Oct 3, 2012

Jinnah and Jainism

Original Title: Jinnah and Pythagoras
Courtesy: The Express Tribune
Author: Khalid Ahmed

The Quaid-e-Azam was named Muhammad Ali (new spelling) but he added the name Jinnah to it. What is the meaning of Jinnah? Will it be too shocking to relate his name to Greek philosopher Pythagoras who is said to have travelled to India and met the hermits of Jina-dharm, or more familiarly Jainism?

Jinnah was a part of his father’s name: Jinabhai Poonja, who named him Mohamed Ali, which could also be written in the Ismaili style: Mohamedali. (Fatima Jinnah fondly called him Mamed.) In The Shaping of Gujarat: Plurality, Hindutva and Beyond (Penguin, 2005), it is noted that Jina was a common name among Gujaratis and also among Muslims who started settling in Gujarat in the 12th century. Many Muslims (Bohra, Khoja, Memon) included local converts, all claiming to be from the Lohana Rajput tribe.

The book also records the rise of Jainism in Gujarat under the Rajput dynasty of the Chalukiya (AD 942-1299), many of this faith rising to high ranks and counted among the tradesmen shaped by the only port, Surat, on the western coast of India. Ismaili-Bohra scholar Asghar Ali Engineer once told me that Ismaili-Musta’ali Muslims called themselves Bohra after they were well treated by a local Gujarati ruler named Vohra.

Jinnah’s Poonja family had its origin in Gujarat and could have grown to admire the non-violent Jains also called Jinas. In Maneka Gandhi’s book of Hindu names, a dozen names starting with Jina are all identified as of Jain origin, meaning victorious. Jinnah’s father was named Jinabhai.

Pythagoras (570–495 BC) is a pre-Socratic Ionian (today’s Turkey) thinker who betrayed strong ascetic influence only known in India. Legend has it that he travelled from Ionia to Egypt, then to Babylon, before going to India where he met the living Jina saint — naked because he was Digambara (sky-clad) rather than Svetambara (white-clad). He was converted to the ahimsa faith. Alexander, too, met the same Jina naked philosophers when he came to India. (Junagadh, which is now in Gujarat, means Greek City.) Gandhi, the great Gujarati leader, too, embraced ahimsa as his political creed.

One should note that Jina is from the root ‘jai’, which means ‘victory’ in Hindi. ‘Jina’, therefore, means ‘victor’. It is interesting that the concept of victory in Sanskrit is linked to survival of the winner rather than the death of his enemy. Jina also means ‘to live’. The greatest scholar of Indo-European word roots, Joseph Shipley, linked the English word victory to survival through victuals (food), which sustains life.

Pythagoras means Apollo’s court. But thereby hangs a tale. The Oracle of Delphi — Apollo’s oracle — was built around a process of divination on the rotten bones of a snake by a prostitute. One must remember that the Greek ‘y’ is actually the English ‘u’. The ‘pyth’ in Pythagoras is actually ‘puth’.

It comes from the Greek puthein (to rot). This Greek word has given us many derivatives, some of them quite strange. Jospeh Shipley comes up with the Indo-European root ‘pu’, which is close to ‘bu’ of Persian, meaning rotten smell, and French ‘pue’ means to smell badly. Greek puon and Latin word pus (also English) gives rise to putrid and pyorrhea, the bad smell that comes from rotten teeth.

The divining prostitute was called pythia. (One snake is today named python.) She symbolised nature’s fertility. Robert Graves thought the cult had come from India. Today, Italian for prostitute is putta and the French word for it is putain. (The French are careful not to write the name of the Russian president, Putin as it is, because of its phonetic similarity with putain; they write it Poutine.)

Published in The Express Tribune, October 3rd, 2012.

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