With lush green wheat fields, quaint rural villages dotted with yellow mustard flowers and beautiful nourishing rivers, Punjab is one of the most fertile and beautiful states in India. The ‘Five Rivers’ state is also one of the largest states in India and has played an important role in India’s development.
Today, the state’s ethos has spread across the world, as many Punjabis have traveled and settled abroad, integrating with different cultures, conveying a message of love and acceptance.
The state is harmonious where different religions thrive alongside each other, celebrate life and enjoy good food and drink. You can experience this ‘Punjabiness’ in the cities of Amritsar, Chandigarh, Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Patiala and Bathinda.
1. Bhangra dance
What is Punjab famous for? The iconic Bhangra dance, for one! Whether it is a wedding or a village harvest festival, Punjabis engage in Bhangra dance to celebrate the moment. Foot tapping music with dhol (drummer) creates an electric atmosphere.
Bhangra music has little vocals, but it is energetic music that automatically gets Punjabis on the dance floor. Bhangra has become a music genre not only in India but also in countries like the UK, and Canada, where Punjabi people have a presence.
2. Punjabi Culture
The culture of Punjab is not only associated with the state of Punjab in India; It is about people who took this sense of being ‘Punjabi’ and settled all over the world.
Punjab, the land of five rivers, is known for its brave, helpful and hospitable people and its vibrant festivals and celebrations. Punjabis love all of the above, colorful costumes, foot tapping music and an unbridled love for food and drink!
3. Punjabi festivals
The Indian state of Punjab has a majority of Sikhs who practice their own religion ‘Sikhism’. Often, Sikhs are considered synonymous with Punjabi, but Hindus in the state are also known as Punjabis.
Both the communities celebrate the festival with great enthusiasm. The most important festival is Baisakhi, which is the harvest festival and also marks the new year for Punjabis.
Lohri is an iconic festival and is held in winter, it celebrates the winter solstice with huge bonfires and dancing. Other festivals are Maghi, Basant festival, Tiyan and Holi.
4. Mouth watering recipes
Punjabi food has taken the world by storm; Those rich, creamy and spicy recipes are delicious and not for the faint of heart! A Punjabi breakfast is big and filling, usually hot and crispy with aloo parantha (spicy potato-filled flatbread) topped with makhkhan (homemade butter) and chole kulcha (fried flatbread).
Lunch and dinner include delicious meat dishes including the world famous ‘Butter Chicken’ and ‘Chicken Tikka’. For vegetarians, sarson ka saag (mustard leaf curry) and makki ki roti (cornmeal flatbreads) are winter comforts. This specialty of Punjab is the best in the world.
5. Golden Temple
The glittering facade of the Golden Temple is the most representative sight of Punjab and Sikhism. The Golden Temple in the city of Amritsar is a Gurdwara or holy place of the Sikhs.
It is also known as ‘Sri Harmandir Sahib’ and the sanctum sanctorum has the Adigranth (Holy Book of Sikhs) attached to it. A pilgrimage to a Gurdwara is a must for all Sikhs.
A place of peace, people from all walks of life are welcome here! There is a langar (free community kitchen) where all devotees get food and volunteer devotees cook.
6. Sukhna Talav
Amidst the well-planned streets of Chandigarh, the capital of Punjab, Sukhna Lake offers relief and relaxation to the weary citizens. The artificial lake was constructed as a dam and has become a habitat for migratory birds; It is protected by the government as wasteland of national importance.
A morning walk on a winter morning offers a chance to spot birds such as Siberian ducks, cranes and storks. The people of Chandigarh use the Sukhna Lake for recreational activities like rowing, boating, kayaking and it comes alive during festivals especially the Mango Festival where hundreds of varieties of mangoes are displayed.
From the moment you land at any airport in Punjab, you see a sea of colorful hats worn by men, called ‘turbans’! Sikh men wear a turban to protect their uncut hair as dictated by the Sikh religion.
The color of the turban represents different meanings, for example, navy blue represents bravery and service, orange represents martyrdom, black represents 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 colors and textures.
A frothy ‘lassi’ mustache is the hallmark of a hearty Punjabi meal! A curd-based drink called ‘lassi’ accompanies almost every meal in Punjab but can also be enjoyed as a stand-alone drink.
Lassi is made with curd, sugar, cream and garnished with saffron and has a creamy milkshake-like consistency. Seasonal varieties of mango lassi are sold during summer when mangoes are plentiful and ‘Bhang Lassi’ which uses hemp as an ingredient is also very popular during festivals, especially Holi.
No matter the season, a tall glass of sweet lassi will cheer up your day in no time!
9. Traditional Footwear (Jutti)
Ask any Punjabi woman, and she will tell you the importance of a beautiful sequinned jutti with the right Patiala attire (Indian women’s wear). A jutti is a leather footwear that is closed near the toes and around the back but rarely has sides. It is a combination of traditional boots and slippers.
Jutti was originally a simple leather footwear but over time it evolved into a fashionable accessory. It comes in many colors, is covered in a variety of fabrics such as cotton and silk, and is embroidered with sequins or even silk thread.
Punjabis love to flaunt their jewelry and this is a beautiful blend of Indian jewelry with Mughal design influences. Some types of jewelery are Punjabi like ‘Matha Patti’ worn in the middle of the head and ‘Pasa’ worn on the side of the head. There is also a ‘Tikka’ which is the original mutt band and adorns the forehead.
Pearls and precious stones are minimal gold setting in jewellery. The most beautiful bridal accessory is ‘chura’ which are red bangles and ‘kalira’ which is worn with bangles and hangs from the bride’s hand.
11. Punjabi dessert
Punjab’s rich dairy and wheat farming traditions are reflected in its variety of desserts that use desi ghee (clarified butter) and wheat flour as a base. It is the most popular dessert ‘Kada Farshad’ which is served in Gurdwaras. Goad is made with whole wheat flour, lots of ghee and sugar.
‘Panjiri’ is another Punjabi favorite and made in winter, it is a mixture of dry fruits, whole wheat flour and natural gum. The mixture is made into ladles or balls and eaten to conserve body heat.
Other desserts like Kulfi, Rabri, Sheer Korma, Gajar Ka Halwa (Carrot Sweet) and Khawa are in high demand.
Phulkari is an embroidery originally from Punjab, where women painstakingly spend hours sewing silk threads. Phulkari itself means ‘flower work’ and cloth embroidered with work to show a colorful flower-like pattern on the cloth is called ‘Baag’ or Bagh. The base cloth is coarse cotton and is often brightly colored like red, yellow etc.
Women wear it on special occasions like festivals and weddings. Traditionally, women sew them at home for personal use and pass them on to their daughters as heirlooms.
Today, many women make these masterpieces for sale and you can pick one up as a precious souvenir while in Punjab.
Punjab is famous for cool things to visit
This list of places to see, things to buy and events to experience is a starter pack for all the amazing and unique things Punjab has to offer.
Be sure to check out each one, including the amazing wildlife sanctuaries in the state. Just visiting Punjab and its towns and villages will give you a taste of its culture and people!