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Demystifying the village-naming hierarchy

February 13, 2012

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In the pre-colonial era, there were different traditions behind giving a name to any village or settlement.  —Photo by author
In the pre-colonial era, there were different traditions behind giving a name to any village or settlement. —Photo by author

Aizaz Cheema, one of the recent fast bowlers to represent Pakistan, hails from a village called “75-B.” Curious name? Dawn.com decided to dig out the history and tradition behind naming villages in Punjab.

Historically, there are several reasons behind naming a place in Punjab, but penning history or tracing out its anthropological roots in culture is a subject less entertained in this part of the world.

While tracking down roots or reasons behind a village name, two major classifications can be drawn: “before” and “after,” i.e. before or after the arrival of the British.

In the pre-colonial era, there were different traditions behind giving a name to any village or settlement. These traditions, sometimes, became myths but parts of oral history provide viable justification behind naming a village.

In some cases, names were assigned to villages on the basis of a historical incident; the social, religious or spiritual influence of a personality upon local populace; heritage; clan; biradri or ethnic group.

In remembrance Located on the Depalpur–Basirpur Road in the Depalpur district, the village Bhuman Shah comprises 1,500 households. According to Professor Aurangzeb – from the department of Political Science at the Government Degree College, Sahiwal– Bhuman Shah was a Hindu saint, who spent his whole life in the area and thus the village was named after him.

Saint Bhuman was also, notably, the founder of Udaseyain sect in Hinduism, which was founded approximately 250 years ago.

The Hujra Shah Muqeem town was named after Pir Shah Muqeem, who stayed in hujra (a temporary residence).

Chak Bedi was named after Bedi clan among Sikhs, one of whose renowned members was Urdu short story writer Rajinder Singh Bedi. This village is still located near Head Sulimanki.

The town of Haveli Lakha was named after a person named Lakha Watoo – meaning Lakha Watto found a haveli (permanent residence) in the area.

In same manner, Dera Ghazi Khan, Darya Khan (a small town in southern Punjab) and Dera Ismail Khan (in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) were named after three brothers’ residences (translating to dera in Punjabi language).

The forest resort of Changa Manga in Kasur district is named after two brothers (Changa and Manga), who, during the British rule, were famous dacoits and had used the jungle as their secret hideout.

Mahar Nazir Ahmed, 57, informs Dawn.com that Moza Murad Kay Kathiya was named after Murad Ka Kathiya, who along with Mokha Waniwal, killed a British Assistant Collector and army Captain Lord Berkeley near Koray Shah at eastern bank of River Ravi, during 1857 War of Independence.  Murad Kay Kathiya was sentenced for life and eventually died in Sahiwal’s central jail.

The city of Mian Chanu was named after two saint brothers, Mian Manu and Mian Chanu. A shrine that still stands in the city centre marks the grave of one of the brothers.

A drowning tale Satgara, another historical village in Okara district, tells an interesting tale. According to Nusrat Iqbal, a local Punjabi poet, the village has a history of being drowned in Ravi River seven times. The number seven translates to “sat” in Pubjabi, hence the name Satgara.  Another tale, according to Sir Denzil Ibbetson in the “Tribes and Castes” narrates there were seven houses at that locality at the time of naming, leading to the name Satgara. Despite the two theories, there is no difference of opinion on seven (sat). Interestingly, Satgara is a place where Mir Chakar Khan Rind was killed while fighting against armies of Mughal Emporer Aurangzeb and his shrine can be found in Satgara.

Irrigation and the British Under the second classification, villages were named on the bases of the Canal Irrigation System (CIS) laid down by British on the five rivers after annexation of Punjab on April 2, 1849. The British divided all land into two main categories: Proprietary land - owned by the King or army generals and panchayat (tribal council), and Crown’s Wasteland, according to Irfan Habib, a local.

In fact, human settlement can be directly associated to availability of water and its scarcity. Punjab was the land of rivers, which compelled the British (for their own political reasons) to dig canals, in case water needed to be transferred to far off places for irrigation. Thus, the Northern India Canal Drainage Act of 1873 was brought in place to define application of water for public purposes, construction and maintenance of head-works, and supply of water for irrigation.

The main objective of canal system was to develop, plan, utilise and manage human settlement for irrigation in a judicious, equitable, sustainable and sound economic manner. Interestingly, emperors of Tughlaq and Khilji dynasty dug four canals but it couldn’t match with the irrigation system introduced by the British. The imperial rulers developed head works, barrages, dams or weirs on rivers to develop main water channels for smooth flow of water.

Rana Masood, a senior employee of the local irrigation department, says these main water channels or canals, run through ‘Crown’s Waste Land’ across India in a manner similar to the human veins, which run through the body and supply blood to each part.

The logical sequence followed for the distribution of water for irrigation purposes can be explained in the following manner:

From the rivers emerged dams, barrages and head-works, which gave way to canals and in turn, the canals led to distributaries (DISTY), leading to minors (MIN) and finally, minors gave way to sub-minors (S-MIN). For instance, Lower Bari Doab Canal emerged from Head Balloki and Pakpattan Canal from Head Sulaimanki. Before digging out the canals, the British made two important calculations: the Gross Area to be covered by the canal and the proportion of Cultural-able Commanded Area (CCA) for that particular gross area. Both calculations fall under the category of “Crown’s Waste Land”.

The canal system is used for irrigation in all provinces of the country.

“The names of chaks (villages) emerged during calculation of CCAs and digging of a canal, DISTY, minor or sub-minor in different regions,” Masood adds.

For instance, the Lower Bari Doab Canal (LBDC), which was dug during the period of 1911 to 1913, receives water from Head Baluki at 6,750 cusecs. The British designed canals in such a way that they have the potential to increase the capacity and LBDC’s capacity was subsequently increased to 9,841 cusecs in 1988.

Naming villages on the basis of canals

The British divided CCA in two part of LBDC, “Left side of LBCD” and “Right side of LBCD.” If a DISTY (another water channel) were developed from the left side, it would be named 1-L, the second 2-L and so on. If a DISTY was dug from the right side, it would be named 1-R, second 2-R and so on.

The Cultural-able Commanded Area is equally divided on both sides of a canal, with chak numbers, which means the CCA area allocated to each chak on both sides of LBDC.

For instance, in the case of 4-R DISY one minor was provided at the right side and from that one right side minor four sub-minors were dug both on left and right sides of water channels. The name of village would then be 1R/4-R, 1R/1R/4-R and 2R/1R/4-R and 1L/1R/4-R and 2L/1R/4R and so on. Let us say chak number 78/4-R which means 78 chak number on right side of fourth DIST at LBCD. Chak number 3R/14-L means chak number 3 on left side of 14 DISTY at LBCD. (14 DIST is located on left side of LBCD).

The Pakpattan Canal finds its source at Head Sulimanki and has divisions named EB & WB. (Sulimanki Division, Eastern Bar Division & Western Bar Division). Chak number 70/EB in tehsil Arifwala, district Pakpattan means Chak number 70 on Eastern Bar Division side of Pakpattan Canal. Chak number 2L/11-L means Chack Number 2 on left Minor on 11 left side DISTY upon LBDC. Now Chak number 1L/9-L means first minor on left side of ninth DISTY on left side of LBCD. Chak number 1R/1L/9-L means 1st Sub Minor on right side of 1st left side Minor at 9th left DISTY of LBCD. This is how Chaks emerged with reference to irrigation water availability according to CCA for total 58 main canals across Pakistan. All chaks names given with reference to water channels’ sides.

Abdul  Sattar, a senior clerk at LBDC Circle office Sahiwal informs us that all chak names were given with reference to canal and distributries laid down for irrigation purpose. Interestingly, one finds a number of villages, still intact with both references. Like their name reference with any tradition or figure and with irrigation system reference. Like Village 4 GD first called Gulam Rasool Wala in Gogera area before British arrival.

Later, after canal laying its name was put village 4GD Rasool Wala. (4th DISTY In Gogera Drain Canal). Falik Sher lives in village 68/4-R (Rath Sayal). He said Rath Sayal was a Rajput caste. The people of Rajput tribe started living in village. Later British named it Chak Number 68.

“This village is dominated by Siyal Rajput, hense its’ both name runs common. Chak 68/4-R, Rath Siyalain Wala.”

Mahar Basher Ahmed is ex-councillor from village 98/9-L (Lakain Wala). He revealed that his great great grandfather Mahar Guhaan Khan Luck migrated from Sargodha and settled here before the LBDC system was laid down. The chak was named 98/9-L as it falls on 9th left side DISTY of LBDC. But as majority of Luck Biradri still lives here it is named after 98/9-L (Lakanwala).

Actually, a discipline named cultural anthropology deals with such sense of historiography but unfortunately such disciplines could not flourish among our educational institutions because of our “ideological compulsion”. It is time to revisit our local history with peoples’ perspective.

The author is a Dawn correspondent based in Sahiwal.