The Victoria and Albert Museum was founded in 1852 as the South Kensington Museum, and later absorbed the collections of the Indian Museum, established by the East India Company in 1799. Both museums collected Indian decorative art and paintings, including material from the Panjab dating from the late 16th to the 19th century. They also bought extensively from the international exhibitions of the second half of the 19th century.
Material from the Panjab ranges from Mughal court paintings, arms and armour, textiles and tiles to extremely varied examples of the work of artists and crafts people from all over the region during the periods of Sikh and British rule. It also includes watercolours and important early photographs by Europeans visiting the region in the 19th century. The Museum's collections thus provided the foundation for the major exhibition, The Arts of the Sikh Kingdoms, shown at the V&A from March to June 1999 before travelling to San Francisco and Toronto.
The region now divided between India and Pakistan takes its name from the Persian for the 'five rivers' (panj ab) that flow through it, giving the soil great fertility. Its geographical position as the north-western gateway to the sub-continent means that invasions and wars have often swept across its plains, as have migrating peoples, ideas and aesthetic influences.
The Panjab was one of the most important provinces of the empire of the Mughals, who used Persian as their primary cultural and administrative language. The city of Lahore was the northern capital where the emperor and the royal family often resided, building extensive forts and palaces. Later, Ranjit Singh would be proclaimed Maharaja of the Panjab in Lahore, not far from the spiritual heart of the Sikh kingdom, Amritsar. The neighbouring province of Kashmir, the source of the much coveted pashmina shawls, was under Mughal rule but later annexed by Ranjit Singh, though it was given by the British to Gulab Singh of Jammu following the Anglo-Sikh war of 1846 and would, like the Panjab, eventually become part of the British Empire.