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Saka (Scythian) horseman from Pazyryk in Central Asia, c. 300 BC.

Cheema (Shahmukhi: چیمہ, Gurmukhi: ਚੀਮਾ) (also spelled Chima) is a sub clan of the Jat clan found in India and Pakistan. They were named by the British as part of a Martial Race. "Martial Race" is a name made by officials of British India for "races" (ethnic peoples) that were thought to be naturally warlike in battle, to have courage, loyalty, self sufficiency, strength, and orderliness, and to be hard workers and smart, hard fighters. The British recruited many men from these "Martial Races" for their colonial army. The British called the Cheema a powerful and united, but quarrelsome tribe.[1]

Many people of Cheema clan who are Muslims are found in West Punjab (Pakistan), and many who are Sikhs are found in East Punjab (India). They used to follow local Peer-E-Tariqat (the head of a Sufi order), Jathera (ancestor worship), and before that, Buddhism. Most of them today are either Sikh or Muslim in their religion. There are no Hindu Cheemas, although there are Punjabi Hindu Jatts.

Jatts are a large and important group of tribes in Punjab. Cheemas are one of the two major subclans of the 72 subclans in Jats. They speak Punjabi, and usually own much farm land, and are important landlords in their areas. [2] The strength of the family can be seen in the first 1947 constitution of Pakistan, where the Cheema tribe was listed in the second line, as one of the forty largest families coming into Pakistan.


The Cheema tribe was called "Shaka" in India, from the name Saka used by the Persians. From the time of the Mahabharata wars (1500-500 BC) Shakas were mentioned many times in texts like the Puranas, the Manusmriti, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Mahabhasiya of Patanjali, the Brhat Samhita of Vraha Mihira, the Kavyamimamsa, the Brihat-Katha-Manjari, the Katha-Saritsagara, and many other old texts.[3]

Invasion of India (180 BC onward)

The Vanaparava of the Mahabharata has a prophecy saying that the kings of the Shakas, Yavanas, Kambojas, Bahlikas, and Abhiras shall rule unrighteously in Kaliyuga (MBH 3/188/34-36).

This seems to mean the situation after the Mauryan and Sunga dynasties fell apart and northern India was occupied by foreign armies of the Shakas, Yavanas, Kambojas and Pahlavas.

Alexander's invasion of Punjab

Alexander overran the Achaemenid Empire in 331 BC and marched into what is now Afghanistan with an army of 50,000. His scribes do not mention Gandhara or Kamboja; instead, they name twelve small countries in those territories. This means that Gandhara and/or Kamboja must not have been very great kingdoms in the late 4th century BC. In 326 BC, most of these twelve or so countries that used to be in the Gandhara Kamboja Mahajanapadas were conquered by the Macedonian conqueror.

Alexander invited all the chieftains of the former satrapy of Gandhara to come to him and submit to his authority. Ambhi, ruler of Taxila, whose kingdom extended from the Indus to the Hydaspes (Jhelum), complied. After confirming him in his satrapy, Alexander marched against the Sakas (Cheemas are considered to be decadents of the Sakas) and Kamboja highlanders of the Kunar also Swat valleys known in Greek texts as Aspasios and Assakenois (q.v.) and in Indian texts as Ashvayana and Ashvakayana (names referring to their equestrian nature), who had refused to submit to Alexander.[4] The Ashvayan, Ashvakayan, Kamboja and allied Saka [5] clans offered tough resistance to the invader and fought him to a man. When worse came to worst, even the Ashvakayan women took up arms and joined their menfolk on the field, thus preferring "a glorious death to a life of dishonor". [6]

Thereafter, Alexander marched east to the Hydaspes, where Porus, ruler of the kingdom between the Hydaspes (Jhelum) and the Akesines (Chenab) refused to submit to him. The two armies fought the historic Battle of the Hydaspes River on the riverbank outside the town of Nikaia (near the modern city of Jhelum). Porus's army fought bravely, but was no match for Alexander's. When the defiant Raja (though wounded and having lost his sons) was brought before Alexander, a legendary conversation took place in which Alexander inquired of Porus, "How should I treat you?", the brave Porus shot back, "The way a king treats another king." Alexander was struck by his spirit. He not only returned the conquered kingdom to Porus, but added the land lying between the Akesines (Chenab) and the Hydraotis (Ravi), whose ruler had fled. Alexander's army crossed the Hydraotis and marched east to the Hesidros (Beas), but there his troops refused to march further east, and Alexander turned back, following the Jhelum and the Indus to the Arabian Sea, and sailing to Babylon.

In the middle of the 2nd century BC, the Yuezhi tribe of modern China moved westward into Central Asia, which, in turn, caused the Sakas (Scythians) to move west and south. The Northern Sakas, also known as the Indo-Scythians, moved first into Bactria, and later crossed the Hindu Kush into India, successfully wresting power from the Indo-Greeks. They were followed by the Yuezhi, who were known in India as the Kushans or Kushanas. The Kushanas founded a kingdom in the 1st century that lasted for several centuries. Both the Indo-Scythians and the Kushans embraced Buddhism, and absorbed elements of Indo-Greek art and culture into their own. Another Central Asiatic people to make Punjab their home were the Hephthalites (White Huns), who engaged in continuous campaigns from across the Hindu Kush, finally establishing their rule in India in the fifth century.

Muhammad Bin Qasim's invasion of Punjab

Many Jatt/Cheema were oppressed by Hindu king Raja Dahir who ruled over Punjab where the majority of the population followed Buddhism (Ram Swarup Joon: History of the Jats, Rohtak, India (1938, 1967)). The Jat made strong alliances with the Muslim Arabs and hailed the conquest of Muhammad bin Qasim an Arab general. Muhammad bin Qasim defeated the Hindu Raja Dahir in alliance with Jats and other Buddhist Rajas. On his arrival at the town of Brahmanabad between six and sixteen thousand men died in the ensuing battle. Buddhists and the Jat, Meds and Bhutto tribes hailed him as a rescuer from tyranny at the hands of Chach and his kin (regarded as usurpers of the Rai Dynasty).[7]

Historian Baladhuri records the local sentiments upon Qasim's recall,

people of Hind wept for Qasim and preserved his likeness at Karaj”.

While the “Chach-Nama” notes the following as highlights of Qasim’s rule:

  • He permitted all to practice their religion freely
  • Hindus were included in the Ahl al Kitab
  • the status of Dhimmis (protected people) was conferred upon Hindus and Buddhists
  • Property destroyed during hostilities was compensated for.
  • As a sign of respect to his Hindu populace an edict was issued banning cow slaughter in Sindh and Multan.

Oppression of the Jats

The rulers before Islam were: Siharus, Sahasi II, Chach, Dahir. The first two were Buddhist Rajputs, and the last two were Hindu Brahmins. The new Brahmin rulers were not friendly to the many Buddhists in Sind at that time, and they were cruel to the Jats and Meds, who were most of the peasants. Bad conditions were put on the Jats and they lost many civil rights. "When Chach, the Brahmim chamberlain who usurped the throne of Rajput King Sahasi II went to Brahmanabad, he enjoined upon the Jats and Lohanas not to carry swords, avoid velvet or silken cloth, ride horses without saddles and walk about bare-headed and bare-footed". [8] It was because of this background that Muhammad bin Qasim received cooperation from the Buddhists as well as the Jats and Meds during his campaign in Sind [1](An advanced history of India by Ramesh Chandra Majumdar; Hemchandra Raychaudhuri; Kalikinkar Datta Delhi: Macmillan India, 1973) In fact he was hailed as deliverer by several sections of local population. The position of the Buddhists in Sind seeking support from outside can be read in the Chach Nama.

Mohamammad Bin Qasim came as a deliverer for the ancient tribes of Jats and Meds and he defeated the oppressing King of Sindh. From then the war between Budhists and Hindus saw another contender whos future followers of the monotheistic Islamic faith would change the history of India forever.

Cheemas Today

The Cheema clan holds the largest number of Political seats in the National Assembly of Pakistan and Senate of Pakistan in Punjab, more than any other family in Pakistan. Many Cheemas have emigrated, establishing successful careers in aid agencies, and armies amongst other professionals. Their reputation as honest, if ambitious workers, is maintained in the diaspora.

Hindu scriptures

In the Mahabharata

The Udyogaparava of the Mahabharata (5/19/21-23) tells us that the composite army of the Kambojas, Yavanas and Shakas had participated in the Mahabharata war under the supreme command of Sudakshina Kamboja. The epic repeatedly applauds this composite army as being very fierce and wrathful.

Mahabharata, too similarly groups the Shakas with the Kambojas and Yavanas and states that they were originally noble Kshatriyas but got degraded to vrishala status on account of their non-obersvance of the sacred Brahmanical codes.[9]

See main article: Kshatriya

This degradation of social stature of Cheemas can also be attributed to their unholy ways in conduct.

In the Manusmiriti

Manusmriti places the Shakas with the Kambojas, Yavanas, Pahlavas, Paradas and labels them all as degraded Kshatriyas (Holy Warriors) defying the Brahmanical codes and rituals.[10]

In the Puranas

In the "Puranas Darada" the Jatt sub-tribes have been called degrading terms such as Rakshasas (demons) not having darshan of the Brahmin.[11]


Cheemas of Sialkot district have, in common with the Sindhu and Shahi of these parts, some peculiar marriage customs, such as cutting a goat's ear and marking their foreheads with the blood, making the bridegroom cut off a twig of "jhand" tree (Prosopis spicigera) and so forth. They like most other tribes of Sialkot district worship "jhand" tree.[1]

Cheemas of Gujranwala district have similar marriage customs which involves making the bride cut off a twig of "jhand" tree, followed by paying a visit to local "Peer"'s or "Jathera"s (elders) shrine.


Cheema are most numerous in Sialkot district followed by forty two villages in Gujranwala district. According to Cunningham this area of high Cheema density was called "Chima des" (Des or Desh, in Hindustani and Punjabi means country). Many settled in Montgomery (Sahiwal) and Sandal Bar during the British rule of Punjab due to construction of extensive canal network in these areas. They also have few villages scattered across Rawalpindi, Bhawalpur, Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Jalandhar, Moga, Ludhiana and Sangrur.

Towards west in the Punjab plains they are not found after Chaj Doab. Towards east in the Punjab plains, this clan was not found after district Sangrur in east Punjab, until 1947 when many Sikh Cheemas moved from Sialkot and Gujranwala to settle in Patiala, Karnal and Sirsa after partition of the Punjab. And some families also moved afterward Udhamsingh nagar(Uttrakhand), Pilibhit, Puranpur & Rampur ( Utter pradesh).(this region called Mini Punjab, & Terai Region).

In Pakistan, Sialkot district has large Cheema population with many Cheema villages such as "Begowal" Sahowala, Kamalpur, Manpur. Also in Rawalpindi district, there is a village near Gujar Khan which is named Sui Cheemian and has a substantal population of Cheema's. In Southern Punjab, Bahawalpur and Yazman are richly populated with the Cheema Families and their saturated villages and the area elects more than a dozen cabinet members.

In india, Rupnagar and Mohali district of Punjab state has large Cheema population with many cheema villages such as "Salaura".


There is an old folk saying about Cheema and Chatha tribes in Punjabi "Cheemey tey Chatthey, khaan peen nu vakkhon vakh tey larran bhiran nu katthey" ( English translation : Cheemas and Chatthas are separate in their feasts but united for the fights)

Reference and Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 (Glossary of the tribes and castes of the Punjab and NWFP, H A Rose)
  2. (Jatts and Introducation by
  3. Chowduri, J. (2012). Caste system, social inequalities and reservation policy in india: Class, caste, social policy and governance through social justice. LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing.
  4. For Kamboja and Ashvaka (Assakenois/Aspasios) relations, see: Panjab Past and Present, pp. 9-10; History of Porus, pp. 12, 38, Dr. Buddha Parkash; Histoire du Bouddhisme Indien, p 110, E. Lamotte; Political History of Ancient India; 1996, p 133, 216-17, (Also Commentary p 576 fn 22), Dr H. C. Raychaudhury, Dr B. N. Mukerjee; Hindu Polity, 1978, pp 121, 140, Dr K. P. Jayswal; Ancient Kamboja, People and Country, 1981, pp 271-72, 278, Dr J. L. Kamboj; These Kamboj People, 1979, pp 119, 192, K. S. Dardi; Kambojas, Through the Ages, 2005, pp 129, 218-19, S Kirpal Singh etc etc. Dr J. W. McCrindle says that the modern Afghanistan -- the Kaofu (Kambu) of Hiun Tsang was the ancient Kamboja, and the name Afghan evidently derives from the Ashavakan, the Assakenoi of Arrian (Alexandra's Invasion of India, p 38; Megasthenes and Arrian, p 180, J. McCrindle); Sir Thomas H. Holdich, in the his classic book, (The Gates of India, p 102-03), writes that the Aspasians (Aspasios) represent the modern Kafirs. But the modern Kafirs, especially the Siah-Posh Kafirs (Kamoz/Camoje, Kamtoz) etc are considered to be modern representatives of the ancient Kambojas. Other noted scholars attesting Ashvakan-Kamboja equation are Dr Romilla Thapar, and Dr R. C. Majumdar.
  5. For Saka reference see Invasion of India by Scythian Tribes
  6. Diodorus in Mcgrindle, p 370
  8. (Sindhi Culture, by U.T Thakur Bombay 1959 )
  9. Mahabharata 13/33/20-2.
  10. Manusmiriti X.43-44
  11. Ram Swarup Joon: History of the Jats, Rohtak, India, 1967. (Available online in files section on

Further reading