Saturday 10 August 2019

Nepal Place Names Explained

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals I thought it time I cast my net a little wider. As English place names share some links to other tongues it would be interesting to see if any of the elements contributing to our place names could be found elsewhere. Continuing an alphabetical tour of the world and a look at the largest Nepalese cities.

Kathmandu is a Pahari name from the Kasthamandap Temple which once stood in Durbar Square. Sanskrit kastha means 'wood' and mandapa 'pavilion', an obvious explanation of what the former place of worship was made from.

Lalitpur has several explanations for its name, these more legend than etymology. Most often these speak of the god Rato Machhindranath, brought to the valley by three people from Assam in India. One of these three was named Lalit, a farmer who had carried the god here to alleviate the appalling drought conditions. The name is said to come from Lalit and his pur or 'township'.

Birgunj was named after the 11th prime minister, Commanding General Shree Shree Shree Maharaja Sir Bir Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana (10 December 1852 to 5 March 1901).

Janakpur is named after the ancient Indian king of Videha, King Janaka reigned around 2,800 years ago.

Tilottama is named after the local river, itself named after an aspara, a celestial nymph in Hindu mythology. Furthermore the word is a portmanteau of two Sanskrit terms, Tila 'sesame seed', or something of similar size, and uttama 'better, higher'. The understanding is of something very small which is still comprised of the finest and most superior qualities.

Tokha is derived from two Newari words, tu 'sugarcane' and khya 'field' and an indication of local delicacy of chaku made from raw sugercane.

Madhyapur Thimi has a number of legends told of how it got its name. We can be sure this area, along with Bhaktapur and Patan, were often battling for superiority for generations. Beginning with Thimi, this is held to be from the term chhemi 'capable people', a reference to their resilience in continuing to live there despite the constant warring. Eventually the name acquired the addition from madhya 'centre' and pu 'city', thus 'the central city of the capable people'.

Chandrapur was named after the prime minister Field-Marshal Maharaja Sri Teen Chandra Shamsher Junga Bahadur Rana, who held office from June 1901 until his death in 1929.

Rajbiraj is named after Rajdevi Temple, with raj meaning 'state' and biraj 'to reside, live'.

Belbari comes from two Nepali names, Bel 'wood apple' (also known as elephant apple or monkey apple) and Bari a tree native to Nepal.

Kirtipur is from the Sanskrit kirti 'glory' and pur 'city'.

Siddharthanagar is from the Buddha's given name of Siddartha, earlier the place was known as Bhairahawa from the deity Bhairava, a manifestation of Shiva.

Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.


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