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Archive for February, 2019

Jhirk (also spelled Jhirak, Jherruck,  jerrruk,  jarak ) located off the National Highway between Thatta and Hyderabad in lower Sindh is a quaint little town known for two big names: Agha Khan Hasan Ali Shah (1804-1881) who made Jhirk his first home in the subcontinent and Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, who was born here in 1876.

The very first Gazetteer of Sindh, informs us that Jhirk was located on a hill close to River Indus and was a good spot to command the navigation of the river in both military and commercial point of view.  The Gazetteer further mentions that Alexander Burnes even recommended Jhirk  as the ‘best location for a British settlement’ and ‘Sir Charles Napier is said to have regretted not having chosen it for the European Barracks, instead of Hyderabad.’ However, it was Napier who found Jhirk to be the most suitable place to accommodate Agha Khan under British protection. Agha Khan the first or Awal, as he is mostly known to his followers, also built the first Jamaat Khana in Jhirk, hence making it a sacred town for the Agha Khani Ismaili community of Sindh. Perhaps, the region has a compelling aura as in the ancient past on nearby hills Buddhists had built their sacred shrines. The big name, in fact the only name of those times, that has survived in the memory of nearby villagers is Raja Manjira, a Buddhist king who ruled the region from his hilltop fort crowned with a stupa. Little further, across from the river, on another hill stood two stupas.

We are informed about the existence of these three stupas by Henry Cousens.  By the time he visited the Kot Manjira hill its stupa was gone, all he could find was ‘a shapeless low heap of brick debris’ in which he could find only 6 carved bricks. Cousen’s however,  refers to a letter dated 1853 written by W. Cole the Deputy Collector of Sindh which mentions a hilltop stupa standing at a distance of about 3 miles from Jhirk. The natives referred to the site as Kafir Kot (the Fort of the Infidels) owned by Raja Manjira. Cole found the remains of a wall built of large stones which fortified the site and the remains of a building made of heavy big bricks cemented by fine mud of Indus, this mud cement is found in very early brickwork, he adds.  Apart from larger structures were parts of ornaments bearing semblance to those found in later Buddhist cave temples. And in fact, there were fragments of Buddha’s images of which the head was missing. A total of 113 specimens was later handed over to the National Museum of Karachi.

Mention is also made of an inscribed stone which Cole later discovered. In his footnote Cousens explains that Alexander Cunningham, the director of the Archaeological Survey of India, read two words patrasa and bhagavatasa from this ‘very curious inscriptions in old Indian characters .‘

As for the two stupas located across from the river, Cousens informs that these  were reported by Mr. Carter. The natives referred to this site as Budh jo Takar, based on this name any body could guess that these were Buddhist remains. Carter compared the potsherds and bricks of these to the ones discovered from the stupa of Kahu jo Daro located near Mirpur Khas, Sindh.

Buddhist sites are scattered in a much larger area of the Indus region as Sindh continued to remain a stronghold of Buddhism even after the Muslim conquest.  Fatehnama also known as Chachnama, an Arabic account of the conquest of Sindh, mentions a huge stupa in the center of Debal, the first city conquered by the Arab Muslims in  711 CE. With the passage of time a significant number of lost stupas had come to surface, the reexamination of these sites can shed more light on the region’s past. Following is just a brief account of the relatively recent surveys of the Kot Manjira stupa site.

In the 1970s A.Rauf Khan of Karachi University surveyed the lower Sindh region closer to Karachi and identified several pre-historic sites, some of these going back in time to the upper Paleolithic period. He also  visited Kot Manjira and found some chert blades and potsherds which indicate that the site was pre-historic and before the Buddhist occupation it belonged to the Amri Culture which precedes the Harappan or the Indus culture (2600-1900 BCE). Khan also confirmed that the entire flat top of the hill was enclosed by a six feet thick wall and within these were  massive buildings made of limestone hence,  much older than the brick structure of the stupa which formed only a small part of the entire flat top area. Based on all these finds Khan attributed the site to both the Amri Culture and the Buddhist period  5th century  BCE.

In 2009 Ca’ Foscari University, Venice and Sindh University, Jamshoro conducted a joint survey of Kot Manjira to determine the area of the Amri culture. It was found that the Chalcolithic Amri culture was located in the central-western part of the hill. Though the Amri remenants were heavily damaged by the Buddhist structure but the chipped stone assemblage showed many characteristics of the Amri culture.  Hence, the report of the survey states that the ‘first human activity in the area took place at least from the beginning of the seventh millenium uncal BP.’

It must be mentioned that since 1985 the Italian team has been surveying  Sindh and have examined a large number of stone assemblages going back to the Paleolithic Period indicating that human occupation in lower Sindh goes back to the Stone Age. I have already referred to that previous work in my book on the Indus seals.  Khan, who had listed 250 sites in lower Indus, confirms this, ‘In time they (some of these sites) go back to upper Paleolithic Period. Thus we find in this area, the vestiges of the oldest cultures of our country so far known after the Soan Valley Culture of Potwar Plateau.’

Kot Manjra site is a good example where the historic, pre-historic and the pre-bronze periods can be scanned together. Between the Buddhist and the pre-bronze period is a long span of time but it is at Manjira that at least a small space of a huge blank is filled by the Amri culture. Kot Manjira stupa like the Moen jo Daro stupa stands on the foundations of a distant culture; Amri culture even goes beyond the urban phase of the Indus Civilization hence Kot Manjira stands on a culture much older than the city of Moen jo Daro. The time span between Kot Manjira’s Buddhist period and the Amri culture is much longer than the one between Moen jo Daro stupa and the city discovered under its foundations, nonetheless,  both show the different  and detached periods of human occupation of the same site. It will still take more time and research to come up with evidence that can fill in more blanks to demonstrate the continuity of culture.

I am most thankful to Dr. Paolo Biagi of Ca’ Foscari University of Venice  for sharing his report of the 2009 Project .

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