Anthropology Research of Punjab Region- India
Punjab is a Persian word used to refer to "The Land of the Five Rivers" which is a name derived from the cultural, historical, and geographical location of the state. Lying in the northwestern part of the sub-continent of India, Punjab is historically the center of the Indian culture. Based on this culture, the state of Punjab extends beyond the geographic borders to include the Himalayas foothills, Pakistan's Province of Northwest Frontier, and the Great Indian Desert located in Rajasthan. Initial inhabitants of this land were nomadic tribes who had a Southern Asian history and spoke the Indo-European language. Around the 1700BC, these communities descended from the mountains in the North-Western region to settle in the plains which is currently the Punjab State. Other nomadic tribes also passed through the region leaving their marks there such as those from Afghanistan, Turkey, Greece, and Persia. As a result, the current inhabitants of the region who are mainly this Indo-Europeans and the Aryans are products of these caravans that transversed this region.
Punjab has historically enjoyed political and cultural identity. The region initially fell under the administration of the Mogul Empire as one of the provinces before becoming a nation administered by Ranjit Singh in the 19th century (Singh, 2000). With the introduction of colonization, the region was declared as one of the provinces forming the Indian Empire under the British rule. After India was granted independence by the British, political boundaries were redrawn and this placed Punjab in the middle of India and Pakistan. This means that the region is currently inhibited by people of Pakistan and Indian nationalities who share common cultural heritage. This creates two regions of Punjab namely Indian Punjab and Pakistan Punjab.
Punjab experiences cool winters and hot summers classifying it as a subtropical climate. In the hot summers, the region commonly experiences dust storms while hard frost is a common sight during winter. The hot months start from mid-April all the way to June while winter starts from December and lasts through to the end of February. The rest of the months in the year experience light showers characterized by vigorous agricultural activities. Their summer is also unique as they are bound to experience rain in this season as a result of Monsoon currents rising from the Bay of Bengal (Dobe, 2015). Rains are also experienced during winter which is used by the farmers for the growth of their winter crops. Shivalik Hills, for example, solely relies on the winter rains where the rainfall is more than 100 millimeters.
Cultural Elements- Language and Folklore
Residents of Punjab speak the Punjabi language which is also a name used to refer to the people living in the State. Folklores and their rich myths are two elements that categorize the Punjabis. Many of these folklores are in the form of romances, epics, ballads, and folktales normally passed on orally across generations by wandering gypsies, mystics, and traditional peasant singers (Talbot, 2011). There are different songs to mark different occasions such as war, love, marriage, birth, and the glorification of past heroes. Examples of these common songs include Sehra Bandi sung during the marriage, Mahiya which is a romantic song, and Mehndi sang during the application of henna when the groom and the bride are being prepared for marriage. Romantic folks known by all the Punjabis include Mirza Sahiban and Heera Ranja while music and poetry come from Wandering Sufi. Many of these folklores are used in the mirroring of Punjabis religious traditions which are integral in their religion.
Due to their differences in their historical background as earlier stated, Punjabis practice different religions. Initially, Hinduism dominated the region but this dominance was short-lived as some new inhabitants of the region introduced Buddhism. With the Islamic political history in the region for about six centuries, Islam was also introduced in the region. Next came the Sikhs who ruled the region politically up to the mid-twentieth century thus introducing Sikhism. Colonization brought the British to the region and their missionaries introduced and spread Christianity in the region (Talbot, 2011). This means that instead of having one religion, Punjabis are either Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, or Christians.
61% of the people are Sikhs, 37% Hindu, 1% for Christians and Muslims, and less than a % for the Buddhists and any other religion present. All these religious groups have extensive rituals performed as a symbol of their religious beliefs. Temples, shrines, and other places considered holy for worship are spread out in all regions of Punjab. Hindus, for example, identify their holiest centers to be the large pilgrimage temples while the Muslims have the tombs of their saints such as Pir. Sites linked to Buddha are the most important and holiest according to the Buddhists.
Rites of Passage
Burying of the dead is a common practice for Christians and Muslims due to their belief in life after death. As earlier stated, Hindus have a strong belief in the reincarnation of the soul into either a human or an animal body which can occur multiple times. As a result of this belief, cremation is Hindu's way of disposing of the dead which is normally done on piled-up logs. Sometimes, financial constraints can lead to the burial of those who are poor which can also occur to the figures who are considered extremely saintly whose burial is in a sitting position.
There are various rites of passage observed by the Punjabis depending on the community where one comes from. Some of the stages in life when these rites of passage are practiced include birth, initiation, marriage, and death (Geertz & Darnton, 2017). An example is what happens with the Muslims after the birth of a baby boy, the Priest, Mullah, visits the family within the first 3 days of birth where holy words are recited to the baby's ears. The priest is also consulted on matters of naming and the child is circumcised (Sunnat) before they are twelve years old.
Sikhs also observe birth rituals with the newborns being presented in the temple for prayers and offerings which is accompanied by a naming ceremony. The naming of the children is however picked from their scared book, Adi Granth in a specified manner. This holy book is randomly opened with the first letter of the first word found on the left-hand of the page opened being used to come up with the name of the child (Singh, 2000). When the child is in their late teenage years, they are initiated or baptized and get a chance to be full members of the Sikh religious group. The dead are cremated and thereafter their bones and ashes are collected to be disposed on River Sutlej at Kiratpur Sahib.
The Hindus believe that the child has to be born at a time considered lucky to them. To determine if the time is lucky for the birth to take place, the expectant parents consult a Brahman priest. If the time is unfavorable, elaborate rituals are conducted to wade off harmful effects from the child. Traditionally, a new mother had to be kept in seclusion for the first forty days after birth to keep both the mother and the child from evil (Dobe, 2015). This custom is however not as popular today as it was in the past and is therefore slowly disappearing. Another important ritual that accompanies the birth of the child among the Hindu is the ceremonial shaving of the baby's hair which has to be done before the baby is five years of age. Cremation of the dead is practiced by the Hindus who collect ashes from the cremation site to carefully dispose of them in the Ganges River, which is sacred.
Death among the Muslims is accompanied by elaborate rituals to properly dispose of the dead body. The dead body is first wrapped in white cloth and thereafter taken to the mosque where the color white is the mourning color in Southern Asia (Geertz & Darnton, 2017). The priest proceeds to read holy words over the dead body before its burial in the designated graveyard. Some graves have a stone slab placed on them where mourners where a handful of soil is placed by every mourner signifying the breaking of ties between the dead and the living. The next three days following the burial of the dead are accompanied by prayers from the priest.
The whole Punjab region has an estimated population of about 88 million inhabitants where slightly over 20 million of the population lives in the Indian Punjab while the rest are on the Pakistan region. Southern Asia uses the caste system which is also incorporated in the Punjab State. Punjabis are an agricultural society and the caste system is used to categorize them. The landowners and cultivators, referred to as Jats and Zamindars respectively, represent the largest caste in the State (Singh, 2000). Apart from these two, the Gujars, Awans, Arians, and Rajputs are also other castes that practice agriculture. The Chamars, Tarkhans, and Lohars are the lowest-ranked castes comprising of artisans and servicemen.
It is important to note that each caste has its own subculture with symbols used to differentiate different classes that exist in the caste structure (Talbot, 2011). Positions held in this social stratification are differentiated through various visible symbols such as the housing locations, mode of dressing, dialect spoken, occupations, and personal names. Other symbols might also include deities worshipped and their social interactions in terms of the people they are willing to share a meal with publicly. A combination of these subcultural practices can be used as a clear indication to gauge where a family or individuals fall in the hierarchy of castes.
This caste system is also justified by the Hindu religion observed by some of the Punjabis. Reincarnation of the soul is a belief that the Hindus have where this can occur multiple times after death. Their belief is that the soul of a dead person reincarnates itself in the body of a newborn which can either be a human or an animal body (Dobe, 2015). The soul can be reincarnated to a higher caste than where the person originally belonged if the person performed good deeds. Those who performed bad deeds are automatically reincarnated to a lower caste as a form of punishment for their evil deeds. However, in one's lifetime, nobody can change their own caste and the same is passed down across all generations in a family.
Marriage and Family Life
This social stratification of the caste system is one of the most important aspects of issues relating to marriage among the Punjabis. The castes are subdivided into clans and are acceptable to some Sikhs and Muslims whose religion does not advocate for this kind of grouping. Castes are important in regulating family life as they clearly define possible marriage partners while guiding the social interactions between various groups of people as well as the jobs that they do. The caste's law is clear that marriage cannot be conducted among people of the same clan.
Muslims refer to castes as Zats or Quams with the term Biradari being used at the village level. The Biradari is an important unit to them as all men can be able to trace their origin from a common ancestor and thus identify their family ties (Geertz & Darnton, 2017). Sharing common identity and ancestry means that the members of the same Biradari come together in unity to solve disputes and handle business at the business level.
The basic unit in the society in Punjab is the family. It is common to have joint families living together where parents, any unmarried adults in the family, and sons who have wives take one household and share it among themselves. It is the duty of men in the family to run business or agricultural activities depending on the occupation of the family (Dobe, 2015). Women are involved in domestic duties such as raising as well as caring for the children, preparing food, and generally running the households. The women in each household are under the instructions of the mother-in-law or the senior wife in the case of polygamous families. In cases where families belong to the lower castes in the society such as the peasants, both men and women do manual works while others are hired and are paid for their services.
The Punjabi culture recognizes the main role of women as being married and having children. Different communities have different marriage rituals according to their traditional beliefs. They, however, agree on arranged marriages with such arrangements being made by the parents. Once married, the wives have to move to their husband's households. The marriage ceremony in the Muslim culture is referred to as Nikah with the best arrangement being considered as that of first-cousin marriage (Geertz & Darnton, 2017). There is an exchange of dowry from parents of the groom and instead of giving it to the parents of the bride, it is given to the bride who has the privilege of keeping it as her personal property.
Partners in Hindu marriages are selected from members in the same caste but of different clans. Rituals associated with Hindu marriages include the exchange of dowry which unlike many communities comes from the parents of the bride to those of the groom. A traditional journey made by those in the wedding party to the bride's house called Barat is an important aspect of Hindu weddings. Other rituals involve walking around the sacred fire by the bride and the groom accompanied by their draping with flowers around their necks. According to Singh (2000), Sikh marriages are officiated before the sacred book, the Granth with no dowry being exchanged.
Remarriage and divorce are addressed differently in different communities in Punjab. Muslims are intolerant of remarriage with divorce also being strongly opposed in the rural areas. Sikhs are different as they permit remarriage but divorce is unacceptable (Mann, 2000). A younger brother of the husband marries the brother's widow among the Hindu where divorce is uncustomary. This is an exemption of a few marriages that can be informally terminated. Since the society is largely patriarchal, inheritance is only by the sons who receive an inheritance from their fathers and the tradition passed on across generations.
There exist kin groups among the Punjabis with the largest of these being the caste. A caste will hold several thousand kin groups with the entire group holding a specific rank and occupation in the community. Castes are further subdivided into clans based on kins where they are allowed to intermarry but are exogamous in nature. Clans are then subdivided into lineages which also practice exogamy meaning marriages between members of the same lineages are unacceptable (Geertz & Darnton, 2017). There exist major lineages that are further subdivided into minor lineages which are small in number and comprise various nuclear families. This, therefore, serves to show that endogamy is only allowed at the caste level while all the other groupings below it practice exogamy. Specific guidelines are set on which clans can intermarry and are closely monitored by relevant leaders of these groups.
Settlements in Punjabi villages are compact and are constructed around places of worship. Those living at the edge of these villages construct their houses in a manner such that they have few openings in a walled settlement( Mann, 2000). Darwaza is a term used to refer to the gate or door that serves as the main entrance to these villages with an additional role of being the meeting place for the villagers. The building of houses close to each other is a common practice among the Punjabis where walls are shared and rooms being constructed in such a way that there is a central area in the compound (Dobe, 2015). It is in this central area that animals sleep during the night as well as acting as the storage for farm implements.
The mode of dressing is common in all villages in Punjab. Men are expected to wear long shirts that extend to their thighs, kurta, and accompany that with a turban on their heads. It is also common to have men wrap their waists with a large piece of clothing similar to a kilt which is referred to as the tahmat. Different groups of people wear their turbans differently with different turbans being used for different occasions. Their shoes are made from local leather material with accessories such as earrings and rings also being common. Baggy pants that extend to the ankles are worn by women complete with a headscarf (Mann, 2000). They also accessorize their outfits with ornaments such as bangles, earrings, and rings. Residents in Punjabi cities have advanced to suits and jackets for men while women prefer to put on saris and others will even dress in jeans.
Milk products, legumes, vegetables, and cereals are common in the basic diet of Punjabis where special occasions call for special meals such as goat meat. Common meals have bread made from wheat served with legumes or lentils and accompanied by a cup of hot tea which is at times supplemented with buttermilk (Dobe, 2015). Tea is common and is generously served throughout the day. Food is served in a large circular plate and eaten using the right-hand fingers. Eggs, chicken, and fish are rarely consumed in Punjab.
The anthropology research of Punjab and especially those in the Indian region is important in that it serves to shed light on communities living in this region. One can just easily mistake all of them to be from the Indian community but as this paper indicates, they all come from different communities with different cultural practices and belief systems. Though they share in some of their practices like the caste system, they are entirely different in matters such as religion and rites of passage accompanying their celebration of life. It is important to note that Punjabis also experience problems related to illiteracy among women, alcoholism, and high unemployment rates.
Dobe, T. S. (2015). Punjab Reconsidered: History, Culture, and Practice. Journal of Asian Studies, 74(2), 514–516.
Geertz, C., & Darnton, R. (2017). The interpretation of cultures: Selected essays. New York: Basic Books.
Mann, G. S. (2000). The Punjab. Faces, 17(3), 4.
Singh, P. (2000). The Sikhs. New York: Knopf.
Talbot, I. (2011). The Social Space of Language: Vernacular Culture in British Colonial Punjab. Journal of Asian Studies, 70(3), 879–881.
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