In the northern part of the Indian subcontinent there’s a region that was once home to one of the oldest cultures in South Asia. It’s known as the Indus Valley Civilisation. This civilisation existed alongside other historical empires in western Asia and North Africa, including ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. It was more geographically widespread than either of its contemporaries and technologically advanced. It consisted of hundreds of planned cities comprising brick houses and marvels of ancient engineering, including complex water and drainage systems. Its citizens were renowned for their craftsmanship. Thousands of pieces of their art, including sculptures made of clay and bronze, statues and jewellery, can be found in museums all over the world.
After 2000 years of existence, the Indus Valley Civilisation collapsed. We don’t know why, and probably never will, but the best evidence we have suggests climate change, earthquakes, or a combination of the two. But different cultures and communities in the region have flourished for thousands of years thanks to their proximity to one of the world’s mightiest rivers, the Indus, and its tributaries. Those five tributaries, the Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Sutlej and Beas rivers, are where the region derives its name. Known in ancient Greek as Pentapotamía, in Sanskrit as Pañcanada, in Persian as Panjab, it’s now known as Punjab. All mean ‘Land of the five rivers’. Punjab’s fertility and proximity to a number of powerful empires made it a regular target for conquest and imperial ambition. It was ruled by a succession of different powers including the Greeks, Scythians, Parthians, Huns, Arabs, Mughals, Afghans and Marathis, before being annexed by the British East India Company and subsumed into the British Empire at the peak of European colonialism.
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