Philatelic Glossary: Indo-Persian Script

The covers collector needs to be able to decipher a certain amount of Urdu and Persian script in the nasta'liq and shekaste styles. In rapid writing the normal dotting of forms may be all but abandoned and certain letter combinations that are never joined in the canonical (naskh) style are indeed found joined, sometimes in unobvious ligatures. And conversely; there is much fragmentation of what is normally joined. The word ‘shekaste’ in fact means something like ‘broken’. As to transcription, we have a vague tendency to follow Platts Dictionary (1884).


muharram    afar    rabī' I    rabī' II    jomādī I    jomādī II  
 rajab    sha'bān    ramzān    shavvāl    zī qa'dah    zī ul-hijjah

baisākh    jeţh    hār    sāvan    bhādon    assū
kātik    maghar    poh    māgh    phāgun    ćait


These are the numerals 1,2,3,4,5 with a raqm-type underlining. Persian 5 is a circle and zero is a dot. Larger numbers appear in the familiar way, seemingly opposite to the right-to-left direction of the writing. But it needn’t be considered opposite, for numbers are augmented from the right, and proceed to grow in size leftward.

  Therefore read:

23 + 24 + 25 ~ three-and-twenty + four-and-twenty (blackbirds) + ...

... and 6,7,8,9,0. The last was taken from a Sept 1893 cover, honest.

3 tolah, 2 annas

nambar ~ number, in transcription from English.

tīs ~ thirty (Urdū). Persian 30 is .

1297H[ejri] ~ 1937S[amvat]. This doublet of overlapping years right in the middle of J&K stamp production is easy to remember and can prove somewhat useful. They overlap with AD 1880.

Those flourishes written underneath the dates mean “year,” either sanh (without dot) in Urdu, or sāl in Persian. They sometimes take an elaborate life of their own, in a highly cursive tradition:

One such exuberance here entwines 18 shahr-e sha'bān 1283 ~ 26 December 1866.

jumādī' ul-avval. The fifth hejri month. We mention it here to note that the avval (which means 'first') seen at the left is sometimes seen on covers in place of the numeral '1' for notating the initial day of any month.

Glossary Part A

Amritsar. Sometimes the final t of amrit (~ ambrosia) is in its word-final form and sometimes not (right). The notation ‘Amrit Sir’ is sometimes seen in English lettering.

dar Amritsar ~ to Amritsar.

shahr-e Amritsar. Town/city of Amritsar. The h here is the blip in the line with the faint redundant upstroke underneath, compare next.

dar shahr-e Amritsar ~ to (the city of) Amritsar. The h here is the knot in the line.

shahr-e Amritsar. In front of dates the same form shahr-e means ‘month’.

Amritsar Kaţra āhlūwālia, an important postal depot at Amritsar in the textile district.

dar qasbah Amritsar ~ to the ‘old-city’ of Amritsar, often seen on covers arriving at the depot at Kaţra āhlūwālian.

dar qasbah Amritsar Kaţra ‘Ahluwala’.

dar qasbah Amritsar dar ‘Katra(h) Aluwala’.

dar qasba Amritsar ‘Katra āluwala’.

dar shahr-e Amritsar Kaţrāharī Singh.

lefāfe hundā dar shahr-e Amritsar Kaţrāharī Singh ~ letter prepaid to ...

dar Amritsar Kaţrāharī Singh.

Ambāla ~ Umballa. Town in Panjāb between Delhi and Amritsar on the rail line.

shahr-e Ambāla ~ (to the city of) Umballa. The Persian looks like ‘Anbāla’, but that n becomes [m] in pronunciation preceding as it does the b, both being bilabials.

Nīūyāk Amrīkā ~ New York America.

Anant Nāg, a town southeast of Srinagar. Anant ~ Vishnu, infinity, snake, etc.

Anant Nāg. This town was also known as Islamabad.

ānā ~ anna ~ 1/16 rupee. Read bottom up.

2 āna

ćahār ānā ~ four annas. Notation accompanying a 1a circular. Collection Jaiswal.

From upper-left: 13 aprail jawâb navishta shuda ~ response has been written on 13 April. Month is transcribed from English April, with corroboration from the 10 April datestamp.

Assūj ~ اسوج ~ असोज (asoj). Sixth month of the Hindu solar calendar, answering to mid-September to mid-October.

11 māh assūj 1950 ~ 25 September 1893. The dot is the zero, the circle is the five. The other circle near the lower right is the final h in the word māh for ‘month’ (see also next entry).

28 māh assūj 1932 ~ 11 October 1875.

7 māh assūj 1949 ~ 21 September 1892.

14 assūj [19]24 ~ 28 September 1867.

27 māh assūj [19]34 ~ 11 October 1877.

aţh āna 8 ~ 8 annas, in Urdū in the lower section. (Persian 8 is hasht). The upper illegible section is the Dogrī 8a ~ aţh ānā.

Attock bazaar.

avval māh jeţh sanh 39 ~ first [of the] month Jeth, year 1939 ~ 13 May 1882. The avval is used in the pair of months that come in first and second parts.

az ~ from. Here, az Ladākh. Many such names simply have to be recognized as recurrent logograms. The six elements that appear here, reading from right to left, are: a-z; La-d-ā-kh. The z and the kh are dotted.

az Jammūn (on right), az Kashmīr.

az ţaraf ~ from, on behalf of, in favor of.

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