Sialkot (Punjabi, Urdu: سیالکوٹ), the capital of Sialkot District, is a city situated in the north-east of the Punjab province in Pakistan at the feet of the snow-covered peaks of Kashmir near the Chenab river. Formerly, Sialkot has been the winter-capital of the State of Kashmir. The city is about 125 km (78 mi) north-west of Lahore and only a few kilometres from Jammu in India. The recorded history of Sialkot, a district of modern-day Pakistan, covers thousands of years. It has since its creation changed hands from Aryan, Persian, Greek, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and British rule to the present-day federation of Pakistan.
There are various sources tracing the origins of the city of Sialkot but the authenticity of many of these sources varies. The less-reliable historical sources about the origins of the city have been derived from oral traditions based on ancient local beliefs which, most historians concur, are full of inaccuracies, concocted legends and erroneous facts. These are, nonetheless, stated here. More reliable and validated historical references relating to the city date back to 327 BC in which it has been stated that the city is of Persian and/or Greek origin. Excavations throughout the area have revealed large amounts of Greek coins, ancient Zoroastrian temples and several Buddhist stupas. The antiquities of Sialkot have also been discussed by Sir Alexander Cunningham in his Archaeological Survey Reports, II, 21, 22, and XIV, 44 to 47.
Some of the more unreliable references to Sialkot are mentioned in ancient scriptures and oral traditions, these state that Siálkot is believed to have been founded by Raja Sul or (Shalya), emperor of Madradesa and brother of Madri, second wife of emperor Pandu and mother to Nakula and Sahadeva. He was the uncle of the Pandavas, whose heroic deeds are recorded in the epic Mahabharata. After his death, some 5000 years ago, there is a tradition that the dynasty continued for some 1500 years. The seasonal stream, known as the Aik Nala, that still flows through the city, has been mentioned in the Upanishads. In the late Vedic period (c. 1500 - c. 200 B.C.), Sákala (Siálkot) was the capital of the Madras (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad). Sákaladvipa (island of Sákala) was the name of the doáb (land lying between two rivers) between Chandrabhága (Chenab) and Irávati (Ravi). In those early days, Sákala was studded with thick forests and inhabited by a pastoral race called Yahars or Yirs.
According to the Greek historical texts which bring mention of the city of Sialkot dating back to 327 BC when the city was known as Sagala, it represented the eastern-most outpost and expansion of the Hellenic Empire created by Alexander the Great which has been cross-correlated to ancient Greek maps of the era and several monuments found in the Sialkot district. The Greek historians state that the city was one of the most productive silk regions of the Achaemenid Empire. Punjab had earned a reputation of being one of the richest satrapy (province), beside Gandhara, of the then Persian Empire. Sákala or Sagala was the capital, or one of the capitals, of the Indo-Greek Kingdom which broke-away from the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom during the Euthydemid Dynasty, and the residence of Menander I (Milinda) during his reign between 160 and 135 BC. Shun and Dall were two of the most powerful tribes in Sialkot. Then the country was flooded and remained one vast uninhabited region for about 1000 years.
the Indo-Greek king, Menander, ruled in Sialkot during the 2nd century
According to Punjabi folk-lore, the early history of Sialkot is closely interwoven with the traditions of Raja Sáliváhan, his son, Raja Rasálu, and his foe, Raja Húdi. A popular belief is that the city was re-founded by Raja Sáliváhan or Sálbán when it became a part of Kashmir under King Sama Dutt. Raja Sáliváhan built a fort (Sialkot Fort)and the city and gave the place its present name. He was of Sia caste (a Jat clan of Scythian origins), and it is believed that the word "Sialkot" means the 'fort of the Sia'. Legend also says that Raja Sáliváhan had two sons: Puran and Rasalu. Puran got punished by his father, Raja Sáliváhan, due the to actions of a wicked stepmother and thrown into a well, still the resort of pilgrims near Sialkot, called "Puran di Khui", (Puran's Well). A mohalla (town) in the city is also named "Puran Nagar". The other son of Raja Sáliváhan, Rasalu, became Raja after the death of Raja Sáliváhan. Attacks from the neighbouring Raja of Jehlum ruined the city. Raja Rasalu got involved in wars with Raja Hudi, popularly stated to have been a Gakkhar chieftain. Being worsted in battle, Rasalu, as the price for peace, was forced to give his daughter in marriage to his conqueror, who gave the territory he had conquered to Rasalu's adopted son. After Rasalu’s death in 400 AD, there are no significant accounts of Sialkot for the next 300 years in the known history except that, after the invasion of the Húnas (Huns or Hephthalites) in the last quarter of the 5th century AD, it became the capital of Toramána and his son Mihirakula until he was defeated by a native Indian Prince, Yasodharman.
Sealkote Fort, 1862 sketch by A. H. Hope Wedderburn (1823-1900)
Sialkot became a part of the Muslim Sultanate of Delhi when Shahab-ud-Din Muhammad Ghauri conquered Punjab in 1185. He was unable to conquer Lahore but left a garrison in Sialkot. Later, Sultan Khusro Malik tried to capture the city but failed to do so. Sialkot then became a part of the Muslim Mughal Empire. The Mughal commander, Usman Ghani Raza, advanced towards Delhi by way of Sialkot which capitulated to his armies.
In 'Babur Nama', Zaheer-ud-Din Muhammad Babur records:
“ 29th December: We dismounted at Sialkot. If one goes into Hindustan, the Jats and Gujars always pour down in countless hordes from hill and plain for loot in bullock and buffalo. These ill-omened peoples are sensless oppressors! Previously, their deeds did not concern us because the territory was an enemy's. But they did the same sensless deeds after we had captured it. When we reached Sialkot, they swooped on the poor and needy folk who were coming out of the town to our camp, and stripped them bare. I had the witless brigands apprehended, and ordered a few of them to be cut to pieces. ”
During the era of the Mughal Emperor, Jalal-ud-Din Muhammad Akbar, the present district of Sialkot formed a part of the Rachna-Bar Sarkar of the Lahore province. Under the reign of the Mughal Emperor, Shahab-ud-Din Muhammad Shah Jahan, Ali Mardan Khan held the charge of Sialkot.
At the end of the Mughal dynasty, the suburbs and the outlying districts and areas of Sialkot were left to themselves. Sialkot itself was appropriated by a powerful family of Pashtuns from Multan and Swat, the Kakazai and another family from Quetta, and the sub-mountainous tracts were in the hands of Raja Ranjit Deo of Jammu. In 1748, the four districts of Gujrat, Sialkot, Pasrur and Daska were given to the Pashtun ruler, Ahmed Shah Durrani and the area was amalgamated into the Perso-Afghan empire. After 1751, Ahmed Shah Durrani left his son, Taimur, to rule Lahore and these districts. During that time, Raja Ranjit Deo of Jammu expanded his domination over the peripheral areas, but the city of Sialkot was not included in it. Afterwards, the city was held strongly by a Pashtun clans till the occupation of the Sikhs who ruled for a period of about 40 years followed by the British. The Pashtun presence is still considerable to this day and continues to attract newer Pashtun migrants and workers from Pakistan's tribal areas.
During the decline of the Durrani regime, Sialkot was occupied from the Pashtuns by the Sikhs and thus began the rise of their short lived empire. Between 1797 to 1810, Maharaja Ranjit Singh occupied the Sialkot district. The Sikh Empire extended from Peshawer in the west, to Kashmir in the north (touching) the borders of Tibet, to the Indus River in the south near Multan and in the east to modern-day Tibet Autonomous Region of China. Ranjit Singh and his Sikh generals were capable of conquering such a great expanse of land for many reasons, varying from their European trained army, Sikh discipline, their modern European weaponry, modern British maps and the presence of ex-European mercernaries in his forces. After the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the British officers were appointed in Sialkot. Sialkot was annexed by the British after the Second Anglo-Sikh War in 1849. The British laid the foundation of the Sialkot Cantonment in 1849 which was completed in 1852. For establishing the Sialkot Cantonment, the British Commander-in-Chief, Sir Lord Napier, surveyed and selected the area between the seasonal streams, Bher Nala and Palkhu Nala, from the point of view of defence. The Area Command laid its foundation in 1852 under the leadership of Major-General Angulas. During the Indian Rebellion of 1857 it was the scene of heavy fighting, and the Sialkot Fort was used by the Europeans for protection. The native troops plundered the treasury and destroyed all the records.
Murray College, Sialkot was established in 1889. The railway branch from Wazirabad to Sialkot was extended to Jammu in 1890. The Sialkot-Narowal railway line was opened in 1915.
The city played an important role during the Pakistan Movement. The national poet of Pakistan who spearheaded the movement for an independent country, Dr. Muhammad Iqbal was born in Sialkot in 1877. In May 1944, the historic Sialkot Convention was held here. This convention is widely regarded as the landmark event which catapulted the All India Muslim League into prominence in the British-Indian Punjab. This convention was host to such Muslim League luminaries as Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Liaquat Ali Khan, Chaudhry Naseer Ahmad Malhi, ( M Inayat Ullah Choudhary) Khawaja Nazim-ud-Din, Sardar Abd-ur-Rab Nishtar, Mumtaz Ahmad Khan Daultana, Nawab Iftikhar Hussain Khan of Mamdot and Maulvi Tamiz-ud-Din.
Battle of Chawinda was the biggest tank battle since the Battle of Kursk in World War II
After the independence of Pakistan in 1947, thousands of Muslims from Pathankot and Gurdaspur and from other parts of East Punjab came to Sialkot as refugees and settled here. Earlier, the Muslim residents of Gurdaspur had believed that the entire district, with a slight Muslim majority, was to be allocated to Pakistan. However, at the time of partition of India, the British, in a highly controversial decision, allocated the district to India, allegedly to grant it access to the land route to the Princely State of Kashmir. Most of these refugees have since settled and inter-married into the local population. The large Hindu and Sikh populations of Sialkot and the adjoining Shakargarh (then called Shankargarh) tehsil of Gurdaspur district, which was allocated to Pakistan and later merged with Sialkot, migrated to East Punjab. Ever since, Sialkot has gradually become one of the major industrial centres of Pakistan and is well-known for its manufacture and export of surgical instruments, musical instruments, sports goods, leather goods, textile products and other light manufactures.
During the Second Kashmir War in 1965, the Lahore-Sialkot region was attacked by the Indian Army which, despite overwhelming numerical superiority managed only to capture some outlying areas in the sector. The people of Sialkot came out in full force to support the troops of the Pakistan Army to repel the invasion by India. In fact, the armoured battles in the Sialkot sector (especially, the Battle of Chawinda), in 1965, were the most intense since the Second World War. In 1966, the Government of Pakistan awarded the Hilal-i-Istaqlal to the citizens of Sialkot, Lahore and Sargodha for their courage and bravery during the 1965 war between Pakistan and India.
Again, during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, the region witnessed bitter battles, most importantly, the Battle of Basantar in the Sialkot-Shakar Garh area. The major Indian counter-offensive came in this area where, two large Pakistani tank regiments, equipped with the then modern Patton tanks, was routed by the Indian First Armoured Corps, which was equipped with the obsolete British Centurion tanks.