Jats of Punjab

A Brief History of the Punjab

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Indus Valley Civilization

The Indian Civilization is one of the oldest in the world. Archaeologists estimate that settled life appeared around the fertile belt of the Indus river about 9,000 (nine thousand) years ago. The cradle of this ancient Indus Valley Civilization was in the Punjab. Upto a few hundred years ago Punjab was dominated by Forts. Ruins of ancient castles still emerge out of the rubble every now and then.

Was Punjab inhabited by Man almost Five Million Years Ago?

Hunting tools (spears, etc.) have been found in the region of Rawalpindi, Punjab. These ancient tools are believed to be at least three to five millions years old by archaeologists. This may sound too far fetched. However, copper and bronze agricultural tools unearthed on both sides of the Indus river do prove the existence of organized rural communities in this region up to around 25,000 years ago. In the 1920s archaeological remains of Mohenjodaro (Sindh) and Harappa (southern Punjab) civilization were found that include pottery, sculpture, jewelry, intricately carved seals, etc. The ruins discovered reveal that these Indus Valley people lived in brick-baked buildings. Multi-storey houses were also found with marble baths. These cities flourished in the period between 2500 BC and 1500 BC.

Punjab - Land of Five Rivers

The geographical boundary of Punjab can be approximated to a triangle. The northern-side is bound by the Himalayas, the western-side by the river Indus, and the eastern-side by a section of the river Yamuna as it flows through Karnal. As the downstream Indus enters the plains, it meets the rivers of Punjab, a confluence of five rivers. Outside this triangular boundary, further west of the Indus, are found the famous Khyber and Bolan passes. These high mountain passes were the primary gateway into the heart of Punjab.

The major part of Punjab is an extensive plain. The fertile region (Doabs) of this flat land is bound by the five large rivers of Punjab - Indus, (i) Jhelum, (ii) Chenab, (iii) Ravi, (iv) Beas, and (v) Sutlej. In the region bounded by the Sutlej and the Yamuna, the primary spoken language is Punjabi. The homeland of the Sikh majority is the doab region enclosed by the Chenab and the Yamuna.

Over the year, this fertile plain experiences extreme temperatures coupled with the monsoon rains. The result is an astonishingly vibrant and constantly changing landscape witnessed across the seasons. Each season brings with it a unique blend of flora and fauna that covers the land where the main occupation of its people is related to agriculture and farming.

The Forest of Punjab

It is hard to believe that until around 1600 AD Punjab were covered with dense forests because nothing remains of these massive woodlands today. The Mughal emperor Babar who entered India around 1526 AD was known to hunt Rhinoceros in northern Punjab. The forests of central Punjab were deep enough to provide Sikh soldiers refuge from oppressive foreign invaders during their numerous skirmishes with them. The forest dominated regions of Jalandhar, Ludhiana and Karnal were teeming with wild life that included a variety of deer, wild boars, bears, panthers, leopards, lions and tigers. Occasionally the Nilgai and hyneas may still be spotted. Out of all the wild animals only goats and camel thrive in these regions today because such animals are able to survive on mere thorny shrubs that replaced the extensive woodlands.

Punjab in 1500 AD

By around 1500 AD, the two major cities of Punjab were Lahore (seat of governments) and Multan (seat of commerce). Commerce was facliltated by the rivers of the Sindh region. Merchant caravans arriving from distant places such as Persia was a common sight. Here is a partial list of some popular ancient towns that survived to emerge as big cities today: Ludhiana, Sirhind, Sialkot, Gujranwala, Wazirabad and Rawalpindi.

Aryans in the History of Punjab

Historians believe that the Aryans, a pastoral people with a language and religion of there own, entered the Northern part of the Indian subcontinent around 1500 BC. The year-long rich and fertile Punjab altered the nomadic lifestyle of the Aryan herdsmen. These tall and fair Aryan tribes decided to make Punjab as their permanent home. Great works of literature (sanskrit), including the Vedas were written in the Punjab by these new settlers. Here are some of the races and kingdoms that occupied Punjab after the Aryans:

  • The Persians (Darius - 521 to 485 BC) conquered Northern Punjab (Peshawar, Taxila, Rawalpindi).

  • The Greeks (Alexander the Great), also known for their great works of sculpture.

  • The Indian Mauryas.

  • The Bactrians and the Scythians. (Under the Bactrian King Menander the invaders crossed central Punjab, beyond Beas).

  • The Indian Guptas who managed to keep out the invaders from Central Asia and were known for their benevolent rule.

  • 500 AD - The Mongoloid Huns from Central Asia managed to break into the Indian Subcontinent via Northern Punjab.

  • Harsh Vardhana - the last great Indian ruler of the Punjab. The Huns were subdued and expelled by the Vardhanas. After the death of King Harsha in 647 AD the Vardhana empire started to disintegrate and the Afghans from beyond the Hind Kush (Himalayan mountain range) began to pour in.

  • 1001 AD - The entry of Mahmud of Ghazni was followed by invasions of other Afghan tribes such as: Ghoris, Tughlaks, Surs & Lodhis.

  • 1398 AD, Invasion of TAIMUR, the Mongol - This was a landmark invasion that permanently changed the history of Northern India. Babar, a descendant of Taimur, laid the foundation of the Mughal Empire that eventually came to rule over the Indian Subcontinent.

  • Lodhi Dynasty - In the famous 1526 AD battle of Panipat, Babar finally defeated the reigning Afghan ruler Ibrahim Lodhi, thereby replacing the Lodhi dynasty with the Mughal Dynasty (the most powerful and long-lived dynasty in the history of India).

As a result of the defeat of the Sultan of Delhi in the 1398 AD invasion of Taimur there was utter administrative chaos as organized government in the entire northern part of India came to an end. Local governors declared themselves as independent monarchs and lawlessness began to prevail. As the power of the ruling muslim class began to deplete they resorted to over-taxing hindu traders, protestors were severely punished and persecuted, and the places of worship of the infidels were destroyed. Due to such purely political reasons the good work of the Sufis (who preached tolerance towards hinduism) and the Bhaktas (who were promoting the merciful qualities of Islam) was slowly undone.

Guru Nanak, born on 15th April, 1469

In the words of Guru Nanak: "This age is like a knife. Kings are butchers. Religion has taken wings and flown. In the dark night of falsehood I cannot see where the moon of truth is rising. Modesty and religion have disappeared because falsehood reigns supreme. The Muslim Mulla and the Hindu Pandit have resigned their duties, the Devil reads the marriage vows. Praises of murders are sung and people smear themselves with blood instead of saffron." According to Nanak, the ruling Lodhis were responsible for squandering away the priceless heritage of Hindustan and allowing it to be ravaged by Babar's Mughal hordes. Hate and falsehood was overriding the hymns of love and compassion spread by the Sufi and Bhaktas.

Jats and Punjabi Nationalism

Based on the suppression of religious freedom witnessed during the collapse of the Lodhi dynasty, Guru Nanak and his nine successors wanted to spread a spirit of tolerance by reviving the positive spirit of Punjabi Nationalism that would override the negative spirit of hate and persecution to which the people of Punjab were being subject based on their different castes, creed and religion. The Jats as agriculturists were already deeply attached to their land in the central plains of Punjab. Therefore, it is not at all surprising that the spirit of Punjabi Nationalism first appeared in Majha, the heart of Punjab. The Jats are a people of Aryan stock who had made the northern plains of India their home. The typical Jat village was like a minature Republic ruled by a Panchyat (elected body of five elders). The Jat village was made up of people of kindred blood and they were conscious of an absolute equality amongst themselves. As new settlers, the Jats kept a distance from people of different castes and creed, as an act of self preservation that would ensure that their culture would not be diluted or disappear altogether.

The Jats

The ruling Monarchs always suffered losses when they sent military to the fortified Jat villages. The Jat's sense of equality and spirit of freedom ensured that they never submitted to Brahmanical Hinduism. The upper caste Hindus often attempted to defame the Jats and lower them in the eyes of the Brahmins but such behavior made little difference to the powerful Jat spirit. The original Jat brotherhood was never a part of the Hindu caste system and did not properly understand the behavior of these people. Based on a cursory observation, the Brahmin was often considered by the Jats of Punjab as not much better than a soothsayer or a beggar. The Jat was born the worker and the warrior and this Jat spirit was not well understood by those (non-Jats) whose lives were carved within the framework of the Hindu caste system.

Why did a Jat Nation or Jatland not form in Northern India?

The Jats were more or less from the same tribes or races that entered at a later time period into the Indian subcontinent. With the passage of time the division that occurred amongst the Jats was not based on race but on other criteria such as religion, caste, etc. For example, with the emergence of monotheism, there were now muslim Jats and hindu Jats, not that all muslims and hindus were Jats. Later, as a solution to the administrative problems created by foreign invasions, sikhism appeared and now there were sikh Jats also. Such divisions diluted the original kindred spirit of the Jats and so a Jatland or Jat Nation was never formed. Nevertheless, even today the Jat spirit is recognized and respected within the communities or nations of which the Jats are now an integral part.

The Jats, as farmers, love their land and will defend their area at any cost. The Jats, originally from the Aryan stock, entered the fertile plains of Punjab from the harsh mountainous terrain of the north looking for greener pastures. The Jats of Punjab became a core part of the Sikh community that was easily organized into martial troops under the Gurus to fight off the foreign invaders.

Jats of Punjab