Saraiki is a language of great antiquity in Pakistan. It served as “Lingua Franca” among the people living around i.e. the Bloch and Sindhis, the Pashtoons and Punjabis etc. for centuries. It also remained the language of commerce and trade until recent times. Today over forty million people of Bahawalpur, D.G. Khan, Multan and Sargodha divisions of present Punjab and Dera Ismail Khan speak it as a first language. It is widely spoken and understood as a second language in Northern and Western Sind down to the suburbs of Karachi and in Kachhi plain of Baluchistan.

It has been variably called by different names such as Saraiki, Baluchki, Partake, Jagdali, Riasti, Bahawalpuri, Derewali, Multani, Western Punjabi, Lanhda, Uchi, Thallochi, Shahpuri and Hindko in past by neighboring people but thanks to the recent cultural awareness the name “Saraiki” given by the Sindhi brothers, has been accepted and established universally beyond all doubts. In fact Saraiki language is spoken in substantially large area and the names given above are its different accents.

In the course of history, Saraiki area has been attacked, occupied and populated from West and North by Aryans, Persians, Greeks, Parthian, Huns, Turks and Mongols. They had their own languages but the Saraiki language and culture was so rich and deep rooted that it absorbed all the languages and cultures of invaders and developed itself into a unique language and culture. Saraiki language has its own grammar. Even proper nouns are in different forms according to the nature of situation. Even a minor mistake in tenses, numbers and genders is not possible.

The language is rich in vocabulary and contains many words for different objects like different words for domestic animals according to their age and condition, which cannot be alternatively used. Saraiki is rich in idioms, idiomatic phrases, lullabies, folk stories, folk songs and folk literature. The folk literature for children is also abundant. The speech of a native especially a woman is much prosaic. They use idiomatic terms frequently in their everyday conversation. Most of the folk sayings are against woman but ironically victims themselves often use them.

Saraiki people are different in their food habits, dress, folk dances, games, amusements, mindset and psyche. They love their homeland and are often reluctant to leave their birthplace contrary to Punjabis and Pashtoons. A Saraiki saying is “away from the walls of house is as much distant as the city of Kandhar“. Saraikis are passively objective in showing their response or giving their opinion. They are very calculative but slow in their reactions. They assess a matter dialectically and make their firm opinion, which is last and final. “Dekhon uth kehri kari bandh” is a Saraiki saying. Let’s see on side the camel sits represent this particular mindset.

Saraiki motherland is the extension of Great Indian Desert and bears its salient features of fauna and flora. It is watered by the Mighty Indus River.

The Saraiki motherland comprises of following areas: –

  • Rohi or Cholistan, between the Sutlej and Indian Border.
  • Thal between the Indus and the Jhelum River from Salt Range to Kot Mithan
  • Damaan, land between the Indus and Kohe Suleman.
  • The alluvial plain around Multan and up to Chiniot in Jhang district.

Saraiki language and culture bears the following main features, which existed side-by-side and interacted with each other in course of time.

Nomadic Culture: As most part of the land is desert or semi-desert, people used to live a nomadic life. The remains of this culture can be witnessed in the Cholistan and Thal. Their language and more clean rich and prosaic. Most of the folklore has its root in these areas. Khawaja Ghulam Farid, a Sufi poet, depicts this culture in his beautiful poetry.

Riverine Culture: From the early days of Indus valley civilization, Saraikis are intelligent farmers. They grow wheat, cotton, sugarcane, sesame, indigo and several other cash crops on well watered lands of Indus and its tributaries. They laboriously cut canals from the rivers to irrigate their lands. Saraiki language in this way is abound with its vocabulary about crops, seasons and farming tools, weight and measures.

Market Culture: This land was not only self sufficient in farm produce but also exported its surplus to other countries. Market places developed in to towns and cities, where soldiers, business man, citizens and other classes began to live in more sophisticated manners. Trade and commerce progressed and the language developed its vocabulary about new occupations. Saraiki became a language of trade not only in this area but market towns and bazaars of Central Asia, Afghanistan, Baluchistan and Sind.

Transporters: As most of the market towns and cities of were on high banks of navigable rives, the trade goods were transported by means of large boats. This mode of transportation was in vogue till the British period from Kala Bagh in Mianwali District to the seaports of Thatta. The Indus and its tributaries served as highways and transport class called “Mohannas” with their large fleets of boats transported goods and passengers between the towns and cities and to and from the ports of Arabian Sea. Boat Construction industry also developed at Makhad, Kala Bagh and Sukker. With the construction of railway and roads this mode of transport died out but the remains of these people are still existent.

Religion: Three main regions Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam flourished and spread in the Saraiki speaking area. Hundreds of Aryans descended upon this area about 1700 BC and onwards. They were the worshippers of “Surya” the Sun God. They settled here before their further migration to the Northern India. The first written religious text “Rig Veda” was compiled here. Its verses are all about the people, land and rivers of the Saraiki area. The great Sanskrit scholar and grammarian “Panini” was born here. The famous Sun temple of Multan with a statue of the sun god cast in pure gold remained a center of pilgrimage up to the time Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. Buddhism flourished in this area about the end of fourth century B.C. and remained major religion of Saraiki area up to the beginning of 8th century A.D.

Islam came here with the conquest of Sind by Muhammad Bin Qasim in 712 A.D. After that the Saraiki area was ruled by governors appointed by Caliphs of Islam. However this rule was nominal. Finally the soldier of fortune Mehmood of Ghazna attacked and conquered this area in the beginning of 11 the century A.D. Mass conversion of religion took place at this time and eventually the whole Saraiki area embraced the faith of Islam. Ghorids followed them and the first independent Muslim state was established by Nasir-ud-din Qabbacha including Sind and whole Saraiki speaking area with its capital at Uch in 13th century.

From the time of Ghaznavids, Persian language replaced Arabic as the official language. The economic, political and religious institutions bore this unique impression. The impact of Persian on Saraiki language deep and far-reaching.

Mass migration of Muslim scholars, religious clerks and holy men to Saraiki area took place due to Mangol attacks on Central Asia, Khowarzam, Afghanistan and Iran. These people were welcomed and honored here. They set up their religious institutions at Bilot, Kot Karor, Shorkot, Multan, Uch, Depalpur and Pakpattan.

Saraiki people never remained politically or culturally a part of Punjab except the rule of Ranjit Singh, the only and last Punjabi ruler in early 19th century. It has been rather vice versa. The period of Sikh subjugation was very hard and tragic for Saraiki people. Sikhs plundered and looted the beautiful cities and forts. The farmlands and bazaars became desolate due to deteriorated law and order situation and heavy taxes. Saraiki poetry and folk literature of this period is gloomy, and introvert. The term “Sikha Shahi” is still used as a synonymous of misadministration, injustice and highhandedness. Eventually Saraikis welcomed the British take over this area in 1849.

Since then and after the independence the whole Saraiki speaking area is politically, economically and culturally being ruled and dictated from Lahore. Even the so-called enlightened intellectuals of Punjab deliberately call Saraiki people as Punjabis and their language as a dialect of Punjabi.

During the British period a lot of research work was made about this language by the new administrators, as it was their need to understand the people and get first hand knowledge of their culture and language. All the research work was collected in the farm of printed material, which can be found in the records of Bible House, Church Missionary Society London, India office Library and in the record rooms of local revenue departments. First Saraiki translation of “The New Testamen” was printed under the auspices of Baptist Missionary Society of Calcutta in “devnagri”script in early 19th century. Richard Burton, and intelligence officer of Sir Charles Napier learned Saraiki language to do research on Saraiki; he was also a scholar of Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Armini, Urdu, Gujrati, Marathi, Sindhi, Pushto and Telgo.

Administrators of different Saraiki districts compiled Settlements Reports and District Gazetteers, which contained detailed information about the history, culture and language of Saraiki people. Mr. Brien assistant commissioner and settlement officer of Muzaffar Garh district compiled “Glossary of Multani Language” which was published in 1881. He was assisted by Maulvi Abdul Rehman Muzaffargarhvi and Qazi Ghulam Mustafa of Ahmed Pur Jhang. Sir James Wilson and his assistant Hari Krishan Kaul wrote “Grammar and dictionary of Western Punjab”, which was published in 1899. Mr. Skemp ICS collected Saraiki stories, which were compiled and printed in 1917 as “Multani Stories” in Roman Characters with English translation. In recent times, Dr. Christopher Shackle, a teacher of School of Oriental and African studies of London University got his PhD degree on his thesis “Saraiki and Saraiki literature”. His other work “A century of Saraiki studies in English” is also worth reading.

After the independence, India has divided its part of Punjab into three provinces of Hariana, Himachal and Punjab but Pakistani Punjab not only included the independent state of Bahawalpur in it but also other non-Punjabi areas. Saraiki speaking area is strategically situated in the center of Pakistan. Saraikis have been peace-loving people but purposely and blatantly being denied of their very identity, which may not do any good in future. The recognition of Saraiki language and culture is imperative for the integrity of Pakistan.

Author: Ijaz Bloach