July 6, 2011


[Below posted are few paragraphs from a  paper by Prof. Kamal Prakash Malla, read at the 18th Annual Conference of the Linguistic Society of Nepal,  published a year later in Nepalese Linguistics  Vol. 15 (November, 1998), pp.19-28. As the title suggests, the paper is an etymological analysis of word Sagaramatha - सगरमाथाa Nepali word common in Nepal today for the world's highest peak Mt. Sagaramatha. Posted also are two comments: one by Sudeshna Sarkar who  writes particularly on Nepal for  Indo-Asian News Service, (IANS) -India's largest independent newswire service. Ms. Sarkar  writes, " His name is Radhanath Sikdar. Sikandar is Islamic while Radhanath is a Hindu name" and wants correction of the word and Prof. Malla has also replied to her comment  below. Ms. Sarkar's comment was initially received  to the post Why Not Rename World's Highest Peak - 'Mt. Chomolungma' Instead ?  But  Sikandar comes also from "Alexander III of Macedon (20/21 July 356 – 10/11 June 323 BC), commonly known as Alexander the Great. Alexander is common name in western world also. - Editor]
By Kamal Prakash Malla
A towering Mt. Sagaramatha 8848 M
  1. The Peak XV (29029 ft), now known variously as Mount Everest, Kang-chomo-lungma, and Sagaramatha, was found to be the highest peak in the world by the Trigonometric Survey of India in 1852 and it was named Mount Everest on May 11, 1857 by the Royal Geographical Society of London after Sir George Everest, the first Surveyor General of India. The actual discoverer of its height was, however, a Bengali employee of the Survey of India, Mr Radhanatha Sikdar.
  1. Brian Hodgson, who was the British Resident in the Court of Nepal for more than twenty years, wrote in protest saying that there were local names of the peak. The main one, he thought, was Devadhaung-Bhairavthan-Nyanam (Hodgson, 1874:27)
  1.  When the survey of India published the first scientific map of Nepal in 1932, based on its ¼ inch to a mile Reconnaissance Survey of 1924-1926 only Mount Everest was mentioned. In the Second Edition of the map, published in 1934, the Tibetan name (Kang)-Chomo-Lungma (the sacred snow lady of the valley or earth) was also included.
  1. Not finding a Nepali name for the world’s highest peak on the first-ever published scientific map of the Kingdom of Nepal did not disturb anyone in power in Nepal. However, it did matter a great deal to Babu Ram Acharya, a committed nationalist and noted historian. He was then 54 years old, yet only a Kharidar working in the School Administration Section of the Department of Education, toiling for more than a decade as an accountant responsible for distributing salary. As the Ranas were great friends and admirers of the British Rule in India to write anything against the British administration would mean staking one’s career as well as future. As Acharya wrote nearly three decades later (March 7, 1966), he was deeply aggrieved not to see a Nepali name for the world’s highest peak located in Nepal.
  1. This sentimental or nationalistic need was soon fulfilled by Acharya by publishing an essay entitled,” Sagaramatha Jhyamolongma” in recently launched Nepali monthly, Sharada Vol IV 8 ( Poush 1995; 1939 January), a piece later collected in an anthology of Nepali prose prescribed for secondary schools in Nepal.
  1. The essay gives an etymological interpretation of the Nepali name as well as the Tibetan name of the peak. Although Baburam Acharya studied ,mathematics, Dharmashastra, and Grammar for his Acharya degree in Benaras he was well-versed not only in Sanskrit, Nepali, and Hindi but also in a few other New Indo-Aryan languages. However, his analysis and interpretation of the Tibetan name of the peak as “a match-making bird” clearly showed that he did not know any Tibetan or Newari, let alone any Tibeto-Burman languages spoken in the Solu-Khumbu or Sunkosi area. His interpretation of the Tibetan name for the peak was disastrously conjectural. 
  2.  As for the proposed or discovered Nepali name for the peak, Sagara-matha, in the essay at least Acharya did not mention where exactly or how he collected that name - on the field or through second-hand or third-hand informants or from some documents. When I casually met him in person in the Royal Press Secretary's Office on Friday July 14, 1967, I asked him about the  source of his information: where or how he got the word. From the brief conversation, it became painfully clear to me that he picked up the name from a third-hand source - through his local staff in the Education Department !(Read full paper here
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Sudesna Sarkar
Date: Tue, Jun 28, 2011 at 3:49 AM
Subject: Renaming Mt Everest
To: himalayanvoice@gmail.com

Radhanath Sikdar, the discoverer of
world' tallest peak Mt. Sagaramatha
It is extremely ironic that while conducting such a passionate and lengthy debate on renaming Mt Everest, most of the participants are happily getting other people's names wrong without any remorse.

It is not Radhanath Sikandar, as you and others have been referring to the survey official repeatedly. His name is Radhanath Sikdar. Sikandar is Islamic while Radhanath is a Hindu name. How could the two have been together at that time! It really raises doubts about the debate's awareness and erudition level.

Sudesna Sarkar
Editor, New Delhi 

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Kamal Malla
Date: Sat, Jul 2, 2011 at 9:11 AM
Subject: Thanks for the Correction!
To: "Sudesha Sarkar"
Cc: The Himalayan Voice

Dear Ms. Sarkar,

I am grateful to you for drawing attention to the correct name.   The  survey officer's surname is, indeed, Sikdar, not Sikandar.

Nepalese Linguistics Vol 15 (1998)  certainly was not an ideal academic publication in physical shape, size,  and printing standard.  From type face, proof-reading to diacritics there is enough room to be critical of the issue.  Printed with little care, it contains my paper.  I will certainly check if the mistake was in my original or committed while word processing  The file that the Himalayan Voice posted is a pdf I downloaded from the Digital Himalayan Project which didn't even scan the paper properly.  These details are given, not to condone, but to confess  the   error-- a serious one indeed  involving religious identity.

Like  you, I too feel that the debate is getting  a little out of focus.    As no one is moderating it irrelevant points abound the web page.  To begin with, the debate was launched with a call "to jettison  the alien name of the peak", currently inspired by American photographer, Jeff Botz.   Each participant  in the debate has merely approved a name according to one's personal preferences.  Why one name is preferable to others is none too clear to me.  The debate is overheated though the  available choices seem limited  to Sanskrit or Nepali or Tibetan/Limbu.   The local villagers call the peak SAAGAR-MAATHAA, after the name of their village.  This name is recorded in the Survey Maps of Nepal and India since 1922-24.

What is  the crux of our problem?  It is that we dislike, not only  an alien name,  but also any name which is not either Sanskrit or Nepali.  As the late Acharya Baburam wrote, Tibeto-Burman names don't "sound sweet" (See his famed essay, 1939).  The power of this superstition is so overwhelming that even enlightened participants in our debate are unwilling to believe that there could be names in local speech for a peak so close to their village.

If one looks at the map of Nepal Himalaya, there are several kinds of name.  Some are given because of the shape or form of the peak, e.g., Machaapuchre, others such as Annapurna or  Gauri-Shankar are called so apparently because they  resemble the divine beings.  Each has, however, a meaning or sense.  I believe each name has  a meaning given by those who first named it.

I, for one, was not promoting any  name, nor for renaming  the peak as such.    I was simply  analyzing how the peak was  named by the British just as it was done by the Nepal Government  BY EXERCISING POLITICAL POWER, in total disregard for what the people of the region, particularly the villagers of Saagar, call the peak after the name of their village.

Long before anybody, Swami Pranavananda in his book , Explorations in Tibet (Calcutta, 1939, preface p. 4),  clearly wrote, "the people of the area call the peak Svarga matha or Sarga matha".

The only point I was "arguing" is that the name is derived from the name of the village, Saagar  located at the same longitude as the peak, a name clearly non-Sanskrit as all names in the Khambuwan.

Maatha is not commonly used for a peak in Nepali., nor is Sagar used for the sky in Sanskrit. Few dictionaries list these words for the sense claimed by the Nepal Government.

All survey maps clearly show the  village,  Saagar.  I have, therefore, raised  serious doubts about the officially approved name, Sagarmaathaa, particularly the fake etymology ( the brow of the sky/heaven) proposed by the man who did it
Influenced by Morris. Swadesh, as a linguist I have been interested in place names as a key to human geography and prehistory. Fully aware of the recent Chinese media drive to change the name of the peak as "a colonial hang over" (it began  with an editorial in People's Daily, see Time News Magazine for June 16, 1952),

I am not taking any "ideological" position.  I was merely discussing how the peak was named, not how it should be.   So the adjectives liberally used  by you scoffing  at our low cultural literacy  and "level of awareness and erudition",  deserves rethinking, perhaps.

Besides,  some Bengalis  do seem to have  confusing   surnames.  Is Sarkar/Sircar  a Muslim surname ? It is an Arabic or Persian word, isn't it?


Professor Emeritus of English and Linguistics, 
Tribhuvan University, Nepal
Currently in USA.