Let's go today for a time-travel with our Sanskrit speaking ancestors who had discovered Mt. Everest and other Himalayan peaks. To be sure, the British had not discovered Mt. Everest and that it was not an un-named peak when they arrived on the scene. Mt. Everest was known as Sagar.māthā सगरमाथा in Sanskrit and Nepali. By using trigonometry, the British surveyors of in the 19th century had measured the height of Sagarmāthā, and had declared it to be the world's highest mountain peak. They re-named Sagarmāthā in honour of Sir George Everest, the former Surveyor General of India. The Nepalese had also told the British surveyors about another high peak called Gauri.shankar. Somehow, confusion prevailed that Gaurishankar is another name of Sagarmāthā, i.e. Everest. The confusion lasted for more than a hundred years. As a primary school student in the 1960s, I had also read in my textbooks that Gaurishankar is the Indian and Nepali name of Mt. Everest. While we know the story behind the name Everest, we have no clues about the etymology of Sagarmatha or Gaurishankar. It is believed that Sagarmatha in Nepali means ‘Mother of the Sea’. But why is a mountain being called the mother of sea? Is it because the snow covered peaks are source of water that flows in rivers that go to form the sea? However, this explanation seems to be too far-fetched! On the other hand, Shankar means Lord Shiva and Gauri is another name of his wife Parvati. Both Gauri and Shankar are believed to live in the Himalayas. Would Gauri and Shankar call this peak by their own names Gaurishankar?
Let's imagine that we are travelling with our explorer ancestors who saw and named Sagarmatha and Gaurishankar for the first time. On seeing the peak, our ancestors might have used the Sanskrit words for ‘mountain peak’ -- GIRI.SHIKHAR गिरिशिखर (Giri mean mountain and shikar mean peak). And this word might have changed while getting passed down the generations in the following way--
Giri.shikhar गिरिशिखर > Gauri.shikhar गौरीशिखर > Gauri.shikar गौरीशिकर > Gauri.shinkar गौरीशिंकर > Gauri.shankar गौरीशंकर!
On seeing the highest Himalayan peak, our ancestors might have said in Sanskrit – SHIKHAR.TAMA (highest peak)! And the word would have changed in this manner --
Shikhar.tama शिखरतमा > Shikhar.mata शिखर मता > Sigar.mata > सिगरमता > > Sagar.matha सगरमथा > Sagarmāthā सगरमाथा
Image of Mt Everest from Wikipedia :