Punjabi - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. As of the 1981 census, the population of Indian Punjab reported itself as being 37 percent Hindu, 61 percent Sikh, 1 percent Muslim, and a little more than 1 percent Christian, with smaller portions of Buddhists, Jains, and others. Pakistani Punjab is about 97 percent Muslim and 2 percent Christian, with small numbers of others.

Religious Practitioners. Each religion has its own taxonomy of practitioners, and in addition there are many kinds of folk or customary practitioners. For example, a jyotshi would be a Brahman who professed some kind of ability to foretell the future, by astrology or other means. A nai is a barber. Since the last Sikh Guru enjoined his followers to leave their hair and beards uncut, nais in principle have little work in Sikh villages. But they commonly serve as ritual managers of weddings, while their wives work as midwives. There are Muslim and Hindu sants who obtain reputations for holiness and may attract supporters for activities such as maintaining or rebuilding a local shrine or for curing diseases. And there are storytellers, poets, singers, and preachers who go from village to village or from one religious event to another throughout the region.

Ceremonies. Rural Punjabis of all religions share many ceremonies considered customary, associated with the Individual life cycle, village life, and the round of the seasons. Most of the specific ceremonies associated with marriages come under this heading, as do ceremonies of birth, naming, and death. An important sequence of annual rituals celebrates the successive roles a woman plays in her life. The Ceremony of tij is celebrated as the rains begin by young girls and their brothers in the house of their parents; in the fall harvest season karue is celebrated by newly married and older married women in the house of the young woman's parents or in-laws; and in March (in Punjab a time of pleasant weather and steady growth of the all-important wheat crop) behairi is celebrated by mothers and their young children in the house of the husband. On the night of Diwali, in October/November, all buildings and structures of a village are outlined in little oil lamps ( diwas ) and people ask God for prosperity; and in midwinter there is a ceremony called "Tails" (meaning cattle), when men go in the evening to collect sweets from houses where boys have been born in the village, build a fire of dung (the traditional cooking fuel) at the village gate, pray to God for the health of the boys and more in the future, and distribute the sweets to the village children who come to collect them. Farmers commonly offer first fruits at village shrines, and almost any start of a venture or stroke of good fortune is an occasion for distributing sweets.

Arts . Punjab has generated distinctive forms of virtually all the arts, from dance to architecture, bawdy folk epics to sublime theological poetry. The best-known folk dance is lively and complex bhangra, named for bhang (marijuana). In architecture, the most distinctive major form is that of the Sikh Gurdwaras, which blend Mogul and Rajput elements. In Literature, the most famous and prominent forms are romantic epic poems. The main ones are Heer Ranjha, Sassi Punun, and Mirza Shahiban, all by Muslim authors. Older than these are thirteenth-century theological sufi poems of Shaik Farid. In the Sikh tradition, closely allied in sentiment and style to the sufi, the most notable groups of poems are by Guru Nanak (1469-1539) and Guru Arjun Dev (1563-1606). There are also numerous modern poets and writers on both secular and religious topics and an active film industry that relies heavily on melodrama, folksong, and dance.

Medicine. Punjabis support all the forms of medical practice available in India, and when they can afford it, generally prefer the Western.

Death and Afterlife. The main formalized beliefs Concerning death and the afterlife are those of the three major Religious traditions, but the Punjabi versions of these traditions are generally austere, individualistic, and pragmatic. Religion is viewed as a source of strength and inspiration to meet the obligations of this world more than as a gateway to another. Funeral practices vary according to religion.

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