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Archive for March, 2019

The Shrine by Laila Shahzada

When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the earthbut find it in the hearts of men.

-Jalal-u-Din Rumi

It is said that Sindh is a blessed land, mixed with its dust are ashes of countless saints. 125,000 are buried in the Makli necropolis, many others rest in their shrines scattered all over the land and yet many more remain unknown and lost in the mists of time. What if  we find one?

In 1909, in an abandoned stupa near Mirpur Khas in lower Sindh, when Henry Cousens (1854-1933) found funerary ashes along with a bone it was questioned whether these remains were of Buddha or of a Buddhist saint. The stupa stood in the ruins of a Buddhist monastery sprawling over an area of 30 acres, in those early days it was dated back to 6th century CE. Before the excavations, the site was described as a ‘great heap of ruins’ located about half a mile to the north of Mirpur Khas, the nearby villagers called it Kahu jo Daro, the Mound of Kahu. The Gazetteer of the Province of Sindh (1907)  mentions a minor irrigation canal Kahu Wah which flowed at a distance of 65 miles from Mirpur Khas.  It is also said that there was a Kahu Bazaar around which in 1806 Mir Ali Murad Talpur founded the city of Mirpur Khas. But still in present day Sindh Kahu is a rare name, hence my search led me to a far corner of the globe, to Hawaii where Kahu literally is the keeper of the bones but in a deeper meaning he is the guardian of spiritual treasure.

Existence of a bazaar suggests that Kahu jo Daro was not just a remote monastery but also a sizable town. Xuan Zang (Hiuen Tsang) the well-known Chinese monk, who visited Sindh about a century before the Arab Muslim conquest in 711 CE, writes about hundreds of Buddhist monasteries that thrived in Sindh. At the same time history tells us that  to run such a network of holy places most of the finances came from the merchant and the artisan class which was mostly Buddhist. Located close to the ancient trade route Aprantapatha which stretched  from the Bolan Pass in Balochistan to Kanya  Kumari at the tip of South India, Kahu Bazaar must have been a busy place where monks and the merchants mingled with the townspeople. There is enough circumstantial evidence to suggest that it remained a peaceful town even after the  Muslim conquest as monks continued to collect their pilgrimage tax while the merchants as zimmis (non-Muslims) paid the tax.

Although like the site of Harappa Kahu was also robbed of bricks by the railway contractors, but during the course when a few ornamental bricks and two remarkable figures of Buddha were exposed, it drew the attention of the British officials. According to Sir James Campbell these represented ‘Sikhi, the Second Buddha.’ Guru Nanak’s struggle against Brahmanism, his reverence for Buddha’s teachings and his visit to Tibet may have led many to consider him the second Buddha. It is important to note that before the Partition (1947) a sizable Sikh population lived in Mirpur Khas.

Cousens arrived in Mirpur Khas four decades before the Partition. His was a long  journey which began as a photographer in the Indian service and ended as the superintendent of the Western Circle of the Archaeological Survey of India. With one clerk and an assistant photographer he had already traveled many parts of India before his posting in Sindh where he explored, surveyed, photographed and recorded the antiquities . Although Kahu jo Daro was first surveyed by J. Gibbs in 1859 but it was in 1909, just a year before his retirement, that Cousens dug it to the deepest level and retrieved a relic casket, the most sought after artifact of the archaeologists during that period. The relic contained just an ‘egg-spoonful’ of ash and a bone but to the devotees it was more precious than the votive tablets, Buddha’s images, vases and many other artifacts which were unearthed and transferred to the Prince of Wales Museum in Bombay.

My last visit to Kahu Jo Daro was in mid 1960s until then images of Buddha stood firm in the niches of its exterior wall, sadly, by now everything has vanished. After an extensive research on the Buddhist monuments of Sindh, J.E. Van Lohuizen-de Leeuw, rightly remarked that ‘the  worst fate befell the site of Kahu.’ Also, instead of blaming the Arab Muslims for the destruction of pre-Islamic monuments she identified salinity as the enemy of buildings in Sindh. This is so true, in my lifetime I have seen many beautiful structures, both old and new corroding due to salt encrustation and rapidly crumbling. In such a fragile world where abodes of saints do not survive their seekers often beguile their hearts with the thought that under every tree lives a saint.

Throughout history saints have been living not only in Sindh but all over the globe, they may have belonged to different religions but they lived beyond these labels to serve humanity. Regardless of caste or creed they willingly showed the right path to those who were lost in the labyrinth of life. We may never know the saint whose ashes were buried in Kahu jo Daro but we hope to remain blessed.

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