Nepalese hydronomy: towards a history of settlement in the Himalaya

Witzel, Michael

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The prehistory and the early history of Nepal are largely unknown - certainly, as far as the major part of the country is concerned, because it is not situated closely enough to such early cultural and political centers such as Kapilavastu, or medieval ones such as the Kathmandu Valley, Tibet, Chamba or Jumla. Nor can we expect, except from future extensive archaeological surveys, more information for those areas that have not left us with written documentation. In this situation, it may be useful to try to elicit more information not only from the "unwritten history" contained in legends etc., but also from language itself, where such information can be found in an "undiluted" state. For changes in language occur, as is well known, mostly unconsciously and over a period of many years and they are, for the greater part, not directly influenced by official policy or by individual habits. It is well known that place names such as those of streams, rivers, localities, and mountains often are very persistent. This especially applies to names of rivers. In Europe, for example, where such names have been studied in great detail, river names were found to reflect, quite frequently, the languages spoken before the influx of the Indo-European speaking populations. They thus are older, dependent on the date of the spread of Indo-European languages in the various parts of Europe, than c. 4500 to 2500 B.C. It would be fascinating to gain a similar vantage point for the prehistory of Nepal. A toponymical study of Nepal is bound to provide some insight into the settlement patterns of the present and past populations of the area. Such an attempt has not yet appeared though some authors have hinted at the desirability of such an undertaking. In the following pages, I will limit myself to the names of the rivers of the Nepalese Himalayas, to hydronomy, as such names seem to be more conservative than those of settlements (and easier to explore than for example those of local fields or mountains.)

Document type: Article
Date: 1993
Version: Primary publication
Date Deposited: 20 February 2008
DDC-classification: General history of Asia Far East
Controlled Subjects: Nepal, Vor- und Frühgeschichte
Uncontrolled Keywords: Nepal, Frühgeschichte , Ortsnamen , Flussnamen, Nepal , Early history , Place names , River names
Subject (classification): History and Archaeology
Countries/Regions: Nepal
Series: People > Kleine Schriften von Michael Witzel
Volume: 5