The Special Forms of Former Names


Abdul Hai Habibi


The preservation of culture of a nation is an important facet and international meetings emphasize the need that every nation should to protect its heritage. The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), has in particular, asked Asian countries to conserve its cultural heritage for future generations.

The names of cities and villages, are among vestiges of our culture and history, which over the years have been written in different Greek, Turkish and Arabic forms and these names have been transformed over time. We see that in the old historic and geographic books these names have not been written similarly and have been noted in accordance to the rules of the speakers of the language. In some instance the change has been so drastic that it is not possible to recognize the original form of the word. As a result it is important that writers and researchers maintain these vestiges of our culture in its original form so that they are written in their original form or how they are used contemporarily.

For example the name Pashtun appears in Veda and Indian relics as Pakhat and Pakt and Paktwees in Greek sources and their country was called Paktika. However, the original and present pronunciation is Pakhtu and Pakhtia.

Until the present time Indians convert the sounds (sheen ش and kha خ) to ka ک. They pronounce khan as kahan. The name of Khanpur in Hindi has been converted to Kanpur. When the Greek arrived to Aryana with Alexander 23 centuries ago they did not have the letters (sheen and kha) in their language and as a result they pronounced Bakhtar as Baktar and Pakhtia as Paktia and converted Pashtunkhwa to Paktika.

The Arabs who conquered the region 13 centuries ago Arabized a vast number of our local names for example they changed Garamser to Jurm, Sardser to Sudud, Sakistan to Sajistan, Samangan to Samanjan, Gozgan to Jouzjan, Gharistan to Gharjistan and Garziwan to Jarziwan.

Now that we are trying to revive the material of our old culture we need to preserve the originality of our former words. We did not adopt the Greek Baktria but managed to preserve its original form Bakhtar and instead of Paktian we say Pashtun but why do we pronounce Pakhtia as Paktia? This is a distortion from the accepted norm.

The old word (ghar) of Pashto which is alive until the present time has been used for hundreds of years in the name of places, men and tribes. This word was geri in Sanskrit and gar in Old Persian. It has been written as geri in Khorda Avesta and Homyasht. It is a very old word which was used in the lost languages of Babolania and Ashuri languages to mean a mountain, four thousand years before Christianity. It has a special symbol in the Sumari alphabet, meaning a mountain, and since the Sumarians lived in a mountainous landscape the word was also used to denote the whole nation. Originally the word was used to mean a mountain and later became the name of a country.

In Afghanistan names such as Ghor, Gharcha, Ghalcha, Ghalji, Gardez and Garesh all have different forms of roots in this word and an important region of the country was called Gharistan. Arab geographers and historians Arabized the word to Gharjistan, Gharshistan or Gharj-al-Shar and Persian writers have also written it as Gharjistan.

This was the result of heavy Arab linguistic and cultural influence on our language. In Pashto poetry Jurm and Gharj have been used which are the Arabized form of Garamser and Ghar. They have been used in the epic poetry of Amir Kror Jahan Pahlawan, which was written around 758 CE and even today we write the Arabized form Gharjistan instead of Gharistan. The real issue is that Gharistan was a former province of Khorasan which was bordered to the west by Herat and Merv Rud and by Ghor to the east. The Arab geographers, Muqadasi and Yaqut write that a mountain is called gharj or gharsh and the ruler of this place was known as Gharj-al-Shar or Malik-al-Gharja. Al-Bashari states that Ghar-al-Shar means the land of mountains.

Writers from this region, who had heard the names of these place from local people, have from time to time, preserved the original forms of the words. For example Menhaj Seraj Jouzjani, who was a resident of Afghanistan and had travelled in this region, has written the name of Gharistan as he heard it from the people, and has refrained from using Gharjistan, the Arabized form of the word.

Menjah Seraj calls every mountainous area as Gharistan. In Tabaqat he writes: “and he was captured near Samarkand and the borough of Kaikarb, which is a gharistan (mountainous) area and the kohpaya (highlands) of Samarkand…” Here we see that gharistan has been used to mean highlands and this form has remained in Arabic books. Le Strange in his book, the Eastern Regions of the Caliphate, has copied it in the same way. The historian from Herat, Saifi Herawi, in his book, Tarekh Nama-e Herat, has repeatedly written this name as Gharistan.

Some writers and clerks distort names and our cultural heritage. They write Laghman  as Laqman and Paghman as Paqman and in Tarekh Nama-e Herat, Tere near Kandahar, has been repeatedly written in its distorted form. Herwai, however, writes it as Teyrin and converts the original Rozgan to Uruzgan. He converts the Pashto name Sperwan to Safed Rawan and deliberately changes Tourbas to Tarha Baz, which has no meaning at all.

In Seraj-al-Tawarekh the historical name Ajristan or Wajiristan has been Arabized as Hajristan, which is absolutely incorrect and the original name has been distorted to the extent that its original form is unrecognizable. Over hundreds of years clerks have converted the names of historical places in such a form that they are not recognizable anymore. Cultural authorities and researchers of history and geography should not follow the way clerks have converted names or their Arabized forms and need to pay attention to:

1. If the name of a person or place has been recorded in old historical relics then its original and native form needs to be preserved such as:

Instead of Sajistan they should write Seistan or Sakistan.

Instead of Baqlan they should write Baghlan.

Instead of Farwan they should write Parwan.

2. If it is impossible to find the name of a place in old relics then the way it is pronounced by people at present should be considered valid such as:

Kalat instead of Qalat.

Ajristan or Ajeristan instead of Hajristan.

Paghman instead of Paqman.

Alisheng instead of Ali Shang.

Torkham instead of Tourkham.

Toura Ghundie instead of Tourghundi.

Tera Kotal instead of Kotal-e Tera.

Historical names have a very scary background. There was a time when Arab conquerors came and saw that people call a place as Panjdeh. They immediately converted the letter (pae پ) to the letter (fae ف) and called the place Fajda and Fajinda. As though this was not enough they then used the Arabic translation of the name and called it Khams Qari (five villages) and considered its surrounding areas as Khamqari. If we are to find Panjdeh in Arabic books and sources we need to look up under Fanjdehi or Khamqari. If we are to write this name we should use Panjdeh and not Fanjdeh, Khams Qari, Fanjdehi or Khamqari, which are all Arabized and distorted forms of the actual word.

To the southeast of Kandahar lies Panjwaye, which until this day has retained this name. In Arabic books this place became Panjwai and later clerks gave it an Indian flare and converted it to Panjbai  (Panjbahai). In order to maintain the original form of the name we need to correct it so that it is written in its original form as Panjwaye.

The historic place, Shapelan, first became Shah Felan. Later people realized this change and named it Shahfelan which has been recorded as such in the geography of Hafez Abro, Mutla’ Se’dain  and other historical books. Someone did not like this name and wrote the Pashto Academy to rename this place. The academy wrote that it should be named in Pashto as Zargoon. The clerks misread the letter and called the place Pashtun Zarun. As a result the name lost its historical significance. If we are to look up for the historical Shapelan-Shafelan in Herat we will not be able to find it. This is a long and lamentable story. I just presented some examples in this article.[1]


[1]Hunar Magazine, 1962, Vols 1 and 2. pp. 3-4.