Indian & Sri Lankan Place Name Elements

INTRODUCTION

This page lists 50 of the most common place names elements in India & Sri Lanka.

Most South Asian place names, like English ones, are made up of two elements (to make it easier I illustrate these using English examples):

(1) a base or generic element which is common to many other place names and names the defining object or location: e.g. town, hill, port, castle, pool, lake or bridge;

(2) a modifying or specific element which uniquely identifies this particular place with a person, object or a description: e.g. George, king, new, high, black, elm, or wood.

When we put these together the resulting place names, Georgetown, Kingshill, Newport, Highcastle, Blackpool, Elmlake and Woodbridge, show a similar structure to place names in India and Sri Lanka:  Pudu+kottai, Juna+gadh, Kar+ur, Una+Watuna, and Naba+dwip are New Fort, Old Fort, Black Town, Bamboo Port and New Island respectively.

The place elements listed below are generic and match elements such as town, port and castle listed in (1).

Armed with these 50 basic place names elements deciphering Indian & Sri Lankan place names becomes that much easier. 

Abbreviations

States: Andhra Pradesh (AP),  Arunachal Pradesh (ArP),  Assam (Asm), Bihar (Bih), Gujarat (Guj), Haryana (Har),  Himachal Pradesh (Him), Jammu & Kashmir (J&K),  Jharkhand (Jha), Karnataka (Kar), Kerala (Ker), Madhya Pradesh (MP), Maharashtra (Mah), Meghalaya (Meg), Odisha (Odi),  Punjab (Pun), Rajasthan (Raj), Tamil Nadu (TN), Telangana (Tel), Uttar Pradesh (UP), Uttarakhand (Utt), West Bengal (WB),  Sri Lanka (SL).

Languages: Assamese (Asm), Bengali (Ben), (Proto-) Dravisian (Dra), Gujarati (Gujarati), Hindi (Hin), Kannada (Kan), Malayalam (Mal), Marathi (Mar), Persian (Per) , Sanskrit (Skt),  Sinhala (Sin), Tamil (Tam), Telugu (Tel), Urdu (Urd).

INDIAN & SRI LANKAN PLACE NAME ELEMENTS

(1) -abad 

From Per: آباد ābād, ‘populated’ or ‘cultivated’ settlement, village, city or region.

-abad under the Moghuls (or similar Muslim administrations) indicated a populated and tax-paying settlement. It was often prefixed with the name of the founder or patron: Ahmed Khan, Aurangzeb, Osman Ali Khan.

e.g. Ahmedabad (Guj); Allahabad (UP);  Aurangabad (Mah), Hyderabad (Tel); Daulutabad (Mah), Osmanabad (Mah).

(2) -adri 

From Skt: अद्रि adri, ‘rock’, ‘hill’, ‘mountain-range’.     

-adri has changed to -ar or -or [Gopadri →Gwalior; Charanadri →Chunar]         

 e.g.  Adri (Guj); Gwalior (Gopadri); Kodachadri (Kar); Seshadri (AP).

(3) -bagh

From Per/Urd:  باغ bāg, ‘garden

◾(1) –bagh  can also mean ‘orchard’, ‘grove’, ‘cluster of trees’, ‘plantation’. (2) There are also place names with  Hin:  बाघ , bāgh,  ‘tiger’ [Skt: व्याघ्र vyāghra] 

e.g. (1) Bagaha (Bih), Hazaribagh (Jha), Jallianwala Bagh (Pun),  Karol Bagh (Delhi); (2)  Bagh Caves (MP), Baghmara (Meg).

(4) -bakkam

From Tam: பக்கம் pakkam, ‘side’, ‘vicinity’, ‘neighbourhood’, ‘district’ -bakkam also has the meaning of ‘maritime settlement’ i.e. an area close to the coast. e.g. Karambakkam (TN), Kodambakkam (TN), Nungambakkam (TN), Sembakkam (TN)

(5) -bandar/bunder

From Per: بندر bandar, ‘port, ‘harbour’, ‘trading town’.

-bandar appears as a place name element in Gujarat, Mumbai and along the western coast [Guj:  બંદર bandar(a) and Mar: बंदर bandara] as the name for a port, harbour, pier or waterfront. The original Persian suggests an ‘enclosed’ or  ‘protected’ [Per: بند band] harbour entrance [ در dar, ‘gate’, ‘door’] 

e.g. Apollo Bunder (Mumbai), Bandar (Mah), Bandra (Mumbai), Haybandar (Mumbai), Porbandar (Guj).

(6) -bari

From Ben: বাড়ি bāṛi, ‘house’, ‘building’, ‘dwelling’, ‘abode’

-bari is a common village name in West Bengal, In Assamese it has an extended meaning of ‘garden’, ‘compound’, ‘orchard’.

e.g.  Arabari (WB), Bagbari (WB), Lusibari (WB), Nalbari (Asm), Phulbari (WB)

(7) -basti

From Hin: बस्ती bastī, ‘settlement’,  ‘satellite town’, ‘colony’ [Skt: वसति vasatí, ‘dwelling’, ‘habitation’]

Hobson-Jobson lists bustee as the Anglo-Indian equivalent. Basti suggests a ‘slum’ or ‘shanty town’: a poor, overcrowded, unsanitary neighbourhood. 

e.g. Basti (UP), Dayabasti (Delhi),  Dharavi Basti (Mumbai), Kumaharan Basti (Gurgaon), Nai Basti (UP)

(8) -baza(a)r

From Per: بازار  bāzār, ‘permanent market’, ‘street of shops’, ‘marketplace’

-baza(a)r is now a commonplace word in all varieties of English

e.g. Barabazar (WB) , Betul-Bawar (MP), Chawri Bazaar (Delhi), Chor Bazar (Mumbai), English Bazar/Malda (WB)

(9) -durg(a)

From Skt/Mar/Hin: दुर्ग durg(a), ‘fort(ress)’, ‘citadel’, ‘castle’

The original Sanskrit (and Proto-Indo-European) suggests something which is  difficult to access, impassable

e.g. Sindhudurg (Mah),  Jaladurg (Kar), Kalyandurgam (AP),  Nandidurg (Mah), Ramdurg (Kar)

(10) -dwar

From Hin/Skt: द्वार dvara, ‘door, ‘gate’, ‘ (gate)way’

The ‘doors’ can be archways, harbours, paths, mountain passes, stopovers and even starting points for pilgrimages. 

e.g. Bhilwara (Raj), Chhindwara (MP), Dwarka, Kathiawar (Guj), Marathawada (Mah), Mewar (Raj), Vijayawada (AP)

(11) -dweep

From Skt: द्वीप  dvīp(a), ‘island’, ‘peninsula’, ‘sandbank’ 

dvīp becomes Ben: dweep/dwip and Tam: divu, tivu. In Hindu mythology Jambudvipa is the continent at the centre of the world surrounding Mt. Meru

e.g. Jawahar Dweep (Mumbai), Kakdwip (WB), Lakshadweep Is. (U.T.),  Swaraj Dweep (A+N), Mullaitivu (SL)

(12) -eshwar(am)

From Skt: ईश्वर īśvara, ‘lord, ‘(supreme) god’

-ishvara is an epithet particularly associated with Shiva, Maheśvara,  but is also used for Vishnu (e.g. Venkateswara)

e.g. Ankleswar (Guj),  Maheshwar (MP), Malleshwara (Bengaluru), Rameshwaram (TN)

(13) -gal(le)/gala/kal/kallu/gallu

From Dra:  kal, ‘stone’, ‘rock’  [Sin: ගල් gal; Tam: கல் kal ; Kan: ಕಲ್ಲು kallu; Tel: కల్లు kallu ; Mal: കല്ലു kallu]

A very common place name element in Sri Lanka. But, surprisingly, ‘ga(le)l’ is not the root element in the place name Galle, Sri Lanka’s popular and historic southern port city. 

e.g. Chirakkal (Ker), Galgamauwa (SL),  Kargallu (Kar), Kegalle (SL), Koggala (SL),  Kitulgala (SL), Monaragala (SL),  Namakkal (TN), Nivithigala (SL),  Uppugal (Tel)

(14) -ganj

From Hin: गंज ganj, ‘market’, ‘storehouse’

-ganj originally comes from Per:  گنجganj, ‘treasure’, ‘hoard’, ‘store’. Hobson-Jobson lists gunge as the Anglo-Indian equivalent.  

e.g. Daryaganj (Delhi), Forbesganj (Bih), Kishanganj (Bih), McLeodganj (Him), Habibganj (Bhopal)

(15) -garh

From Hin: गढ़ gaṛh, ‘fort’ 

-garh  becomes Guj: ગઢ gaḍh; Mar: गड gaḍ; and Ben: গঞ্জ goñj/gañj

e.g. Chhattisgarh, Chittorgarh (Raj), Chandigarh (U.T.), Junagadh (Guj), Raigad (Mah), Fraserganj (WB)

(16) -ghat

From Hin: घाट ghāṭ, ‘quay’, landing-place’, ‘steps to the river’, ‘mountain pass’ [Skt: ghaṭṭa] 

Some have suggested a Dravidian origin [Tam/Kan/Tel: kaṭṭu/kaṭṭa, ‘mountain side/range’, ‘dam’, ‘embankment’] – see DEDR/CDIAL.  

e.g. Assi Ghat (Varanasi), Balaghat (MP), Golaghat (Asm), Pasighat (ArP), Raj Ghat (Delhi), Western Ghats

(17) -giri

From Skt/Hin: गिरि giri, ‘mountain’, ‘hill’.  

e.g. Krishnagiri (TN), Mahendragiri (Odi), Nilgiri Hills (TN), Ratnagiri (Mah), Sigiriya (SL)

(18) -goda

From Sin: ගොඩ goḍa, ‘village’, ‘hill’

-goda, in place names, has a wide range of overlapping meanings: ‘hill’, ‘hillock’, ‘land’ (as of a bank or shore) or ‘village’. Enough of these have Dravidian equivalents  [e.g. Tam/Mal: kōṭu; Kan/Tel: guḍḍa] to suggest a Dravidian origin – see DEDR  

e.g. Ambalangoda (SL), Balangoda (SL), Kiribathgoda (SL), Nugegoda (SL)

(19) -gram(a)m, gama, gaon

From Skt: ग्राम gram(a), ‘village’, ‘settlement’

-grama becomes -gaon [Devagram→Dergaon], -gama in SL & AP,  -gramam in TN and gão in Goa.

e.g. Anjugramam (TN), GurugraGurgaon (Delhi), Maharagama (SL), Nagaon (Asm), Nandigama (AP), Sevagram (Mah), Taleigão (Goa).

(20) -guri

From Ben: গুড়ি guṛi, ‘place’

-guri is a place-name element found in the northern region of West Bengal which many think has a tribal origin it is usually translated as ‘place (with)’.

e.g.  Jalpaiguri, Mallaguri, Maynaguri, Siliguri (WB)

(21) -hat(t)a/hati

From Skt: हट्ट haṭṭa, ‘market’, ‘fair’ 

This becomes Ben/Asm: হাট hāṭa

e.g. Barhat (Asm), Balihat (Asm), Dainhat (WB), Guwahati (Asm), Jhorehat (WB),  Jorhat (Asm)

(22) -kere

From Kan: ಕೆರೆ keṟe ‘tank’, ‘lake’

-kere is a very common place name element in Karnataka: people settled where there was a water source and often dammed a local stream to form a ‘pool’ or ‘tank’.

e.g. Arsikere,  Challakere, Hallikere, Sulekere/Shanti Sagar,  Tarikere (Kar)

(23) -ko(t)ta

From Skt: कोट koṭa, ‘fortress’, ‘stronghold’ this appears in many borrowed and inherited forms throughout India and Sri Lanka [Tam: kōṭṭai; Mal: kōṭṭa; Sin: kōṭṭē; Kan: kōṭe] e.g.  Kota (Raj), Pathankot (Pun), Rajkot (Guj), Pudukottai (TN), Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte (SL) 

(24) -ko(v)il

From Tam: கோவில் kōvil/kō(y)il,temple’,‘shrine’, ‘palace’

-ko(v)il appears in many closely related forms throughout South India and SL and its use  as ‘temple’ is an extension of ‘palace’ or ‘king’s residence’ [Tam/Mal: kō, ‘king’,’great one’; and il, house’, ‘residence’]

e.g.  Ayyappancoil (Ker), Koilakuntla (AP), Kovilpatti (TN), Nagercoil (TN),  Thirukkovil (SL),  Thrikkovilvattom (Ker)

(25) -konda

From Tel: కొండ koṇḍa ‘hill’, ‘mountain’ 

-konda is cognate with Tam: குன்றம் kuṉ(d)ṟam, Kan: ಕೊಂಡ  koṇḍa and Mal: കുന്നു kunnu

e.g. Golconda, Nalgonda (Tel); Adoni (Aydukonda), Nagarjunakonda (AP), Mayakonda (Kar), Pallikunnu (Ker), Thiruparankundram (TN)

(26) -kunda

From Hin: कुंड kuṇḍa/kūṉḍ, ‘reservoir’, ‘pool’, ‘tank’

kunda comes from Dra: *kuṇṭam, ‘cavity’, ‘pit’ via  Skt: कुण्ड  kuṇḍa, ‘pit’, ‘bowl’, ‘basin’

e.g. Chirkunda (Jha), Dubkund (MP), Kalakund (MP), Ramkund (Mah), Radhakund (UP)

(27) -kuti/kudi/gudi

From Tam/Mal: குடி/കുടി kuṭi,house’, ‘settlement ’ [Tel/Kan: గుడి/ಗುಡಿ guḍi, also ‘temple’, ‘village’]

-kudi usually indicates a ‘colony’ or ‘settlement’ of people belonging to the same community, family,  caste or tribe.

e.g.  Basavanagudi (Bengaluru), Calangute (Goa), Gudibande (Kar), Karaikudi (TN),  Moragudi (AP), Thoothukkudi (TN)

(28) -malai/mala

From Tam: மலை malai, ‘hill’, ‘mountain’ [Mal: മല mala; Tel: మల mala; Kan: ಮಲೈ male/malai]

e.g.  Alagumale (Kar), Male Mahadeshwara Hills (Kar), Malappuram (Ker), Sabarimala (Ker), Swamimalai (TN), Tirumala Hills (AP), Tiruvannamalai (TN), Trincomalee (SL)

(29) -mer(u)

From Hin/Skt: मेरु mēru, ‘mountain’, ‘ridge’

◾This is closely associated with Mt Meru the mythical golden mountain at the centre of the Earth.

e.g.  Ajmer, Barmer, Jaisalmer, Parmer (Raj)

(30) -nagar

From Skt: नगरम् nagaram,town’, ‘city’

-nagara changes to -nar or -ner [Girinagar→Girnar (Guj)]

e.g.  Ahmednagar (Mah), Itanagar (ArP), Jamnagar (Guj), Ramnagar (Utt), Srinagar (J&K),  Ulhasnagar (Mah), Virudhunagar (TN), Williamnagar (Meg)

(31) -nath

From Skt: नाथ nātha, ‘lord’, ‘master’,  ‘protector’, ‘(supreme) god’

-nath is a common epithet for Shiva

e.g. Ambarnath (Mumbai), Badrinath (Utt), Ramnad/Ramnathapuram (TN),  Sarnath(UP), Somnath (Guj)

(32) -oya

From Sin: ඔය oya, ‘river’, ‘stream’

◾Theoretically, an –oya is smaller than a –ganga [Mahaweli Ganga, Kalu Ganga] but this difference is not clear cut and many of the longest rivers in SL are, in fact, –oyas. This place name element commonly appears in the names of regions, districts and National Parks.

e.g. Attanagalu Oya (SL), Gal Oya (SL), Dikoya(SL),  Maduru Oya (SL)

(33) -palli/halli

From Dra: paḷḷi ‘village’, ‘hut’, ‘settlement’ [Tam/Mal: paḷḷi’; Tel: palli; Kan: paḷḷi/haḷḷi]

◾the -vali/-vli suffix in Marathi and the oli(m)/auli(m) in Goan place names are related.

e.g. Benaulim (Goa), Borivali (Mumbai), Cuncolim (Goa), Harapanahalli (Kar), Karunagappalli (Ker),Tiruchirappalli (TN)

(34) -palayam/palya/palem

From Tam: pāḷaiyam, ‘army camp’,  ‘village (surrounded by hills)’ [Mal: pāḷayam; Tel pāḷem(u); Kan: pāḷ(e)ya]

-palayam/palya/palem usually indicates the camp or HQ of a local chieftain

e.g. Andipalya (Kar), Gopichettipalayam (TN), Mettupalayam(TN), Palayam (Ker), Rajapalayam (TN), Vedayapalem (AP)

(35) -pattanam/pattinam/patnam

From Tam: paṭṭiṉam/paṭṭaṇam, ,‘(coastal) city’, ‘(sea-shore) town’ [Mal: paṭṭaṇam; Tel: paṭ(ṭa)ṇam); Kan: paṭ(ṭ)a(na)]

-pattanam derives from an original Dra: paṭṭi, ‘cow-stall’, ‘sheepfold’, ‘hamlet/village’. But it’s also possible it is related to Skt: paṭṭanam/pattanam, ‘town’, ‘city’

e.g. Ammapattinam (TN), Machilipatnam (AP), Nagapattinam (TN), Pattanam (Ker), Piriyapatna (Kar)

(36) -pettai/pettah

From Tam: பேட்டை pēṭṭai, ‘suburb (of fort)’, ‘marketplace’ [Mal: pēṭṭa; Tel: pēṭa; Kan: pēṭe/pēnṭe]

e.g. Hospet (Kar), Meerpet (Hyderabad), Pettah (Colombo), Pettah (Thiruvananthapuram), Ranipet (TN)

(37) -pitiya

From Sin: පිටිය pitiya, ‘plain’, ‘(tract of) land’, ‘field’

◾Theoretically, an–oya is smaller than ganga [Mahaweli Ganga, Kalu Ganga] but this difference is not clear cut and many of the longest rivers in SL are –oyas. –oya  commonly appears in the names of regions, districts and National Parks.

e.g. Elpitiya (SL) Embilipitiya (SL) Kuliyapitiya (SL) Nawalapitiya (SL)

(38) -pradesh

From Hin/Skt: प्रदेश pradesh, ‘province’, ‘region’, ‘territory’ e.g. Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh

(39) -prastha

From Hin/Skt: प्रस्थ prastha, ‘plateau’, ‘plain, ‘level expanse’ -prastha regularly changes to -pat/-patta e.g.  Indraprastha → Indrapatta →Indrapat e.g. Panipat (Har); Sonipat (Har); Baghpat (UP)

(40) -prolu/(v)(r)olu

From Tel: ప్రోలు prōlu,  ‘(tax) district’, ‘town’, ‘city’

-prolu has metamorphosed –proluvrolu/brolu volu →olu.  It is related to Tam:  பொழில் poḻil, ‘park’, ‘forest’; Kan: holalu/polal 

e.g. Chebrolu (AP), Gollaprolu (AP), Holalkere (Kar),  Kurnool (AP), Nagineniprolu (Tel), Ongole (AP), Pollachi (TN)

(41) -pur/pura/puram

From Skt: ప్రోలుfortress’, ‘castle’, ‘city’, ‘town’

-pur(a)(m)  has been borrowed by almost all of the languages and regions of South Asia and other parts of Asia -e.g. Singapore] . It is Indo-European and is most likely related to AGk:  polis.  The British standardly wrote it as -pore [e.g. Cawnpore/Kanpur]. Given its wide use it’s not surprising that it has been extensively corrupted to -auli, -olim, -or, -ar and -war among others.

e.g. Alwar (Raj), Anantapur (AP), Auradhapura (SL),  Jodhpur (Raj), Kanpur (UP),  Karauli (Raj), Nagpur (Mah), Tezpur (Asm), Tiruppur (TN)

(42) -rashtra

From Skt: राष्ट्रम् rāṣṭram ‘kingdom, territory’, land’,  ‘region’

-rashtra  is commonly simplified to -ratha/rat(ta)

e.g. Gujarat (Guj), Maharashstra (Mah), Marathawada (Mah),  Meerut (UP), Saurashtra (Guj)

(43) -sagar(a)/samudra/saras/sarovar

From Skt: सागरः sāgara/समुद्र samudra/सरस्  saras, ‘confluence’,  ‘ocean’, ‘sea’

-sagar(a)/-saras and -samudra become -sar and -samand; -saras becomes Hin/Guj:  sarovar

e.g. Amritar (Pun), Anantasagara (Guj), Nalsarovar (Guj), Rajsamand (Raj), Sagar (MP),  Sardar Sarovar Dam (Guj)

(44) -sarai/serai

From Per:سراى sarāy [Hin: सराय sarāy, ‘hostelry’, ‘inn’]

◾the -sarai was a resting place for traders, travellers, pilgrims, administrators and merchants

e.g. Mughalsarai (UP), Navsarai (Guj), Naosarai (WB)

(45) -sri and -tiru/thiru

From Skt: श्री śrī, ‘auspicious’, ‘prosperous’, ‘sacred’,  ‘glorious’; and Tam/Mal: திரு/തിരു t(h)iru, ‘divine’, ‘prosperous’, ‘emiment’, ‘holy’

-sri and -t(h)iru are prefixes used in similar ways and can both be related to fortune, wealth and the goddess Lakshmi 

e.g. Sri Ganganagar (Raj), Sri Lanka, Srinagar (J&K), Sriperumbudur (TN), Srirampur (WB), Srisailam (AP), Thirukkovil (SL), Tirumangalam (TN), Tirur (Ker), Thiruvananthapuram (Ker), Tiruvannamalai (TN)

(46) -sthana/stan/tan/(st)ha(n)

From Skt: स्थानम्,  sthānam ‘place’, ‘abode’, ‘land’, ‘site’, ‘locality’

-sthana has undergone some of the biggest changes e.g. Pratishthana ➝ Paithan, Satoshthana ➝ Satoha

e.g. Paithan (Mah), Rajasthan (Raj), Thane (Mah), Thanesar (Har)

(47) -ur/oor/uru/ore

From Dra/Tam/Mal/Kan/Tel: ūr(u), ‘village’, ‘town’, ‘city’ 

-ur(u) appears  become -sar and -samand; -saras becomes Hin/Guj:  sarovar 

e.g. Adoor (Ker), Chikkamagaluru (Kar), Chittoor (AP), Gudalur (TN), Karur (TN), Mysuru (Kar), Nellore (AP)

(48) -veli

From (1) Tam: வேலி vēli,  ‘field’, ‘enclosure’, ‘land’; and (2) Tam: veḷi, ‘expanse’,  ‘open field’,  ‘plain’

-vēli (1) is a common place name element attached to the names of villages and towns in Tamil Nadu. It covers a multitude of meanings including: ‘hedge’, ‘enclosure’,  ‘land (of 2+ hectares -i.e.  5 football pitches)’; -veḷi  (2) is more common in SL and has a partially overlapping meaning.

e.g. (1) Neyveli (TN), Tirunelveli (TN); (2) Kathiraveli (SL), Nilaveli (SL), Uppuveli (SL)

(49) -wara/wada

From Skt: vāṭa, ‘enclosure’, ‘district’, ‘ land’;  Skt  पाल pāla, ‘having’, ‘keeping’, ‘belonging to’; Dra: *patti/pattu/patta ‘district’m  ‘quarter’, ‘settlement’;

◾The origins of -wara/wada/wala are problematic. Southworth suggests that there may be obscure or mixed origins from both Indo-European and Dravidian roots.  Hin/Guj/Mar:  -wara, -wada, and -wala all suggest a ‘place (belonging to)’, ‘colony’, ‘abode’, ‘district’, ‘settlement.

e.g. Bhilwara (Raj), Chhindwara (MP),Kathiawar (Guj), Marathawada (Mah), Mewar (Raj), Vijayawada (AP)

(50) -weli/wella

From Sin: වැලි væli ‘sand(y)’; වැල්ල vælla, ‘sandbank’, ‘sandy plain’, ‘shore’ e.g. Avissawella (SL), Dikwella (SL), Weligama (SL) Wellawatte (Colombo)