WORD FOR WORD: Where does ‘Siraiki’ come from? —Khaled Ahmed
‘Siraiki’ is from Sindhi ‘siro’. It is quite possible that ‘siro’ means the head or the upper end. Sitting in Sindh, what is now southern Punjab must look like the upper end of Sindh
National College of Arts Lahore has published a remarkably readable book Rethinking Punjab: the Construction of Siraiki Identity, by a very promising writer Hussain Ahmed Khan. He researched the book while he was doing his MA at the Government College Lahore University in 2001.
The book is about the Siraiki-speakers of Punjab located in four divisions: Multan, Sargodha, Bahawalpur and Dera Ghazi Khan, but two additional districts Jhang and Dera Ismail Khan (NWFP) also speak the language.
Siraiki-speakers love their language and want to be given a separate territorial identity. They cannot be blamed for that. Siraiki is the Punjabi we encounter in our folk classics but no longer understand in Central Punjab. The greatest Punjabi poet has to be Ghulam Farid (1845-1901).
Hussain Ahmed Khan discusses the origin of siraiki. His research tells him that it comes from Sindhi word siro which is supposed to mean north. Centre in Sindhi is wicholo which geographically points to the region pf Hyderabad.
South in Sindhi is lar which obviously points to southern Sindh. Siro also points to the Jats, Rajputs and the Baloch who entered Sindh ‘from the north’. The territory of these tribes in the north was named Siro from where the word Siraiki originates.
Most scholars are agreed on siro as the origin, but Pakistan’s great palaeontologist Prof Ahmad Hassan Dani says it could come from the territory of Sauvira mentioned in the Mahabharata. If you say the word often enough it becomes siro. In Sindhi, ‘a’ endings become ‘o’ endings.
Hussain Ahmed Khan suggests that Sauvira became Savistan with the passage of time and that was elided through popular use into Sehwan, the area where the great sufi shrine of the same name exists today.
What does sauvira mean? The prefix ‘su’ is Sanskrit for great or good. And vir means man or warrior. Sauvira should mean great warrior. The region was called by this name in the Mahabharata because of the location here of the first Aryan tribe.
In Mahabharata, Sauviri was the queen of a Puru king. Her name may point to the region where her dynasty lived.
Puru could point to the early settlement of the Aryans in our part of the subcontinent. Puru originates in the sense of being a city dweller. Hindi word for man is purush meaning city-dweller. Cities are named with the suffix pur or pura.
Sauvira becomes shortened to sura which means brave warrior. From sura we have the Urdu word surma signifying the same sense.
About wicholo there is no doubt. It means centre. It is quite possible that siro means the head or the upper end. In Central Punjab sira means the end or extreme edge. Sitting in Sindh, what is now southern Punjab must look like the upper end of Sindh.
Sir means head because it is the upper extreme of our body. Persian and Sanskrit use the same word. In the Western Indo-European group, the root ‘sr’ or ‘kr’ means just the same thing: an extreme that looks like a horn.
When we say rhinoceros the ‘cer’ in it refers to the horn (on the nose). In the Quran the ‘kr’ was borrowed from outside the Semitic group. Alexander or Cyrus is mentioned in the Quran as Zulqarnain. Here the ‘kr’ root means horn.
Zulqarnain was supposed to have two horns, which could be a reference to a helmet. Could the Quran be referring to Moses because Michelangelo depicts Moses with two horns on his head?
My friend Jay Wilson wrote from London to say:
“The depiction of Moses with horns was due to a mistranslation by St Jerome in the Vulgate of some Hebrew word — apparently ‘quaran’ originally meant horns but can also mean “rays of light” as, e.g., in Moses’ countenance when he came down off the mountain from speaking with God.
“St Jerome missed the context and subsequent depictions simply replicated his mistake. Michelangelo also — but at least he didn’t give him big androgynous breasts!” *