(Last Updated on : 03/02/2010)
The word Punjab was first time used in the book Tarikh-e-Sher by Sher Shah Suri (1580), who mentioned the construction of a fort "Sher Khan of Punjab". However, the history of Punjab dates back to the Sanskrit equivalent of `Punjab` in the great epic, the Mahabharata (pancha-nada `country of five rivers`). The name Punjab is mentioned again in Ain-e-Akbari, written by Abul Fazal, who also mentions that the territory of Punjab was divided into two provinces, Lahore and Multan.
Punjab in Persian, literally means "five" (panj) "waters" (?b), i.e. the Land of Five Rivers, thus referring to the five rivers, which go through it. It was because of this that it was made the granary of British India. Today, two rivers flow in Indian Punjab, two rivers lie in Pakistani Punjab, and one river is the general border between them. Archaeological discoveries at Mehrgarh in today`s Baluchistan show evidences of inhabited villages in the region as early as 7000 BCE. By about 3000 BCE the small communities started to grow up and around the Indus River basin they expanded giving rise to the Indus valley civilization, one of the earliest in human history. At its height, it boasted large cities like Harrapa (near Sahiwal in West Punjab) and Mohenjo Daro (near Sindh). The civilization declined rapidly after the 19th century BCE, for reasons that are still largely unexplained. Causes for the Indus valley civilization`s decline possibly included a change in weather patterns and unsustainable urbanization. This coincided with the drying up of the lower Sarasvati River.
The next one thousand years of the history of the Punjab was dominated by the Indo-Aryans. The population and culture that emerged in that state largely inspired the cultural development in the Indian subcontinent. The Rig-Veda, one of the older texts in Indian history, is generally thought to have been poised in the Greater Punjab. It embodies a literary record of the socio-cultural development of ancient Punjab, known as Sapta Sindhu. The philosophy of heroism of the Epic Age is excellently expounded in the Bhagavatagita section of the Mahabharata. The Bhagavatagita comprehensively expounds a philosophy of heroism in the then Punjab. The Punjabis, represented by ethnic groups such as the Gandharas, the Kambojas, the Trigartas, the Madras, the Malavas, the Pauravas, the Bahlikas and the Yaudheyas are declared to have sided with the Kauravas and displayed exemplary courage, power and prowess in the 18-day battle. The glorious exploits of these warlike communities can be seen in the accounts of the charges of the Kauravas against the Pandavas. The great epic provides abundant evidences of the fact that the contingents of Gandharas, Kambojas, Sauviras, Madras and Trigartas occupied major positions in the Kaurava rows throughout the epic war.
Another important epic event, which involved the Punjabis, was the conflict between the Indo-Aryan Rishi Vishwamitra of the Kurukshetra area and Sage Vasishtha from the northwestern parts of greater Punjab. The story is in the Rigveda and more clearly later Vedic texts and is portrayed in the Bala-Kanda section of the Valmiki Ramayana. Risi Vasishtha skillfully solicited the military support of the frontier Punjabi warriors consisting of eastern Iranians, like the Shakas, Kambojas, Pahlavas and others helped by Kirata, Harita and the Mlechcha soldiers from the Himalayas. This composite army of fierce warriors from frontier Punjab defeated one Akshauni army of the illustrious Vishwamitra, along with all of his 100 sons except one.
According to `History of Punjab`, there is no doubt that the Kambojas, Daradas, Kaikayas, Madras, Pauravas, Yaudheyas, Malavas, Saindhavas and Kurus had jointly contributed to the heroic tradition and composite culture of ancient Punjab. The western parts of ancient Gandhara and Kamboja (kingdoms of Greater Punjab) lay at the eastern boundary of the Persian Empire. The upper Indus region, comprising Gandhara and Kamboja, formed the 7th satrapy of the Achaemenid Empire, while the lower and middle Indus, comprising Sindhu and Sauvira, constituted the 20th satrapy.
Chandragupta Maurya soon conquered the portions of the Punjab that had been captured under Alexander. The founder of the Mauryan Empire included the rich provinces of the Punjab into his empire and fought Alexander`s successor in the east, Seleucus, when the latter invaded. The Punjab prospered under Mauryan rule for the next century. It became a Bactrian Greek (Indo-Greek) territory in 180 BCE following the collapse of Mauryan authority. Alexander established two cities in the Punjab, where he settled people from his multi-national armies. These Indo-Greek cities and their associated realms thrived long after Alexander`s departure.
After Muhammad`s death in 1206, his general Qutb-ud-din Aybak took control of Muhummad`s Indian empire, including areas of Afghanistan, the Punjab, and northern India. Qutb-ud-din moved his capital of the empire from Ghazni to Lahore, and the empire he founded was called the Sultanate of Delhi. His successors were known as the Mamluk or Slave dynasty, and ruled from his death in 1210 to 1290. The Mongols, who had occupied Muhammad Ghori`s former possessions in Central Asia, continued to encroach on the Sultanate`s northwest frontier in the thirteenth century. The Mongols subjugated Afghanistan, and from there raided the Punjab and northwestern India. Lahore was sacked in 1241, and the Mongols and Sultans challenged for control of the Punjab for much of the thirteenth century.
The Mughal Empire persisted for several centuries until it was brutally damaged in the eighteenth century by the attacks of the Marathas and the 1739 sack of Delhi by the Persian Nadir Shah. Afghan rulers took control of the empire`s northwestern provinces, including the Punjab and Sind. The eighteenth century also saw the rise of the Sikhs in the Punjab.
The Punjab presented a picture of chaos and uncertainty when Ranjit Singh took the control of Sukerchakias occurrence. Both Punjab and Sind was controlled by the Afghan rule since 1757 when Ahmed Shah Abdali was granted suzerainty over these provinces. However, the Sikhs were then a rising power in Punjab. Taimur Khan, a local Governor, was able to drive away the Sikhs from Amritsar and raze the fort of Ram Rauni. His control was short-lived, however, and the Sikh misal joined to defeat Taimur Shah and his Chief Minister Jalal Khan. The Afghans were forced to retreat and the Sikhs occupied Lahore in 1758. Jassa Singh Ahluwalia proclaimed the Sikh`s sovereignty and assumed leadership, striking coins to honor his victory.
Shah Zaman marched on the territory of Ranjit Singh. Singh was alert and raised an army of 5000 horsemen. However, they were inadequately armed with only spears and muskets. The Afghans were equipped with heavy artillery. Ranjit Singh foresaw a strong, united fight against the invaders as he came to Amritsar. A congregation of Sarbat Khlasa was called and many Sikh sardars answered the call. There was general agreement that Shah Zaman`s army should be allowed to enter the Punjab and that the Sikhs should retire to the hills.
Forces were reorganized under the command of Ranjit Singh and they marched towards Lahore. They gave the Afghans a crushing defeat in several villages and surrounded the city of Lahore. Sorties were made into the city at night in which they would kill a few Afghan soldiers and then leave under cover of darkness. Following this tactic they were able to dislodge Afghans from several places.
In 1797 Shah Zaman suddenly left for Afghanistan as his brother Mahmud had revolted. Shahanchi khan remained at Lahore with a sizeable army. The Sikhs followed Shah Zaman to Jhelum and snatched many goods from him. In returning, the Sikhs were attacked by the army of Shahnachi khan near Ram Nagar. The Sikhs routed his army. It was the first major achievement of Ranjit Singh. He became the hero of the land of Five Rivers and his reputation spread far and wide.
Again in 1798 Shah Zaman attacked Punjab to avenge the defeat of 1797. The Sikh people took refuge in the hills. A Sarbat Khalsa was again called and Sada Kaur persuaded the Sikhs to fight once again to the last man. This time even Muslims were not spared by Shah Zaman`s forces and he won Gujarat easily. Sada Kaur roused the Sikhs sense of national honour. If they were to again leave Amritsar, she would command the forces against the Afghans. She said that an Afghani soldier was no match for a Sikh soldier. In battle they would acquit themselves, and, by the grace of Sat Guru, would be successful.
The Afghans plundered the towns and villages as they had vowed and declared that they would defeat the Sikhs. However, it was the Muslims who suffered most as the Hindus and Sikhs had already left for the hills. The Muslims had thought that they would not be touched but their hopes were dashed and their provisions forcibly taken from them by the Afghans.
Shah Zaman requested that Raja Sansar Chand of Kangra refuse to give food or shelter to the Sikhs. This was agreed. Shah Zaman attacked Lahore and the Sikhs, surrounded as they were on all sides, had to fight a grim battle. The Afghans occupied Lahore in November 1798 and planned to attack Amritsar. Ranjit Singh collected his men and faced Shah`s forces about eight kilometres from Amritsar. They were well-matched and the Afghans were, at last, forced to retire. Humiliated, they fled towards Lahore. Ranjit Singh pursued them and surrounded Lahore. Afghan supply lines were cut, crops were burnt and other provisions plundered so that they did not fall into Afghan`s hands. It was a humiliating defeat for the Afghans. Nizam-ud.din of Kasur attacked the Sikhs near Shahdara on the banks of the Ravi, but his forces were no match for the Sikhs. Here too, it was the Muslims who suffered the most. The retreating Afghans and Nizam-ud-din forces plundered the town, antagonizing the local people. By this time the people of the country had become aware of the rising strength of Ranjit Singh. He was the most popular leader of the Punjab. Victims of oppression, the people of Lahore were favorably moved towards Singh who they saw as a potential liberator.
Muslims joined Hindu and Sikh people of Lahore in making an appeal to Singh to free them from the tyrannical rule. Mian Ashak Muhammad, Mian Mukkam Din, Mohammad Tahir, Mohammad Bakar, Hakim Rai, and Bhai Gurbaksh Singh signed a petition that was addressed to Ranjit singh, requesting him to free them from the Bhangi sardars. It was a last day of Muharram when a big procession was to be held in the town in the memory of the two grandsons of the Prophet Muhammad who had been martyred on the battlefield. Ranjit Singh ultimately acquired a kingdom in the Punjab, which stretched from the Sutlej River in the east to Peshawar in the west, and from the junction of the Sutlej and the Indus in the south to Ladakh in the north. Ranjit died in 1839, and a succession struggle ensued. Two of his successor maharajas were assassinated by 1843.
By 1845 the British had moved 32,000 troops to the Sutlej boundary, to secure their northernmost possessions against the succession struggles in the Punjab. In late 1845, British and Sikh troops engaged near Ferozepur, started the First Anglo-Sikh War. The war ended the next year, and the territory between the Sutlej and the Beas was surrendered to Great Britain, along with Kashmir, which was sold to Gulab Singh of Jammu, who ruled Kashmir as a British vassal. As a stipulation of the peace treaty, some British troops, along with a resident political negotiator and other officials, were left in the Punjab to supervise the regency of Maharaja Dhalip Singh, a minor. The Sikh army was reduced greatly in size. In 1848, out-of-work Sikh troops in Multan revolted back, and a British official was killed.
Within a few months, the unrest had spread throughout the Punjab, and British troops once again invaded. The British prevailed in the Second Anglo-Sikh War, and under the Treaty of Lahore in 1849. The Punjab became a province of British India, although a number of small states, most particularly Patiala, preserved local rulers who followed the British sovereignty.
The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre of 1919 occurred in Amritsar. In 1930, the Indian National Congress declared independence from Lahore. The 1940 Lahore Resolution of the Muslim League to work for Pakistan made Punjab the center stage of a different, most horrible struggle in Indian history. In 1946, massive communal tensions and violence erupted between the majority Muslims of Punjab, and the Hindu and Sikh minorities. Both Congress and League leaders agreed to separation Punjab upon religious lines, a precursor to the wider partition of the country.
Sikhs eventually demanded a Punjabi speaking East Punjab with autonomous control. Led by Master Tara Singh, Sikhs wanted to obtain a political voice in their state. In 1965, a fierce war broke out between India and Pakistan over the disputed region of Kashmir.
In 1966, owing to the incredible bravery shown by innumerable of Sikh officers and soldiers in the Indian Army, and the growing Sikh unrest, the Government separated the Punjab into a Sikh-majority state of the same name, and Hindu-majority Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. Today Sikhs form about 60% of the population in Punjab.
In the modern history of Punjab, the state experienced prosperity during the 1990s. In 2004, Dr. Manmohan Singh became the country`s first Sikh Prime Minister.