Much like (eng.) saray, the words derive themselves from Ottoman Turkish latinized: saray ("palace", "mansion", "castle"), which itself is derived from Persian سرای ("hall", "dwelling", "mansion", "palace", "seraglio")
The words don't deviate much from one another, generally referring to an Ottoman Turkish palace or a seraglio in the context harem of palaces. The city of Sarajevo derives itself from this.
Croatian: ((HJP - "Croatian Language Portal" - hjp.znanje.hr))
saraj m. inan.
- Every grand palace, a court for Sultans, Viziers, and other high officials.
- Harem ((seraglio))
- ((Metonymy)) Things belonging to a Sultan.
However, if we take a look at the Russian definition:
сара́й (saráj) m. inan.
- shed, storage building (small wooden construction)
- uncomfortable, untidy room, pigsty
It's almost as if it were an intentional and ironic mistranslation of the original word. Completely polarized meanings.
How and when did this change occur? Was it politically motivated during Russo-Turkish conflicts? Or maybe a pidgin word that Russian-based merchants picked up from Middle Eastern trade? Though, would be interesting to see how that came about.