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Land of Five Rivers, Canal Colonies and Oceanic Flows to Southeast Asia - page 2 / 11





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of subsequent empires continued to be demarcated.(2003 17) The unique cultural history and geographical identity of Punjab makes it  the preferred site for the making of territorial claims, national boundaries and transnational identities.  Its etymological origins(Persian panj or five and aab waters),  literally map Punjab’s geography on  the topography of its five rivers.  Mythologically, however, Punjab was known as Sapta Sindhu, the land of the seven rivers, namely Sindhu(Indus), Vitasta(Jhelum), Asuhi(Chenab), Purshin(Ravi), Vipasa(Beas), Satadru(Sutlej) and Saruri(Saraswati).1  Once dry desert land between the Khyber Pass and the Ganga basin beyond the constricted passage between the Delhi ridge and Himalayan foothills inhabited by semi-nomadic warriors who defended the region from invaders from the north-west, Punjab’s cultural geography was continually interrupted and altered permanently after the annexation of Punjab in 1849.  From becoming the 20th satrapy of the Persian empire after Darius’s conquest of North Punjab in 516 BC and its falling to Alexander’s imperial ambitions in 326 BC, Punjab’s rivers – Indus that Alexander crossed 16 miles North of Attock and Jhelum at which he met resistance from the Aryan king Pauravas or Porus  - have played a significant role, along with passes and deserts, in its contentious history of territorial expansion and imperial conquest.  

“A whole history remains to be written of spaces __which would at the same time be the history of powers(both of these terms in the plural)”; Foucault announced in “The Eye of Power”, a project that has been taken forward by postmodern geographers and postcolonial theorists.(1980 149) In 1994, Jonathan Crush announced the aims of colonial geography as  “the unveiling of colonial complicity in colonial domination over space; the character of geographical representation in colonial discourse, the de-linking of local geographical enterprise from metropolitan theory and its totalizing systems of representation; and the recovery of those hidden spaces occupied and invested with their own meaning, by the colonial underclass”(1994 336-37).  Like postmodern geographers, post-colonial theorists have engaged with the dislocation of the colonized through the colonial conceptualization of space, maps, and geography that overwrote the places of the colonized.  The colonial administrator, drawing on the new discipline of geography to establish the topography of the region by employing the tools of newly invented cartography, imposes a monocular view on the surrounding space of the colonized:

Below Kalabagh the Indus is a typical lowland river of great size, with many sandy islands in the bed and a wide valley subject to its inundations. Opposite Dera Ismail Khan the valley is seventeen miles across. As a plains river the Indus runs at first through the Mianwali district of the Panjab, then divides Mianwali from Dera Ismail Khan, and lastly parts Muzaffargarh and the Bahawalpur State from the Panjab frontier district of Dera Ghazi Khan.(Douie 1916)

The recollections of Sir Herbert Edwardes provide a classic example of colonialism’s elision of its pre-colonial history through his representation of Bannu, a district in Punjab he conquered in 1848 as a young lieutenant, as terra incognita.  

Now, though most of us possess an atlas and a geography, yet not ten educated men in a hundred could state off-hand where New Granada, Trinidad, Manilla, and Yemen are, and to whom they belong. I shall therefore take it for granted that not one in five hundred, whether resident in India or England, knows anything about such an insignificant little place as Bannu, its environs, and its inhabitants; and I shall proceed to describe both, beginning of course "from earliest times," which will not take long, as neither country nor people has any ascertained ancient history to speak of.[italics mine](Herbert Edwardes. 1848-49)

1 Saraswati now flows in traces with seasonal streams that flow near Pehowa in Haryana.(

Third Critical Studies Conference, CRG, Kolkata

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