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Religion in the Punjab

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Rig Veda is the oldest Hindu text that originated in the Punjab region of ancient India
Rig Veda is the oldest Hindu text that originated in the Punjab region of ancient India

Religion in the Punjab in ancient history was characterized by Hinduism and later conversions to Jainism, Buddhism, Islam, Sikhism and Christianity; it also includes folk practices common to all Punjabis regardless of the religion they adhere to. Such practices incorporate local mysticism and include ancestral worship, worship of local saints.[1]

Historical religious background of Punjabis

Jain temple dedicated to Vijayanandsuri in Gujranwala, Punjab.
Jain temple dedicated to Vijayanandsuri in Gujranwala, Punjab.

The Punjabi people first practiced Hinduism, the oldest recorded religion in the Punjab region.[2] An ancient Indian law book called the Manusmriti, developed by Brahmin Hindu priests, shaped Punjabi religious life from 200 BC onward.[2] The spread of Buddhsim and Jainism in India saw many Hindu Punjabis adopting the Buddhist and Jain faith though the decline of Buddhism in the Indian subcontinent resulted in Punjab becoming a Hindu society again, though Jainism continued as a minority religion.[3][4] The arrival of Islam in medieval India resulted in the conversion of some Hindu Punjabis to Islam,[5][2] and the rise of Sikhism in the 1700s saw some Punjabis, both Hindu and Muslim, accepting the new Sikh faith.[2][6] A number of Punjabis during the colonial period of India became Christians, with all of these religions characterizing the religious diversity now found in the Punjab region.[2]

Punjabi folk cosmology

Bhatti and Michon (2004), in their article Folk Practice in Punjab, published in the Journal of Punjab Studies by the University of California, believe that in Punjabi folk cosmology, the universe is divided into three realms:[7]

English Punjabi Inhabitants
Sky Akash Dev Lok (Angels)
Earth Dharti Matlok (Humans)
Underworld Nagas Naglok (Serpents)

Devlok is the realm of the gods, saints and ancestors, existing in akash, the sky. Ancestors can become gods or saints.[7]

Punjabi ancestral worship

Jathera—ancestral shrines

According to Bhatti and Michon (2004), a jathera is a shrine constructed to commemorate and show respect to the founding common ancestor of a surname and all subsequent common clan ancestors.[7] Whenever a founder of a village dies, a shrine is raised to him on the outskirts of the village and a jandi tree is planted there. A village may have many such shrines.

The jathera can be named after the founder of the surname or the village. However, many villages have unnamed jathera. In some families, the founder of the jathera is also a saint. In such instances, the founder has a dual role of being the head of a jathera (who is venerated by his descendants) and also of being a saint (such as Baba Jogi Pir; who can be worshiped by any one).[7]

Punjabi people believe that members of a surname all hail from one common ancestor. A surname in Punjabi is called a gaut or gotra.[7]

Members of a surname are then subdivided into smaller clans comprising related members who can trace their family tree. Typically, a clan represents people related within at least seven generations but can be more.[8]

In ancient times, it was normal for a village to comprise members of one surname. When people moved to form a new village, they continued to pay homage to the founding jathera. This is still the case for many people who may have new jathera in their villages but still pay homage to the founding ancestor of the entire surname.[7]

Over time, Punjabi villages changed their composition whereby families from different surnames came to live together. A village therefore can have one jathera which can be communally used by members of different surnames but has the founder of the village as the named ancestor or many jathera can be built to represent the common ancestors of specific surnames.[9]

When members of a clan form a new village, they continue to visit the jathera in the ancestral village. If this is not possible, a link is brought from the old jathera to construct a new jathera in the new village.[7]

People visit the jathera when getting married, the 15th of the Indian month and sometimes on the first Sunday of an Indian month. The descendants of the elder go to a pond and dig earth and make shivlinga and some put it on the mound of their jathera and offer ghee and flowers to the Jathera.So, It is a form of shivlinga puja also. In some villages it is customary to offer flour.[7]


The following are some fairs celebrated in Punjab.

Baba Kaallu Nath Mela

A large Mela is organized at village Nathana (near Bhucho Mandi) in district Bathinda in the month of February–March in honor of Baba Kaallu Nath of the Romana surname. The Mela lasts for four days. The first day is especially for Romana's and three days for all people to attend.

Baba Kala Mehar Mela

A Mela is held in honor of Baba Kala Mehar every year in Amritsar district.

The fair takes place in and around April each year with Sandhu Jats and people from other clans and tribes attending from around Punjab and Rajasthan.

According to legend, Baba Kala Mehar used to tend to his cattle and one day while doing so, he happened to meet Baba Gorakh Nath (Gorakshanath). Baba Gorakh Nath asked Pir Baba Kala Mehar if he can give him some milk from his buffaloes. A miracle happened that while the cattle being tended at that time were all bulls, Baba Ji is said to have miraculously taken milk out of bulls on striking them with his stick.

Baba Jogi Pir Mela

The village of Bhopal falls in the Mansa tehsil of Bathinda district.

The village is known for the fair of Baba Jogi Pir[10] who is said to be the guru (preceptor) of Chahal Jat. It is said that during the times of Mughal rule, Baba Jogi Pir fought against the forces of the Mughal rulers.

During the battle, his head was chopped off, but his headless body kept on fighting until it fell down dead in this village. The people were deeply touched by the sacrifice of Jogi Pir, constructed a shrine, and began to hold a fair.[10]

Another legend narrates that once a few people stayed under a grove of trees in the premises of the shrine. They felt pangs of thirst at night, but there was no source of water where from they could quench their thirst . A heavenly voice which was believed to be that of Jogi Pir was heard: “why do you die of thirst? Pick out a brick from the pond and take water”. They did likewise, found water from underneath the brick they picked up and thus they quenched their thirst.[10]

A fair is held twice annually for three days on Bhadon 28 (August–September)and Chet 16 (March- April) at the shine of Jogi Pir. It is attended by both Hindus and Sikhs. The people pay their obeisance at the shrine, especially after the birth of a child or the solemnization of marriage. Earth is also scooped one of the tank by the people for invoking the blessings of Jogi Pir.[10]


Bhatti (2000)states that there are shrines dedicated to various saints, gods and goddesses in Punjab which he has studied by reference to Punjabi folk religion. These include Sakhi Sarwar, Seetla Mata and Gugga.[11] There are many shrines which represent the folk practices of the Punjab region. Snehi (2015) states that such shrines represent a discourse between different organised religions.[12]

According to Singh and Gaur (2009), these shrines represent inter-communal dialogue and a distinct form of cultural practice of saint veneration.[13] Rouse (1988) regards pirs as the folk-religion representatives and fakirs as the caretakers of shrines. These categories are discussed in an Islamic context.[14] Weekes (1984) discussing Islam states that:

  • "Punjabi folk religion weaves a rich variety of local mysticism — such as beliefs in the evil eye , the predictions of astrologers and the potency of amulets and potions — into the scriptural , universalizing traditions of Islam propounded by the ulama."[15]

Various other saints are also venerated in Punjab such as Khawaja Khidr is a river spirit of wells and streams.[16] He is mentioned in the Sikandar-nama as the saint who presides over the well of immortality, and is revered by many faiths.[16] He is sometimes pictured as an old man dressed in green, and is believed to ride upon a fish.[16] His principal shrine is on an island of the Indus River by Bhakkar in Punjab, Pakistan.[16] Gugga Pir is venerated for protection against snakes. The fair known as Chhapar Mela is organised annually.

Many villages in Punjab, India and Pakistan, have shrines of Sakhi Sarwar who is more popularly referred to as Lakha Data Pir. A shrine of Sakhi Sarwar is situated in district Dera Ghazi Khan in Punjab, of Pakistan, where an annual fair is held in March. A 9-day fair is organised every year in Mukandpur, Punjab, India.

Other shrines are in honour of Seetla Mata who is worshiped for protection against childhood diseases with notable fair being held annually in Ludhiana district and is known as the Jarag mela;[17] Gorakhnath who was an 11th to 12th century[18]Nath yogi and connected to Shaivism; and Puran Bhagat who is a revered saint in the Punjab region and other areas of the subcontinent.[19] People visit Puran's well located in Sialkot, especially childless women travel from places as far as Quetta[20] and Karachi.



  1. ^ Singh, Nagendra Kr; Khan, Abdul Mabud (2001). Encyclopaedia of the World Muslims: Tribes, Castes and Communities. Global Vision. ISBN 978-81-87746-09-6.
  2. ^ a b c d e Nayar, Kamala Elizabeth (2012). The Punjabis in British Columbia: Location, Labour, First Nations, and Multiculturalism. McGill-Queen's Press - MQUP. ISBN 978-0-7735-4070-5.
  3. ^ Rambo, Lewis R.; Farhadian, Charles E. (2014-03-06). The Oxford Handbook of Religious Conversion. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-971354-7.
  4. ^ Chhabra, G. S. (1968). Advanced History of the Punjab: Guru and post-Guru period upto Ranjit Singh. New Academic Publishing Company. p. 37.
  5. ^ Lord, John (1972). The Maharajahs. Hutchinson. pp. 7–8. ISBN 978-0-09-111050-5.
  6. ^ Singh, Pritam (2008-02-19). Federalism, Nationalism and Development: India and the Punjab Economy. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-134-04946-2.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h "Centre for Sikh Studies, University of California. Journal of Punjab Studies Fall 2004 Vol 11, No.2 H.S.Bhatti and D.M. Michon: Folk Practice in Punjab". Archived from the original on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2010-01-05.
  8. ^ This is not definitive
  9. ^ A Glossary of the tribes & castes of Punjab by H. A Rose
  10. ^ a b c d Gazetteer of Bathinda 1992 Edition
  11. ^ Bhatti, H.S (2000) Folk Religion: Change and Continuity. Rawat Publications [1]
  12. ^ Replicating Memory, Creating Images: Pirs and Dargahs in Popular Art and Media of Contemporary East Punjab Yogesh Snehi "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-01-09. Retrieved 2015-01-09.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ Historicity, Orality and ‘Lesser Shrines’: Popular Culture and Change at the Dargah of Panj Pirs at Abohar,” in Sufism in Punjab: Mystics, Literature and Shrines, ed. Surinder Singh and Ishwar Dayal Gaur (New Delhi: Aakar, 2009), 402-429
  14. ^ Rouse, S. J. (1988). Agrarian Transformation in a Punjabi Village: Structural Change and Its Consequences. (n.p.): University of Wisconsin--Madison.
  15. ^ Weekes, Richard (1984) Muslim Peoples: Maba. Greenwood Press [2]
  16. ^ a b c d Longworth Dames, M. "Khwadja Khidr". Encyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition. Retrieved 21 April 2012.
  17. ^ "Jarag Mela of Punjab - Worshipping of Goddess Seetala".
  18. ^ Briggs (1938), p. 249
  19. ^ Ram, Laddhu. Kissa Puran Bhagat. Lahore: Munshi Chiragdeen.
  20. ^ Dawn 8 October 2012


This page was last edited on 26 July 2021, at 14:40
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