History is what Punjabis this side of the Punjab dread most. It is not difficult to fathom the reasons. Their reading of history is horribly partial due to their misconceived ideological constructs. Consequently their owning of it is either selective or distorted or both. It’s selective in the sense that they start their historical journey with the Arab and Turk invasions of Sindh and Punjab. And it’s distorted because of the lens of faith employed by them as a sole source to understand the movement of history.
The binary of Muslim and non-Muslim comes handy and harping on about its perceived role leads them to conclusions which can be both factitious and dangerous. They don’t own pre-Islamic Punjab which is much older than their current faith, the living testament of which, for example, is Harappa and ancient scriptures. Ancient texts describe our homeland as ancient in their own days. So imagine the historical span!
Let’s see how Punjab is mentioned and described in the books of distant past. The earliest reference is found in the sacred Rig-Veda, composed/ revealed here on the banks of our rivers. It calls our land “Sapta Sindhua”, the land of seven rivers. Sapt in Vedic language (the language of Vedas) means seven. The same word is “Hapt” in Avesta and “Haft” in Persian. Sindhu means sea /river. The Sindhu was so big that it was perceived as a sea by incoming Aryan tribes. The seven major rivers are Sindhu, Jhelum (Vehit), Chenab, Ravi, Sutlej and Sarasvati /Hakra. “You who protected us out of danger from the bear, or you who turned away the weapons from the Arya in the seven streamed land of the Dasas, you courageous one”, quotes prof Malti J Shendge from the Rig-Veda in her book “The Aryas”.
At another place Rig-Veda (X.104.8) addressing Indra, the deified leader of Aryan tribes, says: “Seven are the divine waters, the gladdening ones, the undiminished, with which you, Indra the fort-breaker, crossed the Sindhu, the nine and ninety. You found the way for the gods and Manu”.
At yet another place it is said: “With you in alliance, in your companionship, O Soma, at that time you made, Indra, flow together the waters for Manu. He killed Virtra, let the seven streams run, and opened the channels which were as if closed or barred”.
It refers, historians believe, to a big dam in the vicinity of present-day Panjnad which was breached by Indra and his cohorts. We also find a reference in Iran’s ancient scripture Avesta which says: “I and Mazda created the fifteenth country. It is Haptahindu and it spans seven rivers”. It is to be remembered that ‘S’ of Vedic language changes into ‘H’ of Avestan language.
In Sumerian records and inscriptions, Punjab is repeatedly mentioned as Meluhha. Meluhha people had a long distance trade with Sumer. Even some ruins of Meluhha trading colony has been found in the area.The debate still goes on about the etymological roots of Meluhha. Some claim it has Munda origins while others think it is derived from Dravidian language. One inscription refers (21st century BCE) to Meluhhans who frequented Sumer to sell gold dust: “I will spread the world respect for my Temple, under my name the whole universe will gather in it, and Magan and Meluhha will come down from their mountains to attend,” reads one of the inscriptions.
Another inscription says: “May the foreign land of Meluhha load precious desirable cornelian, perfect mes wood and beautiful aba wood into large ships for us.” There is another Akkdian cylinder seal with the following inscription: “Shu-ilishu, interpreter of language of Meluhha.”
Meluhha appears with standard cuneiform as ‘Me-lu-hah-ha ki’. Ki is for country. Yet another inscription of Inni-Sin mentions ‘Meluhha dog’: “Ibbi-Sin, the god of his country, the mighty king, and king of Ur and king of the four world quarters has speckled Meluhha ‘dog’ from Marhasi, brought by them as tribute, the replica of it he fashioned and for his life he dedicated to him (Nanna).”
Mahabharata calls our homeland “Aartta Desha”. “Where five rivers, Shatudru (Sutlej), Vipasha (Bias), the third Eravati (Ravi), Chandrabgha (Chenab) and Vitasta (Vehit/ Jhelum) flow and where there are Pilu forests and where Sindhu is the sixth to flow out, this country is called Aaratta.”
Another verse says: “Aartta is the name of the country, Balhika is the name of the people (Aartta nama te desha balhika nama te janaah).” Another word for Balhika is Vahik which is the variant of the same. Vakhik is first used by great Panini of Taxila in his celebrated ‘Ashtadhaya’. Panini says that Vahik is derived from ‘Behi’ and it means a region free of religious bigotry. This area did not bother to enforce the caste structure prevalent in the Gangetic plains. ‘B’ and ‘V’ are interchangeable in our languages. Meanings given by Panini are supported by the stories in Mahabharata which openly condemn Punjab for its lax caste rules. The region this side of the river Jhelum has been called Balhika/ Vahik and area beyond it in the north was known as Gandhara. It was also called Madra. Shalya, the king of Madra, and brother of King Pandu’s wife queen Madri, ends up as the commander-in-chief of Kaurava armies in the last days of the battle of Mahabharata.
The Greeks called our homeland ‘Pentapotamia’, the land of five rivers. Chinese scholar, traveler and translator Hiuen Thsang in the seventh century calls Punjab ‘Taki/Taka’ which, according to him, encompasses area from the river Indus to the river Beas and from the foothills of Himalayas in the north to the confluence of five rivers below Multan in the south. It produces, he says, wheat and non-sticky rice in large quantities. The present day name of our homeland i.e. Punjab is as not recent as most of the people with scant knowledge of history tend to think. It has been the land of rivers as mentioned in all the ancient literature. The region when described as the ‘land of five rivers/ land of six rivers’ in Mahahbharata, it is called ‘Panjnada’, the land of five streams. So Punjab is simply a variant of its old name.
After the successful Turkish invasions from the North, the word ‘nad/ nada’ was replaced by its Persian equivalent ‘Aab” which has the same meanings of water/ stream. ‘Panj (five) is found in Sanskrit, Punjabi and Persian.
Ibne Battuta who visited Punjab in 1333 says: “We reached the Valley of Sind known as the Punjab which means five waters”. Call it by any name, it would still be the same; our homeland. — firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in Dawn, October 17th, 2022