Swathes of lush green wheat fields, quaint countryside villages dotted with fields of yellow mustard flowers and beautiful nourishing rivers, Punjab is India’s most fertile and beautiful states. The state which means ‘Five Rivers’ is also one of India’s largest states and has played an important part in India’s development. Today, the ethos of the state are spread far and wide across the world, as many Punjabis have travelled and settled abroad amalgamating with different cultures while proclaiming a message of love and acceptance. The state is harmonious with different religions thriving alongside each other, celebrating life, and enjoying a good taste in food and drink. You can experience this ‘Punjabiness’ in the cities of Amritsar, Chandigarh, Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Patiala, and Bhatinda. We have listed out some of the things Punjab is famous for and that you would love to sample on your travels to the state.
1. Bhangra dance
What is Punjab famous for? The iconic Bhangra dance, for one! Be it a wedding or a village harvest festival, Punjabis are known to break out into a Bhangra dance to celebrate at a moment’s notice. The foot tapping music accompanied by dhols (drum) create an electric atmosphere. Bhangra music does have a bit of singing, but it’s the energetic music that automatically gets the Punjabis on the dance floor. Bhangra has become a music genre not only in India but in countries like UK, and Canada as well, where Punjabis have a strong presence.
2. Punjabi culture
Punjab’s culture doesn’t just belong to the state of Punjab in India; it is about the people who have taken this spirit of being a ‘Punjabi’ and settled around the world. Punjab, the land of five rivers, is known for its brave, helpful and hospitable people, and their exuberant festivals and celebrations. Punjabis love everything that is over the top, colourful dresses, foot tapping music, and an undying love for food and drinks!
3. Punjabi festivals
The state of Punjab in India has a majority of Sikhs who follow their own religion ‘Sikhism.’ Often, Sikhs are considered synonymous with Punjabis, but even the Hindus belonging to the state are known as Punjabis. Both the communities celebrate festivals with a great fervour. The most important festival is Baisakhi, which is a harvest festival and also marks the New Year for Punjabis. Lohri is an iconic festival and held in winter, it celebrates the winter solstice with a large Bonfire and dancing. Other festivals are Maghi, Basant Festival, Teeyan and Holi.
4. Mouthwatering cuisine
Punjabi cuisine has taken the world by storm; it’s rich, creamy and spicy recipes are delicious and not for the faint of heart! Punjabi breakfasts are big and filling, usually hot and crispy aloo paranthas (spicy potato-filled flatbread) topped with a dollop of makkhan (homemade butter) and chole kulcha (fried flatbread). Lunches and dinners come with delectable meat dishes including the world-famous ‘Butter Chicken’ and ‘Chicken Tikka’. For the vegetarians, winters are comforting with sarson ka saag (mustard leaf curry) and makki ki roti (cornmeal flatbreads). These specialties of Punjab are the best in the world.
5. The Golden Temple
The shimmering facade of the Golden Temple is the most representative visual of Punjab and Sikhism. The Golden temple located in Amritsar City is a Gurudwara or the holy place of Sikhs. It is also called ‘Sri Harmandir Sahib’ and encloses the Adi Granth (Holy Book of Sikhs) within the sanctum. A pilgrimage to the gurudwara is a must for all Sikhs. A place of serenity, people from all walks of life are welcome here! There is even a langar (free community kitchen) where all the devotees get a meal, and volunteer devotees do the cooking.
6. Sukhna Lake
Amidst the well-planned streets of the capital city of Punjab, Chandigarh, Sukhna Lake offers respite and relaxation to weary citizens. The artificial lake was built as a dam and has become a habitat for migratory birds; it is even protected as a wasteland of national importance by the government. A morning stroll on winter mornings offers a chance to spot birds like Siberian duck, cranes and storks. People of Chandigarh use the Sukhna Lake for recreation activities like rowing, boating, kayaking, and it comes alive during festivals especially the mango festival where hundreds of varieties of mangoes are displayed.
7. The turban
Right from the moment you land in any airport in Punjab, you will come across a sea of colourful headgear worn by men, called the ‘Turban’! The Turban is worn by Sikh men to protect their unshorn hair as an edict of Sikhism. The colour of the turbans signify different meanings, for instance, the navy blue means valour and service, orange indicates martyrdom, black is resistance while white is associated with peace. Today, young Punjabis take their turban style seriously and wear it as a fashion accessory in a rainbow of colours, and textures.
The frothy ‘Lassi’ moustache is a sign of a hearty Punjabi meal! Accompanied with almost every meal in Punjab is a yoghurt-based drink called the ‘Lassi’ but it can also be savoured as a standalone drink. The lassi is made with yoghurt, sugar, cream and garnished with saffron, and it has a creamy consistency like a milkshake. Seasonal variants include a mango lassi is sold during the summers when mangoes are aplenty and ‘bhang lassi’ which uses cannabis as an ingredient is also quite popular during festivals, especially Holi. No matter what season, a tall glass of sweet lassi will perk up your day in no time!
9. Traditional footwear (Jutties)
Ask any Punjabi woman, and she will regale you with the importance of a beautiful sequined jutti with the right Patiala dress (Indian women’s clothing). The jutti is leather footwear that is closed near the toes and the back but barely has any sides. It’s a mix between a traditional shoe and a slipper. The jutti originally was simple plain leather footwear but has over time transformed into a fashionable accessory. It comes in multiple colours, covered in a variety of fabrics like cotton and silk, and is fitted with sequins or even embroidered with silk thread.
Punjabis love to flaunt their jewellery, and it is a beautiful mix of Indian jewellery with Mughal design influence. Some types of jewellery are quintessentially Punjabi like the ‘Matha Patti’ which is worn in the centre of the head and ‘Passa’ which is worn on the side of the head. There is also a ‘Tikka’ which is a basic Matha Patti and adorns the forehead. The jewellery is dominated by pearl and precious stones with minimum gold setting. The most beautiful bridal accessory is the ‘Chura’ which are red bangles and the ‘Kalira’ that are worn with the bangles and dangle off the bride’s hands.
11. Punjabi desserts
The rich dairy and wheat farming traditions of Punjab are reflected in its varied desserts which use desi ghee (clarified butter) and wheat flour as a base. It’s most popular dessert is the ‘kada parshad’ which is offered in gurudwaras. The sweet is made of toasted whole wheat flour, lots of ghee and sugar. ‘Panjeeri’ is another Punjabi favourite and made in winters, it is a mixture of dried fruits, whole wheat flour and natural gum. The mixture is fashioned into laddoos or balls, and eaten to conserve the body heat. Other desserts much in demand are kulfi, rabri, sheer korma, gajar ka halwa (carrot dessert) and khoya.
Phulkari is the embroidery native to Punjab, a product of women painstakingly spending hours together sewing silken threads in striking geometric patterns. Phulkari itself means ‘flower work’ and a cloth embroidered with the work is called a ‘bagh’ or garden to signify the colourful flower-like motifs on the cloth. The base cloth is coarse cotton and is often brightly coloured like red, yellow, etc. Women wear them on special occasions like festivals and weddings. Traditionally, women sewed them at home for personal use and handed them over as heirlooms to their daughters. Today, many women create these masterpieces for sale and you can pick up one of them as a valuable souvenir when in Punjab.
Awesome things Punjab is famous for that demand a visit
This list of places to see, things to buy and events to experience is a starter pack for all amazing and unique things that Punjab has to offer. Be sure to check out each one, including the awesome wildlife sanctuaries in the state. Only a visit to Punjab and its cities and villages will give you a taste of its culture and people!
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