Shah (surname)

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In Northwestern India such as the Gujarat and Rajasthan regions of India, the family name Shah is found among the Jain banias (traders) and Hindu (Vaishnav) . The surname like various other Indian surnames was also adopted by various other common people for popularity and status benefits.[1][2]

The Shah surname is adopted by the trade communities (The Banias/ Vanias) in Gujarat and nearby states. Banias include the Jains and the Vaishnavas. It is second most famous surname of Gujarat. Its variants include "Sah", "Shaha", "Sahu", "Sav", "Sha" or "Shaw". It was widely used by the Jains even outside of Gujarat and Rajasthan, for example in Delhi/Haryana (see Nattal Sahu), Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh (see Sahu Jain) and Maharashtra.

The Hindi word 'Shahukara' meaning a banker, is derived from Sahu (Sanskrit "Sadhu") and kar (Sanskrit meaning doer).[3]

Shah, a different last name, derived from the Persian word "Shah", is a surname found among the Indo-Iranian people of Central Asia, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.[4]


Sometimes the Indian surname "Shah" is mistakenly thought that it is derived from the Persian "Shah" meaning "King". Actually it is of Indian origin.

It is derived from Sanskrit Sadhu (meaning gentleman[5]) and Prakrit Sahu, while the actual spelling "Shah" in Western culture was popularized by the title of the former Persian King. As a result, especially in Western culture, the usuage of the spelling "Shah" has become far more pronounced than the other variants.[6] The word Sadhu/Sahu is also separately used to indicate a Jain monk. See Namokar Mantra.

In the Gujarat and Rajasthan region, the surname Shah derives from the varnacular sah (from Sanskrit Sadhu, "merchant"). The surname appears to have been altered under the influence of the Persian word for 'king' (Shah) or its variants.

One early usage of title Sadhu occurs in an inscription on an AD 850 Parshvanth image in the Akota Bronzes.[7]

In numerous 12-13th century inscriptions the shravaka who installed the image, is given the title "Sahu".[8]

सं १५१० वर्षे माघ सुदी ८ सोमे गोपाचल दुर्गे तोमर वंशान्वये राजा श्री डूंगरेन्द्र देव राज्य पवित्रमाने श्री काष्ठासंघ माथुरान्वये भट्टारक श्री गुणकीर्ति देवास्तत्पट्टे श्री मलयकीर्ति देवास्ततो भट्टारक गुणभद्रदेव पंडितवर्य रइघू तदाम्नाये अग्रोतवंशे वासिलगोत्रे सकेलहा भार्या निवारी तयोः पुत्र विजयष्ट शाह ... साधु श्री माल्हा पुत्र संघातिपति देउताय पुत्र संघातिपति करमसीह श्री चन्द्रप्रभु जिनबिंब महाकाय प्रतिष्ठापित प्रणमति ..शुभम् भवतु ..

A Gwalior Fort Inscription 1453 CE[9]

For example:

Here the word Sahu is equivalent to Sanskrit word "sadhu". Some inscriptions use "sadhu" itself :

  • From Bahuriband (Katni, MP): "Svasti shri samvat 1070 phalgunavadi ...

madhavannandinugrahitah sadhu-shri sarvadharah .."

The word Sadhu here does not mean a monk but a "gentleman". Some inscriptions abbreviate sahu by just "sa" just like many English speakers write "Mr."

In some business communities, genealogies are recited during marriages, all ancestors would be respectfully called "sahu".The term "sahukari"means the profession of banking/trading. In the Bundelkhand Jain community, the father-in-law (or son's/daughter's father-in-law) used to be called "sahaji". Thus the words "Shah" etc. all indicate a respected member of the mercantile community. Today it is used by Gujarati business communities.

People with the surname[edit]

Notable people with the surname include:

  • Ravindu Shah (born 1972), Kenyan cricketer
  • Ray Shah (born 1978), contestant on the fourth series of the British Big Brother
  • Roger Shah, German electronic music producer
  • Saira Shah, English author, reporter and documentary filmmaker
  • Sanjay Shah, former Kenyan, best known for staging an immigration protest
  • Satish Beri-Shah, prominent Indian film and television actor
  • Sher Shah (VC) (1917–1945), Indian recipient of the Victoria Cross
  • Sitara Shah, actress who played Parvati Patil in the first three Harry Potter films
  • Wali Khan Amin Shah, Afghan-born Al-Qaeda member
  • Waris Shah (1719 or 1730–1790), Punjabi poet
  • Saurabh Shah (1980 - ) First software engineer from India

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kumar, R. (2006). Costumes and textiles of royal india. ISBN 1851495096
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Qamar, G. A. (2011). The early cultural relations of india and iran. Dev books. ISBN 978-8192075204
  5. ^ Shakespear, John. A dictionary, Hindustani and English: with a copious index, fitting the work to serve, also, as a dictionary of English and Hindustani. 3rd ed., much enl. London: Printed for the author by J.L. Cox and Son: Sold by Parbury, Allen, & Co., 1834, p.1035
  6. ^ "Shah Name Meaning and History". Retrieved 2010-12-28. 
  7. ^ Akota Bronzes,Umakant P.Shah, 1959, p. 52-53
  8. ^ Kasturchand Jain Suman, Bharatiya Digambar Jain Abhilekh aur Tirth Parichay, Madhya-Pradesh: 13 vi shati tak, Delhi, 2001
  9. ^ Gopachal ke Jinamandir[dead link]
  10. ^ Indian Sculpture: 700-1800, Volume 2 of Indian Sculpture: A Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection, Pratapaditya Pal, University of California Press, 1988, p. 306