Naming Customs In The Indus Valley Region

From ancient references to more recent influences, the names of people and places in Sindh and Balochistan come from a wide variety of sources

Naming Customs In The Indus Valley Region

The people of the Indus Valley Civilisation named their children after animals, birds, insects, fruit trees and flowers. Naming practices were influenced by a variety of cultural, spiritual and practical reasons. They did this for following reasons:

1) Totemic beliefs

2) Desirable qualities

3) Connection with nature

4) Mythological and legendary inspiration

5) Memorialising events and seasons

6) Identity, social bonds and attachments

Here we will consider a few themes and the names that they inspired.

The universe

Vitu is a Tamil Dravidian word for settlement, house, habitation, abode, and dissolution of the universe, creation, heaven as final release or liberation. Another word we may find for universe is Meruku (Murk in Sindhi meaning to smile) which means smoothness, glitter, luster, polish etc. In Gondi Kuwi (S) Language: mer –to light; mervu light and merh means to lighten. Kuvi or Kui is mostly spoken by the Dal, Sitha, Khonds and Kandha people living in Odisha, India. The Sindhi word Jhirmer stands for starlight with the same meaning, while the Sanskrit word for Universe is Srsti or Srishti means creation (of the universe). The name Srishti is frequently found in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. Kainat, a Sindhi name also means universe. This name has Arabic origin.


The Sindhi word for light is Noor. The Muslim names Noor Muhammad and Noori are taken from this word. Noori Jam Tamachi is famous folk tale in Sindh.


The word Paradise means Jannah in Arabic, while Heaven is Sama meaning Sky. Many Arabic names entered Sindhi society after the Arab conquest of Sindh (711 AD). The people of Sindh called their daughters Janat which means heaven. They also added a suffix, making compounds like Khaatuun-e-Jannat meaning The Queen of Paradise. It was title of Fatima (AS), the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his first wife, Khadija. Lady Fatima was married to Imam Ali (AS) and was the mother of Hasan (AS) and Hussein (AS). Qamber Shahdadkot District in Sindh mostly depends upon Sukkur Barrage’s North Western (NW) Canal, Warah Canal, Saifullah Magsi Branch, Ratodero Branch and Shahdadkot Branch. One of the irrigation channels of this system is Janat Distry in Shahdadkot area.

The Sky

Akasha or Akash (Sanskrit akasa) means space, sky or aether in traditional Indian cosmology, depending on the religion. The Hindu name Akash carries the suffix Kumar ie Akash Kumar. There are seven Levels of Heaven (Sky) in Islam. It is believed that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and Archangel Gabriel visited all seven skies until they reached the Throne of God. Falak, is another name for sky.

The Sun

The Dravidian term for time, sun, day and morning is Pozutu. This word is also found in various other Dravidian languages like: Tulu, Telugu, Gondi, and Malayalam. In Sindh, this name is given to a tough, harsh, rigid, severe or rigorous person. For example, the name for above mentioned qualities is Pozut Khan. Suriya, in Hinduism referred to both the Sun and the sun god. The Sooraj Kund or the Sun Temple of Multan (Sindh) was dedicated to this Hindu deity. The Ismaili rulers of Multan destroyed this temple in the 10th century AD.

Shamash was the Mesopotamian God of the sun, justice and that which is underwater. The Sumerian traditions call him as Utu. He was the twin brother of Innana and the son of Sin, the moon god. But Akkadian culture calls it Samas – here Shamash was the son of Anu or Enlil and his wife was Aya. Shamash is considered a member of the special class of Mesopotamian gods called the Anunnaki. This god’s name survived as Shams in the Muslim world. Shams al Din Muhammad Tabrizi was a Persian poet. He was born in 1185 AD and died in 1248 in Iran. He is said to be spiritual instructor of Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi.

In my opinion, Meluhha later on became Meluhan, Melhan and finally Mehran. Others opine that the name Mehran is etymologically connected to Mehr/Mithra, the Indo-Persian deity of water and friendship – Mithras to the Romans

The Earth

Bhoomika (Bhumika) is a feminine name of Indian origin which means earth. This beautiful name is derived from the Sanskrit word Bhumi, meaning soil, ground or foundation. Bhumika Chawla is an Indian actress who performed as heroine in Tere Naam (2003). She also works in Telugu, Hindi and Tamil films. Prithvi is the Sanskrit name for the earth, as well as the name of a goddess in Hinduism. Prithviraj Chauhan (1166-1192) was a famous ruler of Chauhan Dynasty in Rajasthan India.

The Moon

Chandra also known as Soma is the Hindu god of the moon. This name is associated with night, plants and vegetation. He is one of the nine planets of Hinduism. Chandragupta Maurya (320 BC to 298 BC) was the founder of the Maurya Empire, based in Magadha, India. Chandrama is a caste in Sindh. A Deh called Chandran in Taluka Thull is located in District Jacobabad, Sindh. Chandoo Mal is a Hindu name while this name is also found in Muslim population. Chand Faqir Manganahar was a local musician who lived in Shahdadkot around 1980s. Qamar is an Arabic name used for both as masculine and feminine, which means moon, natural satellite or moonlight. Mahtab is a Persian word for a moonbeam. Sir Richard F Burton (1821-1890) described a celebrated Sindhi dancer, the Donna of Larkana in his travels. She came with her sisters in a train of nine camels for Natch or dance performance.


The Dravidian word Meen (Min) means a fish or star. Minnagara was a city of the Indo-Scythian Kingdom, located on the Indus River in Sindh, Pakistan. This name was actually Min Nagar or The Shining City. Mengal, a Brahui tribe of Indus Valley has also the same roots. They are originally Dravidian speaking fishing community. Mina Kumari and Minakshi are feminine names common in Sindhi Hindu Community. Taro Mal and Tara Chand are Hindu male names. Muslim name Mai Sataran, sometimes also comes with the meaning of stars. Najamdin is a Muslim name meaning Star of Religion.


In Sindhi and Hindi, a cloud is called Baadal. It is a boy’s name.


In Persian and Sanskrit, Megh means a dark rain cloud. It is a girl’s name. Meenhon and Meenhal are popular villagers names in Sindh, and then there is Meghna, a Hindu name.


Malah is a Sumerian word which means sailor, or captain. Meluhha means, “The Country of Sailors.” Meluhha was, thus, the Country of the Sailors. It was also known as the homeland of people with a dark complexion. Meluhha has been described in front of a deity in the Early Dynastic Period of Mesopotamia (2900-2350 BC) as follows: “May Magan and Meluhha submit to you.”

In my opinion, Meluhha later on became Meluhan, Melhan and finally Mehran. Others opine that the name Mehran is etymologically connected to Mehr/Mithra, the Indo-Persian deity of water and friendship – Mithras to the Romans. He is also well described in the Avesta, a holy scripture of Zoroastrianism, which was developed from an oral tradition founded by the Prophet Zoroaster (Zarathustra) sometime between 1500-1000 BC. Mehrangarh Fort (built in 1459 AD) is a historical landmark in Jodhpur, Rajasthan India. Mehrano is a wildlife sanctuary (700 acres) in District Khairpur, Sindh. It was established by the Talpur Amirs of Sindh in 1790 AD. Mehran is also the name of a university, hotel and car. Mehran Khan is also the name of a baby boy.


The Indus River is 3,120 km (1.940 mi) long. The Dravidian language family (comprising 24 indigenous languages) is 4,500 years old. Intu or Intu nir means sea in the old Tamil language. It is possible that Intu became Sintu or Sindhu later. Intu again comes with another meaning: the date-palm (Scientific name Phoenix dactylifera). Dates have been cultivated in the Middle East and Indus Valley for thousands of years. Archaeological evidence of dates has been found at Mehrgarh (Balochistan), a Neolithic site dating back to 7000 BC. Some badly carbonised date seeds were found in chamber 37, House 1, VS Area at Mohenjo-Daro. Sometimes these dates were imported from Dilmun, Magan and Persian Gulf islands (Marshall: 1931 Page 587)

So, Cint, Cind or Sindi means a date-palm. Was Intu or Sindhu a Land of Date Palms? Nasheet Siddiqui has deciphered Seal L 66 a in this context. He believes that it reads “Hindhaya Avasam,” which means the land of date palms or the date palm country. Sir John Marshall recovered date palm seeds from a house in VS Area at Mohenjodaro (Marshall: 1931, Page 587) We have a clue in the Kannada language: henda means vinous liquor or toddy (Tadi) extracted from the wild palm tree. In Tulu language, henda means toddy, palm-wine or juice. According to Asko Parpola variation of the two names, Sindhu and Hindu was used by the Old Iranians around 850 to 600 BC. From Persians the name passed to the Greeks as Indos. Afterwards it was adopted by the Romans as Indus. The name India is derived from Indus.

Sindhu means river and sea in Classical Sanskrit. In the Rigveda, the river known as Sindhu refers to the Indus River. Chinese Buddhist monk Xuanzang travelled through the Kingdom of Sintu in 640 AD. Chach, the first ruler of the Brahman Dynasty marched from Makran and subdued Lasbela, Kuzdar and Qandabil in 641 AD. He planted grove of date palm trees on the banks of a river which separated Makran (Sindh) and Kirman (Iran) from each other. Daulat Rao Sindhia was the Maharaja (ruler) of Gwalior State in Central India from 1794 to 1827. Both the ancient names Hind and Sindh always come together: as we see, for instance, in Tareekh Al Hind Wa As-Sindh (the Chachnama).

Sindon means a fine muslin fabric which was used for covering Jesus’ body after crucifixion. Sindhu is a short yet attractive name both in India and Pakistan.


A Hindu goddess of learning, the arts and music. The Sarasvati Ghaghara Hakra River system flowed from modern-day north western India and eastern Pakistan. It ended in the Thar Desert of the Sindh Province. Sarasvati is girl’s name in Hindu society.


Bhalana was a Proto Indo Aryan tribe that fought against Sudas in the 10 Rajana battle. Some scholars argue that Bhalanas lived around Bolan Pass in Balochistan. It is the region where Brahui people also live since thousands of years. The Bolan Pass covers a distance of about 90 km from Kolpur in the north to Rindli on the south. A train is named after the famous Bolan Pass which connects Pakistan to Central Asia. Bolan Khan was a well-known Quetta horse dealer during the British Period in the 1900s. Mir Bolan Khan Regi (Baloch), Mir Bolan Khan Jatoi and Haji Bolan Khan Mengal are well-known Balochi figures. The name Bolan Khan is given to male children in Balochistan. Presently Bolan is also name of a newspaper. Perhaps Sindhi word Bhalawno (Agent) is taken from Bhalana.


Baran refers to rain, and is also a name used for a hill torrent in Khirthar Laki Range, District Jamshoro, Sindh. Mir Shahdad Khan Talpur was a military commander and bureaucrat in Mughal Empire. Emperor Aurangzeb granted him land in Dasht-e-Baran (Sindh) in the year 1117 AH / 1705 AD. He founded the city of Shahdadpur in 1713 AD. The shrine of Syed Baran Shah is famous in Sindh. Baran Khan Shrirani is a Pashto poet.


Meher Jabal (Hill), is situated 65 km from Gulshan-e-Maymar, Karachi. It is a plateau, about 10 km in length and 4 km in width. This hill is about 1,600 ft above sea level. Nowadays its part of Khirthar National Park and is visited by tourists in great numbers.

Mir Ali Sher Qaani Thatvi (d 1788), a Sindhi Muslim historian, has given description of this mountain in his book Tuhfat-ul-Kiram. In Persian, Arya Mehr means Light of the Aryans. Mehrgarh is a modern village close to the archaeological site of the same name in Sibi Balochistan. Meher Ali Shah (d 1937) was a Sufi scholar and mystic poet from Punjab, Pakistan. Mehr is used for both masculine and feminine names eg Mehr Ali and Mehr Bibi.


The famous Kambhu or Kanbhu Jabal is part of the Khirthar Range. It is situated in the Kohistan region of Thano Bula Khan, District Jamshoro, Sindh. Kerchat, the Indus site dating back to 2600-1900 BC lies in Kambhu. The name Kambhu is also found in the poetry of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai who lived during 17th century AD. Khan According to Gazetteer of the Province of Sindh 1926, Bahadur Kambhu Khan, Jam of the Junejo tribe was a very important personality in District Nawabshah during 1920s. He was a generous person. He is remembered through Sindh and Balochistan for his justice, generosity and bravery. Recently a tiger was shot dead by locals in this area. Kambhu is a powerful name in Sindhi Society.


This range is known as Halar and Khirthar and it separates Sindh and Balochistan. The word Halar was mostly used by the Europeans. In 1855, there were four districts in Kathiawar, namely: Halar, Jhalavar, Sorath and Gohelwar. In Halar and part of Kathiawar, Bhatias speak Halai, which closely resembles Cutchi. In Gujarat and Kathiawar, they speak Gujarati, and in Sindh, Sindhi. Halar and Mehran are popular male names in Sindh.


Kandahar is a name of a city in Afghanistan. It was founded by Alexander the Great in 330 BC beside the ancient city of Mundigak. During the Bronze Age, Mundigak was the centre of the Helmand Culture (3300-2350 BC). It served as provincial capital of Arachosia, and was ruled by the Meds followed by the Persian rulers, the Achaemenids. Indian emperor Asoka erected a pillar with a bilingual inscription in Greek and Aramaic. Gandhara or Kandahar was the trade crossroads and cultural meeting place between India, Central Asia and the Middle East. In the past, Sindh always suffered from attacks emanating from Kabul and Kandahar. Kandahari pomegranates and Kandahari mint are famous for many centuries. The name Kandhari Mal is very common among the Hindu community of Sindh. Diwan Kandhari Mal had three sons Asanand, Ambert Rai and Lakhmidas. These were called Kandharanis after their father’s name.


Central Afghanistan is called Hazara, Hazarajat or Hazaristan. The region includes Ghor, Dai Kundi and Bamiyan Provinces. The Buddhas of Bamiyan were built from 507 AD to 554 AD and were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. Diwan Hazari Mal was a famous poet of Shikarpur, Sindh, in the 1940s.


According to folk etymology, the name Kashmir means desiccated land. According to an interpretation, Kas means a channel and Mir, a mountain. According to a History of Kashmir written by Kalhana (12th Century AD), the valley of Kashmir was formerly a lake. After invading Uch, King Chach of Sindh (641 AD) proceeded to Sika, then to Multan and finally toward Kashmir. He marked the extent of his kingdom with a tree there. In 1994, Commander Kashmir Khan opposed the Taliban regime and fought several battles against them. Kashmir Khan was a Sindhi name since centuries past. Kashmir Chand is a Hindu name.


Multan is one of the world’s oldest cities. It has been continuously inhabited for over 5,000 years. A person called Multan Chand Bothra lives in Bombay.


Al Basra is capital and port city in southern Iraq. It borders and Iran and Kuwait. Villagers in Sindh name their children Basra and Basri (Basran) after this port city because it was a trading centre between Sindh and Abbasid Caliphate of Baghdad, Iraq. Hasan Al Basri, a disciple of Imam Ali  was a Muslim preacher, ascetic, theologian, scholar and judge. A lady called Rabia Al Basri (d.801 AD) was a Muslim saint. The stories of Sindbad the Sailor are based on the experiences of merchants from Basra that traded with the East Indies and China, most probably under the early Abbasid Period (750-850 AD). The stories of Sindbad can be read in The Thousand and One Nights. This book collection has tales of Aladdin, Ali Baba and Sindbad the Sailor among others. Basri pearls, natural gems originating in the Persian Gulf, were sold in India up to the 1800s.


This ancient city has been written in many ways, for example: Bekker, Buckor and Bukkur. Willem Jansz Blaeu, prepared map of India called “Magni Mogolis Impervim” in 1630 AD. He was cartographer of the Dutch East India Company in the Netherlands. He shows the Indus, Buckar (Bukkur), Roree (Rohri) and Luckar (Larkana) in this map. Later on Suckar or Sukkur was also added in such maps published from Europe. Bukkur Mahesar is name of a village in District Kamber Shahdadkot area. The historic Shrine of Bakkhar Shaheed lies in the western parts of Dadu District, in Sindh. Similarly, Bakkhar Chandio served as a teacher in Shahdadkot.


Like Bakkhar, Sukkur is also the name of a person. Sukkur Mal Ode lived in Dokri Taluka in Larkana District. He used to carry soil on donkeys from one place to another.


The capital cty of Aror was situated on the left bank of the Indus River in the province of Sindh. The Hindus of Aror are called Arora – therefore Arora is a surname.


This name is common for forts in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. During the 1870s Qalat, was the capital town of the Sarawan province in Balochistan. At that time, the town of Qalat was inhabited by Hindus, Brahuis, Dehwars and Afghans. Qalati Khan is a popular name in Sindh and Balochistan. Qalati Khan Jafri, Qalati Khan Abro and Qalati Khan Gabol are famous villages in Sindh.

(to be continued)