The Indus Valley, our home, has a living history since the end of the last Ice Age and the beginning of Human Civilization. As the Ice receded and the Earth warmed, about 20,000 years ago, pockets of varying climates were generated wherein humans had to congregate around water sources, usually rivers, and evolve a new social contract to guide their continued survival. The successful experiment of harnessing of natural resources of land, water and fire, through agriculture, attracted other people living in more harsh pockets and the population swelled. Similar instances of people living together creating their own social contracts were generated in China, Egypt, Mesopotamia and Central America. 

The Indian Subcontinent at the time, 10-15,000 years ago, comprised three distinct regions, that is, 

(a) the very large and dense mass of forests covering Ganga Jumna valley into which poured the Brahmaputra from the east and then drained into the Bay of Bengal; 

(b) the Deccan, drier than the Ganjetic Valley, heavily forested cut up into series of valleys watered by the Narmada, Godavari, Krishna and Kaveri rivers with only the coastal strips along the two sides of the peninsula that continued around to the island of Sri Lanka, having ocean-trade-based cultures of sizeable population; and 

(c) the western region, the Indus Valley, comprising two main rivers, Indus and the Hakra, running parallel with a number of tributaries in the north. 

The Indus Valley drying faster than the rest fostered the earliest large-scale agglomerations to give rise to a unique civilization. Another such area was generated around the River Helmand in the present-day Afghanistan which for many centuries was a bridge between the Indus and Mesopotamian centers of culture. In Persia, at the period there developed a number of fertile valleys housing people with their own distinct culture. The Indus Valley attracted vast numbers from all directions who mostly came to settle, avoiding any large-scale violence and found enough room and resources to flourish and develop. The Aryans, a people of the Central Asia, escaping the more rapidly drying regions, migrated to India, Iran and Europe. In India, having settled in the Punjab for a few centuries, they led the march into the Ganga-Jumna valley using fire to clear the forest to create arable land. They also gave birth to social organizations to better exploit the difficult environment which over centuries congealed into the Caste System. The word Punjab (a Persian word meaning Five Rivers) came into use during the Medieval Period to denote the northern regions of the Indus Valley comprising the areas watered by Upper Indus, Kabul, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Sutlej and Bias, accurately described in the Rig Veda as the Sapta-Sindhu (seven rivers). Comparatively speaking, the Punjab was rich in terms of agriculture produce and cattle, and therefore also attracted invaders and violence. The earliest invaders came from the relatively drier lands of the west, present day Persia, Afghanistan, Central Asia, followed by the Greeks who retreated in face of resistance. The Punjab stopped being the perennial host and began to resist the new comers. That was a major change. 

Henceforth, the Punjab became a battle ground, yet allowing merchants and travelers in and out of India. They also found time to sing, laugh, read and write to develop a cultural identity of their own. The Punjab has been indeed the melting pot of people and ideas. The native culture was influenced, modified and developed as a continuous and a linked phenomenon. The Persians, Greeks, Arabs, Sufis, Turks, Afghans, Kashmiris, Brahmins, Rajput and merchants of Gujrat and Deccan, contributed to the social ethos of the Punjab. Thus, a synthesis of the foreign and local traditions of cultures, started centuries ago has continued to influence, modify and develop the indigenous society of the Punjab. Colonization by the British changed the continuum in a profound manner to leave us as we are today. The big question therefore is What are we then? What are the Cultural Roots of our Art and Architecture?


Pervaiz Vandal