An Etymological Question

In the book, Genghis Khan: Life Death and Resurrection, by John Man, I stumbled upon the word – Subedei. This is the name of one of the four generals of Genghis Khan – known as the “four hounds.” The variants of that name include, Subotai, Subedei, Tsubotai, and the preferred spelling Sübeetei (Chinese). Something about this name and some further clicking from one link to another was a path to a thought – a theory.Here I go, with the theory (yes, yet another).

I believe this is another example of a person who became a word. Like Louis Pasteur. A small background, before I begin: Subedei is a Mongol word. According to the Wikipedia article on Subedei, he is also know as “Subedei Baatar (meaning Subedei Warrior/Hero in Mongolian history books)” Baatar, seems to be a common word in Mongolian – Starting from the capital – Ulan Baatar (spelling variants to this exists too, Ulan Bator, for example). I’ll stick with Baatar for this article. Ulan Baatar translates to Red Hero, named in the honour of Damdin Sükhbaatar.

And coming back to the theory, I believe that the word Subedar in Hindi (Hindustani, to be more precise), is a derivative of Subedei. Apart from his other conquests, he fought significant wars in Central Asia – I’d assume that given his fame – he lived in the history books of that time – for some time. So the word must have remained in memory for some time – let’s assume a couple of hundred years – for the sake of my theory – and that the word eventually became a more generic one – to mean a lead – in an army. Subedei died in 1248. A little more than hundred years later, Timur-e Lang was born (1336) and ruled most of Central Asia until 1405. Along comes Babur in 1526 – after the First Battle of Panipat – and establishes the Mughal Empire. Mughal, being the Turkish word for Mongol. Pretty long winded, but I’ll now get to the point.

This is how I think the word Subedar, though a title now, came as a variant of Subedei via Mongolia. The reason, by the way, about the background of Ulan Baatar earlier, is that I noticed a word, in the book, Subotai the Valiant: Genghis Khan’s Greatest General by Richard A. Gabrielbagatur. It gives the same meaning to this word as baatar – brave, valiant, hero. Bagatur – again – closely resembles Bahadur – the Hindi word for brave, valiant, hero. Richard Gabrial further works on this word and mentions that the Russian word – bogatyr – is a derivative of bagatur.

This theory has been confirmed.

The Subedar theory however is suspect, a bit fanciful even. (Just this indulgence, however, has helped me stumble on a few things of note.) The reason why my theory may fall to pieces, is that it’s likely that the word is an extension of the word suba, meaning district, collection of villages etc. and anyone who was responsible for such a suba, would aptly be called Subedar.

But if bahadur travelled from the steppes of Mongolia via Uzbekistan to India, there may be a glimmer of hope for subedar.

PS: If you do have ideas about the root of Subedar, I’d love to hear from you – help my theory – either ways.

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2 thoughts on “An Etymological Question

  1. SAADIA KHALID says:

    Interesting theory. But I think it is a compound word from two words Suba and Dar . Scuba means Province or a large Administrative area and Dar means holder. So Subedar meant Holder of the province.
    Similarly another title was Jamedar, Juma means a large group and Dar means holder. It was used for Company Commander

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