Punjab has a long history and rich cultural heritage. Artifacts dating back to the Pleistocene Age have been found in the valley of Kangra, Pehalgam, and Hoshiarpur. Archaeological excavations have revealed evidences of the magnificent, 5000 years old, Harappan culture that flourished in Punjab.
The Vedic and the later Epic periods of the Punjab were socially and culturally the most creative. During this period, a number of learning and culture centres were established. During the advent of Buddhism Punjab became a cultural crossroad. Throughout the ages Punjab was a crucible of culture and blending of many communities and cultures resulted in moulding up a culture with a utilitarian outlook on life. A few important aspects of cultural heritage of Punjab are briefed below.
Originated in the Western Punjab, Bhangra reflects the vigour and the cheerfulness infused among the rural folk by the promise of a bumper crop. The Bhangra season starts with the wheat sowing. On every full moon day young men, in every village, dance for hours in open fields. The dancers move around the 'dhol' drummer in a circle. As the tempo increases, their hands, their feet and their whole bodies comes into action. They whirl round and round bending and straightening their bodies alternatively, hopping on one leg, raising their hands and clapping with their handkerchiefs. Colourful clothes comprised of the flowing turbans, chadra (covering for the lower body) and long kurtas (shirts) and waistcoats make this a very attractive dance to watch. The Bhangra season concludes with the Baisakhi fair when the wheat is harvested.
Though originally a harvest dance, now a days, Bangra is performed during the festival of Baisakhi, family occasions, get-togethers and many other happy occasions. Many believe that the Bhangra dancer needs an inborn sense of rhythm; it cannot be acquired.
Jhumar, originally from Sandalbar (now in Pakistan), has become very much a part of Punjab's folk heritage. It is a graceful dance based on a Jhumar rhythm. Dancers circle around the drummer and sing graceful lyrics as they dance. The Jhumar is a dance of ecstasy and a testimony of the happiness of men. Jhumar is performed in every occasion especially during Melas, weddings and other major functions and celebrations. Performed exclusively by men, the dance recreates and enacts all the functions of daily life.
Giddha is a very vigorous folk dance of the women of Punjab performed during family and festive occasions. It has almost the same intensity as Bhangra. In Giddha, women translate bolian-verses (light-hearted satirical verse) into gestures. The folk poetry satirizes politics, the in-laws, loneliness of a young bride, evils of society and almost any other subject. The dance rhythm is set by the dhols and the distinctive hand claps of the dancers. So quick is the movement of the feet as the tempo rises that it is difficult for the spectator even to wink till the tempo falls again. The embroidered 'duppattas' and heavy jewellery of the participants further exaggerate the movements.
Luddi is a male dance of Punjab to celebrate a victory in any field. Luddi is performed with the drummer in the center and its costumes are simple. Only a loose shirt (kurta) and a loincloth are used. Some tie turbans, others tie a Patkas, which resumbles a scarf across the forehead. The performers place one hand at the back and the other before the face copying the movement of a snake.
Kikli is generally popular with the younger girls. It is more of a sport than a dance. The girls form pairs, crossing their arms, hold each other`s hands and whirl around singing folk songs. The movements gets faster and faster, the upper part of the body bends backward and the arms remain fully stretched. the spinning gathers momentum and goes on till they are exhausted. Even though they move very fast, they maintain the rhythm and keep singing various songs about various incidents connected with daily life.
Punjab has deep roots connected with music. A glossary of music and Ragas are given at the end of the Guru Granth Sahib. Classical ragas are used in the 'shabad kirtan', gayaki of Punjab. The sixth Guru Hargobind gave patronage to sect of singers who sang only martial songs at shrines and festivals.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, a school of classical music known as the Patiala Gharana was established by Ustaad Ali Bux and Ustaad Fateh Ali who were singers in the Patiala Darbar. Their disciples, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali and his brother Barkat Ali brought the Patiala Gharana on the forefront of Khayal gayaki. A contemporary gharana of tabla playing known as the Punjab style also came into existence, to which Alla Rakha the great tabla maestro belongs.
Chowk-Poorana is the art of plastering and painting the mud walls of the rural houses in Punjab on festive occasions. They are plastered with mud and painted with attractive patterns and designs of ferns, plants and several other fascinating motifs. These drawing are mostly done by the women.
Weaving & Basketry
The craft of basketry is widely practised all over Punjab. The age old tradition of weaving of rural products made of a kind of tough, thick and elastic grass commonly known Sarkanda, interwoven with reeds, rushes and corn husks is still practiced in Punjab. After shaving, thin straws of this grass, are woven into beautiful carpets, curtains etc. Amoung these products the hand-fan, popularly known as Peshawari Pakkhe, is very popular. These fans smaller in size are called Kundaladar Pakkhi.
Another useful household device made out of Sarcanda is called Chhaj in Punjabi. It is used for separating edible stuff from the grain. Screens, used as a parting between wheat and hay, for instance, were also woven from this stuff. The shavings of Sarcanda chicks and coloured cotton threads were also used to weave household article like katnees, Chiks, Bohey, Pitarian, and a kind of chairs called Moorras.
Weaving of Durries (cotton bed or floor spreads) in myriad motives and designs, in the villages, has been a long tradition in Punjab. They are woven in stripes, check boards, squares, and motifs of birds, animals and even plants as a part of dowry.
Needle work of Punjab is unique and depending on the designs, they are called Baghs, Phulkaris, rummals etc. The pattern of needle work done on the bed spreads, chunnis, dupattas (these are head covers) and shirts and Salvars, are still different. Needle work on phulkaris (flower work) is done on a deep coloured cotton cloth with striking silk threads. The threads are pierced upwards from underneath the cloth into free-hand motifs, while in the Baghs (Gardens) and Rummals such cloth is worked on the top side only. These were traditionally used for wearing but now are exported as wall hanging and sewn as jackets etc.
Phulkari, meaning flower work, is a spectacular style of embroidery peculiar to Punjab, and an essential part of everyday life. Almost every ceremony in which women participate is given a touch of additional colour and richness by the use of phulkari as it is considered auspicious. This type of embroidery is so excellently done and has the look of a carpet. The patterns are not restricted but free and highly imaginative. The designs and motifs are an expression of the embroiderer's thought and aspirations.
Woodcarving is the most ancient and popular craft and woodwork of Punjab has been traditionally famous. Artistic beds with comfortable, skilfully made back rests fitted with mirrors, low seats called Peeras were made by carpenters in almost every village. For furniture, boxes, toys and decorative pieces made and lacquer finished and decorated by engraving and ivory inlay, the workmen of Punjab have been renowned. Woodcarving in Punjab is practised in Patiala, Amritsar and Hoshiarpur.
Metalwork in Punjab is also very famous. The metal workers of Amritsar are known for their skill in decorating metal pots and utensils, lamps and trumpet necessary for religious rituals and decorative items like lamp shades etc. Among these items, the most remarkable are the engraved metal doors and the figurative engraved panels of the Temples and Gurudwara's. At times these metal doors are plated with gold and silver and a very fine repousse work done on them.
Contribution of Punjab to the Indian literature is matched, if not exceeded, that of any other State of the country. The Rig Veda was composed here. It is believed that Valmiki composed parts of the Ramayana around the Shri Ram Tirath Ashram, near Amritsar. The eighteen principal Puranas were written here. The authors of Vishnu Purana and the Shiv Purano belonged to the central Punjab. Yasak’s Nirkuta and Panini’s Ashtadhyayi are those help one to understand the language and culture of the ancient Punjab. The compilation of the Adi Granth in 1604 by Guru Arjan Dev is a remarkable literary accomplishment. Achievements in poetry and short story in particular testify to the quality of literary sensibility and imagination at work. Punjabi poets have been conferred the highest literary honours, such as the Jnana Peeth and Saraswati and Kabir awards.
Punjab, the land of milk and honey, has a cuisine which caters to the characteristic needs of its people. It has full-bodied masalas (spices) cooked with ghee and served with a helping of butter or cream. Milk and its products are an essential part of everyday cookery. Curd and buttermilk are also an essential concomitant with every Punjabi meal.
Predominantly wheat eating, the Punjabis cook rice only on special occasions. Rice is eaten with flavouring of cumin or fried onions with Rajma or Kadhi. In winter rice is cooked with jaggary known as gurwala chawal or with peas called matarwale chawal or as a delicacy called Rao Ki Kheer which, is rice cooked on very slow fire for hours together with sugar cane juice.
Flavours and styles differ from place to place. People around Amritsar prefer well-fried stuffed paraunthas and milk sweets. In the Malwa region Bajra (ground maize) khitchadi (kedgree) is a delicacy. There are of course certain dishes which are part and parcel of Punjab and their very mention conjures up the rich flavour of the state. Mah ki Dal, Sarson Ka Saag and Makkee Ki Roti, meat curry like Roghan Josh and stuffed paraunthas can be found in no other state except Punjab. The main masala in a Punjabi dish consists of onion, garlic, ginger and a lot of tomatoes fried in pure ghee.