Poor Saint Valentine and his day!

Published: February 9, 2012
The writer is Director at the South Asian Media School in Lahore 

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

St Valentine’s Day is celebrated on February 14, presumably the season when birds mate. Now, non-Christian youth all over the world celebrates it by sending out gifts, also called valentines. And a Christian saint has become maligned in the process.

All the Catholic saints known as Valentine spent a tough life and were martyred. It was most unjust to associate youthful indulgence with the name Valentine. The day was first established by Pope Gelasius in 496 AD and was deleted from the general calendar of saints in 1969 by Pope Paul VI.

Now, some in Pakistan are cursing it as an ‘imported’ custom that is against the edicts of Islam. But what is the root of ‘valentine’?

The root is ‘vl’ and it means ‘power’. From it we have the word ‘value’ which means ‘power’ (valency) and we have other connected words like ‘prevail’ that point to the same root. When you ‘validate’ something you give it ‘power’.

When you are ill you can be called ‘invalid’. And if someone wants to wish you strength and health, it is called ‘valediction’. If something is equal in strength it is ‘equivalent’. When you say goodbye to someone you normally wish him strength: ‘valedictory’. A brave man will have to be strong, hence ‘valiant’.

Joseph Shipley tends to think that the original word was ‘gal’ and got changed to ‘val’. Or gal was a later development. This ‘gallant’ becomes a part of the family of words implying power. Then he speculated that the root ‘gl’ could lead us to the Greek ‘galo’ meaning ‘milk’! Remember galaxy (Milky Way)?

The Germanic version of ‘vl’ quaintly becomes ‘wld’, so we have the name Harold meaning ‘army’ leader. (The root ‘heri’ means ‘army’, therefore, we have ‘herald’ meaning ‘army officer’). ‘Arnold’ means ‘eagle strength’ and ‘Oswald’ means ‘divine strength’.

Valentine literally means ‘the little strong one’!

There are other variants of the ‘vl’ root. For instance, it changes into ‘wol’ and gives us the Slav word ‘vlad’. It now means ‘pride’, but it began by denoting strength. Thus ‘Vladimir’ means ‘prince of the world’. The Russians say ‘vlast’ for ‘power’ and use it for the Russian state.

John Ayto gives us a different root for ‘gala’, a ‘powerful occasion’. He thinks that it came from Spain and refers to the special dress that the Muslim kings gave to the people they favoured. The Arabic word is ‘khallaa’. In Urdu we call it ‘khal’at’.

In Sanskrit the ‘vl’ root has become ‘bl’ and the word ‘bal’ in Hindi means ‘power’. In Urdu, too, ‘bal’ is used in certain expressions. For instance, ‘balbota’, under one’s own ‘strength’. In Hindi there are a lot of such words.

Nirbal’, in Hindi means ‘powerless’. Balwant is a proper name and means ‘powerful’. But ‘abla’ is someone who doesn’t have ‘power’ or is ‘delicate’. ‘Balat’ is something done with coercion and ‘balatkar’ is rape. The name of the Hindu god Hanuman is Bajrang Bali and ‘bali’ here means ‘powerful’.

In Urdu, the word for wrestler is ‘pehlwan’ which is the same as in Persian. Old Persian ‘pehl’ means ‘strongman’ or ‘champion’ and comes from a root that also means ‘ancient’ and is a name given to the city Isfahan at times. In Hindi, the word for a strong man is ‘balwan’.

What use is a lover if he is not strong? Hence ‘balam’ is ‘lover’ in Hindi. Urdu ‘bel’ (bull) comes from the same root (strong) but Punjabi doesn’t take it. It takes another version ‘bauld’. The Baloch tribe ‘baledi’ means ‘oxherd. The Urdu word ‘bhalla’ or ‘bhallai’ (welfare) is actually ‘empowerment’. The tribe called ‘Bhalla’ prides itself on being ‘strong’.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 9th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (18)

  • Rizwan Gondal
    Feb 9, 2012 - 1:21AM

    it has always been informative to read the articles of Khalid Ahmad sb. Indeed an erudite person with balanced approach unlike his colleagues who are more advertisement-runners than professional writers.


  • lota6177
    Feb 9, 2012 - 1:59AM

    Parh kar maza agiya!


  • Deb
    Feb 9, 2012 - 4:31AM

    Amazing mastery over words and it’s roots.


  • Arifq
    Feb 9, 2012 - 7:33AM

    Happy Valentine Day!


  • Abid Saleem
    Feb 9, 2012 - 7:49AM

    A good day to start with you article….!


  • TightChuddi
    Feb 9, 2012 - 7:53AM

    little strong whe eh? my valentine will be happy when i explaiin her the term


  • American Desi
    Feb 9, 2012 - 8:25AM

    Khaled Saab, you are an asset to human kind! Wonderfully written informative article as usual. Thank you!


  • Zalim singh
    Feb 9, 2012 - 9:00AM

    @ Khalid saab,

    i am surprised to read:

    “Now, some in Pakistan are cursing it as an ‘imported’ custom that is against the edicts of Islam”.

    Same thing happens here in India too. There are some (not many in numbers though), who create such kind of issues in India too.Recommend

  • afaqui
    Feb 9, 2012 - 9:21AM

    There was no need to sermonise about Peer Valentine..we have enough peers to celebrate. westoxication need to be cursed and spat upon…life fopr such scum should be made miserable whereever and whenever it ventures its neck out.


  • Sana
    Feb 9, 2012 - 9:37AM

    WOW! Your articles are always a treat. Forget valentine, the power of words and their connection that you have mentioned is brilliant. Very interesting and informative! Please keep writing and informing us of the language origins. Waqai parh kar maza aa gaya!


  • Imran
    Feb 9, 2012 - 10:28AM

    As for it being unislamic, its interesting that people sent valentine gifts to Mr Qadri in adiala jail on last valentine day.Recommend

  • Sana
    Feb 9, 2012 - 11:28AM

    i second you!


  • Feb 9, 2012 - 11:52AM

    This is a good article and more information of valentine days…all are happy for read this artile…will enjoy it and good luck.


  • Sultan Mehmood
    Feb 9, 2012 - 12:22PM

    It’s unislamic, not unQadric! Don’t confuse the two! Muslims do not = Islam.


  • Abdul-Razak Edhy
    Feb 9, 2012 - 3:48PM

    A good literary insight though all may not be true to the facts but presented very logically and deserves appreciations. Congratulations for your efforts Mr Khaled Ahmad.


  • THE
    Feb 9, 2012 - 4:36PM

    @Imran: That’s the exact mistake alot of people including me made when we saw people sending gifts and flowers to Qadri last year but always remmember Acts of muslims do not always = to teachings of Islam in today’s society. This is the most important leason we can learn in today’s Pakistan. The society thinks they are Muslims so they can do anything in the name of Islam, be it the extremists or the liberal facists, they both use Islam to justify their own wrong-doings in one way or another, both of them really don’t care about the Quran, way of life of the Prophet (SalAllahu Alyhi waalihi wasalam) or his Sahaba.


  • Talat Haque
    Feb 9, 2012 - 7:24PM

    How interesting! ……….. love the connectivity …………. where and why did human beings lose their connectedness !!!


  • Feb 10, 2012 - 4:29AM

    We are a confused lot in this part of the sub-continent.We are sometime more than a :gora saheb;,few educated people can put to gather a sentence in any local languages without mixing English words in it,next time hear and watch any one.Yet ,we will suddenly make 180* turn and mouth hostile words against any thing western like Valentine day.Which is our true self?Islamic/Hindu or in between?,being honest is not one of them,a confused lot,indeed.


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