Archive for the ‘Pre Historic and Pre Islamic Pakistan’ Category

You can buy it from Amazon – click here.

The title is Moen jo Daro: Metropolis of the Indus Civilization (2600-1900) BCE). The text is interspersed with the original images specially photographed for this book by Pakistan’s well-known photographer Amean J. It is also enhanced by the artwork of internationally known artist Laila Shahzada. The book is reviewed by Dr. Subhash Kak, Regents Professor Oklahoma State University and Dr. Shoukat Shoro, the former Director of the Institute of Sindhology, Jamshoro Pakistan.

The idea of writing a book on Moen jo Daro for general readers was given to me by Dr. N.A. Baloch. At the same time he suggested that it should not be a handbook of the site but a work presenting Moen jo Daro in a wider historical and geographical context of the Indus region; it should inspire the future generations to seek clues in the languages, legends and folktales of Sindh, Balcohistan, Rajasthan, Kutch, Gujrat, Punjab and beyond. Later on he wrote the foreword of the book.

Indus civilization was spread over a vast area and archaeology allows crossing political boundaries; hence, I approached Dr. Vasant Shinde to write a second foreword of the book. Dr. Shinde is working on the Harappan sites discovered in the Indian Punjab and he is also the vice chancellor of the prestigious Deccan College deemed University. His foreword is most befitting as Moen jo Daro symbolizes the common heritage and history of Pakistan and India.
Moen jo Daro: Metropolis of the Indus Civilization (2600-1900) BCE) is now available on Amazon.com for purchase – Click here.

It is a personal view book and is divided in nine chapters, below is a brief description of these chapters.

The first chapter is about myths and legends thriving in the Indus region. Due to lack of direct references to Moen jo Daro legends can become one of the valuable sources of information. The chapter demonstrates how some of these can hold important clues for the understanding of Moen jo Daro and Indus Civilization.

The second chapter is about the Mound of Dead which is the English translation of Moen jo Daro. The Mound was crowned with the remains of a Buddhist stupa which led to the discovery of this ancient city. The chapter gives the history of the discovery of the stupa which was actually the major attraction for British officials. It also provides the background information on the Buddhist period and Buddhism in Sindh.

The third chapter describes the layout of the two parts of the city. It also lists the artifacts discovered from its ruins. Most of these are showcased at the site museum of Moen jo Daro and the National Museum, Karachi. With the exception of a few, the photographs of the architectural remains and the artifacts are by Amean J.

Chapter four describes the geographical extent of the Indus Civilization as well as its origins, its nature and its decline. Beginning from the Neolithic agrarian communities of Balochistan, it traces their socio-cultural evolution to a mature urban phase that bloomed in the Indus Valley. Moen jo Daro in this chapter is examined in the larger context of the Civilization.

Chapter five is an attempt to reconstruct the picture of the inhabitants and their life in Moen jo Daro and Indus Valley. It also refers to the views of various archaeologists and how their reconstructed pictures differ from each other according to their orientation and generation.

Chapter six describes the ideology of the ancient Indus society as reconstructed through a variety of evidence gathered from Moen jo Daro and a few other significant Indus sites. The chapter sheds some light on the possible links between the ancient Indus ideology and the later Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain religions. It also examines the status of women and the role of mother goddesses in those remote times.

Chapter seven deals with the most striking finds – the enigmatic signs and symbols engraved on tiny steatite seals. It gives a history of their decipherment and the hurdles in research. In this chapter I also share my research on the signs and symbols engraved on the seals.

Chapter eight explores the reasons of the ‘sudden collapse’ of the urban phase of Indus Civilization. Beginning with the Aryan invasion theory and its rejection, it highlights a few other sites to explain a gradual deterioration of the urban centers and an eastward migration to Gujarat.

Chapter nine gives the background of the international campaign of saving Moen jo Daro from the threats of water logging and salinity. It includes the preservation measures recommended by Pakistani officials and experts from UNESCO member countries. In this chapter I also appeal to the readers to join me in my campaign calling for the three-dimensional digital preservation of Moen jo Daro. You can also see a related blog here.

Read Full Post »

It has been quite a journey working on “Moen jo Daro: Metropolis of the Indus Civilization,” my forthcoming book on the ancient, mysterious city and its civilization. Moen jo Daro did not allow me the time to write a blog and demanded a lot of reading and rereading, researching, fact checking, writing and rewriting.

Often times my writing activity led me to several other sites of the Indus civilization, some of these being beyond political boundaries – in India, in Afghanistan, and one of them even almost touching the border of Iran. Sutkagen Dor, located in the Dasht River Valley, is also the westernmost site of Indus civilization. So while writing the story of the city I often found myself writing the story of the civilization.

On the way I came across archaeologists, artists and photographers whose expeditions were worth following. Sometimes they led me to detours and sometimes unexpectedly to destinations so relevant to Moen jo Daro. And then there are interpretations and arguments of various archaeologists that had to go in the book.

Sir John Marshall viewed life in Moen jo Daro as being peaceful and mercantile, similar to a working town like Lancashire. K.N Dikshit, reflecting on the cosmopolitan bazaars of Moen jo Daro and Harappa, where merchants from Persia, Mesopotamia, Gujarat and South India exchanged goods, found it closer to the cosmopolitan cities like Karachi and Bombay. Sir Mortimer Wheeler’s views were dramatic, as he saw the Indus civilization as an empire ruled by a theocracy seated on the citadel mound of Moen jo Daro. And since the rise of each empire is followed by a fall, he felt that the cities of Indus were finally destroyed by the Aryan hordes, led by their thunder God, Indra. George Dales, after rummaging through the streets of Moen jo Daro and finding no evidence of a massacre absolved Indra. But this has not resolved the issue of the decline of the city and its civilization.

There is yet another issue, the socio-cultural nature of the city, which remains mysterious. And this is because of the hurdles in the journey of Indus’ research; there are no references to Indus cities in later Indian texts and the inscriptions engraved on the seals discovered from these cities have not been deciphered. Hence, in the absence of any direct source of information, even a simple task of establishing Moen jo Daro’s chronology was accomplished by cross dating some of its objects discovered in distant Sumer. And this has led many experts to examine the civilization with the yardstick set for other ancient civilizations.

The fact is that Indus did not mature to a highly state-organized society like its contemporaneous Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations. Far from being an empire it is not even confirmed whether Indus civilization had a ruling authority or not and if it had, was it secular or theocratic; male or female. What is certain is that it lasted from 2600 to 1900 BCE and remained arrested in an urban phase. Its cities therefore lack imperial architecture such as the palaces, temples, pyramids, ziggurats and the royal tombs.

Perhaps, it is time to judge Indus on its own merit especially as the criterion to judge a civilization is beginning to change. In his book “Civilization: The West and the Rest,” Nial Ferguson, a historian of the twenty first century writes, “The success of a civilization is measured not just in its aesthetic achievements but also, and surely more importantly, in the duration and quality of life of its citizens. And that quality of life has many dimensions, not all easily quantified.”

Taking into consideration just a few important dimensions, my book places Moen jo Daro at a stage on the ladder of socio-cultural evolution where rigid classes had not yet been formed but where professional specialization had made distinctions between the brick makers and woodworkers, between weavers and dyers, between potters and scribes. The civilization was also at the stage where ideology had not yet given way to a religion. It took many centuries for Moen jo Daro water cults to evolve rigid rituals of purifying the soul, the likes of which are best witnessed at River Ganges.

The most intriguing finds of Moen jo Daro are the tiny steatite seals engraved with cryptic symbols, signs and human and animal images. More than 2000 of these had been discovered from various Indus cities, the largest number (over 1200) were discovered from Moen jo Daro. The seals have become a hallmark of Indus civilization and the symbols and signs engraved on these are believed to be an ancient form of writing representing an unknown language. Hence, many archaeologists believe that the story of Moen jo Daro is encrypted on the seals an for the last one century more than one hundred failed attempts have been made to decipher the script.

This leads me to believe that perhaps, Indus civilization existed in a period in pre-history where writing, in the conventional sense, had not yet taken birth but symbols that may have later evolved to alphabets were in the making. It was a period when images of animals and inscriptions, swastikas and circles, triangles and gammadions were all rolled into one. Distinctions between alphabets and numbers, between art and writing and between geometry and religion were yet to set. The value of Indus civilization, therefore, lies in the fact that it has preserved the first chapter of the origins of writing; overall, it is a rare snapshot of an urban boom which erupts before empires are formed. Moen jo Daro provides the most panoramic view of that boom.

Read Full Post »

“In Mandalay, the capital of Burma, beneath a wonderful pagoda repose the ashes of the revered prophet of Buddhism. These relics were discovered in 1910…” This note, published in the Bay View magazine caught my attention as it continues the story of  the discovery of Buddha’s ashes from Peshawar. I had already referred to the discovery in one of my blogs ‘Restoring Pakistan’s Buddhist Past.’ The news of the discovery was also reported by the New York Times. What follows is the story of the transportation of the sacred remains to Burma.

At the time of the discovery of the ashes, Gilbert John Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound, the 4th Earl of Minto, was the viceroy of India. He was a man with a sense of religious demographics of the country he ruled. Having realized the strength of Muslim population in the Northwest and East of India he had been one of the major players behind the concept of a separate electorate and the formation of the All-India Muslim League. In the same measure he knew Burma was a stronghold of Buddhists hence he gave the Burmese the gift that they deserved. Minto is often accused of promoting the notorious British policy of divide and rule – but that is another story.

Minto also wanted to turn this opportunity into a big news, hence he personally handed over the ashes to the Burmese Buddhist monks in an impressive ceremony. The ceremony was held in Calcutta at the throne-room of the viceregal palace. The guest list was equally impressive and included British officials, Burmese high priests, Lady Minto, Sir John Marshall and the famous Anne Besant. A report by Frank G. Carpenter describes the ceremony which began with the speech of the viceroy: “The government of India has decided that the relics should remain within the confines of the Indian empire and that Burma, as a Buddhist province, and Mandalay as its capital, should provide for their safe custody. I am sure that the great honor done to Burma will be thoroughly appreciated by its people, and that the relics will be carefully preserved and cherished.” In conclusion the viceroy hoped that “a suitable shrine may be erected at Mandalay over these relics, where in future years devout pilgrims may gather from all parts of the world to do honor to the memory of the great founder of their religion.”  In 1915 when James Bissett Pratt, not a devout pilgrim but a mere traveler, visited Mandalay the work on the pagoda was being done with great zest. He describes the enthusiasm of the Burmese in his book India and its Faiths: “At present a rather unusual wave of pagoda enthusiasm is passing over Burma. Nearly all the great pagodas of the land are being regilded and at Mandalay, the religious center, the entire hill that commands the town is being covered with statues, pagodas and other religious buildings. One of these pagodas is being built for the reception of the ashes of the Buddha recently found by Dr Spooner near Peshawar; and as I have said, the entire hill is being covered with pagodas of various sizes, shaded stairways and passages for the accommodation of pilgrims, rest-halls and mammoth Buddha images.”  Millions have been flocking to the Pagoda ever since its completion, ignoring Buddha’s advice: “Do not hinder yourself by honoring my remains.”

During the ceremony, John Marshall, the director of the Archeology Department, gave the background of the ashes which were discovered from the ruins of a pagoda built by King Kanishka (78-103 CE) in Peshawar. The pagoda, once struck by lightning and thrice caught by fire, continued to survive for centuries and had been recorded by Fahien and Hiuen Tsang, the  two well-known Chinese who traveled through India in two different time periods. When Hiuen Tsang, the later visitor, saw the pagoda, five centuries after Kanishka’s reign, it was still in good condition. Hiuen Tsang was no ordinary traveler; he was a scholarly Buddhist monk who arrived in India in 629 CE and walked through its land for seventeen long years.  Rummaging through monastic complexes and collecting original Buddhist scriptures, it was his vivid description of the 13 stories high pagoda that caught the attention of a French archaeologist, Alfred Foucher, who was visiting India in the early 20th century. Hiuen Tsang had also mentioned that the pagoda stood not too far from the palaces of Kanishka, hence following his footsteps Foucher located its remains at a distance of half a mile East of Peshawer. By that time the structure of the pagoda had turned into a mound and it was not possible for Foucher to dig it out. However, he convinced David B. Spooner of the Archaeological Survey of India to do the job. The mound was dug and a great tower uncovered.  It was ‘larger than any other known pagoda.’ John Marshall evaluated it to be ‘higher than the Washington Monument.’ He also surmised that the tower lasted for three more centuries after the visit of Hiuen Tsang.

Buddha’s ashes, enclosed in a bronze casket that consisted of four charred human bones and some ash, were unearthed from a highly secure chamber beneath the heavy foundation of the tower. “British archaeologists had to sank a shaft down through the stone floor to a depth of twenty feet to reach the chamber…and there in that little stone room, which had been buried from the sight of man for over 2,400 years, they found a bronze casket seven inches high five inches in diameter.” The imagery on its exterior was quite detailed.  A frieze depicting flying geese above the images of Buddha and one image of Kanishka.  The lid had lotus design topped with a Buddha statuette at the center.

The ash and the bones were given to the Burmese monks in a different container whereas the casket is showcased in the Peshawar Museum. Amidst colossal violence and bloodshed going around it day in and day out it is a reminder to the peaceful Buddhist past. Whether it symbolizes the ‘divide and rule’ policy or the Indo-Burmese oneness under the British administrative machinery, it is hard to say. George Orwell, working as an ordinary policeman in that machinery, declared it was “the dirty work of Empire.” Ordinary men and women living in the Empire simply enjoyed the moment, a Bollywood song from those days captures that moment.

Read Full Post »

Many were thrown as the city buzzed with entertainment, games and gambling before turning into a mound of dead.  Dice were discovered almost on every level of Moen jo Daro. This was noted by Sir John Marshall, the Director General of the Archeological Survey of India, under whose supervision the site was excavated. Moen jo Daro (translated: Mound of Dead) was the capital of the Indus Civilization (2600-1900 BCE).  Known for its non-violence, its citizens tested their strengths only on board games.  The stakes can be surmised from mythology and folklore wherein kingdoms were lost on a throw of dice. What was the nature of that game played in Moen jo Daro?

Much before the discovery of Indus Civilization it was speculated that chess had its origins in India.  Sir William Jones was more specific and suggested West India as the place and chaturanga as the predecessor of chess. Chaturanga, meaning four limbs, denoting the four divisions of the Indian army do not befit well with the ancient Indus way of life.  Nonetheless, a few game pieces showcased in the Moen jo Daro Museum are labeled “Chessmen” and placed on a modern chess board suggesting the possibility of the existence of chess in Moen jo Daro. Things change, concepts evolve, and sometimes they are even capable of representing just the opposite of the original concept. The four limbs of chaturanga may have denoted non-martial ideas in its earlier versions. The existence of dice in Moen jo Daro brings to mind other board games and chaturanga may have evolved from these.

This week I saw ‘’A Throw of Dice,” a vintage Bombay film belonging to the silent era and was made in 1929. However, it has been digitally restored and is available on Netflix.  You can watch a trailer here. The film, inspired by the Mahabharata, included a scene where King Ranjit gambled away his wife and his kingdom.  The superb restored picture quality allows a clear view of the four armed board game, the game pieces, and the dice which is not cube shaped but a set of three rectangular sticks etched with simple designs. Moen jo Daro site museum has few specimens of the stick dice. Archaeologists may be interested in knowing that these are still used by the Sindhi snake charmers, for fortune telling. As for the four-armed board in the movie, perhaps it was pachisi and who knows Arjun too may have lost his wife over such a board.

Pachisi, meaning twenty five, has survived in India and it has an older version known as chaupan. It is played by four players and until recent times, was a favorite ladies’ game in rural Sindh. Chaupan set consists of 16 game pieces, seven cowrie shells and a board, which is actually not a board but just a four-armed cloth piece marked with squares, the same as the one shown in the movie. Logically, chaupan should be the closest to the version played in Moen jo Daro. The use of cowrie shells instead of a cube dice is interesting. Perhaps this throws some light on the urban and rural divide of the Indus Civilization. Whereas the urban centers used dice since the days of Moen jo Daro, the use of cowrie shells, which is much ancient, continues in the remote villages of Sindh. So dice too has taken various forms.

What Marshall discovered in abundance are the cube shaped dice which have survived to present times and are widespread, found in almost all the countries and cultures of today’s world. In Moen jo Daro these were made of terra-cotta, one of these was inscribed with numbers on opposite sides adding up to seven another had made its way to Ur in Mesopotamia confirming the trade links between the two civilizations. The connection between dice and chess is however not yet established.

In a game of chance coincidences abound. The co-producer of ‘A Throw of Dice’, Himanshu Roy, played the role of the villain and won King Ranjit’s wife. In real life however, he had lost his wife, not on a throw of dice, but to the charms of one of the actors he had hired. This is a story better told by Sadaat Hasan Manto, captured here is an English translation.

Read Full Post »

In olden days people said storms were nature’s way of reminding man of his fragile existence. We heard similar expressions even in modern days. When Sandy hit a large part of the United States, many people felt it was there to change the tide of presidential elections and hence the fate of the country and the world.  However, there are only few who can sense the subtle warnings of an approaching storm. In Indian mythology a fish had sensed these. According to the Hindu belief it was actually Lord Vishnu in the guise of a fish who saved Manu (father of the human race) from a devastating deluge.

The fish appears as a savior in many ancient legends spread around the World.  The belief in its powers may have existed in the Indus Civilization (2600 to 1900 BCE) as indicated by the discovery of a large number of fish images from Moen jo Daro, Harappa and a few other ancient Indus towns. Total number of symbols/signs engraved on Indus seals is close to 400 and out of these 10% is of fish and its variants. Fish images are also generously painted on the Indus pottery.

The first Indus seal discovered from the site of Harappa was engraved with six signs – one of these was a fish. Its image was published in 1875 by Alexander Cunningham in his report in the Archaeological Survey of India. About half a century later when Sir John Marshall, the director general of the Archaeological Survey, published the first account of a number of seals discovered from Harappa and Moen jo Daro, fish was immediately spotted by Ernest Mackay. He was the Director of the Field Museum-Oxford University and was excavating Mesopotamian sites. Mackay drew Marshall’s attention to a fish sign engraved on a seal discovered from Kish, located in Persian Gulf. Fish symbol has been discovered in other civilizations East and West of Indus; from Japan to Mesoamerica. Fish Talisman’s, mostly depicting carp, continue to remain popular in today’s China and Japan.  Yuri Knorozov, the Russian scholar, who is more known for deciphering the Maya script, had suggested that the fish depicted on Indus seals is carp. Knorozov’s view that Indus script represented a proto-Dravidian language eventually lead the fish to a celestial status.

In 1950s Father Henry Heras, a Jesuit priest and a supporter of Knorozov’s idea suggested that fish actually represented star as in Dravidian language the word Minh is a homonym for fish and star. He used the signs engraved next to the fish for further proof. For instance the inverted letter V sign over the head of the fish was interpreted roof and represented the black star or Saturn. The fish sign appearing with six vertical strokes depicted six stars and represented constellation Pleiades.

Heras’ theory is further developed by Asko Parpola and Iravatham Mahadevan. However, there is an opposing view presented by S.R.Rao suggesting that Indus script represents an Indo-European language. As the two schools of thought Dravidian versus Sanskrit argue against each other, there are scholars who question whether Indus script is a script at all and whether the fish sign is a fish. Walter Fairservice argued that the eye of the fish is missing. Also, fish is not represented in an upright position in later Indus folk art, could it be just a loop or a letter? One of the recent researchers feel that fish may have been used for weights in the Indus cities. Furthermore, what appears as a roof to Heras appears as a crown and a mountain to others.

Speculations can multiply and the argument can go on for another century. It is about time to seek clues in diverse and scattered sources such as the mythology, etymology, ancient texts and indigenous folklore. Below are just few thoughts.

There may be a reminder to the old myth of fish power in a Sindhi saying ‘Jeko chawundo Jhule Lal Tehnija Theenda Bera Paar’ meaning whoever says Jhule Lal (swing Lal) his/her ship will reach the shores (safely). The story behind the saying is that River saint Udero Lal as a child, rested in a jhula (swinging crib) that kept on swinging on its own. In iconography, however, he is depicted riding a fish that swings with the waves of Indus waters. Fish in fact is a vehicle that takes Lal through the storms of life, hence the slogan Jhule Lal.

Some of the fish images engraved on Indus seals are depicted with horns. If these could be interpreted as numerals, vowels, diacritical marks or rays. They can also be interpreted as a symbol of superiority and authority. A deity engraved on Indus seals and labeled as proto-Shiva too is wearing horns. The tradition continued in historic times and even Alexander the Great is depicted with horns on a few images. The last name Singh adopted by martial communities of Rajputs and Sikhs, literally means horns. Above all the exalted fish in Manu’s story is said to have horns around which Manu fastened the rope that dragged his ship to the shores.

The missing eye of the fish so far can be found in Mahabharata where Arjun, the ace-archer shoots the eye of a fish statuette and wins the competition. The story is used for moral lesson; while going through the vicissitudes of life remain focused on the target; Arjun won Draupadi as during the competition he did not bother to see what others were seeing-the sky, the clouds and the trees.

As for the upright position perhaps ancients discovered one fish in Indus that swam against the current. The palla fish of Sindh, perhaps the upright position is to illustrate the resolve of a struggling fish. Knorozov had already compared images of Indus fish with carp, another fish that is known to swim against the current and which is still considered a symbol of courage and resilience in Japanese and Chinese cultures.

And on this day of Christmas let’s not forget the Biblical references to fish. Merry Christmas.

Read Full Post »

“What’s in a name?” Take the case of Sindhu the original name of River Indus. Different people and different platforms discuss it in different ways. The mere fact that they still discuss the name that has been anglicized since centuries is important.

Last month I had been directly involved in two discussions on the subject. First was on the facebook of Central Trading Zone launched by Saleem Aziz. It was about how the name was changed. The second was a serious conversation with Dial Gidwani, founding president of the American Institute of Sindhulogy, who is also developing video games on non-vioence theme. The conversation revolved around the question why do we still use the name Indus and not Sindhu?

To begin from the very beginnings will answer the first question. It takes us to the times when ancient rishis watched “The Rivers come forward triply, seven and seven and Sindhu in might surpassed all the streams that flowed.” This is just one line from a hymn in the tenth book of Rig Veda, the sacred Sanskrit text that mentions river Sindhu for the first time. According to Max Muller, the German translator, Veda was compiled around 1500 BCE, probably on the very banks of Indus. The spectacular scenery and the might of Indus had inspired the composition of hymns on Sindhu. The River, considered sacred, is further described as the lord and leader of the moving floods, active as a dappled mare, mighty as a bellowing bull, kind as a mother to her calves, rich in gold, rich in ample wealth for whom Varuṇa, the water god, cut the channels for its forward course.

Certainly, river was primary, the country around had no name, and was identified only by the river, hence the Indus region was known as Sapta Sindhu, the land of seven rivers. According to some experts it is a referral to Indus’ delta, ridged with its ever shifting branches rushing to the Arabian Sea. Sindhis call it Lar, the slope, the name also used for lower Sindh. Sapta Sindhu is also identified with Punjab, which is now left with five rivers but is still called by the numbers of its rivers, Punj, five and aab, water.

The process of Sindhu’s name change began with the arrival of Achaemenids when they conquered the land, converted it to a Persian satrapy and recorded it as Hapta Hindu. This is when letter ‘s’ was changed to ‘h.’ However, soon after Alexander’s conquest of Darius’ satrapy, Megasthenes, the Greek ambassador to the court of Chandragupta Maurya, recorded the region as Indos ( Indus) by dropping the initial ‘h’ and ending it with ‘s.’ Ending place names with ‘s’ was a common practice of Greek chroniclers and hence we come across Indus kingdoms such as Musikanus, Oxykanus, Portikanus, to mention a few. The suffix kanus is also spelt as kanas and the only remnant in Sindh of these versions is Larkana (without s). From Greek chronicles the name Indus crept into Latin and then to Old English and French which resulted in their own versions of Ind and Ynde.

With the passage of time Persian version Hindu extended beyond the land of Sindhu to Bharat Varsha, the old name of India. Hence Hindu came to be applied to Hindustan (the country), Hinduism(religion) Hindi (language) Hindukush (mountains), Hindu (person), Hindura (a piece of furniture, the Sindhi swing) but it was never applied to the river which is known to the world by its Greek version Indus. And then came the Arabs. They counted Sindh and Hind as two different countries. They also referred to the river as Aab-e-Sin, The water of Sin (or Sindh) the name is shortened to Abasin. Mehran is yet another name for Indus and the only other example of suffix ‘ran’ for river name is Puran, an abandoned tributary of Indus in lower Sindh. Ironically an ordinary Sindhi calls Indus simply a darya, river.

As to the question why we call Sindhu Indus? Here are some of my thoughts. If water worship ever existed in Indus Civilization then Darya Panthies, a Hindu sect of River worshippers in Sindh, deserve the credit for valiantly preserving the practice in some form until mid-twentieth century. It’s logical that not much of this sect is known after the Partition. Sindhi Hindus, in general suffered the worst under Partition as they had to say farewell not only to their ancestral homes but also to their beloved river. They must have drawn some solace from the fact that Sindhu continued to remain in the Indian national anthem. They have also reconciled to fulfill their urge of embracing Indus at its course that traverses through Ladakh district. Sindhu Darshan festival is now celebrated annually at Leh in India to highlight the River as an example of communal harmony and peace.

As far as the present inhabitants of the Indus region are concerned they may not have any memories of the long lost water cults performed in the Great Bath complex of Moen jo Daro, but Pakistani Sindhi Hindus and Muslims alike revere Udero Lal, the river related saint also known as Darya Shah, River King. Lal’s origins are lost in the murky past, he is considered to be a mythical figure but he is also confused with Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. He may not be an eqvivalent of ancient Varuna, but he is considered to be an avatar of the immortal Khwaja Khizr, the sage of Islamic tradition. Khizr guides the mortals through the labyrinth of life. He too is an elusive character appearing in different time zones and different stories throughout the Islamic World. Lal’s identification with Khizr has led to his other title Zinda Pir, the Living Pir. And like Khizr he too rides a fish, the image that abounds on Indus seals and in Islamic iconography depicting Khizr.

Fish symbol will require another blog; suffice it to say here that Udero Lal’s fish is identified with palla, which is more known for being the queen of Sindhi cuisine and less for its heroic struggle of swimming against the current. Whereas in Japan, carp, another fish that swims upstream against the current stands for courage and determination. Legend has it that Khizr too swam against the current and finally reached the island in upper Sindh where he rests in peace.

According to Islamic tradition, Khizr is the one who had guided Zulqarnain (another name of Alexander the Great) to Aab-e- Hayat, the Water of Life. Various locations are cited for the source of Aab-e-Hayat, Indus, is considered to be the most likely source.

Did Alexander seek immortality? “When Alexander sought he did not find what Khizr found unsought.” Nizami says so profoundly what history tells us coldly of an ironic end; Alexander died young in his early thirties.

Names get mingled through the mists of time, but the truth behind them does not change. Their power is not lost, call it magic, call it mystique. Thousands of years ago the might of Sindhu had given birth to the largest and most non-violent civilization of the ancient world. It may sound surreal to say that in this day and age when a handful of Mullas on one side and Hindu fundamentalists on the other side are flaring up hatred between innocent Hindus and Muslims non-violence can prove to be the most effective weapon against their monstrous mission.
The doctrine that holds all forms of life sacred and avoids any form of violence against fellow human beings, animals, insects and even plants is rooted in Indus Civilization. It runs in the blood of Hindu, Jain, Buddhist and Sufi philosophies. It is also the the common heritage that Indians and Pakistanis possess in a divided land so let’s give non-violence a chance. Call it Ahimsa or whatever; Ahimsa by any other name won’t hurt.

Read Full Post »

In the South of Pakistan, near the city of Hyderabad begins the range of Hills known as Ganjo Takar, meaning The Bald Hill.  Shah Abdul Latif, the Sufi saint poet of Sindh had pointed to the secrets held in its folds and my attention has been drawn to an article referring to this subject.

Professor Dr. G.A. Allana, the former vice chancellor of the University of Sindh, Jamshoro, who has written many books on Sindh’s history, culture and language, had also written an article using Latif’s line “Ganjay mein Gun Ghanna” (Bald has Many Folds) as the title.  In his article, Dr. Allana reflects upon his various trips to Ganjo Takar.  Most of these were undertaken during his student days from 1956 onwards.  Taking clues from Latif’s poem, Dr. Allana has traced the sacred routes in these hills that had been traversed by the yogis since ancient times.  He recalls the pre-Partition times when the yogis still arrived in a large group from Gujrat to perform rites at a spot dedicated to Kali.  Located near Fateh Chowk in Hyderabad, Kali deovari actually marks the beginnings of the Ganjo Takar range.  Dr. Allana laments on the loss of history as after Partition the road named after Kali has been ‘converted to Islam’ and renamed as the Hali Road.  From Kali in Hyderabad the yogis would get divided in two groups, one of these would head towards the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan and the other to the Makli necropolis.  The Makli group of yogis proceeded further West to Balochistan to the temple of Mata Hinglaj, the westernmost Tirtha (sacred place) of the Hindus.  The article also reveals several shrines of Muslim saints and many remains of Buddhist period; most relevant here is Sudheran jo Thul.  Dr. Allana mentions an annual fair at the Thul where Buddhist pilgrims got their heads shaven and performed rituals and where Buddha’s bones were preserved.  This indicates the existence of a cinerary stupa at Sudheran and yet another potential spot to explore the much sought-after Buddha’s ashes.  I thank Dr. Mithal Vakassi for sharing Dr. Allana’s article with me.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »