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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How good does your German have to be for the different paths to citizenship?

There are a few different routes to German citizenship. As the rules are set to change in June 2024, here's a guide to what level of German you'll need to have for four broad paths to citizenship.

How good does your German have to be for the different paths to citizenship?

The standard route to German citizenship through naturalisation – B1 German

When it comes to the typical way of applying for German citizenship, there are a few changes in areas other than language. Potential applicants will be eligible after five years in Germany rather than eight and as with any applicant after June 27th, dual citizenship will be allowed.

Most other requirements essentially remain the same – including having to pass a B1 language test.

B1 is the third level out of a possible six and someone who has achieved it is classified as an “independent user” under the Common European Framework for Languages. 

This means the speaker can handle most aspects of their daily life – shopping, getting around, and basic topics around work, school or living.

A B1 speaker won’t necessarily be expected to discuss advanced medical issues with their doctor or the finer points of tax law with their financial advisor. But they should be able to call to make appointments and have more basic conversations with frontline staff like shopkeepers, receptionists, and nurses.

They should also be able to get through most appointments at the Bürgeramt without assistance and manage basic workplace discussions – even if they still present or tackle tougher topics in English or another language.

A B1 speaker will also be able to have simple discussions on certain topics they may be familiar with – such as their line of work. B1 exams will often ask test-takers to discuss the pros and cons of something.

READ ALSO: A language teacher’s guide for passing the German tests for citizenship

The special integration route – C1 German

Applicants who can demonstrate exceptional effort to integrate into Germany – or who have made big contributions to German society through their professional career, volunteering or otherwise might be eligible to naturalise after just three years.

However, these applicants will also have to speak German at a C1 level – the second highest level possible.

C1 speakers are typically able to understand longer and more challenging texts – including those that are not within their area of expertise. They can also express themselves fluently on complex issues and even make academic arguments that follow a certain structure. They will typically be able to make a presentation at work in German – for example.

Employees have a chat at a coworking space in Oldenburg, Lower Saxony. Workplace chat should be possible for a B1 German speaker, while a C1 speaker will be expected to be able to make presentations. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich

C1 topics aren’t necessarily everyday topics – with test-takers at a C1 exam expected to be able to have discussions on topics from globalisation to climate change to financial planning. People taking a C1 exam may need to even brush up on their knowledge in general before taking the test.

READ ALSO: How hard is the C1 language test for Germany’s upcoming fast-track citizenship?

The simplified route for hardship cases and guest workers

Applicants who come from the guest worker generation of the 1950s and 1960s, or contract workers in the former East Germany, will not have to take a language test to naturalise as German. The same is true for certain hardship cases – where age, disability, or another factor may prevent an applicant from being able to study up to the B1 level.

In these cases, no specific language requirement exists – but applicants must be able to communicate sufficiently with their case workers, unaided by a translator.

Certain people – but not all – in this situation may also be exempt from taking the German citizenship test.

READ ALSO: How can over-60s get German citizenship under the new dual nationality law?

German citizenship by descent or restoration – no German required

There is one group of applicants that doesn’t need to demonstrate any German knowledge at all – those who apply by descent from a German parent or descent from victims of the Nazis through the restoration route.

These applicants also don’t need to pass the citizenship test – as they are technically already considered citizens who simply need to claim their passports. 

The rules for this group remain completely unchanged by the new law – and applicants who apply by descent or restoration are already allowed to keep other citizenships they were born with.

READ ALSO: Who is entitled to German citizenship by descent and how to apply for it