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Land of Five Rivers, Canal Colonies and Oceanic Flows to Southeast Asia - page 1 / 11





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Land of Five Rivers, Canal Colonies and Oceanic Flows to Southeast Asia

Anjali Gera Roy

The Panjab Rivers. — " Panjab " is a Persian compound

word, meaning " five waters," and strictly speaking

the word denotes the country between the valley of

the Jhelam and that of the Sutlej. The intermediate

rivers from west to east are the Chenab, the Ravi, and

the Bias. Their combined waters at last flow into the

Panjnad or " five rivers " at the south-west corner of

the Multan district, and the volume of water which

44 miles lower down the Panjnad carries into the Indus

is equal to the discharge of the latter. The first Aryan

settlers knew this part of India as the land of the seven

rivers (sapta sindhavas), adding to the five mentioned

above the Indus and the Sarasvati. The old Vedic

name is more appropriate than Panjab if we substitute

the Jamna for the Sarasvati or Sarusti, which is now

a petty stream.

Sir James Douie, The Panjab, North-West Frontier Province And Kashmir. Cambridge : The University Press. 19 1 6

Michael Pearson has argued that thinking about water has been dominated by a conceptual framework evolved in relation to land and called for an aquatic sensibility that pervade the islander consciousness.  Sarah Nutall, while proposing islandness as a new conceptual framework in understanding waterborne cultures, has highlighted the relation between water and cities, including hinterlands.  In view of the displacement of oceanic journeys through aerial travels, the oceanic can no longer be divorced from the terrestrial or the aerial forms of thinking.   Unlike the lascars  and coastal traders who have been central in the movements in the Indian Ocean, the movement of Sikhs from Punjab, a land locked region divided between India and Pakistan between 1849 to 2009 have not figured in  Indian Ocean dialogues though the Sikh Guru Guru Nanak is believed to have undertaken religious travels, or udasis, in the fifteenth century beginning a saga of Sikh mobility that continues till today. While Guru Nanak is believed to have travelled to Java according to the janamsakhi literature, the subsequent travels of Sikhs have not been documented. This paper will trace the journey from Sikhs/Punjabis from the Punjabi hinterland to Southeast Asia to uncover a narrative of movement emerging from imperial mapping of colonized land and the introduction of the system of private property that forced small farmers to migrate overseas as well as led to families encouraging younger sons to travel overseas to reduce pressure on the family land.  These journeys connect the establishment of canal colonies in Punjab at the end of the nineteenth century with the flows of the five rivers of Punjab and the oceanic flows connecting remote villages in Punjab with the port of Kolkata and islands in Southeast Asia corroborating Pearson’s relation between the land, rivers and oceans.

Graham Chapman’s emphasis on the conceptualization of the passes of the North West as a frontier  to be defended against all incursions in the formation of the first Empire, that is the Aryan,  locates Punjab strategically as a frontier region through which the boundaries

Third Critical Studies Conference, CRG, Kolkata

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