Brief HistoryAntiquityFrom Persian Conquest to the Mughal EmpireRise and Fall of the Sikh EmpiresBritish ConquestPost Partition – Governmental StructureAdministrative UnitsHistoric/ Heritage Sites

Brief History

Punjab is the second largest province of Pakistan in area, after Balochistan (which is the largest in terms of area) and the most populous province, with approximately 53%[1] of the country’s total population residing in Punjab.

The socio-cultural roots of Punjab are deep and ancient. The region has been mentioned in the sacred religious texts of two of the oldest religions of the subcontinent: Hinduism and the Zoroastrian religion. Punjab is mentioned in the Rig Vedas[2] (or Rigvedas). In fact, it is believed that the Rig Vedas were composed in Punjab as they embody a literary record of the socio-cultural development of ancient Punjab, which has been mentioned under the name Sapta Sindhu or “seven rivers.” Sapta Sindhu is the term that is the root of the word “Hindu,” because the word Sapta Sindhu was changed to Hapta-Hindu by the Persians[3] (around 525 BC). This word is also found in the Avesta[4] of the Zoroastrians. The seven rivers (Sapta Sindhu Rivers) that have been mentioned in the ancient texts have been clearly identified with the rivers flowing through the province, and include Shutudri (Sutlej), Parushni (Ravi), Asikni (Chenab), Vitasta (Jhelum), Vipasha (Beas), Sindhu (Indus), and Saraswati which is now completely dry but is known to have flowed through the deserts of Rajasthan.

The first mention of the Sanskrit equivalent[5] of “Punjab” occurs in the great epic, the “Mahabharata” [6] aspancha-nada” or the “country of five rivers.” The first known use of the word Punjab is in the book Tarikh–e-Sher Shah Suri [The history of Sher Shah Suri] (1580), which mentions the construction of a fort by “Sher Khan of Punjab.” The name is mentioned again in Ain-e-Akbari [The constitution of Akbar] (Part 1), written by Abul Fazal, who also mentions that the territory of Punjab was divided into two provinces: Lahore and Multan. Similarly, in the second volume of Ain-e-Akbari, the title of a chapter includes the word “Panjnad” in it. The Mughal Emperor Jahangir also mentions the word Panjab in Tuzk-i-Jahangeeri [Memoirs of Jehangir].


The history of Punjab is as old as the history of the Indus Valley Civilization. This area was known as Panjnad or Pancha-nada (as mentioned already) when the Aryans came to India in the 3rd millennium BC. According to the Imperial Gazetteer of India, “Punjab was undoubtedly the seat of the earliest Aryan settlements in India, and the Rig Veda was probably composed within its borders” (v.20, p.259).

Before the arrival of the Aryans, the whole region of the Sindhu (Indus) and its tributaries was inhabited by the Harappans or the people of the Copper Age who constructed great cities in this region. Ropar, Punjab (Roopnagar; now in India) is an example of this civilization. It is known that the Harappan culture (during the Bronze Age) declined suddenly between 1800-1700 BC, but the reasons for its sudden end are as puzzling for historians as its beginning. It was after the decline of the Harappans that the Aryans from Central Asia ventured into this land and made it their home. The Aryans lived in tribes and spoke Sanskrit, which belonged to the Indo-European group of languages. Gradually, the Aryans intermingled with the local people and a historic synthesis was worked out between the Aryan tribes and the original inhabitants. This synthesis broadly came to be known as Hinduism. The Ramayana and Mahabharatha were the two great epics of this period.

The oldest evidence of life in Punjab was found in the archeological excavations made in the Soan River Valley, located in West Punjab (Pakistan); here, tools, believed to be up to 2 million years old, have been discovered.

Other important archeological discoveries were made at Mohen-jo-Daro in Sindh, Harappa in Punjab, and recently at several locations in the Ropar (Roopnagar) district (India) which show evidence of what has come to be known as the Indus Valley Civilization, all of which together reveal a well-developed, civilized culture. The excavations revealed evidence of houses built with burnt bricks on a regulated and functional pattern, private wells, baths, pipes, soak pits, sullage (sewage) jars, covered drains, and public baths, as well as the use of bitumen as a water proofing agent, use of metals, colors, irrigation reservoirs and channels, pottery, sculptures, figurines, murals depicting varied hairstyles, and artistic ornaments—all of which reveal that the citizens of these cities lived a sophisticated and highly civilized life.

The discovery of another great civilization was made at the archeological excavations at Taxila (3,000 years old), which establish the region as a major emporium of trade and manufacture. The city of Taxila—founded by the son of Taksh (the brother of Ram), who is known as the son of Bharat—is reputed to house the oldest university in the world, known as Takshashila University. One of the teachers of this university was the great Vedic Chanakya. Taxila is now known to have been a great center of learning and intellectual discussion during the ancient Maurya Empire. Seekers of knowledge from all parts of the world are believed to have studied here. These students (who later became teachers) included scholars like Prasenajit (ruler of Kosala, an ancient Indian Kingdom), Jivika and Chark, (both founders of the Ayurvedic branch of medicine), Kautilya, (the author of the Arth-Shastra and preceptor of Chandragupta Maurya the Great), and Paninni (the renowned Sanskrit scholar). The Mahabharata is believed to have been first recited in the halls of this university, and grammar based on the text of the Ramayana is known to have been taught here by Paninni. Taxila is now a UN World Heritage site, and revered for its archeological and religious history.

From Persian Conquest to the Mughal Empire (6th Century BC to 18th Century AD)

Due to its strategic location and the richness of its landscape, the Punjab region came under constant attack and influence from the western regions. One of the earliest known invasions was that by King Cyrus of Persia in the year 558 BC. The Imperial Gazetteer of India shows that “for a brief period after 500 BC part of Punjab may have formed a Persian province, the Indian satrapy[7] conquered by Darius, which stretched from Kalabagh to the sea and paid a tribute of fully a million sterling” (v.20, p.260).

The Persian King Gustasp (assumed to be Darius the Great of Persia by some historians) completed the conquest of Punjab in 516 BC, and Punjab became the wealthiest satrapy of the Persian Empire. The Persians ruled Punjab till 486 BC and laid the foundations of the Gandhara Civilization. Taxila, the now famous archeological site, was established as the Capital of Gandhara.

In 326 BC, Alexander the Great crossed the River Indus at Ohind (now in Attock district), and invaded the territories of Raja Porus, whose kingdom lay in the Chaj doab.[8] Raja Porus fought ferociously, but after losing two of his sons and getting wounded himself, lost the battle, and was brought in front of Alexander. This is when the now legendary conversation is said to have taken place, in which Alexander asked Porus “How should I treat you?” and Porus replied “As a King treats another King.” It is generally accepted that the reply pleased Alexander so much that not only did he return Porus’s Kingdom to him, but added other areas whose rulers had fled to his kingdom as a sign of respect.

In 323 BC, Alexander the Great died and left the lands to Eudamus.[9] In 317 BC, Chandragupta Maurya took over, and founded the Mauryan Dynasty. Punjab prospered under Mauryan rule for the next century. Between 208 BC and 274 BC, Chandragupta died, and Ashoka took over the kingdom, accepting Buddhism as his religion.

The Mauryan Empire was followed by the Saka dynasty in 125 BC. The Saka were prominent rulers of the province, having a great impact on the social set-up of its society.

From 90 BC to 600 AD, the area was ruled by the Saka-Parthians (Persian Empire), Kushan from Central Asia, Sassanian from Iran, Kidar Kushan, White Hun[10] and Turk Shahi respectively. The Kushan kings propagated Buddhism and Gandhara art reached its peak during their rule. The Kidar Kushan kings, also known as Little Kushan, are supposed to have originated in China and were the inheritors of the Kushan Empire. The White Huns, who followed the Kidar Kushan, destroyed many Buddhist Monasteries, and stupas, and led the mass killings of Buddhists, resulting in Buddhism’s decline in the region.

In 711 AD, when Muhammad bin Qasim attacked Sindh and conquered its southeastern part, Arab rule was established in the region, which included Bhambhore as well as other cities in Sindh and southern Punjab. Thus, Punjab’s legacy includes a unique syncretic culture that combines Zoroastrian, Hindu, Buddhist, Persian, Central Asian, Islamic, Afghan, Sikh, and British elements.

Before the Arab conquest and the establishment of Islam as the predominant religion in the region, the majority of Punjab’s population followed the religions of the conquering kings, which included Buddhist and Hindu kings. For example, after the decline of the Kushan Empire[11] in the 3rd century AD, the Hindu Shahi Dynasty[12] ruled the area. These rulers, even though practicing Hindus, belonged to the Turkic culture and were Tibetan in origin. Their rule can be divided into two parts: the Buddhist Shahis (also called Kabul Shahis) and Hindu Shahis. The switch from Buddhist Shahi to Hindu Shahi occurred around 870 AD. In 999 AD, the Hindu Shahi ruler Jayapala annexed the kingdom of Lahore which had emerged as an independent state in the early 10th century.

In 977 AD, a Turkic ruler Sebuktigin acceded to the throne of the small kingdom of Ghazni in central Afghanistan. In the 980s, Sebuktigin defeated the Shahis, and thus, extended his rule from the Khyber Pass, to the Indus. After his death in 997, his son, Mahmud, assumed power in Ghazni. He expanded his father’s kingdom farther to the west and east through military conquests. He invaded the Punjab and northern India 17 times during his reign, conquering the Shahi Kingdom, and extending his rule across the Punjab as far as the upper Yamuna. Mahmud demolished Hindu temples wherever his campaigns took him, and he also attacked the Ismailis, whom he viewed as heretics.

Sebuktigin’s successors, known as the Ghaznavids, ruled for 157 years. Their kingdom gradually shrank in size, due to bitter succession struggles. The Ghaznavids lost the western part of their kingdom (in present day Iran) to the expanding Seljuk Turks, and the Hindu Rajput kingdoms of western India re-conquered eastern Punjab. By the 1160s, the line of demarcation between the Ghaznavid state and the Hindu kingdoms aligned approximately with the present day boundary between India and Pakistan. The Ghorids of central Afghanistan led by Muhammad Ghori occupied Ghazni around 1150 AD, and shifted the capital to Lahore. Muhammad Ghori extended his kingdom past Delhi into the Ganges-Yamuna Doab.

After Muhammad Ghori’s death in 1206, his general of Turkic descent, Qutb-ud-din Aybak, took control of Muhammad Ghori’s Indian empire, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northern India. Qutb-ud-din moved the capital of his empire to Delhi; the empire he founded there was called the Sultanate of Delhi. His successors were known as the Mamluks or descendants of the Slave Dynasty as Qutb-ud-din Aybak was a former slave of Muhammad Ghori). The Mamluks ruled from 1210 to 1290. The Mongols, who had conquered Muhammad Ghori’s former possessions in Central Asia, continued to encroach on the Sultanate’s northwest frontier in the 13th century. The Mongols conquered Afghanistan, and from there, raided Punjab and northwestern India. Lahore was sacked in 1241, and the Mongols and Sultans contested for control of the Punjab for much of the 13th century.

The Khilji dynasty replaced the Mamluks in 1290. The rule of Khiljis was briefly disrupted by successful raids from the Mongols, who marched to Delhi twice during Alauddin Khilji’s rule. The Tughluqids succeeded the Khiljis in 1320. Timur (Tamerlane or Timur the Lame), who ruled a Central Asian empire from Samarkand, sacked Delhi in 1398-1399, and reduced the Sultanate to a small kingdom surrounding Delhi. Two Afghan dynasties took control of the Sultanate after the Tughluqids: the Sayyids from 1414 to 1479, and the Lodhis from 1479 to 1526. The Lodhis recovered control of some of the Sultanate’s lost territories, including the Punjab. Babar, a descendant of the Mongol Khans who ruled a kingdom in Afghanistan, defeated the last Sultan of Delhi at the First Battle of Panipat in 1526, and founded the Mughal Empire. The Mughal Empire suffered a setback when Babar’s son Humayun was defeated in 1540 by Sher Shah Suri, the Afghan King. Sher Shah Suri’s reign ended in 1545. In 1555 Humayun regained much more than his lost territories with the help of the Saffavid Dynasty of Persia after defeating Sikandar Sur. Humayun died in 1556 and left his 14 year old son Akbar (1542-1605) to succeed him.

The Mughal Empire continued for several centuries. During Mughal rule, several building projects were completed, most of which are still extant, including the Shalimar Gardens (built by Mughal Emperor Shahjahan), the Lahore Fort (built by Aurangzeb) and the Badshahi Mosque (built by Emperor Aurangzeb), all situated in Lahore. Muslim soldiers, traders, architects, theologians, and Sufis flocked from the rest of the Muslim world to the Mughal Courts, the largest Islamic Sultanate of South Asia (India).

By the mid-1660s the Marathas[13] had risen to power and succeeded in defeating the Mughals after Emperor Aurangzeb’s death. For the next 50 years, they continued to expand their empire up to Delhi and Punjab. Afghan rulers were also gaining strength. In February 1739, Nader Shah, the Shah of Iran (Persia) and founder of the Afsharid Dynasty, crossed the Indus, and attacked Delhi. He defeated the Mughal forces at the Battle of Karnal. In May 1739, he returned to Persia, ceding all the territories to Muhammad Shah, the Mughal Emperor (1702-1748). The Afghan conqueror, Ahmad Shah Durrani (also known as Ahmad Shah Abdali), born in the city of Multan (Punjab) made Punjab a part of his Durrani Empire which lasted until 1762.

Rise and Fall of the Sikh Empires

The 18th century saw the rise of the Sikhs in Punjab. The founder of Sikh rule in Punjab was Banda Singh Bahadur, a disciple of Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Sikh Guru. He attacked and conquered the Mughal provincial capital Samana (Patiala District, India) in 1709 and after establishing his authority in Punjab, abolished the zamindari system, and granted property rights to the tillers of the land, thus changing the structure of Punjab’s society. He minted Sikh coins, and established the Sikh capital of Punjab in Lohgarh (now in Sirmur district of Himachal Pradesh, India). He was captured by the Mughals and put to death in 1716.

Some of Banda’s followers became leaders of the Sikh Misls[14] such as the Bhangi, Ramgarhia, Ahluwalia, and Kenhaya. Ranjit Singh became the ruler of Punjab in 1799.

Both Punjab and Sindh had been under Afghan rule since 1757, when Ahmad Shah Abdali was granted suzerainty[15] over these provinces. However, the Sikhs had become a rising power in Punjab. Taimur Shah Durrani, a local Governor, was able to expel the Sikhs from Amritsar, but his control over the region was short-lived, and various Sikh Misls joined forces to defeat 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 sovereignty, assumed leadership, and was made the “Sultan-ul-Quam” or “king of the nation,” striking coins to commemorate his victory.

While Ahmad Shah Abdali was engaged in a campaign against the Marathas at the Third Battle of Panipat in 1761, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia plundered Sirhind[16] and Dialpur (Kapurthala district, India), seized towns in the Ferozepur district (India), and took possession of Jagraon and Kot Isa Khan on the opposite bank of the Sutlej. He captured Hoshiarpur and Naraingarh in Ambala and levied tribute from the chief of Kapurthala. He then marched towards Jhang. The Sial Chief[17] offered stout resistance, and the Sikhs were forced to retreat. By 1762, Jassa Singh captured a number of territories including Amritsar in Punjab. During this time, Ahmad Shah Abdali had captured Lahore and Multan. The two armies (Jassa Singh’s and Abdali’s) met and fought a battle at Barnala (Indian Punjab); this battle resulted in the defeat of the Sikh army. Nawab Jassa Singh fled to the Kangra hills. Here, he started rallying his forces and succeeded in making alliances with other Sikh Sardars. After the departure of Ahmad Shah Abdali, Nawab Jassa Singh Ahluwalia again attacked Sirhind, razing it, and killing the Afghan Governor Zen Khan, which led to the establishment of Sikh rule over all of the territory around the Sirhind.[18]

Ahmad Shah died in June 1773. After his death, the power of the Afghans declined in the Punjab. Taimur Shah ascended the throne at Kabul, and by then, the Sikh Misls were well established in the Punjab. They controlled territory as far as Saharanpur in the east, Attock in the west, Kangra Jammu in the north and Multan in the south. Efforts were made by Afghan rulers to dislodge the Sikhs from their citadels. Taimur Shah attacked Multan, and defeated Lehna Singh and Sobha Singh of the Bhangi Misl. The Sikhs were driven out of Lahore in 1767 by Taimur Shah Abdali, but the Bhangi Sardars reoccupied it, and remained in power in Lahore till 1793¾the year when Shah Zaman succeeded to the throne of Kabul.

The first attempt at conquest of Punjab by Shah Zaman was in 1793. He came to Hasan Abdal from where he sent an army of 7,000 cavalry under the command of Ahmad Shah Shahnachi, but the Sikhs overpowered them. It was a setback for Shah Zaman, but in 1795, he reorganized his forces, and again attacked Hasan Abdal. This time, he conquered Rohtas from the Sukerchakias (one of the 12 Sikh Misls), whose leader was Ranjit Singh. However, Shah Zaman had to return to Kabul as an invasion of his own country from the west was imminent. After his departure, Ranjit Singh dislodged the Afghans from Rohtas.

In 1796 Shah Zaman crossed the Indus for the third time, planning to capture Delhi. He had raised an Afghan army of 3,000 men and was confident that a large number of Indians would join him, as he had been offered help by the Nizam-ud-Din Nawab/ ruler of Kasur, Sahib Singh of Patiala, as well as the Rohillas, Wazir of Oudh, and Tipu Sultan of Mysore. The news of Shah Zaman’s invasion spread quickly and people began fleeing to the hills for safety. The heads of the Misls were the first to leave. By December, Shah Zaman had successfully occupied territory up to the Jhelum. When he reached Gujarat (India), Sahib Singh Bhangi panicked, and left for the mountains.

Having conquered most of the region, Shah Zaman marched on the territory of Ranjit Singh. Singh raised an army of 5,000 horsemen; however, they were inadequately armed with only spears and muskets. The Afghans were equipped with heavy artillery. Ranjit Singh called a congregation of Sarbat Khalsa[19] which was answered by many Sikh Sardars, and the general agreement during the khalsa was that Shah Zaman’s army should be allowed to enter Punjab and that the Sikhs should retire to the hills.

In the mountains, the forces were reorganized under the command of Ranjit Singh and they marched towards Lahore. On their way, they defeated the Afghans in several villages, and on reaching Lahore, surrounded the city. Sorties were made into the city at night in which they would kill a few Afghan soldiers and then leave under the cover of darkness. Following this tactic over time, they were able to dislodge the Afghans from several places, their numbers having been significantly reduced.

In 1797, Shah Zaman left for Afghanistan, as his brother Mahmud had revolted. Shahanchi Khan remained at Lahore with a sizeable army. The Sikhs followed Shah Zaman and his forces to Jhelum and looted many goods from them. While returning, the Sikhs were attacked by the army of Shahanchi Khan near Ram Nagar, but even though they were taken by surprise, the Sikhs routed his army. It was the first major achievement by Ranjit Singh.

In 1798, Shah Zaman attacked Punjab to avenge the defeat of 1797. The Sikh people took refuge in the hills. A Sarbat Khalsa was called again and Rani Sada Kaur (Mother-in-Law of Ranjit Singh and the chief of Kanhaiya Misl) persuaded the Sikhs to fight by rousing the Sikh sense of national honor. She said that if they were to leave Amritsar again, she herself would command the forces against the Afghans.

The Afghans plundered the towns and villages as they had vowed to do, and declared that they would defeat the Sikhs. However, it was the Muslim villagers who suffered most, as the Hindus and Sikhs had already left for the hills. The Muslims had thought that they would not be touched by the Afghan Muslims but their provisions were forcibly taken from them.

Shah Zaman partnered with Raja Sansar Chand of Kangra and refused to give food or shelter to the Sikhs. He then attacked Lahore, and the Sikhs, surrounded as they were on all sides, had to fight a grim battle. The Afghans defeated the Sikhs and occupied Lahore in November 1798 and prepared to attack Amritsar. Ranjit Singh collected his men and faced Shah’s forces about 8 km 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 would not fall into Afghan hands. It was a humiliating defeat for the Afghans. Nizam-ud-Din, ruler of Kasur, loyal to the Afghans, 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’s forces plundered the towns, antagonizing the local people.

The Afghans struggled to dislodge the Sikhs, but in vain. The Sikh cordon was too strong and it was impossible for the Afghans to break it to proceed towards Delhi. Ranjit Singh terrorized the Afghans. The moment Zaman Shah retreated, Ranjit Singh pursued his forces catching up to them near Gujranwala, and then chasing them up to Jhelum.

By this time, the people of Punjab had become aware of the rising strength of Ranjit Singh. He was the most popular leader of the Punjab and was planning to enter Lahore as conqueror. Victims of oppression, the people of Lahore were favorably disposed towards Singh, who they saw as a potential liberator. Muslims joined Hindu and Sikh residents of Lahore in making an appeal to Singh to free them from the tyrannical rule of the Misls. A petition was written and signed by Mian Ashak Muhammad, Mian Mukkam Din, Mohammad Tahir, Mohammad Bakar, Hakim Rai, and Bhai Gurbaksh Singh. It was addressed to Ranjit Singh, requesting him to free them from the Bhangi Sardars. They begged Singh to liberate Lahore as soon as possible. He mobilized an army of 25,000 and marched towards Lahore on July 6, 1799 in response.

In the early morning of July 7, 1799, Ranjit Singh’s men took up their positions. While Rani Sada Kaur stood outside Delhi Gate, Ranjit Singh proceeded towards Anarkali Bazaar, riding along the walls of the city, setting mines, which allowed them to breach the wall. This created panic and confusion. Mukkam Din, who was one of the signatories to the petition to Ranjit Singh, made a proclamation, accompanied by drumbeats, stating that he had taken over the town and that he was in charge, ordering the city gates be opened. Ranjit Singh entered the city with his troops through the Lahori Gate while Sada Kaur and a detachment of cavalry entered through the Delhi Gate. Before the Bhangi Sardars knew what was happening, a part of the citadel (what is now known as the Lahore Fort) had been occupied without any resistance from the locals. Sahib Singh and Mohar Singh left the city and sought shelter at some safer place. Chet Singh was left to either fight to defend the town or flee, so he locked himself in Hazuri Bagh with 500 men, and Ranjit Singh’s cavalry surrounded it, forcing Chet Singh to ultimately surrender; he was given permission to leave the city along with his family, unharmed.

Immediately after taking possession of the city in July 1799, Ranjit Singh paid a visit to the Badshahi Mosque. This gesture increased his prestige in the eyes of the people, allowing him to win the hearts of his subjects, Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh alike, as his gesture indicated a respect for all religions.

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.

Summary: Sikh Empire (1799-1849) in Punjab

  • Maharaja Ranjit Singh (b.1780, crowned April 12, 1801, d.1839)
  • Kharak Singh (b.1801, d.1840), eldest son of Ranjit Singh
  • Nau Nihal Singh (b.1821, d.1840), grandson of Ranjit Singh
  • Sher Singh (b.1807, d.1843), son of Ranjit Singh
  • Duleep Singh (b.1838, crowned 1843, d.1893), youngest son of Ranjit Singh

British Conquest

After the death of Ranjit Singh in 1839, his son, Kharak Singh succeeded to the throne of Lahore but he died after only one year on the throne. After his death[20] the Sikhs started challenging the British army’s inroads into their kingdom. This resulted in the First Sikh War, which lasted from December 1845 to January 1846. The Sikhs were ultimately defeated and the British army marched to Lahore to dictate its terms of peace. These terms included the cessation of all territories to the British that were situated between the Sutlej and Beas rivers as well as a war indemnity of 1.5 million sterling. Since the Sikh Sultanate at Lahore could not pay this amount, the British then asked for the additional cessation of the hill country between Beas and Indus including Kashmir and Hazara. Other terms included the recognition of the independent sovereignty of Maharaja Gulab Singh of Jammu, free passage of British troops through Sikh territory and the establishment of a British Resident at Lahore. A British armed force also was to remain at Lahore.

In 1849, the Second Sikh War was fought between the British troops and the Sikh army, which was led by Sher Singh. The Sikhs lost this war as well, and Punjab was ultimately annexed to the British Empire in March 1849. A Board of Governors was formed to administer British Punjab. Punjab’s role during the 1857-58 War of Independence was nominal, and most of the sepoys of the British army were successfully disarmed.

Post Partition

In 1947, the Punjab province of British India was divided along religious lines into West Punjab and East Punjab. West Punjab was assimilated into the new country of Pakistan while East Punjab joined India. This led to massive rioting, as both sides committed atrocities against fleeing refugees.

At the time of Independence in 1947, and due to the ensuing mass exchange of populations (accompanied as it was by rioting, murder and other atrocities committed against migrating populations), the Punjabi Sikhs and Hindus migrated to India, while the Muslims on the other side of the border migrated to Pakistan. Of the 7 million plus people who moved to Pakistan, approximately 6 million settled in Punjab.

Figure 1.5 Sir Allama Muhammad Iqbal

Figure 1.6 Ranjit Singh’s Samadhi Lahore, Punjab (1880s)

Figure 1.7 Minar-e-Pakistan, Lahore

Governmental Structure

The Punjab parliament consists of 183 elected members, out of which 35 seats are reserved for women. There are no reserved seats for non-Muslim minorities. The Government of Punjab consists of several departments, each headed by a minister chosen from among the elected representatives of the Assembly on a democratic level, and a secretary on the bureaucratic level.

The Governor is the Executive Head appointed by the President of Pakistan under Article 101 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan 1973. As to the certain provisions of the constitution, the Governor, in performance of the vested functions, acts in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet or the Chief Minister.

The Chief Minister is appointed by the Governor from among the chosen representatives of the Punjab Assembly, who, in his opinion, must possess the confidence of one-third majority out of the aggregate number of members.

The Government of Punjab adopted the Punjab Local Government Ordinance (PLGO) 2013 (Amended up to 2016). According to this Act, the lowest tier of the local government is the Union Councils, both for the rural and urban areas, to be notified by the government for each district, to be called the Village Councils and City Councils respectively. Each Union Council has a Chairman and Vice Chairman, to be elected directly as joint candidates. In addition, each Council has 6 members elected on general seats: 2 women members, one peasant member, one youth member, and one non-Muslim member.

The Local Government & Community Development (LG&CD) Department has been entrusted to implement this Act. According to this Act, the province of Punjab has been divided into unions, tehsils, towns, districts, and city district. Each District Government consists of a Zila Nazim and district administration.

Administrative Units

Punjab province is divided into 36 districts as follows:

District Tehsil/ Town Union Council
Attock 6 Tehsils 072
Bahawalnagar 5 Tehsils 118
Bahawalpur 5 Tehsils 107
Bhakkar 4 Tehsils 042
Chakwal 4 Tehsils 068
Chiniot 3 Tehsils 044
Dera Ghazi Khan 3 Tehsils 059
Faisalabad City district 8 Towns 289
Gujranwala City district 7 Towns 188
Gujrat 3 Tehsils 117
Hafizabad 2 Tehsils 042
Jhang 4 Tehsils 084
Jhelum 4 Tehsils 054
Kasur 4 Tehsils 141
Khanewal 4 Tehsils 097
Khushab 3 Tehsils 051
Lahore City District 9 Towns 150
Layyah 3 Tehsils 044
Lodhran 3 Tehsils 073
Mandi Bahauddin 3 Tehsils 065
Mianwali 3 Tehsils 056
Multan City district 6 Towns 129
Muzaffargarh 4 Tehsils 093
Narowal 3 Tehsils 074
Nankana Sahib 4 Tehsils 068
Okara 3 Tehsils 114
Pakpattan 2 Tehsils 063
Rahim Yar Khan 4 Tehsils 122
Rajanpur 3 Tehsils 044
Rawalpindi City district 8 Towns 175
Sahiwal 2 Tehsils 089
Sargodha 4 Tehsils 161
Sheikhupura 5 Tehsils 112
Sialkot 4 Tehsils 124
Toba Tek Singh 3 082
Vehari 3 089

Table 1.2 Punjab Administrative Units

Historic/ Heritage Sites

Punjab has been termed the cradle of civilization for the region. The ruins of Harappa, in fact, show an advanced urban culture that flourished over 8,000 years ago. Taxila, another historic landmark, also stands out as proof of the achievements of the area in education, arts and crafts.

The province is home to many well-known historical sites that are relics from older empires (for example, the Mughals and the Mamluks) including the Shalimar Gardens, Lahore Fort, the Badshahi Mosque, Rohtas Fort, and the ruins of the ancient city of Harrapa. The Anarkali Market and Jahangir’s Tomb are prominent in the city of Lahore, as is the Lahore Museum, while the ancient city of Taxila in the northwest was once a major center of Buddhist and Hellenic (Greek) influence. Many important Sikh shrines are in the Pakistani portion of Punjab, including the birthplace of the first Guru: Guru Nanak (born at Nankana Sahib). The ancient Hindu Katasraj Temple and the Salt Range Temples are also a great tourist attraction and are undergoing much-needed repair and restoration.

Some of the most important historic/ heritage sites of the province include World Heritage Sites as follows:

  • Taxila, near Rawalpindi
  • Red Fort and Shalimar Gardens, Lahore
  • Rohtas Fort, Jhelum
  • Moti Masjid, Lahore

Other sites protected by the Federal Government of Pakistan include:

  • Harrapa, Sahiwal district
  • Attock Fort, Attock
  • Temple of Sassi, Attock district
  • Tomb of Abu Hanifia and 4 other tombs, Bahawalpur District
  • Ghazi Khan’s Tomb, Dera Ghazi Khan
  • Tomb of Shah Burhan, Chiniot district
  • Two Ancient temples, Jhelum District
  • Over 59 buildings in Lahore District
  • A Buddhist Stupa, Mianwali district
  • Multan Fort, Multan
  • Shrine of Rukn-e-Alam, Multan
  • Tomb of Mai Meharaban, Multan
  • Over 17 buildings in Rawalpindi district
  • A red sandstone temple, Sargodha
  • Tibba (Mound) Kala Shah Kaku, Sheikhupura
  • Tomb of Allama Mohammad Iqbal, Lahore
  • Jawaid Manzil, Allama Iqbal Museum, Lahore
  • Professor Abdul Salam’s House, Jhang
  • Minar-e-Pakistan, Lahore
  • Islamic Summit Minar, Lahore
  • Fort Munroe, Dera Ghazi Khan
  • Gujrat Fort, Gujrat
  • Fort Derawar, Cholistan
  • Sadiq Garh Palace, Bahawalpur
  • Kallar Kahar, Malot Fort; Islamabad
  • Katas Raj Temple, Chakwal
  • Sialkot Fort, Sialkot
  • Sheikhupura Fort, Sheikhupura
  • Jahangir’s mausoleum, Lahore
  • Hiran Minar, Sheikhupura

According to the “Guidelines for Sensitive and Critical Areas for Pakistan”, the following are the total number of heritage sites protected by the Government of Pakistan and the Government of Punjab:

  • Federal Government 121
  • Punjab Government 247

Figure 1.24 Rohtas Fort, Jhelum

Figure 1.25 Kats Raj Temple, Islamabad

Figure 1.26 Pakistan Monument, Islamabad

Figure 1.27 Lahore Fort (Mughal Fort), Lahore

[1] 2017 Census

[2] The Rig Vedas (or Rigvedas) is one of the four canonical texts of Hinduism composed in an ancient form of Sanskrit around 1500 BC, in what is now the Punjab region of India and Pakistan.

[3] At its zenith, the Persian Empire extended into parts of India, up to River Jhelum in Punjab

[4] The primary collection of religious texts of the Zoroastrian  religion

[5] Extracted from Punjab Portal, Article 5 (Indian official webpage)

[6] Mahabharata is a Hindu Epic from the post-Vedic Era and ascribes the creation of the Vedas to the Brahma (Mahabharata was composed during 400 BC – 400 AD; the Vedic era is 1500 BC-500 BC )

[7] Satrapy is the area governed by Satraps who were Governors of ancient Persia

[8] Chaj doab is the land area between the rivers Chenab and Jhelum

[9] From “Timeline of History of Pakistan” Official website of Travel & Culture, Pakistan

[10] White Huns were nomadic tribes that lived in Central Asia between the 1st century AD and 7th century AD and are supposed to have Chinese origins. They formed a unified empire under Atilla the Hun

[11] “Shahi Family” Encyclopedia Britannica

[12] Shahi or Shah is a title; the term Hindu Shahi was a royal title of this dynasty and not its actual clan or ethnological name.

[13] The armies of the Deccan Sultanate and later of Shivaji were called the Marathas. By the mid-1660s Shivaji had established an independent Maratha Kingdom. The Marathas fought a 27 year war with the Mughals and after Aurangzeb’s death, finally defeated the Mughal army.

[14] A sovereign state or Sikh confederacy

[15] where a region or people is a tributary to a more powerful entity which controls its foreign affairs

[16] Sirhind (Fatehgarh District, India) was the headquarters of the Mughal administration in East Punjab.

[17] Sardar of Jhang. Sials were the main tribe living in Jhang and it is believed that Jhang city was built by Rai Sial in 1288

[18] Sirhind is a city which is now the capital of Fatehgarh Sahib district of India. During Mughal rule, it was the capital of its province in East Punjab.

[19] Sarbat Khalsa meaning “Everything” was a biannual deliberative assembly of the entire Khalsa (Sikhs) held in Amritsar. Khalsa is the army of all initiated Sikhs represented by the five beloved-ones and is also called Guru Panth.

[20] From Imperial Gazetteer of India v.20 p. 272-