Russian scholar Anna Suvorova has written her latest book on Lahore and it is no doubt among the best written on the city and easily the best in some aspects she has dealt with for the first time. She is eminently qualified after writing: Masnavi: A Study of Urdu Romance (OUP 2000); Muslim Saints of South Asia: The Eleventh to Fifteenth Centuries (Routledge 2004); and Early Urdu Theatre: Traditions and Transformations (NCA Lahore 2009).
The book recently out is Lahore: Topophilia of Space and Place (OUP 2011). ‘Topophilia’ means love of place because topos in Greek means place and is found in English words topography and topology. Aristotle wrote his book Ta Topikha (‘concerning commonplaces’) and gave us ‘topic’ and Thomas More wrote Utopia — ‘good place’ — and gave us another word from the same root.
To give you just one inkling of what she has done in this book, the legend of Anarkali is compared with Greek, Slavic, Celtic and Azerbaijani precedents of how ‘each man kills the thing he loves’. Of course, her amazing grasp of the internecine clans of the Mughals is on display in the chapter.
She chases the etymology of the word Lahore. Malik Ayaz who got the city from Mahmud Ghaznavi called it Katcha Kot, which the author thinks has Rajput origins. But the oldest name of the city was Loh-Kot or Lav-Kot. Loh or Lava was the younger son of Ram, the Hindu avatar and had his twin brother named Kush, which gave the city of Kasur its name.
The elder son Kush went east and ruled Ayodhya as the next dynastic king; Loh went west and ruled Lahore. Rajputs of India trace themselves to the Raghu race of Ram. (The fair-complexioned Rajputs of Gujarat trace themselves specifically to Loh and are called Lohannas. Jinnah was from a Lohanna family converted to Islam.) Muslims gave it a somewhat changed name, Lohawar (the fort of Loh). The suffix ‘awar’ is another Sanskrit word for ‘kot’. It can be seen in Peshawar and Kathiawar. This version has given rise to the present name of the city: Lahore.
The book tells us that Ptolemy called it Labokla. AlBiruni called it Alahwar and Ali Hujviri Data Sahib called it Lahawur. Amir Khusrau in his poem “Qiran alSadain” called it Lahanur. And historian Rashid alDin called it Lohur and Rahwar.
This is just to give you a taste of how deep Suvorova goes into the origins of Lahore. Her knowledge of cities and legends of the Eurasian landscape is simply mindboggling.
Postscript: ‘Loh’ or ‘lohu’ means small in Sanskrit and in Hindi ‘light industry’ is ‘lohu udiog’. Light here means small and English levity contains the same root. It is from a fable in Dasam Granth — as opposed to the more authoritative Adi Granth — that we get the story.
Guru Gobind Singh says Sikh gurus were an extension of the great Raghu dynasty to which Lord Ram belonged. Guru Nanak was thus a direct descendant of Kush and Guru Gobind himself a direct descendant of Lava. Lava the Small recalls Arabic Asghar and Latin Paul.
Maulvi Muhammad Hussain Azad in his Sukhandan-e-Fars tells us that ‘Kush’ means grass and has common etymology with Persian ‘khas’ and ‘khashak’, both commonly used in Urdu.
The word ‘kot’ for castle is seen in a group of words implying enclosure through the act of ‘cutting’. We use ‘katara’ for a community enclosure, ‘katehra’ for the dock in the court — dock in English means ‘to cut’! The origin of the word castle in English is castra in Spanish and it means to cut as in castrate!
Published in The Express Tribune, December 21st, 2011.