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Historical Overview of Punjab

Historical Overview of Punjab

By Muhammad Afzal Upal

Major Events In Punjabi History:

Aryan Migrations (516 BC — 321 AD)
Persian Rule (516 BC — 321 AD)
Alexander’s Invasion (321 AD)
Muslim Invasions (713 AD — 1300 AD)
The Rise of Sikh Power (1700 AD — 1849 AD) 

The word “Punjab” for the first time was mentioned in the Book “Tarikh-e-Sher Shah” (1580) which mentions the construction of Fort by a fellow named “Sher Khan of Punjab”. Again the name is mentioned in “Ain-e-Akbari” part 1 written by Abul Fazal who also mentions that the territory of Punjab was divided into two provinces of Lahore and Multan. Similarly in the second volume of “Aeen-e-Akbari” title of a chapter contains the word “Punjab” in it. Also the Mughal King Jahangir mentions the word “Punjab” on page 183 of his book “Tuzk-i-Janhageeri”. [Quraishee 73]

But Archeologists have traced the signs of human habitation to times long before that of Mughals arrival. The upper basin of Indus and the Baluchistan Plateau hosted one of the earliest human civilizations known as the Indus valley civilization. The earliest signs of life human activity date as far back as 7000 B.P. The Indus valley civilization grew from small village and settlements to highly refined urban life. At its height, around 3000 B.C., it boasted the splendid cities of Harrapa (Near present Day Sahiwal in West Punjab) and Mohenjo Daro in the lower Indus valley. The story of the decline, whose reasons are still not completely explained, of civilization is also told through the remains of these cities.

Aryan Migrations:

Among other reasons like the change in the weather patterns, urbanization without any rural agricultural production base one factor is reported to be the series of raids or small scale migrations by the Aryans from the North-West (1500-100 BC). The next thousand year history of Punjab (or Arya-Varta, the land of Aryas, as Aryas called it) is dominated by the Aryans and their interactions with the natives of the Indus basin. Here is where the oldest books of human history called the Rig-Vedas are supposed to have been written. The Aryan tongue Sanskrit became a symbol of the Aryan domination of the area.

Easternmost Satrapy of the Persians:

Punjab lied at the outskirts of the great Persian empires and came under their control from time to time. The Persian King Darius the great is reported to have attacked Punjab and occupied some parts. But for the first time the occupation of Punjab was completed by the Persian King Gustasp in 516 BC. Punjab became the wealthiest Satrapy i.e., the province in the Persian kingdom.

Greeks, the rival empire of the Persians, also had some knowledge of the area. The great Persian Emperor Darius I (521-486 BC) appointed Skylax the Greek to explore the area around Indus river for commercial expeditions who provided an account of his voyage in his book “Peripulus”. Hectaeus (500 BC) and Herodotus (483-431 BC) also wrote about the “Indian Satrapy” of the Persians. Alexander’s expeditions were documented in the works of Strabo, Ptolemy, Pliny, Arrian and others. They described a region that had plenty of mighty rivers and was divided into four Kingdoms. In Greek maps we find the mention of the mightiest of river of all the world called the Indos (Indus) and its tributaries of Hydaspes (Jehlum), Akesines (Chenab), Hydroatis (Ravi), Hyphasis (Satluj) and Hesidros (Beas).

Alexander’s Invasion:

In 321 BC Alexander the great after breaking the might of the Persians entered their final Satrapy of Punjab. He invited all the chieftains of this Satrapy to come to him and submit to his authority, which is exactly what the ruler of the northwest most (west of Hydaspes) kingdom of Gandhara with its capital of Taxilai did. But the ruler of the Kingdom Beteen (Hydaspes and Akesines) refused to submit to Alexander’s authority and the two armies fought the historical battle on the bank of Akesines outside the town of Nikaia (somewhere around modern city of Jehlum).

Porus put up a tough fight but his army was no match for Alexander’s army. After losing his sons and getting hurt himself when the defiant Raja was brought in front of Alexander, the legendary conversation took place when Alexander inquired Porus, “How should I treat you?”, the brave Porus shot back, “The same way as a king treats another king.”. Alexander was struck by his genius and he not only returned the Kingdom back to Porus, but he also added the area lying between Akesines and Hydraotis to his Kingdom whose ruler had fled.

Alexander as with his other occupied areas established two cities in the area of Punjab, where he settled people from his multi-national armies which included a majority of Greeks and Macedonians. These cities along with the rule of the Indo-Greek thrived long after Alexander’s departure.

Alexander’s Eastern empire (from Syria to Punjab) was inherited by Selecus Nicator, the founder of Seleucid dynasty. However the Greek empire in the east was disrupted by the ascendancy of the Bacterians. The Bacterian King Demetrius I added Punjab to his Kingdom in the second century BC. The best known of the Indo-Greek kings was Menander who established his independent kingdom centered at Taxila in 170 BC. He later moved his capital to Sagala (modern Sialkot). Menander soon captured territories east of his kingdom and grew to rival the power of Bacterians. Menander died in a vain attempt to conquer Bacteria in 130 BC. Menander’s successors maintained the their rule on Punjab till 55 BC when the whole area was disrupted by the events happening in greater Euro-Asia.

In the middle of the second century BC, Yui Chi tribe of modern China began to move westward which caused in turn to Sakas or Scythians to move. Northern Sakas successfully wrestled the power of the areas from the Indo-Greeks. Another Central Asiatic people to make Punjab their home were the white Huns who made continuous campaigns towards this part of the world. Finally establishing their rule in the later 3rd century AD.

Muslim Invasions

Following the birth of Islam in Arabia in 6th century AD, Arabs rose to power and replaced the Persians as the major power in the area. In 711-13 AD Arabs advanced to the land of five rivers, occupying Multan. Further north the area that survived the Arab attacks was divided into small kingdoms.

Meanwhile in Ghazni after the death of Subuktgin, the Turk, his son Mahmud assumed power in 997 AD. He was to expand his father’s kingdom far to the west and east of Ghazni through his military conquest. He was to attack Punjab 17 times during his reign. The Ghaznavids were uprooted by the Ghauris who extended their rule as far as Delhi. Shahabuddin Ghauri annexed Lahore to his kingdom in 1186. After Ghauri’s death his governor Qutbudin Aibak became an independent ruler of Punjab and founded the Mamluk sultanate. Khiljis’ replaced the Mamluks in 1290. The rule of Khiljis was briefly disrupted by the two successful raids by the Mongols who marched their way to Delhi twice during Alauddin khilji’s rule. tughluqs succeeded Khiljis in 1320 AD. Tughluq rule was replaced by the Sayyids in 1414 AD. Lodhis gained control of Delhi in 1479 AD.

The Rise of Sikh Power

Punjab presented a picture of chaos and confusion when Ranjit Singh took reins of Sukerchikias misal. The edifice of Ahmad Shah Abdali’s empire in India had crumbled. Afghanistan was dismembered. Peshawar and Kashmir though under the suzerainty of Afghanistan had attained de facto independence. Barakzais were the masters of these places. Attock was ruled by Wazrikhels and Jhang lay at the feet of Sials. Pathans were ruling Kasur. Multan had thrown yoke and Nawab Muzaffar Khan had taken its charge.

Both Punjab and Sind were under Afghan rule since 1757 after Ahmad Shah Abdali was granted suzerainty over these two provinces. They were confronted with the rising power of Sikhs in Punjab. Taimur Khan, a local Governor was able to turn away Sikhs from Amritsar. He razed to the ground the fort of Ram Rauni. But this state of affairs did not last long and the Sikh misal joined hands and defeated Taimur Shah and his Chief minister Jalal Khan. The Afghans were forced to retreat and Lahore was occupied by the Sikhs in 1758, Jassa singh Ahluwalia proclaimed Sikh’s sovereignty and became its head. He struck coins to commemorate his victory.

When Ahmad Shah Abdali was engaged in his campaign against the Marathas at Panipat in 1761, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia plundered Sirhind and Dialpur, seized some places in Ferozepur district and took under his possesion Jagraon and Kot Isa Khan on the other bank of Sutlej. He captured Hoshiarpur and Naraingarh in Ambala and levied tribute from the chief of Kapurthala. He then marched towards Jhang. Sial chief offered stout resistance. When Ahmad Shah left in Feb 1761, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia again attacked Sirhind and extended his territory as far as Tarn Taran. He crossed Bias and capture Sultanpur. In 1762, Ahmad Shah again appeared and a fierce battle took place. It is called Ghalughara, a great holocaust. Jassa singh fled to Kangra hills after Sikh forces were totally routed.after the departure of Ahmad Shah Abdali, Jassa Singh Ahluwali attacked Sirhind, it was razed to ground and the afghan Governer Zen Khan was killed. This was a great victory to Sikhs who were rulers of all the area around the Sirhind. Jassa Singh hastily paid visit to Hari Mandir Saheb at Amritsar, and he made amends and restored it to original shape as it was defiled by Ahmad Shah by slaughtering cows in its precincts.

Ahmad Shah died in June 1773. After his death power of Afghans declined in Punjab. Taimur Shah ascended the throne at Kabul. By then misals, had established themselves in Punjab. They had under their control the area as far as Saharnpur in east, Attock in west, Kangra Jammu in north and Multan in south. Efforts were made by Afghan rulers to dislodge Sikhs from their citadels. Taimur Shah attacked Multan and defeated the Bhangis. The Bhangi sardars, Lehna Singh, and Sobha singh were driven out of Lahore in 1767 by the Abdali but soon reoccupied it. They remained in power in Lahore till 1793-the year when Shah Zaman succeeded to the throne of Kabul.

The first attempt by Shah Zaman was made in 1793. He came up to Hassan Abdal from where he sent an army of 7000 strong cavalry under Ahmad Shah Shahnachi but the Sikhs totally routed them. It was a great setback to Shah Zaman but again in 1795 he reorganized forces and attacked Hassan Abdal, snatched Rohtas from Sukerchikias, whom leader was Ranjit Singh. who suffered at Shah Zaman’s hands but did not lose courage. However, shah had to be back in Kabul as an invasion was apprehended on his own country from the west. After he went back, Ranjit Singh dislodged the Afghans from Rohtas.

Shah Zaman could not sit idle. In 1796 he moved, crossed Indus for the third time and dreamt of capturing Delhi. His ambition knew no bounds. By now he had collected 3000 strong Afghan army. He was confident a large number of Indians will join with him. Nawab of Kasur had already assured him help. Sahib Singh of Patiala betrayed his countrymen and declared his intentions of helping Shah Zaman. Shah Zaman was also assured help by the Rohillas, Wazir of Oudh, and Tipu Sultan of Mysore. The news of Shah Zaman invasion spreadlike wild fire, people started fleeing to hills for safety. Heads of Misals, though bound to give protection to the people as they were collecting Rakhi tax from them, were the first to leave the people in lurch. By December Shah occupied territory up to Jhelum. When he reached Gujarat Sahib, Singh Bhangi panicked and left the place.

Next was the territory of Ranjit Singh. He was alert and raised an army of 5000 horsemen. But they were inadequately armed with only spears and muskets. The Afghans were equipped with heavy artillery. Ranjit Singh thought of a stiff united fight against the invaders. He came to Amritsar. A congregation of Sarbat Khlasa was called and many Sikh sardars answered the call. An almost unanimous opinion prevailed that Shah Zaman’s army should be allowed to enter the Punjab, and they all should retire to hills.

Forces were reorganized under the command of Ranjit Singh and they marched towards Lahore. They were able to gave Afghans a crushing defeat in several villages and ultimately surrounded the city of Lahore. Sorties were made in night in which they would kill a few Afghan soldiers and then leave the city in the thick of darkness. Following this tactic they were able to dislodge Afghans at several places.

In 1797, Shah Zaman, suddenly left for Afghansistan as his brother Mahmud had revolted. Shahanchi khan with considerable force was left at Lahore. The Sikhs however followed Shah up to Jhelum and snatched many goods from him. The Sikhs returned and in the way 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 his defeat in 1797, people took refuge in hills. Sarbat Khalsa was again called and Sada Kaur again persuaded Sikhs to fight till the last man. This time even Muslims were not spared by Shah Zaman’s forces and he won Gujarat very easily. Sada Kaur aroused the sense of Sikhs of national honour and if they had left Amritsar then she will command the forces against Afghans. She said an Afghani soldier was no match to a Sikh soldier . They would be give befitting reply and by the grace of Sat Guru they would be successful.
The Afghans had plundered the towns and villages as they had vowed and declared openly that they would exterminate the Sikhs; but in the process the Muslims suffered most as Hindus and Sikhs had already left for the hills. The Muslims thought that they would not be touched but their hopes were belied and their provisions were forcible taken away by the Afghans.
Shah Zaman sought help of Raja Sansar Chand of Kangra, that he will not give any food or shelter to Sikhs. He agreed. Shah Zaman attacked Lahore and Sikhs were surrounded from all sides, they had to fight a grim battle. The Afghans occupied Lahore on Nov 1798, and planned to attack Amritsar. Ranjit Singh collected his Men and faced Shah’s forces about 8 Km from Amritsar. It was a well-matched encounter which forced Afghans at last to retire. They were humiliated and 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. The Afghans never expected such a humiliating defeat at the hands of Sikhs. Nizam-ud.din of Kasur attacked Sikhs near Shahdara on the banks of Ravi, but his forces were no match to Sikhs. Here too, Muslims suffered the most. The retreating Afghans and Nizam-ud-din forces plundered the town which antagonized the local people.

The Afghans struggled hard to dislodge Sikhs but in vain. Sikh cordon was so strong that they made impossible for the Afghans to break it and proceed towards Delhi. Ranjit Singh became terror to them. The moment Zaman Shah left, Ranjit Singh pursued his forces and caught them unawares near Gujranwala. They were chased further up to Jhelum. Many Afghan were put to death and their war equipment was taken into possession and they were made to run for their lives. Shah Zaman was overthrown by his brother and was blinded. He became a helpless creature and 12 years later came to Punjab to seek refuge in Ranjit Singh’s darbar, who was now the ruler of land. Destiny wished it like that.

Ranjit singh combined with Sahib Singh of Gujrat (Punjab) and Milkha Singh of Pindiwala and a large Sikh force, fell upon the Afghan garrison while Shah Zaman was still in vicinity of Khyber Pass. The Afghan forces fled towards north after having been routed by the Sikhs leaving behind at Gujarat their dead including the Afghan deputy.”(Bikramjit Hasrat, Life and times of Ranjit Singh, p.36).

By this time the people of the country had become aware of the rising strength of Ranjit Singh, the rising star on the horizon. He was the most popular leader of the Punjab and was already yearning to enter Lahore. The people of Lahore being extremely oppressed raised their voices of wailing to the skies and were looking towards their liberator. Muslims joined Hindus and Sikh residents of Lahore in making an appeal to Ranjit Singh to free them from the tyrannical rule.

A petition was written and was signed by Mian Ashak Mohammad, Mian Mukkam Din, Mohammad Tahir, Mohammad Bakar, Hakim Rai, and Bhai Gurbaksh Singh. It was addressed to Ranjit singh to free them from Bhangi sardars. Ranjit singh was invited to liberate lahore as early as possible. He mobilised a 25000 Army and marched towards Lahore on July 6, 1799.

It was a last day of Muharram when a big procession was to be taken out in the town in the memory of the two grandsons of Prophet Mohammad who were martyred in the battlefield without having a drop of water. It was expected that Bhangi sardars will also participate in procession and mourn with their Shia brethren. By the time procession was over Ranjit Singh had reached outskirts of city.

Early morning on July 7 1799, Ranjit Singh’s men had taken their positions. Guns glistened and the bugles were sounded. Rani Sada Kaur stood outside Delhi gate and Ranjit Singh proceeded towards Anarkali. Ranjit Singh rode along the walls of the city and got the wall mined. A breach was blown. . It created panic and confusion. Mukkam Din, who was one of the signatories to the petition made a proclamation with the beat of drum that town had been taken over by him and he was now head. He ordered all the city gates to be opened. Ranjit Singh entered the city with his troops through the Lahori Gate. Sada Kaur with a detachment of cavalry entered through Delhi gate. Before Bhangi sardars had any inkling of it, a part of the citadel was occupied without any resistance. Sahib Singh and Mohar Singh left the city and sought shelter at some safer place. Chet Singh was left either to fight, defend the town or flee as he like. He shut himself in Hazuri Bagh with only 500 men. Ranjit Singh’s cavalry surrounded Hazuri Bagh and Chet Singh surrendered and he was given permission to leave the city along with his family.

Ranjit singh was well entrenched in the town now. Immediately after taking possesion of the city, he paid visit to Badashahi mosque. This gesture increased his prestige and his status was in the eyes of people. He won the hearts of the subjects, Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs alike. It was July 7, 1799 when victorious Ranjit Singh entered Lahore.

                    During the rein of  Maharaja Ranjit Singh , the Sikhs had even ruled on Afganistan . The Sikh religion flourished and the territorial boundaries increased . Ranjit Singh constructed many Gurdwaras . He constructed the famous Sachkhand Sahib at Nanded in Maharashtra . He also covered the famous Har Mandir Sahib (Golden Temple) with Gold .

                     After his death in 1839, the Sikh governers started fighting with each other for supremacy . Slowly the Sikh kingdom started declining and the British took over it .

The British and the Post Independence Era :-
                      The British ruled Punjab for 200 years like the rest of India . During this period they committed many atrocities
on the locals . Many of  the Freedom Fighters of  the Great Indian Freedom Struggle were from Punjab . Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Sukhdev , Lala Lajpat Rai, Udham Singh were some of the brave sons of  this soil who laid down their life for the country . In addition thousands of unsung heros sacrificed themselves in the “Jalia Wala Bagh” incident . 

                       At last on 15 th August 1947 , India became independent . But it came at a heavy price . The Great Indian nation was partitioned on the basis of  religion into two states of  India and Pakistan . Western Punjab was dominated by Muslims and went to Pakistan while Eastern Punjab was dominated by Hindus and Sikhs and remained in India .Hindus and Muslims with people of other religions had lived here for ages . Although there were some differences between them , still the common culture and traditions joined them

                        As agreed by Indian and Pakistani leaders , the minority Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan would be allowed to live there only and the Muslims would be allowed to live in India . The Indian government followed the decesion but their Pakistani counterparts did not control the Muslim mobs in their side . Thousands of  Hindus and Sikhs were mercilessly killed in the Pakistani Punjab . Then its repercussions followed in Indian side of  Punjab . What followed after that, had never happened in the civilized history of  human beings . Around 500,000 people were killed from both sides . Another 50 million people had to migrate to other side of the border . Hindus and Sikhs started migrating from Pakistan to India and Muslims from India to Pakistan .

                        Slowly and surely things started getting to normal . Soon big-hearted and hard working Punjabis made Punjab the jewel in the crown of India .

                         Punjab was again divided into the states of  present day Punjab,Haryana and Himachal Pradesh for administrative reasons in 1966 .

[Quraishee 73] Punjabi Adab De Kahani, Abdul Hafeez Quaraihee, Azeez Book Depot, Lahore, 1973.
[Chopra 77] The Punjab as a sovereign state, Gulshan Lal Chopra, Al-Biruni , Lahore, 1977.

Send any suggestions to: Muhammad Afzal Upal upal@cs.ualberta.ca


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