Defining Punjab

Next year the Dhillon Marty Foundation is launching a project that calls on artists- visual and literary to submit works that both defines the word Punjab and addresses a humanitarian issue relevant to the region.  Accepted works will be displayed in public spaces in Greater Punjab, such as village squares and the like; on the net and abroad.  Our hope is to impart works of art across the entire region, one village at a time and to the world for a better understanding of PUNJAB and peace in the region.



Sonia Dhillon-Marty

My thoughts about this project have been in my mind for ever as all Punjabis want to feel complete, but I clearly recall writing them down on my May 2012 trip to Kiev Biennale. It started as Scared Waters as my contribution to the Defining Punjab project, I ended up calling it simply PUNJAB THE 5 RIVERS when I realized that even internationally renowned historians and scholars did not know the meaning of the word.

The piece is a rendering of the Kanji glyph for water, which comprises three vertical strokes.  These three lines and the negative spaces in between them are rendered to depict the five rivers of the region: the Jhelum, the Chenab, the Ravi, the Sutlej, and the Beas. These rivers, all tributaries of the Indus, have been the lifeblood of Greater Punjab for millennia and have played a fundamental role in defining the Punjabi culture, so much so that they inspired the very name of the region—Punj meaning five and ab meaningwaters.


Despite the bloodshed that followed the Partition of India in 1947, Punjabis are deeply connected to one another, if not by national bonds, certainly by cultural ones.  Indian and Pakistani Punjabis eat the same food, speak the same language, appreciate the same art, read the same literature, and revere the same philosophers.  In all the ways that matter, they are one.  Nevertheless, they are divided by a political boarder that has had the unfortunate effect of dividing Punjabis as a people.  I wanted my project to transcend these political differences and get the heart of what Punjabis all share—the common ancestry that flourished in the region because of the abundance and fertility these waters blessed them with.

Water itself has powerful metaphoric significance. Many religions, including Buddhism, Shinto, Islam, Hinduism, and Sikhism, view water as a symbol of purification.  Christian baptism utilizes water as a symbol of rebirth and divine blessing.  Water is also largely regarded as a medium for wish fulfillment: children throw coins into fountains with a wish in mind; people flock to the Ganges and Amritsar to make wishes.  These notions galvanized a supplementary, public component to the project.  I am inviting people from around the world to post their wishes for Punjab or humanity in general in the blog space below.  Periodically, the Dhillon Marty Foundation will select a wish from the blog to project it onto the 5 Rivers public installations for the wish to be fulfilled, purified, reborn, and blessed by the waters. Thus receiving the blessing of the Scared Waters and for the internal hope of every Punjabi and humanitarian to bless this land unity and peace.