MĀLVĀ, not to be mixed with a tract of this name in Central India, is one of the three main divisions of the present Punjab state of India, the other two being Mājhā and Doābā. It is in the shape of a rough parallelogram lying between 290-30' and 310-10' North latitudes and 730-50' and 760-50' East longitudes, bounded by the River Sutlej in the north, Haryāṇā in the east and the south, Rājasthān in the southwest corner, and by Bahāwalpur state of Pakistan in the west. Mālvā comprises eleven of the seventeen administrative districts of the Punjab, viz., Fīrozpur, Farīdkoṭ, Mogā, Muktsar, Baṭhiṇḍā, Saṅgrūr, Mānsā, Ludhiāṇā, Paṭiālā, Fatehgaṛh Sāhib and Ropaṛ excluding its Nūrpur Bedī tahsīl or sub-division which falls across the Sutlej and geographically lies in the Doābā region. G.A. Grierson, Linguistic Survey of India, Vol. IX, Part I, who based his demarcation on the spoken dialect Malvaī, would exclude the present Paṭiālā, Fatehgaṛh Sāhib and Ropaṛ districts and part of Ludhiāṇā district from Mālvā because of a different dialect, Povādhī, spoken there. But because of demographical changes consequent upon partition of the country (1947) and subsequent allocation of a major part of Povādhī-speaking area to the newly created state of Haryāṇā (1966), it is not inappropriate to call the entire cis Sutlej tract of the present Punjab as Mālvā.

         Mālvā is a dialectical variation of the Sanskrit word Mallava which was the name of an ancient tribe (Malloi of the Greek accounts) who challenged, though unsuccessfully, the might of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC and might have later migrated to the south of the Sutlej, giving the name Mālvā, 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), Mālvā 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 Ludhiāṇā (629) and Fīrozpur (272). Till the latter part of the nineteenth century, Mālvā, leaving aside a narrow strip along the Sutlej, was an arid semi-desert covered with slow growing trees such as vaṇ (Quercus incana) and jaṇḍ (Prosopis spicigera) and thorny bushes like karīr (Capparis aphylla)and malhā berī, a kind of jujube. Although by and large a plain country, the region, especially its southern and southwestern parts, had become undulated with mounds of sand blown in from Rājasthān by south-westerly 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 availability of cheap hydro-electricity, culminated in intensive agriculture of the 1960's and the following decades, and transformed the face of Mālvā and helped 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. Major crops grown are wheat, paddy, cotton and oil seeds, sugarcane, cultivation picking 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 education and cultural fields, although literacy rate (45.6 per cent) still lags behind the state average (49.2 per cent). As in the case of density of population, there is vast variation also in district-wise literacy rate which ranges between 57.2 per cent for Ludhiāṇā (highest in the state) and 32.8 per cent for Saṅgrūr. Yet, of the three universities in the state, two are located in Mālvā — Punjab Agricultural University at Ludhiāṇā and Punjabi University at Paṭiālā, besides an autonomous college of engineering and technology at Paṭiālā. Similarly, of the four medical colleges in the whole of Punjab three are located in the Mālvā region. In the industrial field, Mālvā, with its two huge thermal plants, one each at Baṭhiṇḍā and Ropaṛ, and industrial complexes at Ludhiāṇā, Rājpurā, Sāhibzādā Ajīt Siṅgh Nagar (Mohālī) and Maṇḍī Gobindgaṛh, 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 Mālvā. Ludhiāṇā (1, 012, 062, persons) is the most populous city in the state.

         Mālvā's part in the history of the Sikhs dates back to the time of Gurū Nānak, whose peregrinations also covered this ancient land. Gurū Aṅgad's birthplace, Sarāi Nāṅgā, lies in the Mālvā. Gurū Hargobind, Gurū Har Rāi, Gurū Tegh Bahādur and Gurū Gobind Siṅgh travelled extensively through this area. Many eminent Sikhs such as Bhāī Bhagatū, Bhāī Bahilo and Bhāī Manī Siṅgh came from Mālvā. The years following the death in 1708 of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh were the most turbulent period of the history of the Sikhs when the Mughal governors of the Punjab and later the Afghān invaders had let loose a reign of terror and religious persecution against the Sikhs. The jungles of Mālvā, with their comparative inaccessibility an account of shortage of water and other scarcities impeding large-scale operations, provided the warring Sikh bands from across the Sutlej with a natural sanctuary. Some local Sikh sardārs, descendants of Bhāī Phūl blessed by Gurū Hargobind and Gurū Har Rāi and collectively known as Phūlkīāṅ misl carved out territories over which they ruled as independent or semi-independent chiefs. This is how the former Sikh states of Paṭiālā, Nābhā, Jīnd, Farīdkoṭ, Kalsīā, Kaithal and Lāḍvā came into existence. When Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh rose to power north of the Sutlej and started amalgamating other misl territories to his own dominions, the states south of the Sutlej known as cis-Sutlej states, sought protection under the British, whose suzerainty they accepted. They became tributaries of the British empire while the districts of Ludhiāṇā and Fīrozpur 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, Bhāī Udai Siṅgh, in 1845, and Lāḍvā was annexed as a punishment to its ruler, Sardār Ajīt Siṅgh, for his open support to Sikh government of Lahore during the first Anglo-Sikh war (1845-46). The remaining five Punjab Sikh states and the Muslim state of Mālerkoṭlā continued to exist till after the independence of India, 1947. In May 1948, they in combination with Kapūrthalā in the Doābā region and the submountainous Hindu state of Nālāgaṛh formed themselves into what was called the Paṭiālā and East Punjab States Union, PEPSU for short. In 1956 PEPSU was amalgamated with the Punjab, which was further split into Haryāṇā and the Punjabi-speaking state of the Punjab on I November 1966.


  1. Visākhā Siṅgh, Sant, Mālvā Itihās, 3 vols. Kishanpura, 1954.
  2. Mālvā Des Raṭan dī Sākhī Pothī, Amritsar, 1968
  3. Latif, Syad Muhammad, History of the Panjab. Delhi, 1977
  4. Cunningham, Joseph Davey, A History of the Sikhs. London, 1849.

Ethne K. Marenco