Migration of the name Ibha-Elephant into other continents

Rupa Bhaty
3 min readApr 8, 2023

The AIT or OIT linguistic bluff- A note to self

Ibha, a noun for Elephant, is an ancient word present in the oldest extant works like Rg veda, Brahmanas and Upanishads. We find that this name for elephant remains silent in Ramayana but reappears in Mahabharata. There are people in the linguistic world who come up with the idea immediately that an absence of evidence is not an evidence of absence. It does fall true in some case but not in every case when these information create a pattern in understanding of this creature and its highly prized products like Ivory.

The word Ibha was present in pan India including the regions in the south especially for the Ibha-tooth. V. Narayanan writes in “The Ancient Tamil Civilisation” — Triveni Journal 1927, that if Ibha-danta was known to the Tamil literature then the vedic land people knew about the India south of Vindhya.

If ivory was known to the Greeks by the Sanskrit name Ibha-danta, then it must either be a North Indian product, or the Tamil and the Sanskrit words for ivory must have been the same even in those early days. — V. Narayanan

The elephant with the proto-form *leHbho-nth or *ḷHbho-nth is found in at least four branches: Indo-Aryan íbha-, Greek eléphas (Mycenean Greek erepa), Italic (Latin) ebur (Shrikant Talageri).

I did rediscover Coptic ebu in one of the online etymology study. Its Latin equivalent, eboreus, means “of ivory” and comes from the Phoenician word ebur, which means “ivory” (compare Egyptian ab with Coptic ebu for ivory).

Egyptian ȝbw (metathesis) “elephant”, Berber, Tuareg elu “elephant”, Cushitic, Galla arba “elephant”, Eastern Cushitic *ˀarb–“elephant”, Central Chadic *arp– “elephant”, Eastern Highland Cushitic, Burji árb-a “elephant”;27 Hebrew śārāp “poisonous snake”, Egyptian sȝbt “colored snake” (It is merely a coincidence that the Sanskrit word “nāga” is also used to refer to both snakes and elephants. This is likely because the elephant’s flexible trunk and its nasal structure resemble snakes’ hoods and fangs.)

More on Ibha-read here

Coptic: (Ⲉ)ⲓⲏⲃ (Ə)iêw) is an island on the Nile, the name used for Elephantine Island, suggesting that this term is the earliest word used for the Elephant-genus in particular and that it is extremely similar to the Sanskrit name “इभ -𝘪𝘣ʰ𝘢”. The practice of naming locations after animals is not new. One such can be found in India as the Ganges tributary river Vrii. I’ve frequently tweeted about the historic map of Ireland, in which the names of the tribes and the regions where people live are primarily mentioned in pure Sanskrit, such as Nagnati, Gangani, Erdini, Darini, and Avteri (avatari). Due to extreme antiquity, we no longer know the name of such a tribe. They are not even mentioned in the Rg-Veda. Being purely Asian names, they often cannot be adopted under the PIE root system.

The Afro-Asian-Egyptian word for Ivory and Island, ȝbw, appears to be a direct loanword from -ibha. Old English heofon, hefn, heaven, from Germanic *hibin, “the rocky vault of heaven,” intrigues me more since it evokes the loftiness of an elephant in the context of a stony vault. Yet, Nirukta has designated the word to be “the elephant” specifically.

Yet, according to Panini, the consonants Pa=Pha=Ba and Bha are interchangeable, could be used to represent the same sound in various regional and global languages, and are still appropriate in modern times when compared to PIE. The final picture on Ibha thus appears as given below.

Ibha > ȝbw > (Ⲉ)ⲓⲏⲃ > aba > arba > ebur (genitive eboris) > ivory

The whole discussion on Ibha was to bring an awareness that the names on the globe may not have been a very recent phenomena but may have been a product of very early migrations.

Note that the word Ibha is not present in Ramayana (12209 BCE). When did then this word travel across the world? There remains many questions…

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Rupa Bhaty

Architect and Adjunct Assistant Professor at School of Indic studies, Institute of Advanced Sciences, MA, USA