Punjab, India         Click on thumbnails below for additional pictures ...

"Punjab" comes from two Persian words, panj ("five") and ab ("water"), thus signifying the land of five rivers (the Beas, Chenab, Jhelum, Ravi, and Sutlej). The present Indian state of Punjab is the result of two divisions: a) during the partition of India in 1947, and b) during 1966, when the majority Hindi-speaking areas were separated to form Haryana. "Punjab" is a misnomer today since only two rivers, the Sutlej and the Beas, lie in its territory. Chandigarh, a union territory, is the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana.  

Cultural clichés associate Punjabis with prosperity, hard work, straight talk, tolerance, a relaxed yet enterprising spirit that has taken them far and wide, stellar contributions to Indian defense, politics, media, sports, and entertainment, a massive presence in Bollywood, truck/cab driving, dhabas, Punjabi food (the best known Indian cuisine worldwide), turban and beard, a butt of ethnic jokes, and a joie de vivre that manifests itself in the exuberant song and dance routines of the bhangra. Women here seem among the freest in the north. Literacy stood at 70% in 2001, higher than the Indian average of 65%. Sikh Gurdwaras are cleaner, more charitable, and more welcoming to outsiders than most temples and mosques I have visited. From the road, the harsh edge of poverty is visible here far less than in most parts of India.

About 60% of Punjabis are Sikh; the rest are mostly Hindu. A lively debate continues on Sikh religious doctrine and political strategy between conservatives and liberals. Though typecast as a rustic people not into "high culture", the Punjabis are heirs to a profusion of "folklore, ballads of love and war [think Heer-Ranjha, Sohni-Mahiwal], fairs and festivals, dance, music, as well as literature, the origins of which are the mystical and religious verse of the 13th-century Muslim Sufi (mystic) Shaikh Farid and of the 15th-16th-century Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism, who were the first to use Punjabi extensively as a medium of poetic expression."

Punjabi writers and painters of note include Khushwant Singh, Mulk Raj Anand, Amrita Pritam, Vikram Seth, Amrita Sher-Gil, Satish Gujral, and Manjit Bawa. Har Gobind Khorana, Nobel Laureate in medicine, was Punjabi. Punjabis in media, sports, and entertainment include A Shourie, Kuldip Nayyar, Aroon Purie, Vinod Mehta, Kapil Dev, Bedi, Siddhu, M Amarnath, Harbhajan S, Sehwag, Milkha Singh, Dara Singh, Gulzar, the Kapoor, Khanna, Deol, Dutt, Chopra, and Roshan clans, Sahir Ludhianvi, Shamshad Begum, Allah Rakha, Bhisham Sahni, Dev Anand, Om Puri, Raj Babbar, Jagjit Singh, M Rafi, KL Saigal, Gurdas Maan, Daler Mehndi, Deepa Mehta, Mira Nair, Gurinder Chadha, Deepti Naval, and more.

Yet for all that, the Punjabishave only 793 girls to every 1000 boys up to the age of six, the worst ratio in India, whose national average in 2001 was already low (and falling) at 927 girls to 1000 boys. How does one reconcile such a high incidence of selective abortions (long banned in India) with the seemingly progressive spirit of Punjab?      [—September 2006]

        Anandpur Sahib


 Attari/Wagah Border



Further Reading:

  1. Wikipedia on Sikhism  A reasonable starting point to explore Sikhism.

  2. Did the Sikhs betray "the country" in 1857 (part1, part2, part3)?  Bijla Singh, a Sikh nationalist scholar, says "no".

  3. Why Osama resembles Bhindranwale  Anil Athale draws lessons for our times from the Sikh terrorism of the '80s.

  4. 31 October 1984  Khushwant Singh describes the saddest day of his life.


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