May 25, 2014

SOME MAGAR LANGUAGE TOPONYMS OF MID-WESTERN NEPALESE HILLS

[While discussing ‘Lung’ or ‘dhung or dhunga’ as in Taklung, Ghairung, Mailung  of Gorkha and Baglung district also, we may also discuss why Mt. Everest was proposed being named 'a Devadhunga’ in 1857 ? An  Indian mathematician Radhanath Sikdar discovered the world's tallest mountain - The Peak XV in 1852, later to be known also as Mt. Sagaramatha or ‘Kang-chomo-lungma’ and different names seem to have been suggested as well. On May 11, 1857 the Royal Geographical Society of London  named the mountain The Everest after the first British Surveyor General to India  George Everest and in protest of which Brian H. Hodgson, who was the British Resident in the Court of Nepal for more than twenty years, proposed a local name for the peak  as Devadhaung-Bhairavthan-Nyanam (Hodgson, 1874: 27, Malla http://tinyurl.com/kdh556w). The first word ‘Devadhaung’ or ‘Deva-dhunga’ – ‘stone god’ or ‘cliff or even mountain god’  is very much similar to Tak+lung which can be further reconstructed as Teg+lung – as in Takla+khar suggesting a 'lying tiger  fort' or an impressive cliff or mountain.]


By B. K. Rana

Tamghas, Gulmi. Credit: Let's Tour Nepal.
The recorded history of Nepal doesn’t speak much about the mid-western hill peoples. Or in other words, the prehistory of the Nepalese mid-western hills is largely unknown even today for the complete lack of both historical records and archaeological evidence also, however,  these hills were the homes of  some powerful peoples that established a few ‘rajyas’  - kingdoms – such as: Palpa, Lamjung, Tanahun or  Gorkha in the mediaeval period that undoubtedly contributed,  in someways or the other, to the founding and growth of present day Nepal. In this short note I intend to briefly discuss some toponyms and  also a particular name, Aramudi, after which numerous place names have evolved overtime in the area. 

1. ‘Kot or  ‘+ kot suffixed’ toponyms:

There are numerous place names such as: Ribdikot (should be Ridikot), Birkot, Maikot, Jankot, Jharkot, Sarangkot, Sulikot, Bhirkot, Nuwakot, Mirkot, Musikot, Paiyunkot, Purkot, Dhuwakot, Linglingkot, Sahalkot etc. in the Nepalese mid-hills. Few more ‘kots’ can be found in the central hills also, such as: Nuwakot, BelkotThankot, Ramkot, Chapakot, Duwakot, Nagarkot, Charikot including Tilaurakot, Kapilvastu in western plains etc.  Such kots can be found along the western Himalayas also such as: Simikot, Kalikot and Taklakot[1] - a town in Chinese autonomous region of Tibet, Pathankot in the Indian state of Punjab and Siyalkot in Pakistan also.  The city of ancient Siyalkot came into existence as early as 327 BC.  But these  kots  frequently come from one hill or mountain to another in the mid-west Nepalese  hills. However, ‘kot’ - an independent word whose origin is dubious[2] as it can be found in Dravidian languages also, does not come as an independent toponym. It comes after a particular name to form a compound place name. The name word ‘kot’, which probably predates Emperor Ashok of 3rd century BC has been used as ‘kot-vishavesu (कोट-विषवेशु)  [3] in  Sarnath Pillar Edict which is described as ‘durgrakshit pradeshansheshu’ (दुर्गरक्षित-प्रदेशांशेषु) – ‘region protected by a ruler from the fort (Sircar 1965:73).

2. Jhong or Jung or Lung, Dhung or Dhunga:

A kot or fort in eastern Magar, a Tibeto-Burman language is Jhong or Jung. There are some ruins of  ‘Mangar Jhongs’ in Sikkim today also. ‘Lamjung’ or ‘Lamjhong’ and ‘Namjung’ or ‘Namjhong’ are typical toponyms in Lamjung and Gorkha districts respectively and both of which should mean a ‘lam’>  path or way and ‘jhong’ > fort or ‘kot’ on the way’.  There is yet another ‘Namrong or Namrung’- but a popular deity among the Magars of Gorkha. She is  a formless  deity who resides in the jungle or nature, quite suggestive of nature worship or animism that the Magar people followed before coming in contact  with other religious missionaries.I can remember now, while  still in teenage my grandparents sending me to worship this deity in Paslang dada. In Kathmandu’s north west corner stands Mt. Nagarjun today whose etymology should be “Naga+Jhong” – the fort of the Nagas. The popular myth in Kathmandu valley is that from this “Naga+Jhong”  was protected Kathmandu valley. The myth further held tight  the hooded Naga royal golden throne that used to be the Kings’ seat until 2008 in Nepal  was a protector, Prof. Dinesh Chandra Sircar has described as ‘durgrakshit pradeshansheshu’ above. In Magar language ‘Lung’ is   a stone which is  ‘dhung or dhunga’ in Nepali  language, suggestive of some cliffs or mountains also. Those cliffs or mountains stand formidable which people worship  for fear even today, as the ancient Egyptians did worship  the River Nile.  While climbing Mt. Everest climbers always worship the mountain before the ascent.

While discussing ‘Lung’ or ‘dhung or dhunga’ as in Taklung, Ghairung, Mailung  of Gorkha and Baglung district also, we may also discuss why Mt. Everest was proposed being named 'a Devadhunga’ in 1857 ? An  Indian mathematician Radhanath Sikdar discovered the world's tallest mountain - The Peak XV in 1852, later to be known also as Mt. Sagaramatha or ‘Kang-chomo-lungma’ and different names seem to have been suggested as well.  On May 11, 1857 the Royal Geographical Society of London  named the mountain The Everest after the first British Surveyor General to India  George Everest and in protest of which Brian H. Hodgson, who was the British Resident in the Court of Nepal for more than twenty years, proposed a local name for the peak  as Devadhaung-Bhairavthan-Nyanam (Hodgson, 1874: 27, Malla http://tinyurl.com/kdh556w). The first word ‘Devadhaung’ or ‘Deva-dhunga’ – ‘stone god’ or ‘cliff or even mountain god’  is very much similar to Tak+lung which can be further reconstructed as Teg+lung – as in Takla+khar suggesting a 'lying tiger  fort' or an impressive cliff or mountain.

3. ‘Gumike’ or  Gaulmik’ or Gulmi:

There is a  district in Nepalese Midwestern hills called ‘Gulmi’ inhabited mostly even today by the Magars in Lumbini Zone. Although the last segment of this name word sounds Tibeto-Burman ‘mi’> man or people certainly, the name word that the district has received definitively comes from ‘gumike[4] in Hirahadagalli Copper Plate Inscription of 4th century AD,  and probably is the only such a place name in South Asia.  A  relatively big river, nowadays  called Kaligandaki, which the Kashmiri historian Kalhan writes ‘Kalagandika’[5]  flows downstream from Tibet by this Gulmi area. The historian Kalhan writes, a Kashmiri King Jayapida (752 -773 AD)  had once fought a battle here with Aramudi, the king of Nepal in the 8th century. The Nepal King Aramudi defeated Jayapida and imprisoned in an ‘ashmveshmani  > stone house[6]’ suggestive of a ‘Gulma’ which also meant a police post (Witzel 1993: 227).  The  4th century Hirahadagalli Copper Plate Inscription ‘gumike’  is further described as ‘gaulmik’ – 'police officer' (Sircar 1965: 465) that comes very close to Gulmi. Furthermore, Gulmi was regarded as a district, gandnigulma vishya  during the duel rule of Narendra Dev and Udaydev in Nepal Sambat 119 or 1055 BS ( Vazracharya 2064 BS: 16).

4. The 8th century AD king ‘Aramudi’:

In the 8th century Nepal had a powerful king Aramudi whose glory is beautifully sung in ‘Kahlan’s Rajtarangini’(Stein 1892: 64) and whom some historians have claimed a Magar king by his ethnicity. Except for Rajtarangininowhere  can be found his name mentioned at all. Nepalese historians have nowadays begun to accept that he existed. Quite a number of toponyms such as Argeli in Palpa; Arbani, Arje, Arkhale, Arkhawang, Arlangkot  in Gulmi and Argal, Arjewa  in Baglung come after him in the present day Kali Gandaki region. These all place names provide some hints that he really existed, but we have no historical records and other archaeological evidence to  support the claim. Once in Argeli, a   person had told me that Argeli came after a hermit named Aurab who used to meditate and protect the people from a cone type of modest sized hill in Argali. But the Aurab myth, as Nepal being protected by Ne-Muni, is not very convincing.

These present day Nepalese mid-hills could not develop themselves into some cultural or political centers as, in some ways, did Palpa or  a full fledged center of civilization like –Kathmandu valley, the present day Nepalese capital. One of the reasons for these hills remaining relatively ‘primitive’ seems  being, their geography or the difficult terrain across the Mahabharat mountain range and the actual lack of  access routes, linking major trade centers up across the formidable Himalayas as Lhasa in Tibet also, if not the major settlements, towns or other centers in the southern plains. Among these mid-western hills lived or I shall write, live today also, a major group of people -  the Magars, in the proximity of Gurungs,  both of whom, in modern times, became well known to the world after the battle of Nalapani in 1814 with British East India Company and subsequent other two World Wars also.

These two groups of people may not be categorized  as ‘autochthonous’ because coming under Indian sub-continental cultural influence to form certain territorial administrative units of their own, which they also had named ‘rajyas’ - kingdoms, with some ‘rajas’ – the kings or the group leaders; these people had  formed more than forty-six[7] different ‘rajyas’ or small principalities up till 18th century in the present day Nepal. These ‘rajyas’ used to be some settlements across larger rivers or at some strategic locations up in the hills or mountains and were probably in persistent hostility for different political reasons.

The prehistory of the people in these Nepalese mid-western hills is simply unknown or unexplored as already discussed above; for example, we do not have any historical records to fully understand who was the ruler that Drabya Shah had killed to found Gorkha kingdom in 1559[8]. According to the Gorkha Vamshavali[9], he was a Khadka King ‘of low social status’[10] but there are no historical records or archaeological evidence to suggest who he actually was. We even do not know if the Gorkha proper had any other name before Drabya Shah’s conquest. 

Languages as ‘living things’ tell histories of the mankind. “The great power of language evidence in displaying the history of the inner as well as outer lives of those societies” (Evans 2010: 105). The first settlers or linguistic groups name the places they live in their own particular languages and which become particular toponyms of those places until some social changes take place. Unlike DNA, toponyms  are fixed  to the land and do not wander from country to country but every successive linguistic group depending on how influential it has become, will certainly give a push forward to replace the signature on a palimpsest with their own. This is  what has been  the general trend in Nepal since the past some 250 years or so, that toponyms are being gradually replaced by other powerful languages in the country. This will certainly lead to faster language deaths in the country.

References:

Evans, Nicholas  2010:  Dying Words, Endangered Languages and What They Have To Tell Us, Willey Blackwell, United Kingdom.

Malla, Kamal P. : The Linguistic Conquest of Mount Everest, Online paper. In The Himalayan Voice also.

Pant, Dinesh Raj 1984: Gorkhako Itihas, Pahilo Bhag 2041 BS, History of Gorkha, Vol. I , Kathmandu Nepal.



Sircar, D. C. 1965 . Select Inscription Bearing on Indian History and Civilization Vol. I, From the Sixth Century BC to the Sixth Century AD, University of Calcutta, India.

Stein, M. A  1892 : Kalhan’s Rajatarangini orChronicle of the Kings of Kashmir – Munshi Ram Manohar Lal, Oriental Booksellers and Pubishers Nai Sadak Delhi -6

Vansittart, Eden 1896: Notes on Nepal - Calcutta, India

Vazracharya, Dhanavazra 2064 BS: Gopalrajvanshavaliko Aitihasik Vivechana Nepal and Asian Studies, Tribuvan University, Kirtipur Kathmandu.

Witzel, Michael 1993: Nepalese Hydronomy: Towards a History of Settlement in the Himalayas. Published  in Nepal Past and Present,  Edited by Gerrad Toffin.




[1]  It is a   small Tibetan township at the border with India and Nepal. In Tibetan it is called Taklakhar. (Tibetan Talkakhar > Tegla Kar > a lying tiger fort)
[2]  It may also seem coming from  Sanskrit ‘koshth’ > room.
[3] Emperor Ashok’s Sarnath Pillar edict ( Sircar 1966:73)
[4] Sivaskandavarman Regnal Year 8, Hirahadagalli Copper-plate inscription 4th century, plate no 2, first side ( Sircar 1965: 462)
[5]  "स कालगंडिकासिन्धोरर्वाचि  कटकं तटे।" (sa kalagandikasindhorvarchi katakn tate) – Kalkahn’s RajTarangini – 555, pp 65
[6] "स कालगंडिकातीराश्रयात्युचास्मवेश्मनि ।" (sa kalagandikatiirashtrayatyuchaashmaveshmani) - Kalkahn’s RajTarangini – 546, pp 64
[7] Nepal had baise chaubise , twenty-two twenty four small principalities before the unification of modern day Nepal.
[8] a) Bhadra Krisnha Astami Wednesday 24, 1616 (Pant 2041 (1984) BS: 62),   b) Wednesday 23, 1559 (Vansttitart 1896: 31). 
[9]  The  Shah Kings only authoritative genealogy.
[10] Historians have written  he was a Magar by his ethnicity but the Gorkha Vamshavali does not specifically tell who he actually was.