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Lasting from 2700 to 1700 BCE, the Indus River Valley civilization--one of the oldest civilizations in the world--was partly located in the Punjab (see The Punjab and Its People).

Outsiders Invaded
Historically, successful invaders of the Indian subcontinent have entered India by land from the northwest. After passing through the mountain passes of the Karakorum and Hindu Kush ranges (see physical map), the invaders would cross the Punjab to reach the rest of India. Some of the most important invaders by land were the Aryans, Persians, Greeks, Mongols, Turks, and Afghans. Only the British conquered the Indian subcontinent from the south coming by the sea.

During the late 18th century, the Mughal emperor’s authority declined in the subcontinent. The Punjab became a battleground fought over by competing empire builders: the Persians, Afghans, British, and Sikhs. The Persians under Nadir Shah invaded from the northwest in 1737-1738 to sack Lahore and Delhi and to cart off Mughal treasure (the Peacock Throne and Koh-I-noor diamond). Then, the Afghans launched a series of invasions of the Punjab to loot and dominate the area. At the same time, the British East India Company was beginning to expand its influence and control over northwest India, including the Punjab.

Ranjit Singh Created a Sikh State
Finally, the Sikhs, native to the Punjab, found a leader who yearned to create a powerful Sikh state. In 1793 when he was 13 years old, Ranjit Singh (1780-1839) succeeded his father as the ruler of a small Sikh state. Five years later at the age of eighteen, he embarked on his ambitious plans to expand his territory and to unite all Sikhs under his rule. Ranjit Singh created a large and powerful Sikh state, which included all of the Punjab, through clever diplomacy and waging numerous wars against rival Sikh princes, Muslim rulers, and Afghan invaders. Throughout his long and successful rule, he avoided conflict with the expanding British empire. Image: Portrait of Ranjit Singh.
Photo 1999 -www.arttoday.com

Today many Sikhs view Ranjit Singh as their greatest military and political leader. They claim that they wish to imitate his success by creating a modern Sikh state, Khalistan (Land of the Pure). Ironically, Ranjit Singh did not create a sectarian state where Sikhs and their religious creed received preferred treatment. He was a popular ruler who appointed Muslims and Hindus as well as Sikhs to important positions. He frequently appeared among his people. He listened to them, addressed their complaints, and treated all of his subjects equally, regardless of their caste or creed. Although Ranjit Singh is seen as a model Sikh ruler, he would not have chosen to rule in the sectarian fashion that today's supporters of Khalistan (see Demand for Khalistan) would favor.

Sikh State Fell Apart
Following the death of Ranjit Singh, the Sikh empire soon fell apart. His oldest son and successor, Kharak Singh, was soon ousted from power, imprisoned, and then poisoned to death. Sikh generals supported rival claimants to the throne; corruption, civil strife, and political chaos resulted. To divert the people’s attention from the political problems of the kingdom, the Sikh leaders whipped up anti-British sentiment and sent the Sikh army to attack British territory in December 1845.

The British defeated the Sikhs in three months after a series of hard fought battles. They forced the Sikhs to accept British resident advisors, which enabled the British to interfere in the internal affairs of the Sikh kingdom. Anger at British interference led to a second British-Sikh war in 1848-1849. The British quickly defeated the Sikhs and then eliminated the Sikh government. Then, the British began to directly rule the territory.

Sikhs Accepted British Control
The Sikhs accepted British control and remained loyal to their new rulers during the general Indian rebellion of 1857-1858. The British rewarded the Sikhs by giving them preferential treatment in appointments to the British army and the civil service. Under the leadership of John and Henry Lawrence, the British government greatly transformed the Punjab. The British government built a network of canals and dams to irrigate the doabs, or lands, of rich alluvial soil between the rivers of the Punjab (see physical map and land use map). This combination of nature (alluvial soil) and technology (irrigation) have helped to make Punjab one of India’s richest agricultural areas today. Image: Portraits of Henry and John Lawrence.
Photo 1999 -www.arttoday.com

 






 


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The Punjab and Its People..| History of Punjab to 1947..|..Partition, 1947..|..Punjab's Prosperity ..|..Sikhisms ..|..Demands for Khalistan
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