Lost heritage: Revisiting the roots of Saraiki, the language of Multan




By Keshav Chhabra

Hindustan vandeej giya, assan vi rovoon tey tussan vi rovoo!

(Hindustan has been divided. We cry; so do you.)

The familiarity in those strange words springs out effortlessly for the ex-residents of an undivided Hindustan. As if ‘something there is that doesn’t love a wall’. [1] The wall which has divided many and hasn’t given the world much to celebrate has out-strengthened the bond of love. The partition of Hindustan resulting into the formation of two countries, Pakistan and India, has, since then, been commemorated as a tragedy. The decision had baffled many, as portrayed brilliantly by Manto, ‘for whom, the Partition was an overwhelming tragedy’. The imprint of the event can be reflected in literature works in languages including English, Hindi, Bengali, Urdu, Sindhi and many others.



But a language spoken by more than 20 million people continues to be ignored. The first sentence wasn’t in Punjabi, or Dogri, but in Saraiki (previously known as Multani), one of the most ancient in the world, but ‘un-developed’. Siraiki speaking people, though majorly in Pakistan, can also be found in Middle-East, Afghanistan and India (as a result of migration in 1947). In an attempt to understand the roots of the language, NewsGram team interviewed Dr. J.C. Batra, President of Siraiki International.

Dr. Batra has been a Barrister-at-law, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India. His mother tongue is Multani/Siraiki and he continues his efforts to promote Siraiki language throughout the world.

Multan is one of the most ancient cities of the world, dating back 6,000 years. And Dr. Batra believes that Multani is one of the most ancient languages in the world. He says, “Multan’s name was derived from Mool Sthaan (roughly translated as basic/root place). Multani is the mother of Sanskrit. But the language was undeveloped, before Pāṇini formulated rules of Sanskrit morphology. Not only Pāṇini, Charak, Patanjali, Kautilya Chanakya, Dronacharya are some of the great historic figures who spoke Multani.”

Previously, the language was known as Multani. It is only after the social and political leaders undertook the initiative to promote the language, it was renamed Saraiki/Siraiki in the 1960s. The language has three writing systems, having Persian script, Devanagari Script and Shahmukhi. One of the most ancient scripts, the Laṇḍā script is also used to write Saraiki.

Talking about the usage of Saraiki in the British India, Dr. Batra said, “George A. Grierson, an Irish linguist scholar, conducted the Linguist Survey of India (1898-1928) spent half a volume writing about Laṇḍā, also including Multani and other languages.” Born near Multan in the undivided India, Dr. Batra migrated to India in the present day Kunjpura, a village in Karnal (Haryana). He said he was baffled by the partition of the country and had always wanted to go to his birth-place.

“I did apply for a visa and I went there. When I was conversing there in Multani, a little kid asked his father- Dad, you say he has come from India. But he is speaking Saraiki. I was curious about what Saraiki was? His father told me that Saraiki was the new name for Multani.

“Saraiki has been the victim of the new culture. Our colonizers employed language as a tool of colonization and they have succeeded. One finds all the sign-boards and other public writings in English or Hindi, whether you go to Chandani Chowk or Katda or Kunjpura.

“The vocabulary, the thinking has changed. The terms we use have undergone a huge change. We don’t think in our mother-tongue anymore. We think in the language of the colonizers.”

Though Dr. Batra was justified in what he was saying, the driving force behind this huge project was still a mystery. He said, “Like me, there are many people who are keen to search their roots. This will certainly help in the revival of the language, the culture and bringing the two countries together. We want the revival of our roots so that we don’t get enslaved.”



When asked what can be done to promote Saraiki, Dr. Batra was hopeful about the future and mentioned many practical and feasible ways to bring Saraiki and other ethnic languages in our usage.

“The language needs to be developed and brought in use. Books about Saraiki in English or Hindi will help to bring this change. The language should be taught at different levels. Another brilliant way can be to bring the language to use in economic purposes (or rozi-roti, as he calls it). The process is slow, but steady.”

There are many universities in Pakistan which continue to promote academic studies in Saraiki including Islamia University (Bahawalpur), Bahauddin Zakariya University (Multan). Allama Iqbal Open University Islamabad and Al-Khair University (Bhimbir) offer M.Phil. & Ph.D in Saraiki. Apart from that, there is no shortage of Saraiki literature. From Khwaja Ghulam Farid to Mohsin Naqvi, there have been many Saraiki poets. “Around one thousand books and six hundred magazines are published in Saraiki language every year,” says Dr. Batra.

Dr. Batra runs a blog in order to promote the language. He has represented Siraiki International at various conferences in and outside India, and continues to do so. Himself a fluent speaker and influential author of Saraiki, he has written various poems in the language and he was generous enough to recite one for us.

You can watch the video here: