ḌERĀ, a word of Persian extraction, has several connotations. The original Persian word ḍerāh or dirāh means a tent, camp, abode, house or habitation. In current usage in rural Punjab, a farmhouse or a group of farmhouses built away from the village proper is called ḍerā. Even after such an habitation develops into a separate village or a town, it may continue to be called ḍerā, e. g. Ḍerā Bassī in Paṭiālā district of the Punjab, or Ḍerā Ghāzī Khān and Derā Ismā'īl Khān in Pakistan. Where colloquially used in place of Hindi deharā, the word will carry the connotation of a temple or memorial over a cremation site. The examples are Ḍerā Sāhib Gurdwārā at Lahore and Ḍerā Bābā Nānak, a town in Gurdāspur district of the Punjab.
In a different but not totally unrelated sense, ḍerā is apparently derived from the Persian dair meaning a monastery or convent. Monasteries, hermitages or seminaries set up by religious persons are almost invariably called ḍerās. They, too, are usually at some distance from the nearest village or town, and have an exclusively male population. For example, Daudhar Ḍerā. Among Sikhs, Nirmalās and Udāsīs have their ḍerās spread throughout the countryside. Although the Gurū Granth Sāhib is installed in most of them, their custodians prefer to call them ḍerās rather than gurdwārās.
In Sikh times, the word ḍerā was also used for army camps or cantonments to particularize regiments or armies commanded by different generals, such as Ḍerah Ghoṛchaṛhā Khās Shām Siṅgh Aṭārīvālā, Ḍerah Rāmgaṛhīāṅ, Ḍerah Naulakkhā and Ḍerah Imām ud-Dīn.
In the Gurū Granth Sāhib ḍerā is used to mean abode or living place, permanent rather than temporary (GG, 256), and also in the sense of a camp or citadel (GG, 628).
Major Gurmukh Siṅgh (Retd.)