The Siraiki province and its meaning

Published: March 21, 2012

The writer is Director South Asian Media School, Lahore [email protected]

The movement for a new Siraiki province has gained momentum. No party aiming to get the votes of South Punjab can afford to oppose it. Will the new province be on the basis of language? If that happens then Jhang and Mianwali will get included; but if an administrative unit is created then a non-controversial new federating unit will come into being.

People write it in various ways. ‘Saraiki’ hints at the origin in ‘sarai’ or a ‘break in journey’. Some write it as Seraiki too, but the correct version should be Siraiki. In ‘sarai’, the root ‘sar’ points to physical movement; in Siraiki the root ‘sir’ points to the ‘outer limit’.

Those who get elected to Punjab Assembly from South Punjab live in Lahore, which means the Siraiki division gets less development despite being richer in revenue.

Years ago, the National College of Arts, Lahore, published a remarkably readable book Rethinking Punjab: the Construction of Siraiki Identity, by a promising writer, Hussain Ahmed Khan. He researched the book while he was doing his masters at the Government College Lahore University in 2001.

The book was 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 (Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa), 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 the Sindhi word ‘siro’, which is supposed to mean ‘north’. Centre in Sindhi is ‘wicholo’ and geographically, it points to the region of 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 Professor 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 the 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’. The 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.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 22nd, 2012.

Reader Comments (21)

  • Homa
    Mar 21, 2012 - 11:53PM

    Does anybody know when the word seraiki came into circulation? It is a recent name for the multani language and people. Till 1947 at least, this name was not being used. If anyone has info, please share.

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  • Qaisrani
    Mar 21, 2012 - 11:56PM

    Saraikistan is our right.When did the word “saraiki” was used 1st is not our issue.We want to live,prosper and enjoy the equal rights like people in Upper Punjab.

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  • Rafaqat
    Mar 22, 2012 - 2:27AM

    I cant wait for siraiki province to be created. Better that than having to absorb all the abuse everyone loves to hurl at us for no other reason than being “Punjabi”.

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  • Jehanzeb
    Mar 22, 2012 - 2:46AM

    a siraiki suba will be great as it will instantly lift up per capita IQ of Punjab, not to mention other attributes such as productivity, literacy, general well being. importantly punjab will become free of the scourge of feudals such as khars, legharis, khosas, mazaris etc.

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  • Homa
    Mar 22, 2012 - 3:18AM

    As an indian-hindu seraiki and a descendant of the vedic community that was the original native race of the land of Sauvirarashtra, I feel that indian hindu seraikis have a legitimate stake in the affairs of and a legal and first claim to the seraiki homeland. I would like our new province to be called one of the following — Seraiki Nadu, Seraiki Pradesh, Seraikirashtra or Sauvirarashtra. It’s time for Pakistan to return to its Vedic roots.

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  • blithe
    Mar 22, 2012 - 3:50AM

    It’s just a dialect, like you have so many differnet dilalects in Punjab – it does not mean that you start trying to divide a federating unit.

    The PM and his “language politics” have created needless issue; however, the poeple of Punjab are wise enough to see though this…

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  • pmbm
    Mar 22, 2012 - 7:37AM

    Sargodha,Mianwali, Jhang are Seraiki? Writer must be a Lahori not familiar with rest of the Punjabis.

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  • Ammar
    Mar 22, 2012 - 11:46AM

    @pmbm:

    I don’t know about Sargodha. But Jhang is Seriki Ban (Seriki Speaking) with different accent so is Mianwali. Seriky speakers’ land is spread over a waste area of Indian Subcontinent on both sides of the divide. It is important that we and other federating units be given due rights, usurped by the Punjabi Establishment and Bureaucracy. I love Lahore, Lahore is my city. But so is Dera Ghazi Khan, Multan, Muzaffargarh, Jhang, Alipur, Rajanpur, Jampur and many. We have a huge share if we look at the demography of Punjab, so we are entitled to an equal share in resources if not more. Regards

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  • Ahmad Khawaja
    Mar 22, 2012 - 3:00PM

    Seraiki is also spoken in Upper Sindh. Therefore, parts of Sindh should also be included in this proposed province.

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  • ahmed
    Mar 22, 2012 - 7:31PM

    @Writer:
    Khwaja Ghulam farid R.A(1845-1901). is great poet of seakiy not punjabi. neither seariki i dialect of punjabi. Searik contain words from sindhi
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  • Salim Ansari
    Mar 22, 2012 - 9:35PM

    @Ammar: It is important that we and other federating units be given due rights, usurped by the Punjabi Establishment and Bureaucracy.

    If not for the Punjabi (and Urdu) establishment, the Pakistani federation would have been broken up by now. and who knows Sindh, KP would have become part of the India federation – and with that all culture, religion would be destroyed by hinduism and bollywood.

    So, please show some respect.

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  • Salim Ansari
    Mar 22, 2012 - 9:46PM

    @Homa: It’s time for Pakistan to return to its Vedic roots.

    Sir, people of Pakistan and Bangaldesh have rejected Vedic roots. If Vedic roots are so great why do people have so much negative opinion of India ? If you want to claim Seraikistan ( my chosen name ), please move to Pakistan and become Muslim first.

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  • Waziristani
    Mar 22, 2012 - 10:09PM

    @Salim Ansari:
    Living in Seraikistan does not mean that one is heretic or non-believer. Seraikistan is not an anti-thesis to Pakistan. The Pashtuns are with the Seraiki brothers in their demand for Seraikistan.

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  • Whats in the name.
    Mar 22, 2012 - 10:29PM

    @Salim Ansari
    Sorry to say this, no matter how much you try to dissociate yourself from your past. You simply cannot wipe it out. I am an agnostic and always firm believer of the reason that Abrahamic Religions are not compatible with the sub continental mindset. Want proof, your country is a classical example. Also Don’t brag too much about your new religion. Its not who left the race/start line first, it is who comes first at the last/touch line. Also God (truth) would test a man and give the bad ones all the support in the beginning but will ditch him at the end. Where as it would test the honest man all through but will support him at the end.

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  • pmbm
    Mar 22, 2012 - 10:43PM

    @ Ammar
    Being from Sargodha, having lived in Multan for 6 years, and in Miawali, I still cannot understand Multani seriaki but found Mianwali and Jhangi easily understandable as a variation of Punjabi dialects. People progress when united and hardworking not by repeated divisions which ultimately leads to ZERO. Be well and happy.

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  • Mar 23, 2012 - 12:33AM

    i read that book which is not a very good book yet it was published and praised under other motives. it was Q league who mishandle the whole issue while gilani is playing on it but such debate of new provinces is in benefit of central bureaucratic mindset who wants to handle post 18th amendment scenario. supporters and opponents of the siraiki issue r playing on same pitch yet aganda driven analysis r as usual not ready to generate debate but spreading sensations and emotions. issue is one yet different players r supporting it with numerous angles, some time in contradiction too. 1- ppp thinks by using it they will get some votes in the Punjab assembly where they r losing from 1988. 2- central bureaucracy is as usual playing her game to weak provincial power and specially after 18th amendment they raised such issues. 3- issue of bhawalpur is also tit for tat, and is adding fuel into fire 4- Sindhi nationalists thinks that those Urdu speakings r behind this because they want to divide Sindhi finally and urdu speakings intellectuals sitting in south Punjab, and elsewhere esp media tries to pinch Punjab so that they in response sport division of sindh. 5- narrow nationalists wants to cut size of the Punjab so they r also supporting it . 6- Q league and durani like defensive politicians wants to use it for their future gains 7- anti-PML nawaz forces want to use it against nawaz 8- those who want to declare south Punjab, hub of fundamentalism also supporting this issue which means to get support and than move forward. the sponsored book of punjabi taliban is example which indicated hub of fundamentalism in south Punjab.
    CPP, PNP,plejo, ANP already tried to play seraiki issue yet they failed in past now its Ppp turn but no one wants to resolve it. they all, r playing with fire, no one is ready to understand and resolve the issue. conflict with abadkars is boiling under this politics, issue of feudalism is on back bench while issues of poverty r no more on aganda. people of south Punjab r the real victim of this politics . the author is famous and well respected due to his command on words and languages yet he did not enrich us on issue of seriki as separate language from Punjabi?

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  • Homa
    Mar 23, 2012 - 8:28AM

    @Salim Ansari:
    M’aam, your argument does not convince me. Who would want to live in a failed state like pakistan? The country is beyond redemption. Even africa is doing better than pakistan. As for your invitation to convert, I am not interested in joining any intolerant cults.

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  • Cynical
    Mar 23, 2012 - 2:58PM

    @aamir riaz

    Thanks for bringing a perceptive insight into the discourse.

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  • Zubair
    Mar 25, 2012 - 2:51PM

    I want Seraiki province on administrative basis but never on ethnic basis. Original locals of Seraiki belt remain the likes of Rajputs and Jatts. These Balochs like Mazaris, Khosas, Legharis, Qaiseranis MUST either live with us like equals or should go back to their Balochistan.

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  • afatqiamat
    Apr 4, 2012 - 4:27PM

    about 40% of the Sindh speaks siraiki , all the Northern Sindh that is …!!
    In Sindh Saraiki is widely spoken in Kashmore, Jacobabad, Shikarpur, Tando Muhammad Khan, Tando Allahyar, Sobho Khan Mastoi, Kamal Khan Mastoi, Thatta, Sujawal, Dadu and Ghotki.

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  • Hasan Malik
    Apr 11, 2012 - 2:52AM

    One person stated in one of the comments stated “I cant wait for siraiki province to be created. Better that than having to absorb all the abuse everyone loves to hurl at us for no other reason than being “Punjabi”.
    I can only laugh at this comment. You live in Punjab and living here for centuries, You inter marry with locals and then in the end you feel ashamed to live in this land. You want to benefit from this land and all So Called rich Seraiki speakers live in Lahore and benefit from the infrastructure of Punjab and in the end they state that we are ready to get benefits from Punjab but when comes to defend the people of Punjab then we want to be with abusers rather than with residents of Punjab where they live.
    Also the most interesting part is that in another comment it was stated that they want to get separation from Upper Punjab and they included Jhang and Mianwali in it and in fact these regions are a part of Upper Punjab. So next time when getting biased please now be more specific and should name the cities as this dialect is spoken in Upper Punjab as well. So this means you want to get the rights from your own people.

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