Different aspects of a region’s culture include social organization, customs and traditions, religion that the people follow, language and dialect that the people use, forms of art and literature in that region, type of government or administration and economic system that prevail in that particular region. Saraiki culture combined with Indus Valley culture as well as Persian and Muslim influences has a very rich history along with its own language and traditions.
The Saraiki region formed part of the Indus Valley civilization more than 40,000 years ago. This region has been conquered a number of times by people from West including the Aryans and the Greeks. Persian influence remained strong for many centuries with the Saraikis as well as Persian art, poetry and architecture still form a part of their culture. When Muslims conquered the region, Islam spread and this region became an important Islamic center. At the time of independence of Pakistan in 1947, Muslims constituted between 90 to 75% of the population of Saraiki speaking region of West Pakistan and the Muslims of East Punjab were also around 45% and nearly all migrated to Pakistan and other areas. Saraiki is one of the three dialects spoken in Sindh. In past all Saraiki areas were part of one single administrative entity called Multan but now it exists as a district that is why it is also known as mother of all Saraiki areas. Among the different ethnic groups in Pakistan 8.38% are Saraiki.
Nearly 99% population in these regions are Muslims and majority are Sunnis whereas Shia sect is also there but in considerable size. This region is mainly home to Sufism and has the shrines of Hazrat Baha ud Din Zakariya and Hazrat Shah Rukn e Alam. Other Sufi saints such as Ghulam Farid and Muhammad Suleman Taunsvi are also very popular and especially the tomb of Sakhi Sarwar. There are more than twenty translations of Quran in Saraiki as well. A large majority of Saraikis are Muslims with smaller Hindu, Sikh and Christian Communities.
Saraiki Language has emerged from a number of dialects since the creation of Pakistan. Saraiki (Perso-Arabic script) is a standardized language of Pakistan belonging to Indo-Aryan languages. It is spoken by the people in Saraiki speaking regions combined known as Saraikistan. No proper documentation related to it being a unified identity is available but it is based on a group of vernacular and historically written dialects spoken by over 18 million people. Mainly the Saraiki speaking people form part of Southern most half and Northwest of Punjab, southern districts of Dera Ismail Khan and also in areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhua, the adjacent border region of Sindh and Baluchistan provinces and also spoken in Afghanistan.
There is a long list of famous poets belonging to this region and their work is commendable. Some of the famous poets are Sachal Sar Mast, Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai and Ghulam Farid. Still there is a small volume of literature available in Saraiki language. People of Bahawalpur, DG Khan, Multan, Sargodha and Dera Ismail Khan speak it as their first language. Whereas it is also understood and spoken widely as a second language in areas of Northern and Western Sindh, Karachi and also some parts of Baluchistan.
Multan is considered to be one of the oldest cities in South Asia having a combination of old and new Pakistani culture. There are tombs, shrines, temples, cathedrals and also a historical fort. The main attractions of Multan are the mausoleums of Sufi saints such as of Sheikh Baha ud Din Zakariya and Shah Rukn e Alam. Other than mausoleums and shrines there is Darawar fort on the outskirts of Bahawalpur in Cholistan Desert and also Darbar Mahal in Bahawalpur.
The cuisine is not much different from the traditional dishes all over Pakistan but Sohanjhna is the famous vegetable of the region as well as Sohan Halwa is also a traditional sweet of Multan.
Kabaddi is the famous sport of the region.
Arts and Music
Different arts and crafts flourished in the urban areas of Multan and Bahawalpur among which music and dance are important cultural elements and are part of most of the celebrations and ceremonies. Jhoomar is the traditional Saraiki folk dance that originated from Multan and Balochistan. This region has produced a number of talented people in the music industry. Songs in Saraiki mostly revolve around the beauty of the desert and famous singers of this region include Attaullah Khan Essa Khailwi, Pathanay Khan and Abida Parveen.
Most of the festivals are based on Islamic calendar and the events held for the remembrance of Sufi Saints and to commemorate the Muslim traditions in the region. Some of the festivals include:
- Sangh Mela is a Vaisakhi fair celebrated during March and April in Sakhi Sarwar by people coming from Jhang and Faisalabad. It is celebrated especially at the time of wheat harvesting and it is also known as Basant in some areas.
- Pir Adil Mela is celebrated at the shrine of Hazrat Pir Adil and national horse and cattle show is also sometimes merged with this mela. It is usually celebrated in February every year for ten days.
Most of the people belong to either the caste of Jat or Rajput and others are Baloch by origin e.g. Arain, Ansari, Dhareja, Khosa, Leghari, etc. Other Jat and Rajput clans are Bhatti, Malik, Chisti, etc.
Even after being living together with people having other identities such as Punjabi, Balochi, Sindhi, Pathan; there is still a dispute going on regarding the identity and language of the Saraiki people. This dispute of having a separate identity and language and traditions has been going on since after the independence of Pakistan and even while searching for some information regarding their culture a separate website named Saraiki Waseb Development Organization (SWADO) is working on its own for the promotion of the Saraiki culture as well as Saraiki.com. Even so not proper information is available and people still want their Saraiki identity to be known to people like people know Punjabi is an identity. Saraiki culture is a rich culture having very old and deep roots as it combines old and new customs from the invasions as well as Pakistani and modern influences. Saraiki regions are known for tombs and shrines of Sufis mainly and people visit these areas to pay homage to these people at their shrines and to attend Urs arranged to commemorate their contributions for the development of the society. This region contains beautiful landmarks and tourism can also be promoted to create more awareness about these regions and about the culture. Most importantly as people have nowadays easy access to internet, more information should be available to promote and educate people about the beautiful Saraiki culture.