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A lakh! A Crore! ... then why not an Arab?

India is a true melting pot - and the language we speak are true representations of the same. In any given location, the way people speak (the dialect, the accent and vocabulary inclusive) is a wonderful mix of local, regional, national and even a bit of international influences. To take some examples:
Bangalore lingo: "Enjoy Madi!"
Mumbai lingo: "Its all over Akhha Mumbai yaar"
Some International sprinkled in: "Dude! Hows life yaar?"
All in all - India has been pretty successful in integrating its regional disparities with nationally pervasive trends and a bit of International lingo as well (thanks to its diaspora). The same has happened in terms of the numeral terminologies that we use. In India - even with the English media, we use terms like a 'lakh' (= hundred thousand) or a 'crore' (= ten million).

But what is surprising is that beyond these, the media usually follows the international numeric term - billion. This is in spite of the fact that there are local terms like an 'Arab' (= billion) and Kharab (=hundred billion) for larger amounts. I cannot spot a direct reason why we do not use local equivalents (except in Hindi dailies) in English beyond a Crore!

One reason which I can think of for this is that consumption and price levels in the Indian economy coupled with the valuation of the rupee, mostly make monetary amounts referred to in the media close to either tens of lakhs or crores / tens of crores. For example cost of a 2BHK apartment in Mumbai would be between 40 and 90 lakhs, annual salary of a software engineer would be 3-5 lakhs, annual production of biscuits will be to the tune of 50 lakh tonnes etc.

Thus, the lakh and crore become commonly used and commonly known terms. So if one has to refer to even larger figures, one would call them in multiples of these common figures like 10 lakhs, 5 crores etc.

Indeed, when India's population reached the billion figure - even most Hindi dailies referred to it as 'Sau Karod' (Hundred Crores) rather than "Ek Arab" (One Arab = One Billion). Interesting, isn't it?


  1. prob not to instigate sentiments of "arabs" (middle east) and further we say kharab.... (100 arabs) ... now that also can be read as kharaab ... (meaning not good) ... he heh he...

  2. @nikhil:

    Following is the detail to our traditional terminology:

    Ikai = 1
    Dahai = 10
    Sainkra = 100
    Hazaar = 1000
    Das Hazar = 10,000
    Lakh = 100,000
    Das Lakh = 1,000,000
    Crore = 10,000,000
    Das Crore = 100,000,000
    Arab = 1,000,000,000
    Das Arab = 10,000,000,000
    Kharab = 100,000,000,000
    Das Kharab = 1000,000,000,000

    Sorry to spoil your thought about arabs and kharaab but these words are far from arab (middle eastern) and kharab (numerology).

    I do not know the difference when we write in Hindi, but in Urdu, its a big difference.

    عرب = Arab (middle eastern)
    ارب = numeric

    خراب = Kharaab
    کھرب = numeric

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  4. There are more than arab and kharab..
    100 kharab = 1 neel
    100 neel = 1 padma
    100 padma = 1 shankh
    100 shankh = 1 mahashankh (10 to the power 19 :: English short scale equivalent is Ten quintillion)
    I am searching for even bigger numbers in Hindi system, if you come across some, do share..

  5. it is followed by:

    100 shankh = 1 Mahashankh/ald/udpadha
    100 udpadha = 1 ank/Maha udpadha
    100 Maha udpada = 1 jald/padha
    100 padha = 1 madh
    100 madh = 1 paraardha
    100 paraardha = 1 ant
    100 ant = 1 maha ant
    100 maha ant= 1 shisht
    100 shisht = 1 singhar
    100 singhar =1 maha singhar
    10000 maha singhar = 1 adant singhar(10 to the power 41)
    If you come across anything more bigger....share please


  6. I was searching the answer of this question, and then i concluded that (after independence) it is just for common man because the majority was not literate enough to understand kharab, arab, shankh etc. On the other hand hundred crore, lakh crore etc is far easier to understand for them. Now we are used to for it and dont realize that what we are missing. It will be cool to read and write our own number system like Neel, Shankh, Padm, Kaharb etc

  7. It could be that after partition, the number Arab was confused with Arabs, hence th number became a victim of prejudice. In Pakistan, on the other hand, Arab and Kharab are in daily use and are easy to understand do. Beyond 100 crore, I failed to actually understand the bigger crore numbers

  8. @Richard - Is the word Shankh also part of lexicon in Pakistan?

  9. After Das Kharab i.e. 1,000,000,000,000 ( 1 Trillion) in Urdu are:
    Niel 10,000,000,000,000 (10 Trillion)
    Das Niel 100,000,000,000,000 (100 Trillion)
    Padam 1,000,000,000,000,000 (Quadrillion)
    Das Padam 10,000,000,000,000,000 (?)
    Sankh 100,000,000,000,000,000 (?)
    Das San 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 (Quintillion)


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