (heaven as pleasure place) — caelum (Latin), cielo (Spanish), ciel (French)

वरुण, varuṇa (from vṛ, to surround) — ouranos (Greek)

आकाश, ākāśa — gökyüzü (Turkish)


देव, deva (point of light) — dio (Italian), theos (Greek), dios (Spanish)

स्वतव, sva-tava (self-powered) — xwatāw (Avesta) , xudā, to Khudā (Farsi), and via Iranians to German Gott and English God.

Note: tavas तवस् (a. strong, great. -n. strength, power) (बल). In the Ṛgveda सोमस्य मा तवसं वक्ष्यग्ने RV.3.1.1. tavasya तवस्य a. increasing strength (as an oblation). -स्यम् strength; तस्मै तवस्यमनु दायि सत्रा RV.2.2.8. svatavas: inherently powerful, self-strong. Some see हुत, huta -> God, but I don’t find that plausible.

भग, bhaga (blessed one) — bog (Russian), boh (Ukrainian)

इष्ट, iṣṭa — isten (Hungarian)

ईश्वर, Īśvara — Īśvara (Marathi)

इला, ilā — Allā (Maltese)

तनुगृहिन्, tanugṛhin (the lord of the first lunar mansion) — tanugri => tengri (Turkish). Note: The term for the lord of the first lunar mansion in the sky was equated with the sky.

तन + गिरि = expanding mountain from √tan = expand has also been proposed for Tengri. The Indic and the Turkic and Mongolic languages were in contact through the post-Vedic regions of Uttara Kuru and Uttara Madra in Central Asia.

Sanskrit has dozens of additional names for divinity.


वीर, vīra — eroe (Italian), geroy (Russian), held (German)

भगपुत्र, bhagaputra (son of divinity, brave) — bag̲h̲pūr (Sogdian), Баатар Bātar (Mongolian), Bağatur, Baghatur Batur, Bahadır (Turkish), Bogatyr (Russian); Bohater (Polish); Bátor (Hungarian); Bahador (Farsi); بهادر‎ (Arabic), बहादुर (Hindi)

युवक, yuvaka — junak (Slovenian)

क्रोधमन्त, krodhamanta (krodhamantra is attested) could be the origin of kahraman (Farsi); another possibility is गहन gahana -> gahara (attested) -> kahara -> kaharman.

शूर, विक्रान्त and many more.

Two hypotheses

To explain this diversity of names in Sanskrit the following two hypotheses may be advanced:

1. Different European tribes at different times managed to lend their words to the Indians. They did so by invading India and then making sure that the ancient Indians, who are notoriously conservative, dutifully used these diverse words in their hymns and texts so that none was forgotten. Even though the invaders were few, the native Indians submitted to the superior European language and religion.

2. Sanskritic languages went out from Greater India via Central Asia to Europe and also by the sea route. This out movement, which was primarily a process of cultural diffusion, continued over centuries and in this process different tribes held on to the words that were more common at their time of dispersal. The migration is hinted in the Puranic texts and the record exists not only in the Central Asian languages but also Slavic, Lithuanian, and other European languages. Since cultural diffusion was a big element of this dispersal there need not be a direct correlation between ancient DNA and language.

Dear Reader: Pick the hypothesis that appeals to you.

Postscript. : People hold on to ridiculous theories for they are not consistently rational and even Newton believed in the silly chronology that the world will end in 2016 or 2060. Irrational beliefs may be demanded for membership in academic, religious or political clubs.

सुभाष काक. Author, scientist.