In the Punjab of India, 19th – 20th centuries, and Pakistan¹, 1947 – 21st century, a unit of area, = 25 acres, approximately 10.117 hectares. From the Hindi “murabba,” meaning “square”. The marabba is almost unique among modern units of land area in having specific fixed dimensions, rather than a specified area.

1. United Nations, 1966.


The marabba originated in monumental irrigation projects in the Punjab carried out by the British government in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Much of the Punjab was wasteland; however, through this near-desert flowed rivers carrying water from the Himalayas. Thousands of miles of canals were dug; four million acres were put under irrigation at a cost of 16 million pounds. Americans will recognize the process from California, where another government-sponsored project brought water from the Sierras and transformed the scrub-land of the Central Valley. In the case of the Punjab, the government recouped its investment many times over.

To make the land productive, peasant farmers were recruited from other areas and granted tenantships, typically of one marabba, on tracts laid out by the government. These new settlements were known as the Canal Colonies.

To facilitate the recording of irrigation done in the Punjab, it was decided when the areas of crown waste-land on the Sidhnai Canal and the Lower Chenab were made available for colonization, that these areas would be divided up into squares.

There were some 400 square miles of crown waste on the Sidhnai and 3,500 square miles on the Lower Chenab. To accord with the local land measure the squares were of sides 1,100 feet long and consequently of area 27.78 acres. A twenty-fifth part of each square is a field of 1 1/9 acres. Subsequent to the laying out of the squares it was decided to lay out the field as well.

This proposal was first evolved in connection with the scheme for the colonization of the tract to be served by the Chenab Canal, but it was first applied to the tract irrigated by the Sidhnai Canal.

W. P. Thompson.
Punjab Irrigation.
Lahore: Civil and Military Gazette Press, 1925.
Page 115.

The “local land measure” that Thompson refers to was the karam, or double pace. There were a number of karams in India (see chart symbol). For convenience the British engineers set theirs at an even 5½ feet, which leads to the following sizes for the marabba and its subdivision, the killa.






size in karam

40 × 40

200 × 200

size in feet

220 × 220

1100 × 1100

size in acres

1 1/9


The dimensions in karam and feet are nice round numbers, but the magnitudes in acres are very messy.

It was decided, therefore, that the bulk of the available land should be allotted in twenty-eight-acre holdings to small peasant farmers; but some areas were set aside to be given in larger lots to agriculturists of a somewhat higher class, who were dubbed “yeomen”, and to capitalists, who might, or might not, be agriculturists.

In the Triple Project, by a trifling modification of the original plan, rectangles containing twenty-five one-acre fields have been substituted for the squares which enclosed nearly twenty-eight acres.

James M. Douie.
The Punjab Canal Colonies.
Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, Vol. 62, No. 3210 (May 29, 1914), page 614.

The “trifling modification” consisted of shortening one dimension of the marabba, changing it from a square to a rectangle.

As a later development instead of squares, the country is now divided up into rectangles, the dimensions being 1100' x 990', exactly 25 acres in area. Each field is therefore 1 acre in extent.

W. P. Thompson.
Punjab Irrigation.
Lahore: Civil and Military Gazette Press, 1925.
Page 116.






size in karam

40 x 36

200 x 180

size in feet

220 × 198*

1100 × 990

size in acres

1 acre

25 acres

(*Note that these dimensions apply only to the Punjab. In the province of Sind, for example, around the Sukkur Barrage, the one acre plots are said to have been 264 feet north to south and 165 feet east to west.)

Other traditional units, some dating back to Akbar the Great, formed the subdivisions of the killa.






















sq. karam*






sq. yards







sq. meters








½ acre

1 acre

25 acres

*There are various special names for the square karam, such as sarsahi (sarsaai) and biswansi, but we don't know if they are now used in the Canal colonies (the marla and kanal are in daily use in 2014). If any reader has evidence of the current use of the sarsahi, for example, in Pakistan, please email us.

The effect of the change from square to rectangular plots is just barely detectable in satellite photographs. Here, courtesy Google, is land near the Sidhani Canal, which opened in 1886: And here is land near the Jhelum Canal, completed in 1915:


We have been unable to find any current commercial listings in the Punjab District of India in which land is measured in marabba. The most common unit there seems to be the gaj, equal to a square yard.


40-maraba (1000 kanal) on Tehsil Kot Addu, District Muzaffarghar. Agricultural land

Real estate advertisement. Retrieved 19 March 2014.


17 Marbha [sic] /400 Acre Citrus Land

Ek Marabba (25 acres/200 Kanal) zarii zameen brae farokht.

Real estate advertisement. Retrieved 19 March 2014.


One informed commentator (a member of the Weights and Measures Committee appointed by the government of India in 1913 to consider reform) suggested that the marabba was also a unit of length, presumably = 1100 feet.

Somewhat interesting is the introduction of new measures of length by reason of the way in which land is subdivided in the Canal colonies into marabbas (squares) and killas of 1100 ft. and 220 ft. square respectively. The lengths of the sides of these square areas are becoming known as measures of length under the names of the areas. [Page 327]

In the Panjab Canal colonies two new units have been introduced— the killa of 220 ft. square and the marabba (square) of 1100 ft. square, equal to 25 killa, being respectively equivalent to 10 and 250 acres. [page 328]

C. A. Silverrad.
The Weights and Measures of India.
Nature, no. 2757, vol. 110 (2 September 1922).

Silverrad's arithmetic in the second paragraph is strangely mistaken. A square 220 feet by 220 feet contains 48,400 sq. feet, not the 43,560 sq. ft in an acre. Coincidentally, however, 4840 is the number of square yards in an acre. Seeing 48,400 may have momentarily confused him into thinking he was working in square yards, and 48,400 square yards is exactly 10 acres. Then, knowing the marabba was 25 killas, he probably just multiplied 10 by 25 to get “250 acres”.

Even correcting those errors, a square 1100 by 1100 feet would enclose 27.78 acres, not 25. In other words, Silverrad took his dimensions from the original, square, plan, but his areas from the later rectangle plan. The killa and marabba were never “respectively equivalent to 10 and 250 acres”.

Nevertheless, he may be right that the marabba was used as a unit of length. If any reader discovers an example, please contact us.

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