Is Naga City’s Name Sanskrit?

Naga is a divine serpentine prevalent in Hindu mythology. I’ve seen this even in Buddhist temples across South East Asia. If Naga is indeed a residuum of a bygone Asiatic Hindu empire, then it would be an interesting area to explore.

A parked Daet bound bus that ply the Daet-Panganiban-Naga route.

In our country alone, several towns are called Naga. I’ve been to Cebu’s Naga, a town renowned for its enormous cement plant and then there’s that one in Zamboanga Sibugay.

It is claimed that Bicol’s Naga got its name from the ‘Nara’ tree. While this could be true, I don’t think this same explanation applies to the other Nagas considering these towns are nowhere near each other.

Problem with the study of toponym in this country is that it does not exist. What we have are educators and leaders looking for ways to ‘indigenize’ everything. Toponym here is a game of speculation and invention.

In Singapore, I once attended an exhibit coupled with a series of seminars about the history of the islands street names. Free books were given along with video presentations that celebrates the history of the names of local streets and neighborhoods. Singaporeans are proud and secure, they don’t see the need to alter or invent history. We’re the complete opposite–we don;t see it like they do. Today, walk around Singapore and you’ll still see the streets named after British royalties and war heroes!

While we no longer use the word ‘Bathala’,  it is perhaps one of the most important words in the native tongue prior to the coming of the Spaniards as it refers to the creator. ‘Bathala’ is Sanskrit , loosely translated it means lord. Other words like pinag’pala’, ‘sampalataya’, ‘pagasa’ and ‘bahala’, trace its origins to the ancient Hindu language. Remarkable is how so many of these words had something to do with faith.

Clearly, Hindu beliefs has reached the islands and its inhabitants before the advent of the westerners. Whatever’s left of those traditions we learned from this Asiatic Hindu culture now lies buried somewhere in our consciousness. Even epics like ‘Lam Ang’ was inspired by Hindu literature.

In the early 1900’s, a four pound pure gold depicting a Hindu goddess was found in Agusan. Unfortunately, this Javanese inspired treasure was taken away from us. It’s now in the custody of a museum in Chicago. The same city where the largest Rizaliana collection outside our country is kept. Another important artifact, which so many nationalist historians excessively gush about, is the Laguna Copperplate Inscription. All these bears traces of influence from a Hindu empire that is believe to have reached as far as North Luzon.

How much of these ‘Hindu’ influence remained in Bicol?

I don’t know of any study made on the history of Hindus in Bicol or in any other towns that has some vestiges of Hindu culture. Perhaps such study would present to us that what we thought was ‘indigenous’ are in reality remnants of an empire that loosely controlled the islands before the Spanish came. There seems to be some waves of migration from Hindu practicing people that reached the region in the past that successfully imbibed it with their culture–was naming Naga one of their legacies?


6 responses to “Is Naga City’s Name Sanskrit?

  • Singkil Filipinas

    Naga is just another word for the Narra tree. Naga City was founded in 1578 and it was called “Naga” because of the abundance of the Narra trees in that particular place.

    Unfortunately, the name of the city didn’t come from Hindu mythology.

    My sources:
    Flora de Filipinas, by Manuel Blanco
    WikiPilipinas entry of Pterocarpus indicus
    Los filipinismos y otras palabras de Filipinas by Antonio Quilis et al.

  • Randy R. Molo

    One more thing, the words pitaka ( possibly from tripitaka or 3 baskets in Hindu), Hari (Vishnu) at Guro are all Hindu words.

  • Randy R. Molo

    One thing you will have a surprise is that in Cambodia, There is a myth that the Cambodian people came from the Naga race which has a vast empire in the Pacific ocean. So just imagine if this empire’s center was now today the city of Naga. Nobody knows for sure.

  • QuartzWater (@QuartzCrystals)

    Naga is part of the old Kabasalan. And this entire strip along Zamboanga Sibugay is rich in minerals of which Serpentine is quite an abundance. Serpentine flows along most of its river beds. And there are plenty in this area. So I am inclined to agree with this author that indeed Naga might be attributed to the Hindu culture given the fact that the indigenous tribe Subanen are based in this area.
    Excellent research. Keep it up.

  • AJ

    And is Visayas derived from Sri Vijaya (a Sanskrit name of an ancient Malay empire)?

  • Pepe

    Trust me, you will not learn much about pre-Philippine civilization from that copperplate. Although the place names mentioned there are interesting to study (especially since they still exist), the message inscribed in it is not even complete.

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