Anna Suvorova’s Lahore: beloved city

Published: December 20, 2011
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The writer is Director at the South Asian Media School in Lahore
khaled.ahmed@tribune.com.pk

The writer is Director at the South Asian Media School in Lahore [email protected]

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.

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Reader Comments (20)

  • Ali Tanoli
    Dec 20, 2011 - 11:25PM

    Nice explaination khalid sahab thank u
    i rememberd i read it some where that Quaid Azam had punjabi roots.

    Recommend

  • Balma
    Dec 20, 2011 - 11:36PM

    Just when I was getting tired of reading about the bandwagon of useless and tried politicians joining Tehreek-e-Insaf, it was a good diversion to read something on the history of Lahore.

    Recommend

  • American Desi
    Dec 21, 2011 - 12:23AM

    Great writing by the author and a real treat to the readers as usual!

    Recommend

  • You Said It
    Dec 21, 2011 - 2:27AM

    Ahmedji,
    Thanks for keeping alive and reminding us of the history of our origins. This is unfortunately fading from the memories of the next generations, and your articles on the subject will serve as a valuable document for posterity.

    Recommend

  • vasan
    Dec 21, 2011 - 6:39AM

    Great read indeed

    Recommend

  • Salahuddin
    Dec 21, 2011 - 8:31AM

    Thank you Khaled sb, for such a wonderful and educative piece. Best regards

    Recommend

  • frank
    Dec 21, 2011 - 8:56AM

    Anna Suvorova has written her latest
    book on Lahore […] She
    is eminently qualified after writing:
    Masnavi: A Study of Urdu Romance (OUP
    2000);etc

    It seems to me she is more qualified to write about Delhi than Lahore. In case you haven’t realised Lahore has its own Punjabi language, literature and culture. Urdu does not belong in Lahore.

    Recommend

  • Yuri Kondratyuk
    Dec 21, 2011 - 10:27AM

    Rajputs of Gujarat trace themselves
    specifically to Loh and are called
    Lohannas. Jinnah was from a Lohanna
    family converted to Islam

    Sigh! A drop of poison is enough to spoil a potful of ambrosia.

    Recommend

  • Dec 21, 2011 - 12:01PM

    as usual…khalid ahmad enriches us with his excellent reviews….THIS TIME A BOOK ON LHUR BY A RUSSIAN

    Recommend

  • Raj
    Dec 21, 2011 - 12:11PM

    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.

    MORE RESEARCH IS NEEDED

    Recommend

  • Sabir Saleem
    Dec 21, 2011 - 12:26PM

    Excellent…as always…and waiting for the next article .I heard that your book of previous articles ‘Word for Words” is published from Lahore. How can i a get a copy of that book?

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  • Yuri Kondratyuk
    Dec 21, 2011 - 12:51PM

    @Author,

    ‘Loh’ or ‘lohu’ means small in
    Sanskrit and in Hindi ‘light industry’
    is ‘lohu udiog’

    Loha means metal in Sanskrit.
    Laghu means small in Sanskrit. Kusha was the elder brother and Lava was the younger one.
    And finally, Laghu Udyog means small scale industry.

    So much for scholarship.

    @mods,

    Is protecting the author’s mistakes more important than revealing the truth or for that matter journalistic ethics? Don’t want to hurt your ego, but, just asking.
    BTW, in case the author has a say in moderating, please forget what I just said.

    Recommend

  • Jp
    Dec 21, 2011 - 1:20PM

    Excellent article. Very interesting to read.

    Recommend

  • Pravin
    Dec 21, 2011 - 1:47PM

    Ahmed-sahab,

    Thanks a lot for a great article once again!
    There are few points I would like to bring to your notice.
    “Laghu” means small in Sanskrit.
    “Lahu” or “Lohu” means blood.
    “Loh” mean Iron.

    -Pravin

    Recommend

  • rk
    Dec 21, 2011 - 2:34PM

    great article.never dissapointed with ahmed saheb.

    Recommend

  • Cynical
    Dec 21, 2011 - 4:23PM

    Lahore was once known as the ‘Paris of the east’.

    Recommend

  • HollyCow
    Dec 21, 2011 - 6:37PM

    Why is the art of literary criticisim, especially book reviews, a lost art in Pakistan? Anyone reading this review would think the book (and it might well be) is about the etymology of the name Lahore. Then the reviewer goes off on a tangent about race and religion.

    This does absolutely no justice to what is probably a fine scholarly effort.

    Recommend

  • anwar
    Dec 21, 2011 - 7:26PM

    Paris of the east or home of the raj-poots this place had a lot of things to do other than listening to loud speakers all day and reading blogs

    Recommend

  • Abhi
    Dec 22, 2011 - 12:10PM

    @Yuri Kondratyuk

    I agree with your statement that it is Laghu rather tha Lahu in pure sanskrit. But in common dialects (Like Awadhi, Bhojpuri and other dialect spoken in north india) Lahu is used for small (this may be derived from Laghu). In Varansi there is area called Lahurabeer which literally means younger brother.

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  • Abhi
    Dec 22, 2011 - 12:14PM

    @Pravin
    My guess is lahu for blood is not orginal sanskrit world, I may be wrong.
    For Iron it is Lauh, not Loh tough in hindi we do say loha.

    Recommend

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