Sunday, 4 September 2011

Where do the name of Punjabi towns come from?

Punjabi by nature: where do the names of Punjabi towns come from?

Khushwant Singh looks into the history and meaning of the suffixes and prefixes of Punjab's towns GARH, ALSO MEANING FORT, WAS USUALLY PERCHED ON A HILLTOP AND WAS NOT ESSEN- TIALLY A RESIDENTIAL AREA TO BEGIN WITH. THE PURPOSE OF GARH WAS MILITARY AND THE FORT OFFERED A SECURE WALL TO THE RESIDENTS.WITH PASSAGE OF TIME, THEY BECAME RESIDENTIAL AREAS

Recently, I was in England and got interested in the meaning of the suffixes of many of its towns and cities. Each time I crossed a town with a name ending with Ham, Chester or Shire, my curiosity would increase and I would keep asking the folks around, what these suffixes meant. It seemed that no one really knew what they stood for, but all of them were sure that they meant something. Sitting in one of the Costa Coffee bars on Regent Street, I tried Googling to get my answers but my attention was soon diverted towards my own Punjab and I launched a desperate search for the suffixes and prefixes, majra, majri, wala, wali, chak, bassi, basti, pur, garh, garhi.

Sadly, there is not enough material on these suffixes on the google search engine. However, desperate to learn more, I was soon seeking help from Balwinder Kaur, an English teacher at the Government Senior Secondary School, Bhunga. Balwinder spent a day looking up the Mahan Kosh by Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha and other reference books and put together this information for me.

Bassi and basti are Persian words from the word Basar-Gurdan meaning habitat, comprising mostly of Persian/Muslim families. One of the earlier bassi as per her research was Basti Malik in Patiala estate near Fategarh. Bassi Pathana, Bassi Kasso and Bassi Daultkhan are examples of it.

Majra means a town and majri a town in the same area but with less significance and smaller area and population.Modern Manimajra near Chandigarh was a town, which was captured by Garib Das in 1821 along with 48 other villages. Manimajra, after the British annexation of Punjab, was given the status of a kingdom and Gopal Singh became its first king.

Kot literally means fort. Kots were walled safe residential areas and usually located on mounds, elevated patches of land or on the foothills. Saint Kabir observes `ek kot panch sikdar', meaning that to create/safeguard one kot, more than one powerful person (sikdar) was required. Some of the examples are Sialkot, Raikot and Dharamkot. Garh, also meaning fort, was usually perched on a hilltop and was not essentially a residential area to begin with. The purpose of garh was military and the fort offered a secure wall to the residents. Garhs, with passage of time, became residential areas when vagabond life attained stability.

Fatehgarh, Holgarh, Lohgarh, Keshgarh and Anandgarh, are some of the examples. Garhis were safe homes or shelter homes of residents of an area.

Kachi Garhi in Chamkaur Sahib, is an example.

My other query to Balwinder was what was the meaning of pur, examples being Hoshiarpur, Haripur, and Rampur? While one of the explanation described pur as a village but interestingly, Balwinder pointed out that it was a town or a village which had to be reached either by crossing a bridge or through a boat.

Wala and wali also mean habitats. Walas have names of prominent personalities as their prefixes. For example, Attariwala, Nihal Singh-wala and Hussaini-wala, the last being named after Muslim saint Baba Hussainiwala. Walis have names of lesser-known people as their prefix or suffix. Examples are Hiran-wali near Fazilka and Moranwali in Hoshiarpur district.

Balwinder also checked out the meaning of the word chak, which literally means village. The home of fourth Sikh Guru was called Guru Da Chak (later Chak Ramdas) after which the precedent to call villages with `chak' as prefix or suffix was set. Examples are Chak Fatehsingh, Chak Ramdas, Chak Sheranwali.

Collecting this material has been gratifying but I am still not satisfied and scholars who have some additional information are free to write to me to help document this information for progeny. As for the Chesters, Hams and Shires, there's always a next time.

Hindustan Times, August 28th 2011.

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