Monday, 18 May 2020

The Proto-Indo-European Word for "Sea/Ocean"

The Proto-Indo-European Word for "Sea/Ocean"

Shrikant G. Talageri

It has been a matter of compulsion and faith in the reconstruction of the Proto-Indo-European language, and in Rigvedic Studies, to hold that there is no common word for "sea/ocean" in Proto-Indo-European, and no word for "sea/ocean" in the Rigveda.
The reason is obvious: in  order to maintain that the Proto-Indo-Europeans originated in the landlocked Steppes, and the branch that "migrated into India", the Indo-Aryans, also passed through the equally landlocked eastern Steppes and Central Asia before landing into the landlocked northern Saptasindhu area, where they composed the Rigveda, it is necessary for them to show that the Rigveda does not know the sea or ocean.

However, the Rigveda does know the ocean: it refers more than a hundred times (133 times as per certain counts) to samudra, which, both in its etymology and the sense, and the definite contexts, in which it is used in the Rigveda, can mean nothing but the ocean. And from the very earliest understanding of the term in traditional Indian texts and commentaries, and in etymological texts, grammars and dictionaries, it has meant nothing but the ocean. It is a measure of the desperation of the supporters of the AIT that this has been considered a matter of doubt or dispute at all. The question has been well settled by way of detailed articles by many scholars and writers, so we will not deal with that issue here.
In any case, if there is a word for the sea/ocean in the Rigveda, it could always be a word which developed individually later after the Indo-Aryans "migrated" into India―after all, even if the precise geographical horizon of the Rigveda appeared to be within a landlocked area, it was well stocked with navigable rivers which led to the ocean, and well connected with other traversable neighboring areas which bordered on the ocean. It does not answer the main question of whether or not the original Proto-Indo-Europeans lived in a land-locked area (like the Steppes) with no likelihood of having a common word for the ocean.

So the single question we will deal with here is: is there, or is there not, a common Proto-Indo-European word for the sea/ocean? It must be noted that what is required is basically a common word for a body of non-flowing water, be it technically a sea, swamp or a lake (but not a river), but which can be shown, by comparison of the word in different branches, to mean specifically "sea". 

According to the scholars, there is no such common word. Mallory and Adams deal with this in some length: "The word for 'sea', *móri, is firmly attested in Celtic (e.g. OIr muir 'sea'), Italic (e.g. Lat. mare), Germanic (e.g. NE mere), Baltic (e.g. Lith. mãre 'sea') and Slavic (e.g. OCS morje 'sea'), which will leave it a northwestern word were it not for a possible cognate in Ossetic (mal 'deep-standing water') an East Iranian language of the Caucasus, which would provide an Asian cognate. Hit. marmar(r)a - 'swamp' may be a reduplicated version [….] most Indo-European languages have innovated or borrowed terms to indicate the sea, e.g. Germanic, Greek, Indic, and so the balance of opinion suggests that the word originally referred to an 'inland sea' or 'lake' and was later extended to mean 'salt water sea' [….] excepting for a moment Germanic it is noteworthy that those Indo-European groups with maritime locations (Italic, Celtic, Baltic, Slavic) have the meaning 'sea', while those with an inland location (Ossetic and Hittite) have the meaning 'lake'. Either meaning could have developed from the other to reflect the local environment. It is languages like English whose speakers live in a maritime environment but use the inherited word *móri for inland waters that tip the balance in favour of an original non-maritime meaning" (MALLORY-ADAMS 2006:127).

Later, he picks up the theme again, more directly: "consensus is probably still in support of projecting an original meaning of 'inland body of water' that was changed to 'salt water sea' in some language groups. e.g Celtic, Italic and Slavic. In our earliest attested languages we either find as a potential cognate in Hit. marmar(r)a which refers to a body of shallow water, or in the case of the Greeks and Indo-Aryans, they borrowed words for 'sea' from non-Indo-European sources which has suggested that the Proto-Indo-Europeans did not have a word for 'sea'" (MALLORY-ADAMS 2006:130).

The first argument given by Mallory-Adams is that while maritime branches (i.e. the Indo-European branches historically in direct contact with the sea) generally have the meaning "sea" and inland branches (with no direct coastlines) have the meaning "inland body of water=lake/marsh", thereby leaving it open as to what was the original meaning, it is English which tips the balance: it is definitely a maritime language, but the word in English (moor, marsh) refers to an inland body of water.
However, this is not strictly correct. The fact is that the Germanic languages have another very distinct word for "sea": Proto-Germanic *saiwa- (English sea). If the Proto-Indo-European *móri (English moor) also originally meant "sea", it is perfectly feasible that any one of the two words would be retained for "sea", and the other would be transferred to "inland body of water=lake/marsh". English just happened to retain the meaning of "sea" and transfer the meaning of "moor".
This is proved by the comparison of two other prominent Germanic languages:
German: see = "lake", meer = "sea".
Dutch:    zee = "sea",  meer = "lake".

So the English word does not necessarily "tip the balance in favour of an original non-maritime meaning".

The second argument is more important and should be understood. Mallory-Adams tells us that of the three "earliest attested languages we either find an a potential cognate in Hit. marmar(r)a which refers to a body of shallow water, or in the case of the Greeks and Indo-Aryans, they borrowed words for 'sea' from non-Indo-European sources which has suggested that the Proto-Indo-Europeans did not have a word for 'sea'".
The whole argument rests on the belief that the Indo-Aryans and Greeks did not retain the original word *móri, and therefore had to borrow words for "sea" from "non-Indo-European sources". Technically this is incorrect because, in the case of Indo-Aryan at least, the word samudra―though not an inherited word―is an Indo-Aryan word and is not borrowed from any "non-Indo-European source".

The point is whether it is indeed correct that Indo-Aryan did not retain the original word *móri.

The surprising thing is that the Indologists in their discussions ignore the fact that there is indeed an Indo-Aryan word for "sea" derived from the original word *móri: it is the word mīra (pronounced, incidentally, much like the German word meer).
It is given in Pāṇini's Uṇādi-Sūtras, which are a supplement to the Aṣṭādhyāyī and contains words that the Paninian rules cannot derive. Elsewhere I have pointed out, in my article "The Elephant and the Proto-Indo-European Homeland", that ibha, which is an old word not found in post-Rigvedic texts until it was revived later, and so old a word that it has already undergone Prakritization in pre-Rigvedic times itself from the original form ṛbha to ibha (like Kṛṣṇa becomes Kisna), is given in the Uṇādi-Sūtra (iii, 147) as hastī "elephant".

In the case of mīra:
1. Pāṇini gives the meaning of mīra as samudra (Uṇādi-Sutra ii, 28).
2. This word, mīra, is not borrowed from any "non-Indo-European source". Indeed it is an old word which has been replaced in the Rigveda by the much more popular new word samudra.
3. The word cannot have been borrowed from any other Indo-European language: the word is, as Mallory-Adams note, lost in Greek (which is the only other ancient Indo-European language from which the later Classical Sanskrit borrowed some words like kendra, suraṅga, etc.).

We do find the rare case where the Rigvedic language has replaced an original and ubiquitous PIE word with a unique new formation which became so popular, and so completely replaced the original Indo-European word in a pre-Rigvedic period itself, that there is no trace left of the original word. This has happened even in the case of so important a term as the name of a part of the body: the ear. We find cognate forms of the reconstructed word for "ear" in all the five European branches (Italic, Celtic, Germanic, Baltic and Slavic) and in the four Last branches (Albanian, Greek, Armenian, Iranian): the two earliest branches Hittite and Tocharian do not seem to have the word. The Rigvedic language uses a different word karṇa. [Of course, there we can have the alternate scenario that the reconstructed PIE word may not be the original word, and that the common "PIE" word was developed in Afghanistan and beyond among the proto-forms of the 5 European and 4 Last branches, from which process the eastern Indo-Aryan and the already departed Hittite and Tocharian were excepted. This would be strengthened by the fact that the word karṇa is found once in the Avesta, (Srosh Yasht 2) as karәna,  a word already old and otherwise outdated, having been replaced by the new "common" word ushi].

The evidence of Hittite does not have any value because the Hittites are on record as having entered their historical habitats from the north, and through landlocked areas, so the fact that they use the word for "inland body of water=lake/marsh" does not prove anything about the original meaning of the word.   

In this case, we are lucky, in view of the AIT-OIT debate, that the Uṇādi-Sūtras have left us clear evidence of the older word mīra. As the pre-Rigvedic word mīra means "sea", it is clear that the Rigvedic people, whose geographical horizon lies in a landlocked area, cannot have come from the north through various other landlocked areas, but were in fact, from pre-Rigvedic times, part of a larger and local geographical culture which stretched to the sea through the course of the local rivers as well as through other well-connected traversable neighboring areas which bordered on the ocean.
This proves both, the original meaning of the reconstructed word  as "sea", as well as the location of the original Homeland where the word had this meaning.


CHINTAMANI 1992: The Uṇādi-Sūtras with the vṛtti of Svetavanavāsin. ed. Chintamani, T.R. Navrang, New Delhi, 1992. 

MALLORY-ADAMS 2006: The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World. Mallory J.P. and Adams D.Q. Oxford University Press, 2006.


  1. Sir how we know conclusively that Mīra is a Sanskrit word? Panini himself doesn't know how to derive this word.

    1. The whole of the Uṇādi-Sūtras consists of Sanskrit words that Panini cannot derive by his rules. Many of them, like this one, and ibha, have equivalents in other IE languages.

    2. Do you have the list of all such words?

  2. Mori in Marathi means a washroom or sometimes a sink.

  3. Hello sir,

    I have been reading your blogs and books for a long time.

    I really appreciate your work,

    I would suggest you check this paper Five waves of Indo-European expansion: a preliminary model (2018) by Igor A. Tonoyan-Belyayev

    It further solidifies your case.

    Here is the link.

    And you have asserted that Indus-Valley/Harapan people were actually Indo-Iranian People(i.e. Parthians, Persians, Medes, etc)

    Here(in the below links), you can find some artifacts similar to Indus Valley, Civilization, and Persians/Iranian, which further solidifies your assertion.



  4. Babu wrote:

    "I would suggest you check this paper Five waves of Indo-European expansion: a preliminary model (2018) by Igor A. Tonoyan-Belyayev

    It further solidifies your case."

    Yes. Here is another one by the same author.

    Here he examines Tibeto Burman loand words into Latin, Germanic and Balto Slavic. This enhances the OIT case greatly. Also see section 9 of the following paper by Koenraad Elst where he picks up on Igor TB's work. Elst is now seriously learning Tibeto Burman.

    "We (Elst) borrow some examples from Tonoyan-Belyayev (2017). ..."

  5. Artwork from the Gundstrup Cauldron discovered in Denmark dated around 2000 years ago.

    Striking similarities to SSC iconography.

  6. Yes, thanks for bringing this up,

    Gundstrup Cauldron is indeed very similar to SSC.*6oEHw7tyrZSp3zB6wEO9Iw.jpeg

    But the fact that every single Parthian emperor wore a headband similar to the priest bust found in Indus Valley( ), conclusively and decisively proves that the Inhabitants of Harapans were Indo-Iranians (i.e. Anus)

    1. Actually it was a joint Puru-Anu culture. Most of the IVC sites are found on the bank of dried up SarasVati river not Indus. Infact the oldest IVC site Bhirrana is from Haryana.

    2. arish108 : "Actually it was a joint Puru-Anu culture. "
      Yes that's true, I agree.

  7. Babu,

    You are most welcome and thank you for the links.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. I would like to bring one more similarity.

    It is quite a controversial point which I am about to talk about, but my intention is just to clearly show that IE languages spread from India to Europe not the other way around, along with IE language, a few of IE tradition to went to Europe.

    - In Götterdämmerung and Brünnhilde, the Heroines self-immolates themselves.

    (I hope Srikanth Ji would look into the names 'Götterdämmerung and Brünnhilde' and determine if this has any IE origin or etymology)

    Now this was not common among all the Germanic tribes, but only a few specific aristocratic tribes.

    Here is an artistic depiction.

    Here is a clip from a Game.

    (Please don't be mad at me, Don't get me wrong or mistake me for posting a clip from a video game, as I said before my only intention is to show that this tradition is an exclusively an IE tradition, and the scene depicted in this Video game is based on the tradition followed among Viking Chieftain, but it was not followed by ALL GERMANIC tribes but only the Aristocratic tribes.)

    Now we know very well the tradition of 'Sati' practiced in India, again not all the 4 varnas practiced this, but it was exclusively practiced only by specific higher sections, mostly Kshatriyas.

    Thank you.

  10. Also I came across some sites that informed that the etymology of 'Scandivania' from the demigod Skanda.

    Now demigod Skanda is known as in charge of wars, ironically all the Roman, Greek et al historians described the Germanic people as WARRIORS.

    I hope Srikanth Ji would look more into this, and share if he knows anything more about this.

    Here are a few links




  11. Srikanth Ji, Is it true that "the names of the European rivers Danube, Dnieper, Dniestr, Don, Donets, Dunajec, Dvina/Daugava, and Dysna are all derived from the Rig Vedic Sanskrit root word “dānu”. ?

    Please look into it.

  12. Namaste Srikanth Talageri ji.

    I came across a piece of archeological evidence which solidifies you assertion that "Alina (Hellene = Greeks)".

    Please take a look -->

    I have already shared with you about the similarity between Parthian Kings and the Bust of the Preist King in Indus Valley.

    Not only that in your book I came across this passage.

    "In later historical times, the name Anu is prominently found at both the southern and northern ends of the area described in the Avesta: Greek texts (e.g. Stathmoi Parthikoi, 16, of Isidore of Charax) refer to the area and the people immediately north of the Hāmūn-ī Hilmand in southern Afghanistan as the anauon or anauoi; and Anau is the name of a prominent proto-Iranian or Iranian archaeological site in Central Asia (Turkmenistan)."

    Again I came across an important Artifact in Anau Culture which is VERY SIMILAR to the in Indus Valley.

    So Talageri Ji you were right. Thank You Ji.

  13. Srikanth Talageri Sir has already asserted on numerous occasions that Greek, Albanian, Indo-Iranian were the last branch to leave out of the PIE homeland, not only that he identified the Parthians with PRthus or PArthavas and Alinas with Hellenes (ancient Greeks).

    And he clearly proved that PIE homeland was India.

    The people who inhabited the Indus Valley were these last branches(Indic, Iranian, Thraco-Phrygian(Armenian), Hellenic (Greek).to leave the PIE homeland.

    Now we have an artifact in Indus Valley called the Priest King's bust where he is depicted as wearing a Fillet or ribbon headband.

    Exactly in the same manner, as depicted in the Indus Valley's priest-king bust, We find the every single Parthian(PRthus or PArthavas) Emporers and every single Selcuid(Alinas/Hellenes ) Emporer wore a headband.

    Here are the links

    Parthian Emperors-->

    Selcuid Emperors -->

    Now, this is sweeping evidence that the people who inhabited Indus Valley were Indic, Iranian, Thraco-Phrygian(Armenian), Hellenic (Greek).

    From the PIE homeland the Iranian and Hellenic branch left, they also carried these customs of Kings wearing Headband with them.

    1. Even Few Macedonian( Alinas /Hellenes)Emperors wore the headband similar to Priest King's bust in Indus Valley.

      -Demetrius I of Macedon


      -Philip II of Macedon

      -Aeropos II

      -Pausanias of Macedon

      -Didrachm of Archelaos I King of Macedonia


    2. Babu, thank you very much for all these informative links and points. Your point about the Parthian and Macedonian kings wearing headbands similar to the Priest King's bust from the Harappan sites is very important and deserves to be investigated thoroughly.

    3. Sir, please go through this paper,

      this paper analyzes the origin of Diadem/Headband for kings, it gives various origins theories from various kingdoms, all of the Empire mentioned in this paper date older than Indus Valley expect the Egyptian Old Kingdom(it overlaps the period of Indus Valley).

      Also, the papers say the word for the crown in Persian is "kidaris/kitaris and goes on to say the Persian Word "kidaris/kitaris" was derived from the Hebrew "keter". But I looked up the Sanskrit equivalent of the same word I found "kirITa" So I am pretty sure that the Hebrew words itself should have got it from Sanskrit thus making its ultimate origin in Indus Valley(c. 3300 – c. 1300 BCE) which was copied by the Old Kingdom Egyptian Empires(c. 2686–2181 BC), and later the Greeks, Persians after they left India took this custom with them.

    4. The head bands of Egyptian kings had "Snakes". Signifying kunDalini. Hence islamics refer to them as kafir - as they themselves claimed to be gods. the word Arabia is from tamizh word aravam - means snake than aravam (asvam) as Horse in Sanskrit. Arabic Script is shaped in Snake form! Word Satan is from "saaththan" trader - the worshippers of Muruga and the 666 is about the attribute of Murga with 6 faces! 6 point triangle - the star of David is from tamizh origin only. Post-deluvian migration from seas to the earliest of civilizations, Egypt and Sumeria.


  14. Thanks for replying Sir.
    Here are few more artifacts which are very similar to the ones in Indus Valley.
    Both Indus Valley and Greeks produced similar art form because the people who inhabited Indus Valley were Indic, Iranian, Thraco-Phrygian(Armenian), Hellenic/Alinas (Greek).
    These were the last branches to leave their PIE homeland.

    Here a few artifacts that are similar to Anau Culture(Turkmenistan) and Indus Valley.

    The fact that artifacts are similar in both Anau Culture(Turkmenistan) and Indus Valley confirms what you said in your book.
    "In later historical times, the name Anu is prominently found at both the southern and northern ends of the area described in the Avesta: Greek texts (e.g. Stathmoi Parthikoi, 16, of Isidore of Charax) refer to the area and the people immediately north of the Hāmūn-ī Hilmand in southern Afghanistan as the anauon or anauoi; and Anau is the name of a prominent proto-Iranian or Iranian archaeological site in Central Asia (Turkmenistan)."

  15. Hi Shrikant ji, I've been recently reading the Vayu Purana, in one of its verses it references different rivers as below:

    "The rivers rising from the foot of Himavat,
    of which those people drink the water are:
    Ganga, Sindhu, Sarasvati, Satadru,
    Candrabhaga, Yamuna, Sarayu, Iravati, Vitasta,
    Vipasa, Devika (Daika), Kuhu, Gomatl,
    Dhutapapa, Bahuda, Drsadvatl, KausikI, Trtlya,
    Nisclra, Gandakl, Iksu and Lohita"

    Its clear that the rivers mentioned starts from the east going to the west. But there is one problem, why is Sindu mentioned as a Eastern River where it supposed to be a Western one?

    1. well I can see the names are not exactly in order of their direction. Ganga(east) is mentioned 1st but in number 4 you have Satadru(west) but again in number 6 and 7 you have Yamuna(east) and Sarayu(east) but then in number 8,9,10 you have Iravati, Vitasta, Vipasa(all west). And again in 13 place you have Gomti(east) and in 20 you have Gandakl(east).

      So the rivers are not mentioned in a directional manner but rather mentioned in a mixed up manner possibly for matching poetic lyrics.

      Another possibility is that the river Sindhu mentioned here is not Indus but is actually Sindh river- a tributary of the Yamuna River.

  16. Namaste Sir,
    I have been reading your blog for a long time. I was reading some random blogs on google & I came accross the genealogy of Maudgalya Kings which surprisingly match the genealogy of rigvedic Bharatas Puru. Is it safe to say that Maudgalya dynasty & Bharatas were same people ?

  17. Namaste Talageriji,

    This blog was a wonderful read. While we are on the subject of rivers, I wanted to discuss something related to the Hydronyms Conservatism principle with you. You have argued (in one of your youtube videos) that River names in the Rig Vedic area being Indo-European proves that the IVC was a Sanskrit speaking civilization. However, I came across this paper :

    This paper argues that Ganga, Sutudri, Anitabha and some others are non-IE names in the Rig Veda. Kindly take a look at this paper.


    1. I suppose you have read the paper you cited. In the summary table (p.20-22), Blazek gives purely Indo-Aryan etymologies for 25 of the 29 rivers cited. For 2, Anitabha and Shutudri, he gives alternative IA and Dravidian etymologies. And for two others, Ganga and Krumu, he gives Burushaski etymologies, although as his text shows, they do have alternative IA etymologies as well, accepted by other eminent Indologists.
      The Dravidian etymologies are extremely speculative and geographically impossible: the udr- in the name Shutudri for example is clearly the IA word for "water".
      The Burushaski etymologies are geographically possible for Krumu but not for the Ganga, and in both cases they are extremely speculative.
      Note that every single one of the 29 rivers (25 definitely) has an IA etymology.

    2. udiram is raktam in tamizh! Siva as rudra - Sivappu means Red in tamizh. "sa" is big. samudra can be derived thus! Also another etymology: mUththira is Urine. Sea is salty and so is muththiram. "sa" is big. samuththiram is a tamizh origin word - here tamizh is used as a placeholder for a proto-Indian language. Why we need Indo-Aryan roots? All words in vEdic will likely have a local origin!

    3. Further the word : "mari" for sea. kumari is a word for sea in the South. Earliest sea known by humans ( even assuming they left Africa - what 80 KYA?). Coast line is the way to migrate. Inland migration is dangerous as weapons have not bee found. They did migrate into islands at that time exposed in southern sea. Well don't call me a Lemur!. kumari has been explained as ku - large number ( kUTTa - collection, addition) - mari (die) - a allusion to the deluge that destroyed large set of people. Kumara the word for any young person and then applied to Muruga ( a fertility culture in response to reduction in population) is an old word. mAran, mAri - groom and bride. marriage is wedlock of the two. So root word "mari" for sea is indeed from tamizh. mumAri peydu (three seasonal rains, having poured). mAriamman - was also a goddess propitiated for rains. nIlakanTha is blue sea submerging khanDas - land masses. At least I am on indic scholar Jayshree Saranathan camp , when it comes to believing in pre-deluvian history. Again not Lemuria.

    4. Could you please explain what do you mean when you say

      "Why we need Indo-Aryan roots? All words in vEdic will likely have a local origin"

  18. udir is shedding. We need to look for a simple usage of words with grounding of semantics, than root derivation. First evolution of language has to be simple and logical , not because humans are logical, but because they likely did not develop higher level logical capabilities. Logic is now in the side of nature!

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  20. Sir,
    I have a minor point noticed: you have written "it is the word mīra (pronounced, incidentally, much like the German word meer).".
    However, the German word Meer isn't pronounced like mīra.
    (I'll use Devanagari here, as pronunciation is directly discernable)
    mīra, I assume, is written in Devanagari as मीर.
    Meer, on the other hand, should be written as मेर् (actually, मेय्‌र्, where य् is almost silent). मे here is as in "May", with "deergha" -> "ऎ".

    => you may check it here