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The word Punjab is a compound of two Persian words, panj ("five") and ab ("water"), signifying historically the land of five waters, or rivers. Owing to territorial changes, however, only two of the rivers referred to (the Sutlej and the Beas) lie within the boundaries of India's Punjab.

The foundations of the present Punjab (historical Pa˝jab) were laid by Banda Singh Bahadur, a hermit who became a military leader and, with his fighting band of Sikhs, temporarily liberated the eastern part of the province from Mughal rule in 1709-10. Banda Singh's defeat and execution in 1716 were followed by a prolonged struggle between the Sikhs on one side and the Mughals and Afghans on the other. By 1764-65 the Sikhs established their dominance in the region. Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839) built up the Punjab into a powerful kingdom and attached to it the adjacent provinces of Multan, Kashmir, and Peshawar.

In 1849 the Punjab fell to the troops of the British East India Company and subsequently became a province under British rule. By the late 19th century, however, the Indian nationalist movement took hold in this province. One of the movement's most significant events--the some 400 deaths and 1,200 injuries of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, ordered by British general Reginald E.H. Dyer--took place at Amritsar in 1919. When India gained its independence in 1947, the British province of Punjab was split between the new sovereign states of India and Pakistan, and the smaller, eastern portion became part of India.

On Nov. 1, 1966, Punjab was divided on the basis of language into Haryana (with most of the Hindi-speaking areas) and a new, smaller state of Punjab, and the northernmost districts were transferred to Himachal Pradesh. Punjab's recently built capital, the city of Chandigarh, along with the immediate surrounding region, became a separate union territory. Though not a part of either state, the city of Chandigarh was retained as the joint administrative headquarters, or capital, of Haryana and Punjab.

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