Malwa is one of the three main divisions of the present Punjab state of India, the other two being Majha and Doaba. (A tract of land in Central India is also called Malwa.) The Punjab Malwa is in the shape of a rough parallelogram lying between 29°-30 and 31°-10 North latitudes and 73°-50 and 76°-50' East longitudes. It is bounded by the River Sutlej in the north, Haryana in the east and the south, Rajasthan in the southwest corner, and by Bahawalpur state of Pakistan in the west. Malwa comprises eleven of the seventeen administrative districts of the Punjab, viz., Firozpur, Faridkot, Moga, Muktsar, Bathinda, Sangrur, Mansa, Ludhiana, Patiala, Fatehgarh Sahib and Ropar excluding its Nurpur Bedi tahsil or sub-division which falls across the Sutlej and geographically lies in the Doaba region.
G.A. Grierson, Linguistic Survey of India, Vol. IX, Part I, who based his demarcations of Malwi on the spoken dialect Malwai, would exclude the present Patiala, Fatehgarh Sahib and Ropar districts and part of Ludhiana district from Malwa because a different dialect, called Povadhi, was spoken there. But because of demographical changes consequent upon partition of the country (1947) and subsequent allocation of a major part of Povadhi-speaking area to the newly created state of Haryana (1966), it is not inappropriate to call the entire cis Sutlej tract of the present Punjab as Malwa.
Malwa is a dialectical variation of the Sanskrit word Mallava (Maloi in ancient Greek accounts) which was the name of an ancient tribe who challenged, though unsuccessfully, the might of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC. They might have later migrated to the south of the Sutlej, giving the name Malwa, the land of the Mallavas, to their new homeland.
With an area of 32,808 square km and a population of 11,817,142 (1991 census), Malwa is the largest region of the present Punjab. It has 65.1 per cent of the total area and 58.5 per cent of the total population 360.1 per square km against 401 per square km for the entire state. The density of population district-wise varies vastly between Ludhiana (629) and Firozpur (272). As late as the latter part of the nineteenth century, Malwa, except for a narrow strip along the Sutlej, was a semi-arid desert covered with slow-growing trees such as van (Quercus incana) and jand (Prosopis spicigera) and thorny bushes like the karir (Capparis aphylla) and malha beri, a kind of jujube.
Although today Malwa is, by and large a country defined by expanses of plaines the region, especially its southern and southwestern parts, it has now become undulated with mounds of sand blown in from Rajasthan by southwesterly winds. Cultivation was almost entirely dependent upon rain which was erratic and usually scanty. Introduction of canal irrigation with the renovation of Sirhind canal initiated a change which, strengthened by later developments, especially the harnessing of water resources and the availablity of cheap hydro-electricity, culminated in intensive agriculture of the 1960's and the following decades, transforming the face of Malwa and helping to make Punjab the granary of India.
The hardy farmers of the region, including those brought here in the aftermath of the partition of the country in 1947 have converted the former forest and sandy mounds into neatly marked lush green farmlands. Wheat, paddy, cotton and oil seeds and sugarcane ahe major crops grown in Malwa. Cultivation has picked up rapidly since the beginning of the 1980's. This coupled with the growth of small and medium-scale industry, though at a slower pace, has brought in prosperity which in turn is resulting in a perceptible change for the better in the fields of education and culture, although the literacy rate (45.6 %) still lags behind the state average (49.2 %). As in the case of density of population, there is vast variation also in district-wise literacy rate which ranges between 57.2 % for Ludhiana (highest in the state) and 32.8% for Sangrur. Yet, of the three universities in the state, two are located in Malwa-the Punjab Agricultural University at Ludhiana and Punjabi University at Patiala, besides an autonomous college of engineering and technology at Patiala. Similarly, of the four medical colleges in the whole of Punjab three are located in the Malwa region. In the industrial field, Malwa, with its two huge thermal plants, one each at Bathinda and Ropar, and industrial complexes at Ludhiana, Rajpura, Sahibzada Ajit Singh Nagar (Mohali) and Mandi Gobindgarh, is far ahead of the other two regions. According to 1991 census figures, of the ten Punjab towns having a population of over 100,000 each, five lie in Malwa. Ludhiana (1, 012, 062, persons) is the most populous city in the state.
Malwa's part in the history of the Sikhs dates back to the time of Guru Nanak, whose peregrinations also covered this ancient land. Guru Angad's birthplace, Sarai Nanga, lies in the Malwa. Guru Hargobind, Guru Har Rai, Guru Tegh Bahadur and Guru Gobind Singh travelled extensively through this area. Many eminent Sikhs such as Bhai Bhagatu, Bhai Bahilo and Bhai Mani Sihgh came from Malwa. The years following the death in 1708 of Guru Gobind Sihgh were the most turbulent period of the history of the Sikhs when the Mughal governors of the Punjab and later the Afghan invaders had let loose a reign of terror and religious persecution against the Sikhs. The jungles of Malwa, with their comparative inaccessibility on account of shortage of water and other scarcities which impeded large-scale military operations, provided the warring Sikh bands from across the Sutlej with a natural sanctuary. Some local Sikh sardars, descendants of Bhai Phul blessed by Guru Hargobind and Guru Har Rai, collectively known as the Phulkiari misl, carved out territories over which they ruled as independent or semi-independent chiefs.
This is how the former Sikh states of Patiala, Nabha, Jind, Faridkot, Kalsia, Kaithal and Ladva came into existence. When Maharaja Ranjit Singh rose to power north of the Sutlej and started amalgamating other misi territories to his own dominions, the states south of the Sutlej known as cis-Sutlej (Greek for across the Sutleg) states, sought protection under the British, whose suzerainty they accepted. They became tributaries of the British empire while the districts of Ludhiana and Firozpur came under the latter's direct rule. Of these Sikh states, Kaithal lapsed to the British dominions on the death, without a male heir, of its last ruler, Bhai Udai Singh, in 1845, and Ladva was annexed as a punishment to its ruler, Sardar Ajit Singh, for his open support to the Sikh government of Lahore during the first Anglo-Sikh war (1845-46). The remaining five Punjab Sikh states and the Muslim state of Malerkotla continued to exist till after the independence of India, 1947. In May 1948, they in combination with Kapurthala in the Doaba region and the submountainous Hindu state of Nalagarh formed themselves into what was called the Patiala and East Punjab States Union, PEPSU for short. In 1956 PEPSU was amalgamated with the Punjab, which was further split into Haryana and the Punjabi speaking state of the Punjab on 1 November 1966.
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