Sainis in Punjab

Migration of Saini Rajputs to Punjab

Saini migration and settlements in Punjab seemed to have happened in multiple waves extending a vast period of time. During Mahabharata period Punjab region was ruled by kshatriyas of Kuru clan, who were closely related with Yaduvanshis, Surasenas (or Sainis) in particular, through both military and matrimonial alliances. Kurus and Yadavas inter-married and settled in areas ruled by each other, becoming either part of the royalty or nobility.

During Mahabharata period: from Mathura to Dwaraka and from Dwaraka to Punjab
Ancient Migration Route of Sainis or Shoorsani YadavasAccording to Puranic sources, the Yadava kashatriya tribes in the Shaursena principality had to be relocated to the port city of Dwarka in Gujrat due to frequent invasions by Kalyavana and Jarasandha.  There they ruled for sometime under the leadership of Lord Krishna and participated in the Mahabharta war from there. But according to the same Puranic legend , the Yadava kshatriyas in Dwaraka became intoxicated with the power and acted in such manner that caused them to be cursed by the by sages.

Visnu Purana records the aftermath of this event as follows:

“ ....As soon as Krishna died, the parijata tree and the assembly hall named Sudharma returned to heaven. The kali era began. And the city of Dvaraka was swallowed up by the sea, with the exception of Krishna's own dwelling...Arjuna settled some of the Yadavas in Punjab. But when he was taking the Yadava women with him, the party was set upon by a band of dacoits. Arjuna tried to repel the dacoits but found that he had lost all his powers. His strength had left him with Krishna's death..

The above passage from Visnu Purana provides the vital clue about history of Sainis.

During Muhammadan period: from Kaman to Punjab
Chaonsat-khamba, or " sixty-four pillars " inscription of Kaman

A Sanskrit inscription was dicovered on a pillar by one Pandit Bhagvan Lal Indraji in 19th century  on one of the well-known Chaonsat-khamba pillars in Kaman. This inscription was dated by Cunningham to be of around 8th CE .

Saini Kings of Kaman

The inscription gives following genealogy of the Surasena (or Saini) dynasty extending over seven kings  :

1. — Phakka, married Deyika.
2. — Kula-abhata (son), married Drangeni.
3. — Ajita (son), married Apsarapriya.
4. — Durgabhata (son), married Vachchhalika.
5. — Durgadaman (son), married Vachchhika.
6. — Devaraja (son), married Yajnika.
7. — Vatsadaman (son).

The old fort of Kaman lies between two low ranges of hills on the high road from Delhi to Bayana. Owing to its position it is conjectured that it must have fallen an early prey to the Muhammadan conquerors. This account in way explains well the native account of Sainis of Punjab that their forefathers were the Rajputs of Mathura and migrated to Punjab after Muslim invasions of Mathura region.

Kaman is situated in the Bharatpur territory, 39 miles (63 km) to the north-west of Mathura, and 14 miles (23 km) to the north of Dig.

Sainis of Punjab: farmers and warriors

Agriculture and armed forces have been their major professions. Agriculture in Punjab has always been regarded as one of the most respectable professions from the time immemorial with all major forward communities, including Brahmins, proudly participating in it.

The earliest Sainis were settled in Punjab by Prince Arjuna as noblemen in self-governing and autonomous villages.  Prince Arjuna shared maternal bloodline with Yadavas, whose sub tribe Sainis of Punjab are stated to be. His mother Kunti was the daughter of Yadava chieftain Sursena, the founding father of Saini sub tribe of Yaduvanshi kshatriyas.

The later Saini migration to Punjab happened around the time of the earliest Turk invasions when the post-Kanishka Yadava or Surasena kingdoms of Mathura and Bayana were lost to Muslim invaders.  The Sainis of Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur districts claim to be the descendants of the Rajputs of the Yaduvanshi or Surasena lineage who ruled these kingdoms, who escaped to these areas to avoid forced conversion to Islam. Sainis continued to show their martial instincts whenever opportunities arose. They also actively aided Guru Gobind Singh's army and joined his army in good numbers. Some of the Saini dominated districts in Punjab were (and still are) the most fertile ground for army recruitment during British and Independent India. Sainis can be found among all ranks of Indian Army, from the level of sepoys to generals. Scores of Saini soldiers also fought as part of Indian National Army (INA) under the illustrious freedom fighter Subash Chandra Bose.

Like any other Kshatryia tribe, Sainis of Punjab have always been a meat-eating community. Even Hindu Sainis commonly use "Singh" as part of their names . Kshatriya traditions of Kul Devi worship, associated  in Punjab with  Jathera veneration ,  and Sati were widely prevalent among Sainis.  Liquor consumption, another typical Kashatriya trait, had always been prevalent among them. Most non-Kashatriya communities in India tend to be vegetarian. From socio-antrhopological standpoint these traits also give vital clue about their martial origin.

Kshatriyas and agriculture

As per ancient Hindu texts, agriculture is permissible to Kshatriyas under special circumstances in the absence of opportunities in the military and feudal apparatus of a righteous Aryan king. Indeed, the service in the army of an unrighteous, or a 'Yavana', or a 'Maleccha', king was the biggest imaginable anathema for a concentious and observant vedic kshatriya in ancient India. A vedic kshatriya was not a mercenary soldier but a defender of faith and righteous order (dharma). All other kshatriya origin Hindu tribes in Punjab, like Minhas, Janjua, Salahri, etc, in the absence of opportunities in the armies of observant vedic kings turned to agriculture in some way.

Socio-economic revision of Hindu Rajput tribes in Punjab

Describing the tough economic condition for largely Hindu Rajputs of Punjabi plains, colonial administrator, J.A.L. Montgomery wrote:

By the pressure of circumstances, they are overcoming their aversion to agriculture, and even Jaswáls and Dadwáls are now to be found who have taken to the plough, and I have seen a Náru Rajput spade in hand, and drawers tucked up, turning up the soil of his field which had become covered by sand, a laborious process called sirna.

For the full seven hundred years in the history of Punjab, there was no non-Muslim king until Banda Bahadur stormed Sarhind in middle of the 18th century. In this period high feudal positions were only available to Hindu groups who either converted to Islam or had become Turk collaborators. It is not surprising that most of the Rajput tribes that were able to maintain their place in the power structure of the Punjab plains had converted to Islam. These included Jaral, Janjua, Salehria, Minhas, etc in large numbers who had predominantly converted to Islam. In the plains of Punjab there were hardly any Hindu Rajputs left , and those who were still in the Hindu fold had turned largely to agriculture and other occupations to subsist, rather than to curry favor with Muslim rulers who extracted Jezya from the Hindu subjects in order to create financial hardship for them to remain in the faith of their ancestors.

Punjabi Rajputs inseparable from agriculture

Apart from Sainis, other Rajput or Rajput origin tribes in Punjab which were returned as agricultural tribes in 1881 census are:

Badwal (also a Saini got)
Dhodi Bhandah
Dhullu Bhatti
Gondal (Rajputs in Montgomery, elsewhere Jats)
Sulehri (also a Saini got)

The Punjabi Rajput identity had become so much diffused with agriculture that Ibbetson prefaced his account in the 1881 Punjab Census Report by observing: "line separating Jats, Rajputs and certain other castes (tribes) is almost impossible of definition."

He further wrote  :

"...and Bhatti, Punwár, Tunwár, all the proudest tribes of Rájpútána are included in the name and have sunk to the level of Jat, for there can be no Rájpúts where there are no Rajas or traditions of Rajas."

By 1900 all of the Rajput tribes in Punjab were identified as farming tribes and most of these tribes were involved in horticulture in some way. Accordingly, as per the The Punjab Alienation of Land Act of 1900, all Rajput tribes in Punjab were notified as agricultural tribes .

Price of not converting to Islam

The condition of Muslim Rajputs was much superior to Hindu Rajputs in Punjabi plains. By converting to Islam and becoming collaborators of Turkish military and administrative machine in Punjab, they had managed to retain all of their pre-Islamic pomp and glory. [They owned most of the land in Punjab while the Hindu Rajputs sank deeper into poverty and turned to agriculture and other occupations to survive with some sense of dignity, rather than converting to Islam or becoming collaborators of Muslim monarchs who were openly hostile to all Hindu interests.[Only Pahari Rajputs escaped this economic and cultural degeneration in some way as they were insulated by the rugged terrain of the mountains. Hindu Rajput of Punjabi plains had no where to turn to except farming to retain some semblance of dignity. Rajputs of Rajputana saved their kingdoms by entering unequal matrimonial alliances with non-Hindu Moghuls. These alliances were treated with contempt by self-respecting Rajputs like Maharana Pratap of Mewar and they chose poverty over the more convenient and tempting prospect of collaboration with the non-Hindu expansionist military machine.

Until the British started giving them opportunities once again in army, Hindu Rajputs subsisted entirely by agriculture. Describing the impoverished state of Hindu Rajputs in Punjab in the late 19th and early 20th century and their dependence on agriculture, writes Mazumdar :

"In the northern part of Shakargarh tahsil in Gurdaspur district, the bulk of the population comprised of Hindu Rajputs trying to make a living on bare and arid land...Access to military income allowed these Rajputs of to cope with the disadvantages of adverse soil and weather conditions."

Saini militancy during Muslim rule: Guru Har Gobind's call
It  is understandable, being devout Hindus mostly, Sainis turned largely to agriculture in preference to serving the Muslim masters, or converting to Islam, until they saw a ray of hope again in the sixth Sikh Master, Guru Har Gobind.

According to Sikh historical tradition, Guru Hargobind extensively toured the region that now falls in the present day Hoshiarpur and Ropar districts to put together a Sikh army to fight the religiously intolerant Mogul empire. All of these areas, which had a predominantly Saini population along with Jats, Kambojs and Labanas, responded with great enthusiasm to Guru's call for soldiers. After this period, all of the rekindled Saini militant prowess was totally allied with and absorbed in the Sikh forces, which were to be formally institutionalized into the Khalsa Order by tenth Sikh Master, Guru Gobind Singh. The impact of Sikh military ideal on Saini villages could be gauged from the fact that one of the volunteers for "Panj Pyaras", Sahab Chand , later Sahab Singh, was a barber from the village Nangal Shahidan. The village Nangal Shahidan in Hoshiarpur district was historically always entirely owned by Saini Chaudhries of Mangar got, with a handful other castes in the village. Many Saini warriors were martyred from this village as part of the Khalsa army, earning the title of "Shahidan" or "Martyrs" for the village. Nihang cantonment of Harian Belan is also surrounded by Saini villages. Traditionally, Nihangs have drawn good number of recruits from Saini community of the region. Significantly, a Saini , named Sardar Gursa Singh Gahunia, was among the first few devotees to receive baptism from the hallowed sword of Guru Gobind Singh on Basakhi day of 1699 and offer his all to the Khalsa army.



  • Visnu Purana, Chapter 5
  • REPORT OF A TOUR IN EASTERN RAJPUTANA IN 1882-83 , VOLUME XX, A. Cunningham, Archaeological Survey of India, pp 25, Published by Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, 1885 ,Item notes: v.20 1882-1883, Original from the University of Michigan


"Arjuna settled some of the Yadavas in Punjab."


(Chapter 5, Visnu Purana)


 "When Muhammad Ghori captured Tahangarh many of the Jadon families disperesed and settled wherever they could find a home."

  REPORT OF A TOUR IN EASTERN RAJPUTANA IN 1882-83 , VOLUME XX, A. Cunningham, Archaeological Survey of India, pp 25, Published by Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, 1885 ,Item notes: v.20 1882-1883, Original from the University of Michigan

During the 1881 census in British India Sainis of Jalandhar area claimed that their forefathers migrated to  Punjab from Mathura due to the attack of Gazni and the consequent loss of their kingdom in Mathura.