Seven German words that originally come from India

Though separated by thousands of years and kilometres, India and Germany have had a significant historical influence on each other. Here's a look at how that's reflected in German vocabulary.

Seven German words that originally come from India
Chairs and tables fill the 'Die Veranda' of a closed restaurant in Hamburg

The connection between the two countries can be attributed, in part, to German Orientalists of the 18th and 19th century who spread the knowledge of Indian culture among Germans at the time. In the world of literature, in 1791, when a work by one of ancient India’s greatest playwrights was translated into German, it created great interest among German intellectuals including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Gottfried Herder. 

Linguistic experts have found several similarities between German and Sanskrit, the language Indian languages such as Hindi are derived from. Here are some German words which come from India. 

Das Bandana 

A bandana is usually a form of colourful fabric worn around someone’s head or neck. Now a popular accessory in many parts of the world, the word and garment originate from the Indian subcontinent. 

The word Bandana is derived from the word Bandhana in Hindi, which means to tie. Another translation for the Hindi word is ‘bond’. Bandanas originated in India as bright coloured silk and cotton, blue and red handkerchiefs. 

READ ALSO: Seven German words which stem from Arabic

Der Bungalow 

In Germany, a bungalow refers to a single story house with a flat roof. This building style was most popular during the 1960s. 

The word comes from the Hindi word Bangla, which was a type of cottage built for early European settlers in Bengal. The word Bangla originally means ‘from Bengal’. Now, the term stands for a one or two-storied private house belonging to a family. 

A German-style Bungalow in Barth, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Der Dschungel

The word Dschungel comes from the word ‘jungle’, used in Hindi and other South-Asian languages to describe dense forests. The Sanskrit word it is derived from is Jungala which translates to ‘rough and arid terrain’. 

Originally, the word was used to signify rough patches within a forest. But since German and other European explorers initially travelled through tropical forests largely by river, the tangled vegetation lining the stream banks gave them the impression that such jungle conditions existed throughout the entire forest.

Therefore, the word ‘jungle’ started to be used interchangeably with forest. In contemporary times, the word jungle is also used as a metaphor for unruly or lawless situations. 

READ ALSO: 10 German words which come from Italian

Der Guru 

The word Guru, which means teacher or guide in German, is derived from Sanskrit. It is a combination of the two words, Gu- meaning Darkness and Ru- meaning Light. A guru is believed to be a mentor who shows others knowledge (light) and destroys ignorance (darkness). 

In Hinduism, it is believed that a Guru functions within spirituality but doesn’t execute the will of God. Rather, a Guru is a teacher who helps their student find their own spirituality. 

Das Shampoo 

Das Shampoo in German comes from Shampoo in English, which is derived from the Hindi word Champoo, which is an act of kneading or massaging. Originally, a Champoo was a traditional Indian and Persian body massage given after pouring warm water over the body and rubbing it with extracts from herbs. It then became the term for a commercial liquid soap for washing hair, as we know it today. 

Das Karma 

Karma, meaning ‘fate’ in German, comes from the Sanskrit word Karman, meaning ‘‘act’’. The now-popular idea had a very different meaning in ancient India. Originally, the term Karma referred simply to ritual and sacrificial action and had no ethical significance.

The earliest evidence of the term’s expansion into an ethical domain is provided in the Upanishads, a genre of the Vedas (sacred scriptures) concerned with ontology, or the philosophical study of being.

Die Veranda 

This word interchangeably with ‘porch’ or ‘patio’ in German. In South India, especially in the hot humid western coastal region,  veranda style porches are very common especially in states like Kerala and Konkan. There was a strong Portuguese and Dutch influence in that part of the country.

The Portuguese word Varanda got into the local languages of these areas as ‘Verandah’, including in Malayalam and Marathi. This later migrated into other languages including English and German as a loan word.

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7 German words that make my blood run cold

Local Reporter Sarah Magill breaks down the German words that strike terror into her heart.

7 German words that make my blood run cold

The German language itself can be pretty scary. As many a humorous Youtube video points out, to the untrained ear, it can sound extremely harsh and of course, it’s a notoriously difficult language to learn.

But once you get to know the language a bit better, you will start to realise that it has a certain beauty and an extremely useful and unparalleled ability to describe things with absolute precision.

That being said, there are a few words, which when I see or hear them, make me break out in a sweat.


Meaning “notice” or “warning” in English, this is not a word I’ve ever come across in a positive context.

Usually, it’s to be found at the top of a letter “reminding” (or rather “warning”) me that I’ve forgotten or neglected to pay for something.

READ ALSO: The seven stages of learning German every foreigner goes through

Seeing this relatively short German word always brings with it a stab of fear, mixed with irritation with myself and whoever my financial pursuers happen to be.

Usually though, once the fear has subsided, I realise it’s just a simple case of making a transfer of whatever is owed to ensure no other Mahnungen follow.


If you ignore or overlook a couple of Mahnungen – don’t be surprised if you find this seven-syllabled monster waiting for you in your post box.

Meaning “Notification of Enforcement” this type of letter means things are about to get serious – if you don’t hurry up and pay.

Though the couple of occasions I’ve received such a letter have involved some temporary heart stoppage, as with a Mahnung, the terror subsided after a few minutes when I realised that, the trouble usually disappears by just paying straight away. 


Most commuters in Germany will be familiar with this word, which is a precursor to inconvenience and temporary misery. 

Meaning “Replacement transport”, Ersatzverkehr appears on notice boards and train timetables to announce that the usual service is suspended – often for construction works – and in the meantime, you have to take the replacement bus. Because it’s always a bus. 

An information sign for a replacement bus service stands at the Treptower Park S-Bahn station in Berlin, June 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

It’s usually a crowded bus too. My own last, and worst, experience with such a service involved clutching onto a support bar for dear life with an outstretched arm above a pensioner’s head for 45 minutes as a replacement bus tore through country roads in Brandenburg. 

READ ALSO: ‘6 German words I now use in English’

That’s why Ersatverkehr is truly the stuff of nightmares. 

Polizei Einsatz

In Berlin, these words appear on train station signs and in announcements on a not so infrequent basis. Meaning “Police operation” this phrase usually means that the police have been called out to assist with some misbehaving members of the public and that indefinite delays will follow. 

The initial fear induced by this word is, therefore, usually replaced by extreme irritation.


This word is designed to instill fear in the same way its English counterpart “forbidden” is. But while “forbidden” seems to be mainly confined to fairy tales in the English language, in Germany, you’ll see Verboten in many, many places. 

A sign reading “Bathing prohibited!” is posted in front of the bathing area at Wendebachstaussee lake in the district of Göttingen in August 2022, due to accumulations of toxic blue-green algae. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Swen Pförtner

It’s a harsh-sounding word that carries with it a strong implication of punishment *shivers*.


This may sound like a strange one as, really, Ausweis – meaning “Identification” – is a fairly innocuous word.

But in my own head, it’s taken on a more sinister meaning and always brings me out in a sweat. When I’m asked for my Ausweis in German, I feel like I’ve done something wrong and start to panic.

It might also be because I still haven’t bothered to get an official German ID card and am usually winging it, hoping my driver’s license will suffice.


This word combines the German love for an Anmeldung (“registration”) with the heavy burden of a Pflicht (“duty”), to produce another scary word that announces an impending bureaucratic procedure. 

One such well-known, and widely feared, Meldepflicht is the so-called Anmeldungspflicht – the duty to register your home address with your local district office. This must be done in person and within two weeks of moving address. Depending on where you live, it can be a long wait to get an appointment. But that’s no excuse!