Punjabi Culture

Punjab (ShahmukhÄ panj-āb, “five waters”: Punjab. also spelled Panjab, is the most populous province of Pakistan, with approximately 55.06% of the country’s total population. Forming most of the Punjab region, the province is bordered by Kashmir (Azad Kashmir, Pakistan and Jammu and Kashmir, India) to the north-east, the Indian states of Punjab, Rajasthan, and Gujarat to the east, the Pakistani province of Sindh to the south, the province of Balochistan to the southwest, the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the west, and the Islamabad Capital Territory to the north. The Punjab is home to the Punjabis and various other groups. The main languages are Punjabi and Saraiki and the dialects of Mewati and Potowari. The name Punjab derives from the Persian words Panj (Five), and Ä (Water), (the) Five Waters – referring to five tributaries of the Indus River from which is also the origin of the name of “India” – these being Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej, that flow through the larger Punjab. Punjab is the most developed, most populous, and most prosperous province of Pakistan. Lahore has traditionally been the capital of Punjab for a thousand years; it is Punjab’s main cultural, historical, administrative and economic center. Historically, the Punjab region has been the gateway to the Indian subcontinent for people from Greece, Central Asia, Iran and Afghanistan and Vice-versa. Due to its strategic location, it has been part of various empires and civilizations throughout history, including the Indus Valley Civilization, Vedic civilization, Mauryans, Kushans, Scythians, Guptas, Greeks, Persians, Arabs, Turks, Mongols, Timurids, Mughals, Afghans, Sikhs and the British. The Greeks referred to Punjab as Pentapotamia, an inland delta of five converging rivers. In Avesta, the sacred text of Zoroastrians, the Punjab region is associated with the ancient hapta hÉ™ndu or Sapta Sindhu, the Land of Seven Rivers. The British used to call Punjab “Our Prussia.”


The word Punjab is a combination of the Persian words panj (five) and āb (water), thus the (land of) five rivers. The five rivers are the tributaries of the Indus River namely Chenab, Jhelum, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej. Sometimes, in English, there can be a definite article before the name i.e. the Punjab. The name is also sometimes spelt as Panjab or Panjaab or Punjaab. From the Himalayas they all end up in the down-stream of Panjnad, eventually to the Arabian Sea.


Ancient history Punjab during Mahabharata times was known as Panchanada. Punjab was part of the Indus Valley Civilization, more than 4000 years old. The main site of the Indus Valley Civilization in Punjab was the city of Harrapa. The Indus Valley Civilization spanned much of what is today Pakistan and eventually evolved into the Indo-Aryan civilization. The arrival of the Indo-Aryans led to the flourishing of the Vedic civilization along the length of the Indus River. This civilization shaped subsequent cultures in South Asia and Afghanistan. Although the archaeological site at Harappa was partially damaged in 1857 when engineers constructing the Lahore-Multan railroad used brick from the Harappa ruins for track ballast, an abundance of artifacts have nevertheless been found. Punjab was part of the great ancient empires including the Gandhara Mahajanapadas, Achaemenids, Macedonians, Mauryas, Kushans, Guptas and Hindu Shahi. Agriculture flourished and trading cities (such as Multan and Lahore) grew in wealth. Due to its location, the Punjab region came under constant attack and influence from the west. Invaded by the Persians, Greeks, Kushans, Scythians, Turks, and Afghans, Punjab witnessed centuries of bitter bloodshed. Its legacy is a unique culture that combines Zorastrian[citation needed], Hindu, Buddhist, Persian[citation needed], Central Asian[citation needed], Islamic, Afghan, Sikh, and British elements. The city of Taxila, founded by son of Taksh the son Bharat who was the brother of Ram. It was reputed to house the oldest university in the world[citation needed], Takshashila University, one of the teachers was the great Vedic thinker and politician Chanakya. Taxila was a great centre of learning and intellectual discussion during the Maurya Empire. It is a UN World Heritage site, valued for its archaeological and religious history

Greeks, Central Asians, and Persians

The northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent including Punjab was repeatedly conquered into various Persian, Central Asian, and Greek empires, such as those of Tamerlane, Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan. Having conquered Drangiana, Arachosia, Gedrosia and Seistan in ten days, Alexander crossed the Hindu Kush and was thus fully informed of the magnificence of the country and its riches in gold, gems and pearls. However, Alexander had to encounter and reduce the tribes on the border of Punjab before entering the luxuriant plains. Having taken a northeasterly direction, he marched against the Aspii, mountaineers, who offered vigorous resistance but were subdued. Alexander then marched through Ghazni, blockaded Magassa, and then marched to Ora and Bazira. Turning to the northeast, Alexander marched to Pucela, the capital of the district now known as Pakhli. He entered Western Punjab, where the ancient city of Nysa was situated. A coalition was formed against Alexander by the Cathians, the people of Multan, who were very skillful in war. Alexander invested heavy troops; eventually seventeen thousand Cathians fell in this battle, and the city of Sagala (present-day Sialkot) was razed to the ground. Alexander left Punjab in 326 B.C. and took his army to Persia and Susa. Of particular importance were the periods of contact between Punjab and various Persian Empires[citation needed] when the region either became a part of the empire itself[citation needed], or was an autonomous region which paid taxes to the Persian king. In later centuries, when Persian was the language of the Mughal government, Persian architecture, poetry, art and music were an integral part of the region’s culture. The official language of Punjab remained Persian until the arrival of the British in the mid-19th century, when the administrative language was changed to English. After 1947, Urdu, which is considered the poetic language of South Asia, which has a huge section of words derived from Persian, Arabic and to a lesser degree Turkish and with an indic base, became the newly formed Pakistan’s national language (Qaumi Zubaan.

Arrival of Islam – Punjabi Muslims

The Punjabis followed a diverse plethora of faiths, mainly comprising Hindus but with large minorities of Buddhists[citation needed], when the Muslim Umayyad army led by Muhammad bin Qasim conquered Sindh and Southern Punjab in 712, by defeating Raja Dahir. The Umayyad Caliphate was the second Islamic caliphate established after the death of the Prophet Muhammad SAW . It was ruled by the Umayyad dynasty, whose name derives from Umayya ibn Abd Shams, the great-grandfather of the first Umayyad caliph. Although the Umayyad family originally came from the city of Mecca, their capital was Damascus. Muhammad bin Qasim was the first to bring message of Islam to the population of Punjab. Over the next millennium Punjab was Muslim Empires consistenting of both Afghans, Pashtoon, and Turkic in corporation with local Punjabi tribes and others, which facilitated a millennium long Islamic dominance across South Asia and with its peak during large parts of the Mughal Empire . During the reign of Mahmud of Ghazni, the province became an important centre with Lahore as its second capital of the Ghaznavid Empire based out of Afghanistan.


The Mughals controlled the region from 1524 until around 1739 and would also lavish the province with building projects such as the Shalimar Gardens and the Badshahi Mosque, both situated in Lahore. Muslim soldiers, traders, architects, theologians and Sufis flocked from the rest of the Muslim world to the Islamic Sultanate in South Asia and some may have settled in the Punjab. Following the decline of the Mughals, the Shah of Iran and founder of the Afsharid dynasty in Persia, Nader Shah crossed the Indus and sacked the province in 1739. Later, the Afghan conqueror Ahmad Shah Durrani, incidentally born in Panjab, in the city of Multan made the Punjab a part of his Durrani Empire lasting until 1762