Unknown (or often untold) stories live on in the names of villages and towns in the Pahar region of Jammu & Kashmir. Variably known as the ‘Pahari Ilaqah‘, or the ‘Pir Panjal‘ region, this area has a rich cultural heritage. The names of our settlements preserve rich etymologies and meanings, but this form of history is rarely recorded. Numerous mohallay (neighbourhoods/settlements) exist in Mirpur and the wider cultural area that bear similarities and connections with far away places in North India. Even the word muhallay derives from an Arabic word with currency in Hindi and Bengali. Rajasthan is particularly insightful given the number of ‘Zamindar’ clans in Mirpur with distant origins to this region.

The suffix [-ābād] forms part of many west, central and south Asian place names, meaning “cultivated place” (i.e., a village, city or any populated region). At its root is the Persian word ‘āb‘ meaning ‘water’, from which derives the geographical designation ‘Panjāb’, (literally “the five waters”), a term used to locate the five rivers of the Sutlej, Beas, Ravi, Chenab and Jhelum. It is often attached to the name of the settlement’s founder or a core aspect of the area.

To illustrate this point for readers familiar with the settlements of our grandparents, take the example of Khadimabad, a small market town in the Andarhal region (lit., ‘between the hills’) of Mirpur, Azad Kashmir. In the 1960s, with the flourishing of Chaudhry Khadim Hussain’s marketplace into a small town, the surrounding stores and homes were known as Khādam-ābād, Khadimabad. Following the same pattern, stores owned by Chaudhry Muhammad Khan situated between the villages of Kotli Sarsawa and Pind Khurd (near Chakswari) bore his name, and the area in question was called Khān-ābād, Khanabad.

There are other examples where areas have been named after distant ancestors, whether they had originally settled the area or merely resided in it. Village Sarthala (lit., ‘Saras’-Thallā = Sarthalā, (Salas’ Hill or Hillock), again in Andarhal, is said to be named after Salas Singh, (an ‘Adra’ of the Chauhan with ancestral ties to Old Delhi). The town of Chakswari (lit., Sawari’s Chawk = Chak-Sawāri, i.e., Swari’s market (at the junction of two roads) has similarly been named after Numberdar Sawari Khan. According to the anecdotes of my own great grandmothers, they used to call Chakswari ‘Barnala’ which was probably its original name. According to other anecdotes ‘Palaak’ was named after the ancestress Mai Bhalāka, thus becoming ‘Palāka’.

In addition, the suffix [-stān] is Farsi for “place of” or “country“. It appears in locations all across Central and South Asia, and even in Europe: Pākistān, meaning “land of the pure“; Hindustānland of the Indus river“; and in the term qabristān (‘graveyard’/’cemetery’). The term qabristān can be found in Urdu, Hindi, Farsi and in our Pahari, as well as other Indo-Aryan languages. The term Englishstān has been used, for example, in the documents of the Raah or genealogy keeper Mir Kabal of Siakh, to denote the area under British rule.

The Imperial Gazetteer of India Provincial Series Kashmir and Jammu (1909) states that Mirpur “is said to have been founded about 200 years ago, by the Gakhars, Mīrān Khān and Sultān Fateh Khān”. An alternate view is that the city was founded by Mira Shah Gazi and Gosain Bodhpuri, both regarded as saints.  Mir was taken from the name of the former while Pur from the latter to establish Mirpur which became the Hindu-Muslim unity and brotherhood”. We find similar names in Bangladesh and in Pakistan, for instance, Mirpurkhas. Pur is found approximately 30 times in the Rig Veda, one of the four Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism. Pur is often translated as ‘city’, ‘castle’, ‘fortress’, or any kind of settlement. It is used as a suffix in several place names across India, Southeast Asia, Afghanistan and Iran.

We get many place names from the name of the clan or family of people residing there. For instance, there are many villages known as Chaudharian-na-Mohalla, Mohra-Rupyal, Thothala, Kalyalay, Nagyalay, Sasralay, Mistarian-na-Mohra or Mohra-Tarkhana. There are also names which derive from more common nouns or noun phrases: Muriya-na-Mohra (from muriya “boys”);  Kuriya-na-Mohra (from kuriyaaN “girls”); Tata Pani (literally “hot water”); and even Kutteya-na-Mohra (from kutteyaaN “dogs”)! At times, the Hindu and Sikh settlement names were changed. In terms of Akalgarh, a rumour as it, that it used to be called Kali-garh, (‘home of the Hindu Goddess Kali‘). Tragically, after the 1947 partition as the area was depopulated of its non-Muslim inhabitants, Akalgarh became ‘Islamgarh’ (‘home of Islam‘).

A more common way of naming places is after geographical features. Hence, there is many a Mera (‘valley’) from near Chakswari to across the river in Chhatro. Depending on the direction and perspective, we regularly hear Aplay-na-Mohra (“the upper village”) or Bunni-Mohra (“the lower village”). There is also the more ambiguous Pahar-la-Mohra, denoting “the other village”, or “the village over there”. Landmarks such as a Kass (“well”, e.g. Jari-kas, Kas-gumma) a ban (“reservoir”, e.g. Kheri-ni-Ban, Ban Dhomal) or a janD (“tree”, e.g. Mithijandi) .

And so many an ‘identity’ we confront in the Pahar has been shaped by small settlements or villages. Each mohra is like a family, and regularly, the dwellers of a settlement are descended from a common ancestor, or have some sense of kinship. It is inevitable for arguments and some form of conflict to take place, but these ought to be resolved and shouldn’t give the village a bad name, which sadly has become a common occurrence in recent years. Overall, the names of areas in the Pahar echo reminders from history of the struggles of others, either in setting up the new community, or instead, in thinking of a unique name to call it!

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Currently a student of English Language, Maths and Literature, aiming to study Linguistics. I love literature, languages, heritage, history. I’m a keen genealogist, with roots all over the Mirpur-Dadyal region. My grandparents hail from a village now underwater due to the construction of Mangla Dam. Stay posted, I’ve got lots to share about my heritage.

Okay, the official bit…

My opinions are not necessarily those of the Portmir Foundation; the Foundation does not do censorship and neither does it endorse my opinions; if you disagree with any us, and you’re from our background, write your own opinion piece and we’ll publish it. You can email us at info@portmir.org.uk

12 COMMENTS

  1. Akalgarh was named after Akal a sikh religious term meaning timeless and is commonly used by Sikhs. The kali mata point you made is not correct. It was a Sikh Jatt village named Akalgargh and after they left in 1947 it gained a substantial Jullaha ( weaver muslim) population who are also called bafinda.

    I like the article it was interesting and I have heard many of those points. However one thing I may be wrong but I thought Andral refered to the area between the two rivers of Jhelum and Poonch namely the area around Dist Dadyal.

    • Thanks for the feedback and for the clarification; when I referred to the Hindu Goddess Kali, I was only going by an anecdote which someone had told me. A lot of the name origins are shrouded in uncertainty which drive people to invent stories about them.

      Andrhal is a vast region encompassing many villages in the Dadyal area. There is also another village called Andrahal situated near Rajdhani (I have distant cousins there).

      Jatt Punyal, do you by any chance have connections to the village Baratla?

    • Andar + haal means “between the hills” in the sense of capturing the idea of a valley. If I’m correct, Andarhal was one of the largest Valleys in the State of Jammu & Kashmir possibly the largest after the Valley of Kashmir. As a region it’s quite hilly, and the settlements here predate those in ‘Mirpur’, specifically those on the Kharri Plains. The small market town of Dadyal, historically a Sikh settlement, if indeed the anecdotes are correct, is located within the Valley of Andarhal. Khadamabad is located within District Dadyal. The geo-administrative configurations of these areas post-date the actual settlements of these areas, and so how these areas were officially identified is entirely arbitrary.

      • I’ll also add to that, and I may be incorrect, but I think in centuries foregone the settlements within Andarhal were dominated by the Gakkars.

        • I am not aware of that fact Reiss, In northern Dadyal where I am from there are very few Gakkar and I think they now like to be called Kianis. In centuries past I cannot comment but would love to know of any historical sources that I too could read to enlighten me of the past. When one goes over 120 or 150 years ago, there is not many references to Dadyal area and there are sadly very few documents.

  2. Awais I think you should first explain your genealogy project to Jatt Punyal of trying to find the shared ancestors of the various tribes and clan backgrounds. You haven’t had success in the past, when you’ve attempted to make the connections, because people think you’re being too intrusive despite the thousands of names you’ve managed to successfully accumulate – very impressive indeed.

    Anyone else reading these posts, Awais has a genealogy project, and so if you are from the region and belong to these various tribes, please feel free to contact him.

    • Many thanks Reiss Haidar for supporting my family history project!

      Yes, I have set myself the complex task to extensively explore the history of my ancestors, their families and stories related to them. Since 2014m I have been collating details about my family and the people of the Mirpur-Dadyal diaspora. Due to the encouragement from so many relatives and friends, I have established a database which now has over 3,600 relatives on it. My interest in documenting the Pahari language was in addition to building this family tree.

      I have relations in numerous villages and cities across Kashmir and Pakistan, encompassing Khanabad, Chakswari, Paniam, Andarhal (particularly Chhatro, Balathi, Sochani) and many more. If anyone is able to offer any help or is intrigued by my project, please do not hesitate to ask.

      My great great grandmother was from the Punyal clan and we believe her ancestors migrated from Baratla, a region near Rajdhani. I thought perhaps, Jatt Punyal, you would be able to shed some light on the Punyal heritage?

  3. Thanks for the clarification about Andrhaal. You may well be correct I just stated what I had always been told by others, and so my view was not conclusive.

    I am not from Balathi and don’t personally know anyone from there. I am from a village called Mohar it is between Ratta and Thara in the Dist of Dadyal. All of our village is from one ancestor and so we are all Jatts from the clan named Punyal. We also have relatives in Kathar who are Punyal. I believe that Punyal clan is also present in Soraki in Dadyal.
    Inevitably our people have married in other villages and hence many of our aunts are married in Sochani and Thara and Ratta and other areas nearby. Which village are your ancestors from Awais.

    As regards Chattroh I thought many were Jatt Pakhreel, and Sochini are Jatt Heer.
    Good luck with your project and I would be pleased to hear any more information you discover especially about Punyal clan.

    • My great great grandmother was of the Punyal clan, from Palaka. Her paternal forefather was called Zulfiqar Ali and he migrated from a village called Bratla, which is near Rajdhani. Bava Zulfqar Ali settled in Palaka, having two sons whose descendants still live there or have moved to the UK. Half of Palaka was submerged in water due to Mangla Dam’s construction. The village has numerous Kalyal and Kanyal families too.

      Apart from the Panyals, I have connections to the Rupyal, Jarrol, Bangyal, Mandlal, Nagyal, Bangyal, as well as many others.

  4. Are you going to report on the findings of your research or is it just for personal information and records. If you are doing a generic report it would be interesting to know the results of who came from where and who inhabits the various villages.

    Our village is Mohar and was founded by Ch Mohammed Baksh a Jatt from Punyal clan and all the village are his decendants. We are now his seventh and eighth generation living in AJK and UK. I guess as he was the founder he founded it around 180 or 200 years ago. I am not 100% sure where he came from but anecdotal evidence and hearsay suggests he came from around Mendhar ( again I am not sure if that was a name of a village or is it the area near Kotli), there are no records to confirm anything as being certain.

    I think it would be nice if people could tell us a bit about there own villages as we all have relations in more than one village and are probably linked to others. It is the first time I learned that Punyal live in Palaka.
    Thanks for sharing the evidence.

    • My research is a personal hobby into finding out about my heritage, but I am definitely willing to share my findings to people who share this interest and would like to find out more. We are all distantly related to each other in some way or other.

      I do have some records, such as Pre-Mangla Dam maps and lists of Mangla Dam affectees, as well as many anecdotes and stories from the elders of my family.

      The well-known anecdote in Palaka is that the Punyals of Palaka were originally from Bratla and settled in Palaka probably around 200 years ago. Perhaps there was some distant connection between Bratla and Mendhar, but our knowledge is limited and we don’t know the Punyal side above eight generations, not above Bava Zulfqar Ali.

      If you would like to contact me regarding this or my genealogy project, my e-mail address is aawaishussain@gmail.com .

  5. Jatt Punyal, my ancestors were from a village called Thathi, which was opposite Choumukh and Old Dadyal, on the same side as Pins Khurd and Chakswari. Thathi was in between the river and the main road connecting Kotli to Mirpur. Thathi is now underwater due to the construction of Mangla Dam, so our family moved slightly further to live nearer relatives in Khanabad.

    I have family in villages all over Chakswari and all over the Andarhal region.

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