partition line

Punjab region

Punjab (पंजाब, پنجاب), also Panjab (پنجاب, meaning "Land of the Five Rivers") (c.f. ap-), is a region straddling the border between India and Pakistan. The "Five Rivers" are Beas, Ravi, Sutlej, Chenab and Jhelum; all these are tributaries of the Indus river. Punjab has a long history and rich cultural heritage. The people of the Punjab are called Punjabis and speak a language named Punjabi. The main religions of the Punjab region are Sikhism, Hinduism, Islam.

The area that is now known as the Greater Punjab comprises what were once vast territories of eastern Pakistan and northern western India. It comprised, in its original sense, regions extending from Swat/Kabul in the west to Delhi in the east i.e the area including parts of Afghanistan and the plains up to the Ganges. It was a centre of the prehistoric Indus Valley civilization and after c. 1500 BCE the site of early Aryan settlements . In ancient times, the area was inhabited by people called Vahikas or Arattas . The Vahikas or Arattas were divided into many tribes or clans like the Gandharas, Prasthalas, Khasas, Vasatis, Trigartas, Pauravas, Malavas, Yaudheyas, Saindhavas, and Sauviras. There were also Iranian and transfrontier peoples such as the Kambojas and Pahlavas, as well as Ionians (Yavanas) and nomadic Scythians (Shakas).

The region, populated by Indo-Aryan speaking peoples, has been ruled by many different empires and ethnic groups, including Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, ancient Macedonians, Persians, Arabs, Turks, Mughals, Afghans, Balochis, Sikhs and British. In 1947, it was partitioned between British India's successor states with the bulk (4 out of the 5 rivers) going to Pakistan and the remaining river was alloted to India.

The Pakistani Punjab now comprises the majority of the region together with the Hazara region of the North-West Frontier Province and Azad Kashmir. The Indian Punjab has been further sub-divided into the modern Indian states of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi. The Pakistani part of the region West Punjab covers an area of 205,344 square kilometers (79,284 square miles), whereas the Indian State of Punjab is 50,362 square kilometers (19,445 square miles). Besides the Indian Punjab, the region also includes the areas of Jammu region and Himachal and Haryana states of India that were created out of East Punjab in 1966. The populations of the region are similarly divided as 86,084,000 (2005) in West Punjab (Pakistan) and 24,289,296 (2000) in the present-day State of (East) Punjab (India) and a further 30 million in the rest of the region. Punjabi is spoken by (approximately) 65% of population in Pakistani Punjab (another 25% speak Punjabi variants) and 92.2% in Indian Punjab. The capital city of undivided Punjab was Lahore, which now sits close to the partition line as the capital of West Punjab. Indian Punjab has as its capital the city of Chandigarh. Indian Punjab uses the Gurmukhi or Devanagari scripts, while Pakistani Punjab uses the Shahmukhi script.


The name Punjab means "the land of five rivers", and literally translates from Persian into the words Panj (پنج), cognate with Sanskrit Pāñca, meaning "five", and Āb (آب), cognate with the Sanskrit Āp, meaning "water" respectively. The rivers, tributaries of the Indus River, are the Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Sutlej and Beas. The five rivers, now divided between Pakistan(4/5) and India(1/5), merge to form the Panjnad in south central Pakistan, which joins the Indus.

The Punjabi Language

The language of the region is Punjabi. The official written script of Punjabi in the state of Punjab in India is holy and called Gurmukhi "(from the Mouth of the Guru)". All holy sacred Sikh texts are written in the Punjabi Script.


Most of the Punjab is an alluvial plain, bounded by mountains to the North. Despite its dry conditions, it is a rich agricultural area due to the extensive irrigation made possible by the great river system traversing it. Punjab region temperature range from -2° to 40°C (MIN/MAX), but can reach 47°C (117°F) in summer and can touch down to -5°C in winter. Punjab has five rivers flowing through it which leads to various land formations such as doabs etc. Doab is the land between two rivers. Ambala is a doab. Another example of a doab is Mesopotamia which is between the rivers Tigris and Ufiris.


As a result of numerous invasions, many ethnic groups and religions make up the cultural heritage of the Punjab.

In prehistoric times, one of the earliest known cultures of South Asia, the Harappa civilization, was located in the Punjab.

The Vedic and Epic period was socially and culturally prolific in the Punjab. During this period, the Hindu scriptures, the Rig Veda and the Upanishads, were composed in the Punjab. Tradition maintains that the sage Valmiki composed the Ramayana near the present location of Amritsar. In legend, Krishna delivered the divine message of the Bhagavad Gita at Kurukshetra. Eighteen principal Puranas were written in the region. The authors of Vishnu Purana and the Shiva Purana belonged to Central Punjab.

The epic battles described in the Mahabharata were fought in the Punjab. The Gandharas, Kambojas, Trigartas, Andhra, Pauravas, Bahlikas (Bactrian settlers of Punjab), Yaudheyas and others sided with the Kauravas in the great battle fought at Kurukshetra. According to Dr Fauja Singh and Dr L. M. Joshi: "There is no doubt that the Kambojas, Daradas, Kaikayas, Andhra, Pauravas, Yaudheyas, Malavas, Saindhavas and Kurus had jointly contributed to the heroic tradition and composite culture of ancient Punjab" .

In 326 BCE, Alexander the Great invaded the Punjab from the north and incorporated it into his empire. His armies entered the region via the Hindu Kush in north west Pakistan and his rule extended up to the city of Sagala (modern day Sialkot) in north east Pakistan.

At all times during the establishment and consolidation of Mughal rule, there was conflict, chaos, and political upheaval in the Punjab. However, with the Mughals prosperity, growth and relative peace was established, particularly under the reign of Jahangir. The period was also notable for the emergence of Guru Nanak (1469-1539), the founder of a powerful popular movement which has left a lasting impression on the history and culture of Punjab. Born in the district of Sheikhupura, he rejected the division of mankind into rigid compartments of orthodox religions and castes and preached the oneness of humanity, and oneness of God, thus aiming at creating a new order which embraced the all pervasive spirit in man. This new philosophy would serve as the foundation for the Sikh faith.

In 1713, Banda Bahadur wanted to establish a Sikh state in the Punjab. For this he fought relentlessly with the Mughals. His state lasted just under a year before its collapse. A number of years afterward, he was captured and executed.

In 1756, the Marathas under Raghunath Rao defeated the Afghan Ahmed Shah Abdali on his first attempt at conquering India. The Marathas chased the retreating Afghans back to Attock. The Sikhs and Khatris (the dominant groups of Punjab) were co-operative to the Marathas for having successfully removed the Muslims from their land and signed formal treaties of friendship. However, the Marathas failed to enlist the support of the Rajputs, and they were defeated by the Abdali at the Third Battle of Panipat in 1761.

Abdali's Indian invasion weakened the Maratha influence, but left the smaller rulers like Sikhs less affected. At the formation of the Dal Khalsa in 1748 at Amritsar, the Punjab had been divided into 36 areas and 12 separate Sikh principalities. From this point onwards the beginnings of a Punjabi Sikh Empire emerged. Out of the 36 areas, 22 were united by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The other 14 accepted British sovereignty. Ten years after Maharaja Ranjit Singh's death, the empire broke up and the British seized the Punjab.

The British raj had political, cultural, philosophical and literary consequences in the Punjab, including the establishment of a new system of education. During the independence movement, many Punjabis played a significant role, including Lajpat Rai, Ajit Singh Sindhu, Bhagat Singh, Udham Singh, Bhai Parmanand, Muhammad Iqbal, Chaudhary Rehmat Ali, Kartar singh sarabha and Ilam Din Shaheed.

The Punjabis also play a prominent role in the mutiny against the British of 1857. The cities like Jhelum and Ludhiana served as center of rebellion against the British government.

At the time of partition in 1947, the province was split in to East and West Punjab. East Punjab became part of India, while West Punjab became part of Pakistan. The Punjab bore the brunt of the civil unrest following the end of the British Raj, with casualties estimated in the hundreds of thousands or even higher.


Ethnic ancestries of modern Punjabis include Indo-Aryan, and some Indo-Scythian and Indo-Parthian settlers of the region, including Indo-Greek . Punjabi people are generally believed to be the descendants of these people . With the advent of Islam, settlers from Persia, Afghanistan and Central Asia have also integrated into Punjabi society from whom many Pakistani Panjabi's claim decent from. The vast majority of Pakistani Panjabi's inhabiting the fertile regions of four out of the five major rivers are Muslim's by faith, but also include numerous minority faiths such as Christians, Buddhists, Zorastrianism, Ahmadi Muslims and Sikh's. Sikhism, a reformist religion of the late 15th century, is the main religion practiced in Indian Punjab - it arose in the Punjab itself. 59.9% of the population are Sikh, 36.9% is Hindu, and the rest are Jains, Christians, Muslims or Buddhists. However, due to large scale migration from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal and Orissa demographics of Punjab have become more skewed than reported earlier. Indian Punjab contains the holy Sikh city of Amritsar. The states of Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, formerly constituents of the British province of Punjab, are mostly Hindu-majority. Indian Punjabis speak Punjabi language written in Gurmukhi script. Islam is the religion of more than 98% of the population of the Punjab in Pakistan. There are small Sikh, Christian, Buddhist, Zorastrian and Hindu minorities among others. Pakistan uses the Shahmukhi script, that is closer to Persian script and has considerable Persian loan words. In total, Pakistan has 70 million Punjabis, and India has 39 million Punjabis.


The historical region of Punjab is considered to be one of the most fertile regions on Earth. Both east and west Punjab produce a relatively high proportion of India and Pakistan's food output, respectively. The agricultural output of the Punjab region in Pakistan contributes significantly to Pakistan's GDP. The region is important for wheat growing. In addition, rice, cotton, sugar cane, fruit and vegetables are also major crops. Both Indian and Pakistani Punjab are considered to have the best infrastructure of their respective countries. The Indian Punjab has been estimated to be the second richest state in India (the richest being Maharashtra. Haryana is the fourth. The Pakistani Punjab produces 68% of Pakistan's food grain production.

Called "The Granary of India" or "The Bread Basket of India", Indian Punjab produces 1% of the world's rice, 2% of its wheat, and 2% of its cotton. In 2001, it was recorded that farmers made up 39% of Indian Punjab's workforce.


  • 3300 - 1500 BCE: Harappan civilization
  • 1500 - 1000 BCE: Early Aryan (Rigvedic) Vedic civilization
  • 1000 - 500 BCE: Middle and late Vedic Period
  • 599 BCE: Birth of Mahavira
  • 567 - 487 BCE: Time of Gautama Buddha
  • 550 BCE - 600 CE: Buddhism remained prevalent
  • 550 - 515 BCE: Achaemenid Invasion to west of Indus River
  • 326 BCE: Alexander's Invasion of Panjab (part which is now in Pakistan)
  • 322 - 298 BCE: Chandragupta I, Maurya period
  • 273 - 232 BCE: Reign of Ashoka
  • 125 - 160 BCE: Rise of the Sakas
  • 2 BCE: Beginning of Rule of the Sakas.
  • 45 - 180 : Rule of the Kushanas
  • 320 - 550 : Gupta Empire
  • 500 : Hunnic Invasion
  • 510 - 650 : Vardhana's Era
  • 647 - 1192 : Rajput period
  • 713 - 1300 : Muslim invaders (Turks and Arabs) famous invaders like Mohammed of Ghor and Mahmud of Ghazni
  • 8th Century : Arabs capture Sind and Multan (currently in Pakistani Panjab) and join area to Abbasid Caliphate based in Iraq
  • 1450 - 1700 : Mughal rule
  • 1469 - 1539 : Guru Nanak Dev Ji (1st Sikh Guru)
  • 1518 - 1565 : Mir Chakar Khan Rind
  • 1539 - 1675 : Period of 8 Sikh Gurus from Guru Angad Dev Ji to Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji
  • 1675 - 1708 : Guru Gobind Singh Ji (10th Sikh Guru)
  • 1699 : Birth of the Khalsa
  • 1708 - 1713 : Conquests of Banda Bahadur
  • 1714 - 1759 : Sikh warriors (Sardars) struggle and perform warfare against Afghans & Mughal Governors
  • 1739 : Invasion of Nadir Shah and warfare with Sikh Armies
  • 1756 - 1759 : Sikh and Maratha cooperation in the Punjab
  • 1761 : Defeat of Maratha army at Panipat
  • 1762 : 2nd Holocaust (Ghalughara) from Ahmed Shah's 2nd invasion
  • 1761 - 1849 : Punjabi Sikh Empire
  • 1761 - 1801 : Rule of the Sikh Misls (Principalities)
  • 1801 - 1839 : Rule by Maharaja Ranjit Singh
  • 1849 : Annexation of Punjab
  • 1849 - 1947: British rule
  • 1947 : Partition of British India thus Punjab into 2 parts the Eastern part (or one river) became the Indian Punjab and the Western majority part(4 rivers) the Pakistani province of Panjab
  • 1966 : Punjab in India divided into 3 parts on linguistic basis (Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and the present Punjab)
  • 1984 : Operation Blue Star begun against Sikh's demanding an independent Khalistan and its aftermath
  • 1990 : Large migration of non-panjabi's into the state of Indian Panjab (from other parts of India) and mass exodus of Punjabis abroad further altering the demographics of Indian Panjab.

Photo gallery

See also

Further reading

  • [Quraishee 73] Punjabi Adab De Kahani, Abdul Hafeez Quaraihee, Azeez Book Depot, Lahore, 1973.
  • [Chopra 77] The Punjab as a sovereign state, Gulshan Lal Chopra, Al-Biruni , Lahore, 1977.
  • Patwant Singh. 1999. The Sikhs. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-50206-0.
  • The evolution of Heroic Tradition in Ancient Panjab, 1971, Buddha Parkash.
  • Social and Political Movements in ancient Panjab, Delhi, 1962, Buddha Parkash.
  • History of Porus, Patiala, Buddha Parkash.
  • History of the Panjab, Patiala, 1976, Fauja Singh, L. M. Joshi (Ed).


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