Home Columns Anantha Narayan The Pandit puzzler

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    Legend has it that Emperor Akbar found a community from Kashmir to be so astute that he decreed that, henceforth, they would officially be known as a�?Panditsa�� or the a�?learned onesa��. Even if the story may be untrue, it has a ring of truth. As no other group in Indiaa��except may be the Parsisa��has wielded as much clout as the Kashmiri Pandits, despite having a piffling population of less than a million.
    The fascinating thing about them is not just their good looks, cuisine, culture or famed administrative skills. To a name buff like me, the stuff that I find most charming is their sophisticated surnames.A� I mean, who wouldna��t mind swapping their plain vanilla a�?Kumara�� or a�?Narayana�� for the important-sounding a�?Kaula�� or a�?Haksara��.

    Interestingly, alth-ough the surnames carry the aura of a Brown Sahib, their origins are rather humble. a�?Nehrua�� does not carry any blue blooded lineage. It simply means one who lives near the banks of a nehar (Kashmiri for canal).A� a�?Kaulsa�� are simply the progeny of the Mahakauls who were devotees of Lord Shiva. The exotic a�?Zutshia�� is a derivation of jyotishi (astrologer). The a�?Haksarsa�� are apparently emigrants from the village Hakchar in Baramulla.

    The amusing part about Pandit surnames is that many draw their roots from nicknames linked to physical attributes of a forefather from the distant past. a�?Bambrooa��, for example, is the nickname for a guy with a complexion as dark as a black bee (remember the Mission Kashmir song: Bumbro, bumbro, shyam rang bumbro?). a�?Mushrana�� is the stereotypical big-built ugly man. a�?Handooa�� is for the farmhand who is fat like a sheep. a�?Hakhooa�� is thin and frail. a�?Kichlooa�� is the bearded bloke. a�?Kachrua�� is the red-haired chap. a�?Ganjoora�� is the bald-headed man. And a�?Shanglooa�� is for the six-fingered one. So if Hrithik were from the Valley, hea��d be Hrithik Shangloo instead of I-Can-Dance Roshan!

    Like in the rest of the country, some surnames are occupational in nature. a�?Butta�� is the priestly class, a�?Munshia�� is an accountant, a�?Bhandaria�� is a store manager, a�?Mattooa�� is one who manages a religious math and, if youa��re wondering about Anupam Kher, the Khers are basically a�?Kharsa��a��those who collect taxes from donkey drivers.

    Found an interesting Kashmiri surname story?A� Share it with anantha@albertdali.com.

    -Anantha Narayan





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