Meaning? Which rivers?

Punjab meaning “Land of the Five Rivers is a region straddling the border between India and Pakistan. The “Five Rivers” are Beas, Ravi, Sutlej, Chenab and Jhelum. The five rivers, now divided between India and Pakistan, merge to form the Panjnad, which joins the Indus.

Where? Size/area?

The area that is now known as the Greater Punjab was a location comprised of vast territories of northern India and eastern Pakistan. 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.

The Pakistani Punjab now comprises the majority of the region together with the Hazara region of the NWFP and Azad Kashmir. The Indian Punjab has been further sub-divided into the states of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and UT Chandigarh. The Pakistani part of the region West Punjab covers an area of 79,284 square miles, whereas the Indian State of Punjab is 19,445 square miles.

Population? Language?

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. Indian Punjab uses the Gurmukhi script, while Pakistani Punjab uses the Shahmukhi script.

Climate? Traditional vocation?

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 117°F in summer and can touch down to -5°C in winter. The historical region of Punjab is considered to be one of the most fertile regions on Earth. 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.


Going back in time?

Punjab has a long history and rich cultural heritage. It was a center of the prehistoric Indus Valley civilization and after c. 1500 BCE the site of early Aryan settlements. The battle of Mahabharat took place in this area. Many different ethnic groups, including Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, ancient Macedonians, Persians, Arabs, Turks, Mughals, Afghans, Balochis, Sikhs and British, have ruled the region. In 1947, it was partitioned between India and Pakistan.


In 327 BC Alexander invaded Punjab. Arab Muslims under the leadership of Mohammad Bin Qasim raided Sind and Multan in 713 A.D. During the Sultanate period and Mughal rule, Punjab was engaged in intermittent warfare and continued to face invasions from across the Khyber pass. 

Sikh struggle & rule?

In 1713, Banda Bahadur established a Sikh state in the Punjab that was short lived. Sikh struggle continued during the 18th century and even though hunted and massacred they eventually succeeded in 1761 to exercise control over parts of Punjab culminating in the establishment of Sikh empire under Ranjit Singh in 1799. Maharaja Ranjit Singh was the first native Indian ruler after centuries of dynastic rule by invading Muslims. Ten years after his death [1839] the British seized the Punjab.



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

Religion & language?

Punjabis speak a language named Punjabi. The main religions are Islam, Sikhism and Hinduism. Sikhism is the main religion of the Indian Punjab; 59.9% of the population are Sikh. Islam is the religion of more than 98% of the population of the Punjab in Pakistan. In total Pakistan has 70 million and India 39 million Punjabis.

Typical traits?

The typical Punjabi is an extrovert – a sociable fellow who likes to eat well, dress well and be “up to date”. Even if in a tight spot he would like to twirl his moustache and say “Chardi kala” (“on the up and up”). Learns quickly, is open-minded and can blend in new cultures without difficulty.

Blind spot?

Family honor is sacrosanct – no holds barred if feels that is slighted.


Enterprising and extremely hard working; wants to “be his own boss” – better be that than work for me – for many started out driving a cab or pumping gas and bought out the owner within a couple of years.

A generation ago, the turban was popular with all Punjabis whether Muslim, Hindu or Sikh. Muslims and Hindus now seem to wear turbans on ceremonial occasions but for observant Sikh men it is an article of faith.

Traditional male dress?

The kurta with pyjamas or a loongi or tehmat makes up the traditional dress for men. In winter a colorful sweater and a blanket wrap is often used to stay warm. The traditional Punjabi shoes, called juttis are both elegant and comfortable.

Traditional dress: females?

Punjabi women – Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian – all dress in colorful salwar kameez accented by the chunni or duppatta . They use sweaters, but love collecting shawls and phulkari – a shawl covered in dense silk embroidery, folk motifs on an ochre background. They go for Gold and no less for jewelry.


Ice age &?

“Soan RiverValley” in West Punjab, according to experts pertains to the end of the first ice age and the beginning of the second ice age. Evidence of Stone Age implements has been found in the Shiwalik regions and Hamirpur Districts in Himachal Pradesh.


Punjab is the cradle of the more than 4000 years old Indus Valley Civilization evidenced by Harappa, Mohenjodaro, around Ropar and other finds along the banks of the Indus and its tributaries.

Vedic & epic Hindu heritage?

Rig Veda and the Upanishads, were composed in the Punjab. Kaushalya, mother of Rama was born near Ghuram. Tradition maintains that Valmiki composed  Ramayana near the present location of Amritsar. Lav and Kush grew up in parts close to Lahore and Kasur. Eighteen principal Puranas were written in this region. The authors of Vishnu Purana and the Shiva Purana belonged to Central Punjab. Krishna delivered message of Bhagavad Gita at Kurukshetra during the epic battle Mahabharata.

At Sanghol near Ludhiana sites associated with Mauryan Dynasty have yielded Buddhist relics. Chark, one of the founder of Aryuveda, Kautilya the author of Arth-Shastra and Pannini were associated with Taxila University.

Muslim heritage?

Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, the great Sufi saint, arrived at Lahore in 1190. Farid-ud-Din Ganj-i-Shakar (1173-1265) is the first Sufi poet, who wrote in Punjabi. Others like Shah Hussain, Bullay Shah and Iqbal left a rich poetic heritage. The Ahmediya Islam also was founded in Qadian. Ghuram in Patiala District was the first seat of Muslim Empire in the 12th century before the Capital was shifted to Delhi.

Sikh heritage?

Now that needs a book. The Sikh Gurus all spent most of their lives in the region and the faith developed grew and spread from here. The soil of Punjab has been nurtured not only by the seva but also sacrifices of the Sikh Gurus and their followers. Adi Granth explicates the Sikh thought the beautiful poetic compositions in praise of  God written by the Gurus and Hindu, Muslim and Shudra saints of the time.

Baisakhi is a traditional seasonal festival that has come to assume major significance in the Sikh faith. The month of Baisakh is a heady time when the winter crops come ready for harvesting. A feeling of love, hope, and shared expression of joy and thanksgiving pervades the air. The festival traditionally was celebrated under different names and with different rituals in several regions of India and falls on the first day of solar month of Baisakh corresponding to April 13/14.

Baisakhi & Guru period?

Guru Nanak was born in the month of Baisakh though traditionally his birthday festivities are celebrated about six months later. Baisakhi was a popular festival in the time of Gurus and it was in 1567 that Guru Amar Das first institutionalized it as the day when all Sikhs should gather at Goindwal for an annual congregational fair; to meet with the Guru and also to encourage fraternity.

Baisakhi of the Khalsa?

A hundred and thirty two years later, when Sikhs had lived through almost a century of oppression and two Guru martyrdoms, Guru Gobind Singh felt the need for regeneration of Sikhs and he created the order of Khalsa on Baisakhi day in 1699. The Guru directed Sikhs to wear five K’s that give them their visible identity that you see here among us.

Baisakhi & 18th century?

During the 18th century when Sikhs were faced with severe persecution Baisakhi was again picked by them as one of the preferred occasions to meet and discuss problems that confronted the community and take collective decisions.

Folk dances?

In the secular arena Baisakhi is associated with dancing to the beat of a dhol; Bhangra and Gidda being the two popular dance forms. Jhummar and Sami are the other folk dances in the same genre. Significantly all these dance forms originated in the geographic area between the rivers Chenab and Ravi, now in Pakistan.


It is believed that traditionally farmers performed Bhangra to ward off ruinous effects of evil spirits on the harvest. Bhangra is also associated with fertility rites. It is vigorous and vibrant and is performed in several styles including Sialkoti, Sheikhupuri, Tribal, Malwa, Majha and Harrisburg Fusion that you will witness this evening.

Gidda is a popular folk dance of women. It is essentially danced in circles. Girls form rings and one of the dancers sits in the center with a dholki providing the beat as girls take turns to come forward and recite a verse with the others picking up the refrain and joining in. I like its format – the part about women going round in circles. Better them than I – I have had my share of it!


The songs sometimes are mere teasers, at other times they tell a story and yet others give expression to various feelings of love and longing. ‘mere kaag banerai te boleya’ – omen of lover’s coming in Jhummar and ‘dachi waleya morh muhaar ve’ – imploring the camel riding lover to pull the reign to turn homeward in Sami are some examples in addition to what you will hear later in performances.







Movie stars?



Pretty women?

Makhnaa de doonnyyaa

Tall, handsome men?

Bijli daa khambaa

Loving expression?

Mar janeya, moyyaa

Favorite drink?




Best at making fun of?


Punjabis without Punjabi!

By Ishtiaq Ahmed

Saturday, May 24, 2008

<http://www.thenews. com.pk/print1. asp?id=114406>http://www.thenews. com.pk/print1. asp?id=114406

For quite some time now reference is being made on both Pakistani and Indian Punjabi Internet networks to a UNESCO report that allegedly predicts that in the next 50 years the Punjabi language will become extinct. I have tried in vain to get hold of the report to make sure it is not a hoax. My dear friend, Sardar Gobind Tukhral, has assured me that some such a report did appear, which warned that many languages were fast disappearing. Languages threatened with extinction are spoken by miniscule tribes whose members are dying out or being assimilated into the mainstream. However, this explanation cannot apply to Punjabi.

Demography and power — political, economic and military — do not suggest that the Punjabis are by any means a weak nationality or ethnicity. Consider the fact that some 100-120 million human beings can be classified as ethnic Punjabis. Punjabi is an Indo-Iranian language within the larger family of Indo-European languages. The Punjabi people are a mixture of perhaps one of the most varied ethnic pool in the world, as Punjab has been receiving waves and waves of people entering the subcontinent from the north-western mountain passes, as well as smaller movements from the south and east of the
subcontinent towards this region.

The current breakdown of the Punjabi people is roughly like this: Eighty million Punjabis live mainly in Pakistan’s western Punjab and constitute 55 percent of its total population; 30 million in India, mainly in Indian eastern Punjab but with a strong presence in Haryana and the greater Delhi region. Roughly, that translates to three percent of the total Indian population. Some 10 million are dispersed outside the Indian subcontinent, with strong presence in Britain, North America, Southeast Asia (nearly 130,000 Sikhs in Malaysia alone) and the Middle East. In terms of religious affiliation, some 54 percent are Muslims, 29 percent Hindus and 14 percent Sikhs. A three-percent minority is Christian.

With regard to power, the situation is even more dramatic. Pakistan is virtually a Punjabi state in terms of political, military and, now, even economic power. On the other hand, while in India Punjabis are a small minority they are one of the most prosperous
nationalities, East Punjab being one of the top three big states enjoying the highest per capita income. The Indian military has a disproportionately larger number of Punjabis, especially among officers.

Three Indian prime ministers — Gulzari Lal Nanda, Inder Kumar Gujral and Dr Manmohan Singh — can be classified as bona fide Punjabis, while the mother of Jawaharlal Nehru was not only a Punjabi but from Lahore. Two Nobel Prize winners have been Punjabis: Professor Hargobind Khorana from India and Professor Abdus Salam from Pakistan. When it comes to Bollywood and Lollywood as well as cricket and other sports, Punjabis are conspicuous in all these branches of public life. Given such favourable data, how do we explain the rapid decline of the Punjabi language?

We need to understand this in terms of both historical and contemporary contexts. With regard to the historical explanation, it is to be noted that Punjabi never attained the status of state language of a sovereign state at any point in time and remained the language of the common people. However, between the 16th and first half of the 19th century Punjabi culture flourished as the Sikh Gurus, Muslim sufis and the Hindu bhagtis ventilated their
anti-establishment messages in a strong Punjabi idiom. However, when the only son of the soil, Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1799-1839), founded a kingdom in this region, official communications continued to be conducted in Persian.

After the annexation of Punjab by the British in 1849, they decided to introduce Urdu as the state language as it was already in use in other territories under British control. It was also felt that urban Punjabi was a close kin of Urdu and Hindi. This is, of course, true
and there is no reason not to acknowledge this affinity. In any case, Punjabi never received the patronage of the state. The first modern Punjabi dictionary was produced in the mid-19th century by Christian missionaries based in Ludhiana.

The first half of the 20th century found the communal virus infecting Punjabi identity. Ironically, the first provocation came from the Sikhs, when Bhai Vir Singh (1872-1957) began to insist that the Punjabi language was the exclusive preserve of the Sikhs. Not
surprisingly, both Hindus and Muslims who had strong cultural links with the rest of India began to assert that their “mother tongue” was Hindi and Urdu, respectively. Such communalization culminated in the partition of India in 1947, which in reality was the partition of Punjab and Bengal. The partition of Punjab took place over the bodies
of 800,000 to 1,000,000 Punjabis. The veteran Indian journalist Rajinder Puri captured the agony of the Punjabis in the following words:

“After partition the Punjabis disappeared. In West Punjab they became Pakistanis. In East Punjab they became Hindus and Sikhs. They also became Akalis and Congressmen, Arya Samajists and Jan Sanghis. Never Punjabis.”

This was written in 1985. One can expand on this process of fission and say that the Pakistani Muslim Punjabis became Sunnis, Shias and Ahmadis, and from time to time one hears also about them becoming Saraiki-speakers and Potohari-speakers in opposition to the Lahori-speaking Punjabis, while in India, besides the Hindu-Sikh
distinction, the Sikhs went on to distinguish themselves as Khalsas and other sects.

In Pakistani Punjab, Punjabi continued to be degraded as an inferior language, and if ever a case of self-inflicted cultural suicide, or rather genocide is to be taken up by the Security Council (under the UN Convention on Genocide cultural genocide is considered a major crime against humanity), it will be the sui generis mistreatment by the Punjabi ruling elites of Pakistan of their own mother tongue. The situation is better in Indian Punjab because Sikh identity is inseparable from the Punjabi language and Punjabi is the official language of that province, but Hindi and English are encroaching upon Punjabi as Sikh peasants become urban dwellers and develop unorthodox lifestyles.

In the next article we will review what can be done to restore Punjabi to its proper status among the living languages of the world. To fight the uphill battle for Punjabi we would need the help of all Punjabis.

The writer is a professor of political science and a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), National University of Singapore. Email: isasia@nus.edu. sg

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