POTHOHAR, a distinct lingual and cultural region in northwest Punjab (now in Pakistan), comprising a part of the Rawalpindi district, including the entire Gujjar Khan tahsil (subdivision) barring the hilly tract in the east along the River Jehlum, southeastern part of Rawalpindi tahsil and Kallar circle of Kahuta tahsil. It is a slightly raised plain sloping south and southwestward. This probably gives it the name Pothohar, a derivative of Hindi palhdrVii. piatcau. It is a rough plain interspersed with numerous streams and ravines which turn into turbulent torrents during the rainy season.
The main river of Pothohar is Soari, commonly pronouced Suari, which is a tributary of the Indus and which figures extensively in the folkore of the region. Another notable stream is Karishi which ultimately joins the Jehlum. Some archaeological finds from the Soari basin believed to be dating back to the first and second interglacial age suggest that Pothohar was one of the earliest homes of mankind in this part of the world. In any case, the region can boast of the most ancient culture in India. It must have been the first halting place for the waves of Aryans who entered India from the northwest.
When the Greeks invaded India in 326 BC, they found Taksasila or Taxila at the northwestern edge of Pothohar “the great and flourishing city.” Taxila continued to be an important seat of learning and centre of GraecoBuddhist art for many centuries. The relics of Buddhism in Pothohar are not confined to Taxila alone. Hasan Abdal, Manikiala and many other places are intimately connected with Buddhist tradition and culture. The local dialect, Pothohari, spoken even in areas beyond the boundaries of Pothohar proper still preserves many Sanskrit and Prakrit verb forms and inflections.
A popular legend points to the conquest of the region by Raja Rasalu, son of King Salvan, ruler of Sialkot. From the point where the tradition of antiquity gives place to more authentic historical records, Gakkhar, a Muhammadan tribe, comes into prominence. The Gakkhars ruled over Pothohar more or less independent of the sovereign powers at Delhi and Agra until they were overcome by Sardar Guyar Singh, a powerful Sikh chief of the Bharigi family, in 1765. His deputy, Milkha Singh, set up his headquarters at Rawalpindi, then only a small village. Maharaja Ranjit Singh annexed Pothohar in 1810, and in 1849 along with other Sikh territories, the district passed under British rule.
Pothohar was predominantly Muslim. Sikhs, according to 1901 census, were hardly 5 per cent of the population while Hindus were about 10 per cent. The two non Muslim communities, mostly Khatris and Aroras, were closely knit together and hardly distinguishable from each other in religious belief and social customs except that the Sikhs, under the influence of their spiritual head, Baba Khem Singh Bedi of Kallar, one of the leaders of the Singh Sabha movement, generally took the vows of the Khalsa and kept their hair and beard untrimmed. A large percentage of Hindu Khatris and Aroras were Sahijdhari Sikhs.
The influence was also strengthened in the area by the Nirankari Darbar spearheading a reformist movement located at Rawalpindi and by the proximity of Parija Sahib, the famous Sikh shrine sacred to Guru Nanak. Sikhism received further fillip from the preachings of holy men such as Sant Atar Singh and Bhai Than Singh. Being businessmen by profession, Pothohari Sikhs were better off economically and better educated than members of the majority Muslim community, and were quick to take to western education introduced by the British.
Baba Khem Singh Bedi was pioneer in the field of women`s education and he opened 20 schools for girls throughout Pothohar. Several Khalsa schools for boys also came up which provided special facilities for teaching Punjabi in Gurmukhi script. Pothohar has produced a large number of Sikh scholars and writers. Among them may be counted Bhai Jodh Singh and Professor Teja Singh, distinguished theologians, Nanak Singh and Kartar Singh Duggal, both novelists of standing, Dr Mohan Singh Diwana, the critic and Mohan Singh, the poet. The towering political leader, Master Tara Singh, was a Pothohari. So were Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir and Giani Hira Singh Dard.
The Sikhs of Pothohar were a flourishing section of the community and leaders in a variety of Fields. On the eve of the creation of Pakistan in 1947, the entire region was engulfed in fierce communal frenzy. Widespread loot, arson and massacre were the order of the day. Many fled to find refuge in eastern part of the Punjab, especially in the Sikh state of Patiala. The orgy intensified after the partition in August 1947, resulting in mass migration of Hindus and Sikhs to the Indian side. Pothohari Sikhs resettled mostly in towns and cities throughout India particularly in Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, where they still retain their distinctive identity and avocations.
1. Teja Singh, Sabhidchar. Delhi, n.d.
2. Panj Darya. Lahore, December 1942