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India: Punjab, The Land of Five Rivers

Golden Temple, Amritsar

Punjab, the craddle of Indian Culture

Punjab, the land of five rivers, is bordered by Pakistan on the west, the states of Jammu and Kashmir on the north, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana on the east and Haryana and Rajasthan on the south. It is one of the most fertile and prosperous state in India. The city of Chandigarh is the joint administrative capital of Punjab and Haryana. In 1947, during independence, the united Punjab was split between the new nations of India and Pakistan, the smaller eastern portion becoming part of India.

Area 50,362
Population 27,704,236 (2011 census)
Languages Punjabi, Hindi
Climate Tropical
Summer - April -June (Max. Temp. 43oC)
Winter - Nov. to April. (Min. Temp. 4.5oC)
Monsoon - Jul. to Sept.
Best Time to Visit October - April
Capital City Chandigarh
Airports Amirtsar, Chandigarh
Major Towns Amritsar, Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Patiala, Bathinda, Hoshiarpur, Pathankot, Kapurthala


The archaeological findings point the earliest history of Punjab to the Palaeolithic man who led a nomadic existence, and subsisted on wild game, fruit and plants. The earliest recorded history of Punjab dates back to the Indus Valley civilization. Discovered in the 1920s, it was thought to have been confined to the valley of the river Indus. Subsequent archaeological excavations in Mohanjo-Daro, Harappa (now in Pakistan) and trial excavations in Sind, Baluchistan, Punjab, Gujarat and Rajasthan proved that a highly civilized community flourished in that area around 3000 BC. This highly developed urban civilization is known as the Harappan Civilization.

The first recorded invasion of Punjab and India by the Persians was under Faridun, in the 8th century BC. The Mahabharata contains references to the people of Punjab during 7th - 5th centuries BC. A few years before the birth of Buddha (556 BC), the armies of Darius I, king of Persia, invaded Punjab and made it a protectorate of Persian Empire. The advent of Buddhism saw Punjab become a cultural crossroad. In 327 BC, Alexander invaded Punjab and the centuries that followed brought more incursions from the north, which were vigorously resisted during the rules of the Mauryas, the Sungas, the Guptas and the Pushpabhuti. Remnants of Mauryan Dynasty and Buddhism are recovered at Sanghol near Ludhiana.

In 206 BC, Punjab was invaded by Antiochus, grandson of Seleukos. Eneradites, king of Bactria, invaded Punjab in the year 165 BC and his successors, ruled Punjab from 126 BC to 110 BC About the year 110 BC, the Scythic element was predominant in the Punjab. The Scythian kings were expelled by king Vikramaditya, in 56 BC. But after his death, the Scythians returned and ruled Punjab until the 5th century of the Christian Era. In the beginning of 5th century AD, the dynasty of Kadphises was subverted by the Ephthalites, who were subdued in 555 AD by the Turks. Portions of Punjab were also, from time to time, under the kings of Kashmir.

Mohammad Bin Qasim raided Sind and Multan in 713 AD. Other armies from West and Central Asia followed for the next 1000 years. The Ghoris, Mongols and Ghaznavids swept across the Khyber Pass and plundered Punjab. During the Sultanate period and Mughal rule, Punjab was engaged in intermittent warfare. Babur occupied Punjab in 1525 and defeated Ibrahim Lodhi in 1526 at Panipat. By 1542, Punjab was under Sher Shah.

Guru Nanak's (1469-1539) socio-religious movement was strengthened by a line of successors for the next two hundred years. Guru Gobind Singh (1661-1708 AD) created the Khalsa, an army of saint-warriors to protect the down-trodden. Gradually the Sikhs established their rule over a major portion of Punjab. In 1739 Nadir Shah invaded Punjab and occupied Lahore. The disorders and the confusion in the Punjab following the invasion of Nadir Shah were utilized by the Sikhs to improve their financial recourses and military strength. After the death of Nadir Shah, Ahmed Shah Abdali invaded India six times and obtained final cession of Punjab in 1757 from the Mughal Emperor and appointed his son Timur Shah as his Viceroy.

In 1758 the Sikhs revolted against the Afghans and expelled them with the help of the Marathas. The Sikh power was on the rise from 1758 to 1764 and they brought Lahore and open country under their occupation. They opposed the Abdali in his subsequent invasions and reoccupied the entire open country after his sixth invasion in 1767. In 1799, Ranjit Singh (1778-1839) seized Lahore, the capital of the Punjab and brought most of the Sikh country under his rule. In 1801 he proclaimed himself maharaja of Punjab. Thus the first Sikh kingdom was established. He engaged Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims in his army and administration. His state collapsed after his death.

In 1839, Kharak Singh, the eldest son of Ranjit Singh, ascended the throne. He reigned only for 3 months, and was forced to abdicate. He was followed by Nau Nehal Singh, son of Kharak Singh who was killed in an accident. Then Chand Kaur was proclaimed queen of Punjab. In 1841 Sher Singh accented the throne of Lahore who was assassinated in 1843. Dalip Singh, a minor was acknowledged Maharaja 1843 with his mother Rani Jhindan as Regent.

Uncontrolled by any strong authority, the Khalsa army became ungovernable and furious and some provocative acts from the British resulted in the First Anglo-Sikh war. Battles between Sikhs and British were fought in 1845 and in 1846; the Sikhs defeated the British forces at Baddowal. But, in the battle of Ahwal, the British defeated the Sikhs and the Sikhs were forced to a treaty with the British. Gradually by the terms of the treaty, the British succeeded in annexing a major portion of Punjab to their empire. Thus the monarchy formed by the genius of Ranjit Singh reduced to insignificance.

The Sikhs resented the gradual liquidation of their authority in the Punjab. The removal of Maharani Jhindan on the pretext of conspiracy by British was resented by the people, ultimately resulting in the second Anglo-Sikh war. In 1848, The British confronted a rebellion in the Sikh province of Multan. The Multan revolt soon assumed the nature of Sikh national movement. In Oct. 1848, Lord Dalhousie declared war and the Sikhs valiantly engaged the British forces, nearly for two years, at Ramnagar, Chilianwala, Muthan and Gujarat. At the battle of Gujarat, the Sikhs were defeated. On 12th March1849, the Sikhs laid down their arms. On 30th March, Dalhousie annexed Punjab to British Empire by a Proclamation.

During India's freedom struggle, from the First War of Independence of 1857, Punjab's zealous contribution matched that of any other State of the country. Kuka or Namdhari movement of Baba Ram Singh, defied the unjust British Rule and, for the first time, highlighted the swadeshi movement. Underground activities were organised by Ajit Singh, Lala Lajpat Rai, Madan Lal Dhingra and Bhai Parmanand. Many revolutionaries sacrificed their lives in the freedom struggle. Mahatma Gandhi's Satyagraha against the Rowlett Act found a popular support in Punjab. Jallianwala Bagh massacre at Amritsar on 13 April, 1919, on the Baisakhi day, proved to be a turning point in the history of India. Contribution made by Punjab to the Quit India Movement in 1942 was remarkable.

When the rest of India was celebrating the dawn of Independence, Punjab was in turmoil resulted from partition. It was a tragic and traumatic experience for the Punjabis. The partition with its riots and massacres destroyed thousands of lives. In the years after partition, the traditional Punjabi tenacity and toughness gained rapid achievements in agriculture and industry and in the field of education, service and social welfare. Rural uplift have made this border state of India one of the most prosperous states of the country.

Prior to independence, the Punjab extended across both sides of what is now the India-Pakistan border. Lahore was its capital. After independence, Shimla was chosen as the capital of state of Punjab. Later in the 50s, the first planned city in India, Chandigarh, was built and it became the capital of Punjab. In 1966 Punjab was bifurcated into two states, predominantly Punjabi speaking State of Punjab and Hindi speaking State of Haryana. And Chandigarh a Union Territory on the border of both Punjab and Haryana became the administrative capital of both states.