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.