Tribes of the Thal Desert: The Tiwana

In this post I will look at Tiwana, or sometimes spelt Tawana. I would ask the reader to look at my other articles on the tribes of the Thal, which gives some background information on the Thal and its inhabitants. Perhaps more then any other tribe, the Tiwana represent the culture and tradition of the Thal desert. They have much in common with the Aheers, with whom they intermarry. What perhaps makes the Tiwana unique however is their insistence that they are Rajputs, a claim not made by other Thal tribes. So who are these Tiwana, and the answer is never simple. According to their own traditions, they are Panwar Rajputs. What is interesting about this region of Punjab is the persistence of claims towards Panwar or Parmar ancestry, despite the fact this region never formed part of the medieval Parmar state. The Tiwanas of the Thal are still found mainly in Khushab district. Another branch of the Tiwana tribe, which was partly Sikh and partly Muslim were found in Samana, which was part of the Sikh ruled state of Patiala. The Muslim Tiwanas left Samana after partition, and are now found dispersed throughout central Punjab. This article will focus of the Khushab Tiwanas, with some reference to the Samana clan.

According to Tiwana tribal traditions, they descend from Rai Shankar, who is also said to be the ancestor of the Sial tribe. So this is there story. Rai Shanker, a Panwar Rajput, lived in Daranagar, which was said to be located midway between Allahabad and Fatehpur, in what is now Uttar Pradesh. Other traditions refer to a a group of Panwars migrating to Jaunpur from Dara Nagar where Shanker was born. Three sons were born to Shanker, who were named Ghaiyyo, Taiyyo and Saiyyo and from whom descend the Sial tribe of Jhang, Tiwanas of Khushab and Ghebas of Pindigheb. According to another tradition, Sial was the only son of Rai Shanker and the ancestors of the Tiwanas and Ghebas were merely related to Shanker by paternal descent. Shanker’s clansmen lived in unity until his death, but afterwards they developed severe disputes and clashes which led to his son Sial migrating to Punjab during the period 1241-46 A.D. during the reign of Alauddin Ghauri, son of Sultan Ruknuddin or Masud Shah Alauddin.

It important to note, that almost all the Panwar clans like the Mekan and Dhudi have traditions that they migrated to Punjab during the early 13th Century. The other Panwar groupings also have traditions of accepting Islam at the hands of a Sufi saint. For the Tiwanas, this occurred when Teu, their ancestor arrived at Ajodhan, now named Pak Pattan, and embraced Islam at the hands of Hazart Baba Baba Fariduddin Ganj Shaker. However, the Tiwanas of the Thal also have traditions that they migrated from Samana, so it is likely the Samana was the original area of settlement. What is also a point to note is that the Samana Tiwana were the only Jat clan in the region which a slight majority of Muslims.

Tiwana of Patiala

Teo’s descendants founded the village of Mataur, near Narwana, in present day Jind District. The village remains’ the centre of Tiwanas who have remained Hindus. A group of Tiwanas left Mataur and settled near Samana, and founded the village of Chinhartal, which situated 15 miles from Patiala. A second group migrated and settled in the Thal desert, from which descend the Khushab branch.

The village of Chinhartal was divided into three different sections (known as patties in Punjabi). These three sections were Nanda Patti, Tiloka Patti, and Gaddo Patti, named after an ancestor. Tiloka patti was the largest patti in the village. Gaddo and his descendants had embraced Islam in A.D. 1533. During the Mughal period, Muslim Tiwana Chaudharis, descendants of Gaddo, Majlis Khan and Wazir Khan, were the prominent chiefs in the Malwa region. With the rise of the Sikhs in Patiala, the Muslim branch of the Tiwanas declined, and were reduced to village headmen. Abar Muhammad popularly known as Abri was the village numberdar right up to partition in 1947. The Muslim Tiwanas of Patiala all emigrated to Pakistan in 1947.

Tiwana of Khushab

The Tiwana rose as major landowners in the Thal in the 18the Century, a position that was confirmed by the British colonial authorities. Mughal authority rapidly collapsed in the Punjab in early 1700s, wth both the Sikhs and Afghans vying for power. In the Thal region, the Tiwana under Malik Sher Khan made themselves masters of Nurpur and the surrounding country, and after the death of the Awan chieftain Gul Jahannia of Warchha, succeeded in establishing a partial authority over the Awans settlements along the base of the Salt range. They also seized Shekhowal and several other villages on the right bank of the Jhelum from the Baloch rulers of Sahiwal. However, the Malik’s attempt was unable to capture Khushab, for although Lal Khan, the Baloch ruler was killed in the defence of the town, the Tiwanas were driven off, and Jafar Khan, the deceased chieftain’s son and successor, remained in possession, until Ranjit Singh absorbed the minor principality.

Tiwana power was now reduced the lands near their most important village, Mitha Tiwana, and here too, faced the rising power of the Sikhs. Ranjit Singh sent a well equipped force against them under Misr Diwan Chand in 1816. The Tiwana Malik was forced to leave Mitha for Nurpur, in the heart of the Thal, hoping that the scarcity of water and supplies might prevent the Sikh army from succeeding. But the Sikh commander, sank wells as he advanced, so that after a time the Tiwana, finding resistance hopeless, abandoned Nurpur, and took refuge with their old enemy, the Nawab of Dera Ismail Khan. The Nawab decided that this was the time to finish his Tiwana rivals, plundered them and turned them out. After this, for nearly two years, Malik Khan Muhammad and his sons wandered from place to place, subsisting on the charity of their neighbours but finding this kind of life insupportable, they determined efforts to recover their former possessions.

The Tiwanas were able to raise a force from the Thal tribes, and after surprise attack, seized Mitha. The Sikh garrison, completely taken by surprise, abandoned the place and fled, and the Maliks were once more masters of the land of their ancestors. This success was however short-lived, as in 1818, the ousted Sikh Governor returned with a strong force, and the Maliks were once again forced into exile. The possessions of tho Tiwana Chiefs were then given in jagir to the famous Sikh general Hari Singh, Nalwa, and were held by him till his death at Peshawar in 1837. Khan Muhammad, the Tiwana chieftain then travelled to Lahore to convince Ranjit Singh that it would be bad policy to drive the Tiwanas to desperation. Tiwanas as loyal subjects of the Sikh could act as intermediaries between them and the Jats of the Thal. They were therefore granted an estate on the west bank of the Jhelum, covering much of the norther corner of the Thal.
Kadir Bakhsh, the new Tiwana chieftain, became close friends with the Dogra warlord Raja Gulab Singh, and became an important courtier of Ranjit Singh. At the death of Hari Singh Nalwa, the Tiwana recovered almost all their lands. The next Tiwana chieftain, Fateh Khan, Kadir Bakhs cousin, took a prominent part in the politics of the Sikh Durbar. However, when the British conquered the Malik Fateh Sher Khan, the son of Fateh Khan, and Malik Sher Muhammad Khan, the son of the KAdir Bakhsh, switched to the British side. The descendants of Malik Sher Mohammad became the Maliks of Mitha Tiwana, the most important of the Tiwana estates. Other important estates of the Tiwana include Hadali, Hamooka,

They are now found mainly in Khushab, where important Tiwana villages include Thatta Tiwana, Mitha Tiwana, Noorpur Tiwana, Girot, Hadali, Hamoka, Kalurkot, Kundian, Jhabrian, Waracha, Sakesar, Megha, and Thai Dandan

Distribution of Muslim Tiwana in Punjab by District According to 1901 Census of India


District Population
Patiala State 3,039
Shahpur (Sargodha & Khushab districts) 2,971
Other districts 316
Total Population 6,326



Tribes of the Thal Desert: Aheer, Bhachar, and Talokar

I am interested in the history of Pakistan, and in particular its people. Trawling through the net, I find that there is little or no information on the history of this great nation. By history, I don’t mean descriptions of major events or incidents, but rather the history of its local traditions and customs. This is my first attempt at blog writing, so please bear that in mind when reading the rest of this article.

I thought that I should start off by looking at a region in western Punjab, known as the Thal, and in particular some of the tribes that inhabit it. The Thal is a large desert situated between the Jhelum and Sindh rivers just south of the Pothohar Plateau. Its total length from north to south is a 190 miles, and its widest is 70 miles (110 km) and narrowest is 20 miles. The Thal is all that remains of the semi-arid uplands that existed between rivers of western Punjab prior to the 19th Century constructions of canals by the British colonial authorities that led to the creation of what is now a largely irrigated region. This process also involved settlement of peasant colonists from what is now Indian Punjab.

This region is home to a number of tribes that can be loosely grouped under the name Jat. In the Thal, the term refers to any tribal grouping that practiced pastoral nomadism. Each tribe historically occupied distinct areas where they enjoyed prerogatives to grazing, and often claimed descent from a common ancestor. Among the larger tribes of the region that come under the rubric Jat include the Aheer, Aulakh, Baghoor, Bhachar, Chhina, Gahi, Ghallu, Jhammat, Johiya, Kanyal, Khokhar, Majoka, Mammak, Naich, Parhar, Panwar, Rahdari, Saigra, Sandhila, Sial, Talokar, Tiwana, Uttra and Wahla. In addition, this desert region is also home to some Baloch tribes such as the Kulachi, Lashari, and Waghra Magsi. I shall in this blog look at five such tribes, the Aheer, Bhachar, and Talokar individually. I would also ask the reader to look at my article on the Tiwana, which gives some further background on the history of the Thal.

Hopefully, time permitting; I shall expand this by looking at some of the others mentioned in the list. Below is a list of tribes that were categorised as Jat by 1911 Census of India for what was then the Khushab Tehsil, which occupied a significant area of the Thal desert.

Tribe Population
Aheer 656
Bhatti 264
Bhutta 101
Burana 147
Bains 482
Chadhar 211
Chhina 245
Dhako 118
Dhudhi 774
Dhal 188
Gondal 5,224
Haral 16
Hatiar 92
Jarola 33
Johiya 1,960
Jora 718
Kalera 29
Kalyar 133
Kharal 141
Khichi 609
Lak 71
Lali 11
Langah 440
Mekan 822
Noon 61
Parhar 13
Rehan 13
Ranjha 209
Sandrana 71
Sipra 72
Sujal 445
Talokar 5
Thaheem 650
Virk 100
Waraich 119

While in Bhakkar Tehsil of the then Mianwali District, the following were labelled as Jats by 1911 Census of India:

Tribe Population
Aheer 124
Assar 640
Asran 584
Aulakh 819
Auler Khel 492
Aulara 526
Bhander 588
Bhatti 1,517
Bhawan 375
Bhamb 101
Bhidwal 1,236
Bhutta 75
Brakha 456
Chadhar 1,048
Chahura 21
Chhajra 575
Chhina 2,716
Dahral 163
Dhal 1,250
Dhudhi 1,019
Ghallu 1,458
Ghorhawal 587
Hansi 661
Jakhar 1,415
Janjua 130
Jhammat 237
Johiya 1,612
Jora 104
Kallu 281
Kanera 526
Kalhar 120
Kharal 378
Kanyal 458
Khar 850
Khohawer 173
Kundi 149
Makkal 86
Unu 667
Pumma 570
Sahi 499
Samtia 77
Saand 24
Sandi 892
Sangra 568
Sial 1,905
Soomra 575
Targar 129
Turkhel 19
Waince 133

Most of these tribes are no longer pastoral, having all settled down to a sedentary agricultural based lifestyle. Furthermore, as the Thal was the site of large scale settlement of refugees from eastern Punjab by the Pakistan government, cases of compact territory are rare, and restricted to those areas of the Thal which have not seen canal colonisation, for example Rahdari still occupy a compact territory near the village of the same name. Despite differences, the tribes share a common language, Thalochi, and other customs and traditions. They also all share a common traditions of migration, with an ancestor leaving territory in India and migrating to the Thal, and converting to Islam at the hands of the Sufi saint during the course of this migration. In addition, almost all the tribes claim to belonging to larger tribal grouping, such as the Panwar of central India, or claims to be sub-groups of larger categories such as Khokhar or Bhatti. For exambly, the Baghoor and Bhachar both are clans of the Khokhar tribe, while the Tiwana claim to Panwar ancestry. I shall however start with a tribe that makes no such claim, the Aheer, who are one of the larger tribes of the Thal, with their villages scattered from Khushab all way down to Noorpur Thal.


The Aheer, are found throughout the western districts of the Punjab, In the Thal region, they are found mainly in Khushab District, concentrated in the headquarters in Khushab. The Khushab Aheer, are often in the news in Pakistan, due mainly to their active participatiojn in politics, having produced Malik Nasim Aheer, a former interior Minister under General Zia. This article will not concentrate on that family, but will be a general description of the tribe. Urdu sources, which often dismissed by those who either have no knowledge of the language, or pretend they don’t, will be the main basis of this summary. My main source shall be Aqvam-i Panjab by SultÌan Shahbaz Anjum.

So who are the Aheer, and the answer is not that simple, in fact with regards to tribal origins, it never is. The name Ahir, which is actually pronounced as Aheer, is used for a large caste cluster found throughout North India, many of whom prefer to call themselves Yadavs. An obvious conclusion would be therefore to conclude the Aheer of the Thal, and others parts of western Punjab, are one and the same as the Ahir. The Tehreek Aqwam e Punjab is silent on this issue, however most Aheers claim descent from Qutab Shah, the ancestor of the Awan and Khokhar tribes, and deny any conection with the Ahir of North India. Denzil Ibbetson, the colonial ethnographer, in his account of the 1881 Census of Punjab, argued that Aheer and Heer was one in the same tribe. Those who spoke dialects of Lahanda, such as Seraiki or Thalochi tended to refer to themselves as Aheer, while those found in central Punjab refered to themselves as Heer. The Heer, a large Jat clan found throughout central Punjab, stretching from Gujrat to Patiala, together with the Bhullar and Maan clans, claim to be the nucleus of the Jat ethnic group, all other tribes were said to be latter incorporated into the Jat. There is a further division as the Heer can be either Muslim or Sikh, while the Aheer are always Muslim. The 1917 District Gazetteer of Shahpur District, which then occupied most of the Thal, simply refers to the Aheer as “an ordinary Musalman peasants, like their neighbours”. So I started off this paragraph by asking the question, who are the Aheer, and the only fact that be confirmed is that they were once a large pastoral tribe, occupying the northern portion of the Thal, whose chiefs or Maliks in the 19th Century confirmed ownership of their lands, which helped to transform them into large landowners in what became Khushab.

Villages in Thal

In Khushab District, there villages include Aheerpur, Rakh Baghoor, Aheer Jagir, Rahdari and Girote near Khushab city. Staying within the Thal, but outside Khushab, important Aheer villages include Aheeranwala, Aba Khel, Ahheranwala, Jandanwala and Wandhi Aheeranwali near Pai-Khel, all in Mianwali District, while across the Jhelum, in Sargodha District, there are several Aheer villages near the town of Sahiwal, such as Ahir Fateh Shah and Ahir Surkhru, and Lakseem near Kot Momin.  In Mandi Bahauddin District, Chak Nizam near the town of Malakwal is an important village. Finally in Bhakkar District, they are found in Aheeranwala and Wadhaywala.

Outside the Thal,


The Aheer are found in Rawalpindi, Lodhran, Khanewal, Sahiwal and Faisalabad districts In the canal colonies of central Punjab, Aheers from the Thal, like many others have settled in chaks, or settlements, with important ones being Chak 142J.B (Khai Aheeran), Chak 235JB (Haiboana), Langrana and Mouza Lodhran in Chiniot District, Chak 452 JB (Aheeranwala) in Jhang District, Chak 7 (Aheeranwala) in Mandi Bahauddin District, Chak 77/12-L in Sahiwal District. In southern Punjab, the Aheer are found in scattered settlements in Khanewal District in villages near the towns of Kabirwala and Qadirpur Raan, and in Lodhran District, their most important villages being Basti Aheer and Jhok Aheer.

Isolated from other Aheer settlements are the villages of Ahir and Bher Ahir in the Gujar Khan Tehsil of Rawalpindi. These Aheer claim Rajput status, and have customs similar to other groups Rajput groups.

Distribution of Muslim Ahir in Punjab by District According to 1911 Census of India


District Population
Shahpur (Sargodha & Khushab districts) 1,017
Mianwali 843
Chenab Colony (Faisalabad) 345
Multan 234
Jhang 167
Other districts 195
Total Population 2,801



Leaving the Aheer, another interesting tribe found mainly in the periphery of the Thal are the Bhachars, who are found mainly in the town of Wan Bhachran, and villages nearby such as Dera Atta Mohammadwala at the northern edge of the Thal desert. The Bhachars are a clan of the historic and large Khokhar tribe. They state that their original home was in the Gujrat District, from where they migrated, first to Buggi Bhooki near Girot in Khushab District, and later to their present site, which was chosen on account of the “wan” or large well said to be built by the Emperor Sher Shah Suri. These wells were placed at intervals of about a day’s march apart on the road from Gujrat to Bannu in what is now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The name “Bhachar” seems to have been a form of endearment applied to them by some forgotten Pir, from the word bhachra meaning a calf. Like the neighbouring Pathan tribes such as the Niazis, the Bhachars are subdivided into clans that go by the name khels. Among larger Bhachar clans are the Dadukhel, Mohammadkhel, Tahirkhel, Sui, Dhurai and Waddu Khel.

Interestingly, there is still village called Bhachar near the town of Mandi Bahauddin, although the population of the village is largely Gondal, with no Bhachar families. However, the Wara Chamian near Malakwal in Mandi Bahauddin districts is still home some Bhachar families. In neighbouring Khushab District, there are several Bhachar families in the village of Mohibpur along the banks of the Jhelum. The presence of these Bhachar settlement does suggest that there was some sort of migration from the east, and valley of Jhelum where the districts of Jhelum and Khushab meet is also home to several other Khokhar clans such as the Bandial, Gunjial and Jalap. Other then Mohibpur, Bhachar are also found in the villages of Dera Atta Muhammadwala, Jhajha, Mehro and Shahwala Shumali near the Khushab Mianwali border, not far from Wan Bhachran. Outside this core area, Bhachar are also found in Talokar village. From what I know, there is no link left between the Mandi Bahauddin Bhachars and those of Wan Bachran.



The Talokar are another large an important Jat tribe of the Thal. Like the Jhammats, the Talokar claim to by descent Panwar Rajputs. According to their traditions, they are the related to Sial and Tiwana tribes. Supposedly all three tribes descend from three brothers, Tila, Sila and Taloka. Once again, like the Jhammat, the Talokar traditions state that they accepted Islam at the hands of the famous Sufi Baba Farid Shukar Gunj. The Talokars came from East Punjab in India, and first settled near Bhera in Sargodha District. Their first settlements were the villages were Kalara and Kurrar Talokar. From there, they spread to the east side of the Indus River, founding the villages of Bakharra (Kacha), Ding and Khola (Thal), in Mianwali District. Like the Niazi Pashtuns, who are their neighbours in Mianwali, the Talokar are subdivided in clans, referred to as khels. Important Talokar khels in Mianwali include the Lato Khel,Shahbaz Khel,Baqir Khel,Yaroo Khel, and Rangay Khel

Important Talokar villages include Talokar, Talokar Shumali, Talokar Jannubi and Chak Talokaranwala and a good many other villages near the town of Noor Pur Thal in Khushab District. A small number of Talokar are also found in Bandial village near the border with Mianwali District. In Mianwali itself, there villages include Ding Khola Talokar (New Ding Sharif, Saeed Abad (Sharqi and Gharbi), Lal Khelan wala, Zaman Kelan wala, Hashim Naggar, Tahir Abad, Shahbaz Khelanwala and Khanqah Sirrajia.