POṬHOHĀR, a distinct lingual and cultural region in northwest Punjab (now in Pakistan), comprising a part of the Rāwalpiṇḍī district, including the entire Gujjar Khān tahsīl (subdivision) Barring the hilly tract in the east along the River Jehlum, southeastern part of Rāwalpiṇḍī tahsīl and Kallar circle of Kahūṭā tahsīl. It is a slightly raised plain sloping south and southwestward. This probably gives it the name Poṭhohar, a derivative of Hindi paṭhār lit. plateau. It is a rough plain interspersed with numerous streams and ravines which turn into turbulent torrents during the rainy season. The main river of Poṭhohār is Soāṅ, commonly pronouced Suāṅ, which is a tributary of the Indus and which figures extensively in the folkore of the region. Another notable stream is Kāṅshī which ultimately joins the Jehlum.
Some archaeological finds from the Soāṅ basin believed to be dating back to the first and second interglacial age suggest that Poṭhohār 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 Aryan who entered India from the northwest. When the Greeks invaded India in 326 BC, they found Takṣaśilā or Taxilā at the northwestern edge of Poṭhohār "the great and flourishing city." Taxilā continued to be an important seat of learning and centre of Graeco-Buddhist art for many centuries. The relics of Buddhism in Poṭhohār are not confined to Taxilā alone. Hasan Abdāl, Mānikiālā and many other places are intimately connected with BuddhIst tradition and culture. The local dialect, Poṭhoharī, spoken even in areas beyond the boundaries of Poṭhohār proper still preserves many Sanskrit and Prākrit verb forms and inflections. A popular legend points to the conquest of the region by Rājā Rasālū, son of King Salvān, ruler of Siālkot. From the point where the tradition of antiquity gives place to more authentic historical records, Gakkhaṛ, a Muhammadan tribe, comes into prominence. The Gakkhaṛs ruled over Poṭhohār more or less independent of the sovereign powers at Delhi and Āgrā until they were overcome by Sardār Gujjar Siṅgh, a powerful Sikh chief of the Bhaṅgī family, in 1765. His deputy, Milkhā Siṅgh, set up his headquarters at Rāwalpiṇḍī, then only a small village. Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh annexed Poṭhohār in 1810, and in 1849 along with other Sikh territories, the district passed under British rule.
Poṭhohār 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 Khatrīs and Aroṛās, 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, Bābā Khem Siṅgh Bedī of Kallar, one of the leadrs of the Siṅgh Sabhā movement, generally took the vows of the Khālsā and kept their hair and beard untrimmed. A large percentage of Hindu Khatrīs and Aroṛās were Sahijdhārī Sikhs. The influence was also strengthened in the area by the Niraṅkārī Darbār spearheading a reformist movement located at Rāwalpiṇḍī and by the proximity of Pañjā Sāhib, the famous Sikh shrine sacred to Gurū Nānak. Sikhism received further fillip from the preachings of holy men such as Sant Atar Siṅgh and Bhāī Thān Siṅgh. Being businessmen by profession, Poṭhoharī 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. Bābā Khem Siṅgh Bedi was pioneer in the field of women's education and he opened 20 schools for girls throughout Poṭhohār. Several Khālsā schools for boys also came up which provided special facilities for teaching Punjabi in Gurmukhī script. Poṭhohār has produced a large number of Sikh scholars and writers. Among them may be counted Bhāī Jodh Siṅgh and Professor Tejā Siṅgh, distinguished theologians, Nānak Siṅgh and Kartār Siṅgh Duggal, both novelists of standing, Dr Mohan Siṅgh Dīwāna, the critic and Mohan Siṅgh, the poet. The towering political leader, Master Tārā Siṅgh, was a Poṭhoharī. So were Giānī Gurmukh Siṅgh Musāfir and Giānī Hīrā Siṅgh Dard.
The Sikhs of Poṭhohār 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 Puṅjab, especially in the Sikh state of paṭiālā. The orgy intensified after the Partition in August 1947, resulting in mass migration of Hindus and Sikhs to the Indian side. Poṭhohārī Sikhs resettled mostly in towns and cities throughout India particularly in Delhi, Punjab, Haryāṇā and Uttar Pradesh, where they still retain their distinctive identity and avocations.
Kartār Siṅgh Duggal