Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Buddhism’

I still remember, with great fondness, the evenings of the holy month of Ramazan when the village women will gather in our courtyard to break their fast. Amidst the laughter and hushed gossips they also exchanged interesting stories. Out of the many that I overheard one was about the special blessings of 27th Ramazan, the gist of the story was that on this day even deer observe the fast. As a child I wondered how anyone would even know that a deer is fasting. However, as I grew up and developed a mature attitude I began to understand and appreciate the certitude of those women who never questioned the irrationality of the story.

Last week while browsing through a book on Sultan Bahoo , a seventeenth century Sufi poet of Punjab, I came across another story of a deer appearing in the month of fasting. It provided a few more details such as the deer would bring in food and water for the Sultan and his companion who were travelling in the region of Kallar Kahar in Punjab. The story is even authenticated by two graves in that region which supposedly are of an Ahoo (deer) and Bahoo (the saint).

It was natural for my thoughts to wander to an Indus seal engraved with the image of a deity sitting in a meditative posture and surrounded by animals including deer. I am referring to the well-known proto-Shiva seal as Sir John Marshall associated its deity with Lord Shiva in his avatar of Pashupati. I would like to suggest that this seal can also qualify to be a proto-Buddha seal.

In my book “Indus Seals (2600-1900 BCE) Beyond Geometry: A New Approach to Break an Old Code” I have a chapter explaining how the appearance of some of Buddha’s symbols on the seals combined with the recent revised work on the remains of Moen jo Daro’s  stupa architecture can lead to a reinterpretation of the seals and consequently to a greater understanding of the Civilization in general. Bearing this in mind along with the rich folklore and tradition of the Indus region I would like to add here my interpretation of this seal. It will make more sense to those who have already read my chapter “Indus Seals and Buddhism.”

Considering the fact that the Indus region had been a stronghold of Buddhism and that several Buddhist symbols are found on the Indus seals it is possible that Islamic versions of the deer stories associated with fasting have evolved from the Jataka tales wherein deer is portrayed as a compassionate animal and even Buddha appears as a golden deer. Such deer stories would have been more valuable during the period of early archaeological research which began with the quest of an ancient Buddhism and which I have covered in another chapter of my book.

Briefly, it was Sir Alexander Cunningham who became the first director general of the Archaeological Survey of India in 1861 and who initiated the idea of the existence of an ancient Buddhism. He also believed that ancient Buddhism was more widespread than what is described in history.  In his quest he followed the footsteps of Xuanzang, the Chinese pilgrim and a scholar who wandered in the Indian subcontinent for many years (between 630-645) to search the original Buddhist scriptures. To cut the story short of that long journey, Cunningham reached the Shahbazgarhi Rock near Peshawar where he examined the edicts of Asoka the Maurya king (304-232 BCE) who had converted to Buddhism. When he realized that the script used on Shahbazgarhi is different from the script used in Asokan edicts carved elsewhere in the subcontinent, he became curios about the origins and earlier versions of that script.

Cunningham’s journey took him to Harappa which until then was known through the writings of two earlier travelers – an absconder and a spy- Charles Mason and Sir Alexander Burnes. But while those travelogues reported mostly the architectural features, Cunningham’s report also published smaller objects, most intriguing was the image of a tiny seal he had chanced to see. The seal was inscribed with six symbols and the image of an animal below. On his first observations Cunningham had rejected the seal as a foreign object but  later on he realized that the symbols engraved on it might be the precursors of the Shahbazgarhi script.

With this background in mind we can only imagine Cunningham’s enthusiasm , had he journeyed another 400 miles and spotted in the flatland of upper Sindh a mound about 80 feet high and crowned with a Buddhist stupa. It could have led him to his Eureka moment had he spotted the seals engraved with Buddha’s symbols in the ruins of a city unearthed below the foundations of that stupa.

Dear reader, on page 103 of my book I have reprinted the symbols of Buddha that Cunningham published seventy years before the discovery of Moen jo Daro. Out of these symbols I have pointed to two which also appear on a number of Indus seals and which appear together on an object discovered from Moen jo Daro. Today, as I am looking back to Cunningham’s list of symbols I also notice a deer image along with those two symbols. This leads me to say that the appearance of deer on Indus seals might also be telling us a long lost story of a fasting Buddha, and the proto-Shiva image might be representing a fasting proto-Buddha.

I must add here that although, Sir John Marshall labeled the deity on the seal as proto-Shiva but the deer image below the throne of Shiva reminded him of the deer motif in Buddhist iconography. In fact he has recognized several other seal symbols and architectural features as Buddhist.

Changing a label leads to different consequences. The book on Sultan Bahoo while referring to the two graves also informs us that, “Till 2001, this place was famous by the name of Aahoo and Bahoo but in 2002 its name was changed to ‘Hoo-b-Hoo.” This is the case, which the writer rightly observes can lead to “altering the actual history.” The case of Indus seals is unique as I explained in my book “Had Cunningham lived long enough to witness the unearthing of Indus Civilization he might have identified its cities as citadels of  ‘ancient Buddhism.’ But the fact is that Buddhism, Jainism, Hindusm, Bhaktism, Gandhism and Sufism are all deeply rooted in the Indus Civilization, which being far removed in time was not branded with one of these ‘isms’ but which is reflected in all these through its imagery and through its most prominent trait, the nonviolence. To call this trait a philosophy, an ideology or a religion will be wrong, for the civilization at that moment of socio-cultural evolution was at a stage where philosophy, ideology and religion were all rolled together.” Hence, the seal under discussion might be representing earlier avatars of Shiva, Buddha and even of Mahavir Jain all kneaded together.

 

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Through the decades that I had known Dr. N.A. Baloch, I know him best for his knowledge of culture, history and pre-history of the Indus region, particularly Sindh. His knowledge of Sindhi folklore, language and idioms provided me with new material to reconstruct the picture of the Indus Civilization.  Since my research is focused on the images engraved on the Indus seals, I found Dr. Baloch’s approach on this subject to be most logical and his source material most authentic.

Even though Dr. Baloch referred to himself as ‘a friend of the archaeologist,’ he had surveyed more miles of the Indus land than many other archaeologists and his understanding of its sites was vaster than a mere friend. Above all, unlike mainstream archaeologists who are following the trend to research Dravidian languages of South India to understand the ancient Indus script, language and civilization in general, Dr. Baloch draws our attention to seek clues in the indigenous languages specially Sindhi which has retained some of the most ancient words which can possibly be traced to the Indus Civilization. According to him “the key to the decipherment of the Indus script may be found right in the land where it had been lost— Indus Valley. The decipherment could, perhaps, be worked out looking into the words and phrases of the language of the Indus valley, the language of the land itself, Sindhi of the peasants, as it has remained unaffected throughout the centuries[i].”

It is common sense that in order to understand the ancient past of a region one has to first consider the history, culture, languages, scripts and symbols which originated and evolved in that very region. Unfortunately, on this long journey of seal decipherment there have been some detours which have misled the researchers to distant places. Dr. Baloch rightly advises that “For the language of the (Indus) script, the scholars will have to abandon their wild-goose chase of looking for the proto-type in Turan and South India and look for the evidence within the land where the seals were made and discovered…this lock of the Indus script had apparently been prepared by the great smiths of yore that is not likely to yield to such foreign-made keys so easily[ii].”   Dr. Baloch has been a strong advocate of the inclusion of Sindhi language in the Indus seal research and as I proceed with my new book on this subject I sincerely feel that his approach has the potential of making a positive contribution towards the understanding of the Indus seals.  The mainstream foreign archaeologists may find this whole concept difficult to grasp but it must be shared.  As advised by Dr. Baloch, I have already made a beginning by drawing their attention to this approach in my book on Moen jo Daro[iii].

Dr. Baloch had also guided me on other periods of Pakistan’s past. For this I will have to go back in time to my first meeting with this great man at the National Museum Karachi.  It was the last day of 1978, the participants and guests invited at the three day UNESCO Symposium on Moen jo Daro were having their tea-break.  I spotted Dr. Baloch, standing next to Dr. Hamida Khuhro, he was conversing with a few participants.  I left my husband in the company of the Allchins  and walked towards him. I didn’t feel like interrupting and waited for a pause in his conversation. He was a thorough gentleman, for as soon as he saw a lady waiting to speak with him he excused himself and greeted me very warmly. I had no idea that he had already read my article on Chand Morya (Dawn October 13, 1978) and was in fact very supportive of my research. Now that he saw me at an international symposium his opening words were that he is very proud to see for the first time a Pakistani Sindhi woman ready to read a research paper on Moen jo Daro and the Indus Civilization. Apart from a few women guests and two female curators the only other woman archaeologist was Bridget Allchin wife of Raymond Allchin, the well-known husband wife British team who had arrived from the Cambridge University to share their research.  My first impression of Dr. Baloch was that he was very attentive during our conversation.

The next evening when the Symposium was over and my husband and I were still talking to a few guests in the garden of the Museum, Dr. Baloch was coming out of the parking lot. We walked towards him and in that brief encounter he asked me if I would be interested in applying for the post of a research assistant at the National Commission on Historical and Cultural Research in Islamabad. Dr. Baloch at that time was the chairman of this prestigious Commission of the federal government of Pakistan.  I thanked him for his generous offer and at the same time informed him that I am desperately applying to American universities and a few prestigious foreign institutes and if he could help me with that. He advised me that I should also be looking for positions in UNESCO and UN and he offered to write letters of recommendations, a few months later I asked him for a letter.  I must mention here that in 2007 I discovered that Dr. Baloch was also a very good record keeper. Through his letters published by the Institute of Sindhology I was pleasantly surprised to see my letter and Dr. Sahib’s response in his book[iv]. For the sake of convenience I am attaching our correspondence published in this book to show the picture of a great scholar guiding a curious student. These letters also provide me with a guideline to write this article.

In the two brief meetings at the National Museum I had already judged Dr. Sahib’s honesty, that he was not speaking to me as a mere formality but he believed in giving chance to a young struggling graduate and now through his letter he certified that how much he valued my research on ‘Chand Morya.’

Since my student days,  I had been working on the hypothesis that Emperor Chandragupta Maurya (340-297 BCE), who had established the first empire of the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent and who in his last days had abandoned the throne, converted to Jainism and migrated to an unknown destination, had perhaps reached lower Sindh where he spent his last days. My research indicates the possibility that the remote shrine in the Tharparkar district might be his gravesite.  My research was already known to Dr. Ishtiaq Khan, the Director General of the Department of Archaeology and Museums, but a few encouraging words of Dr. Baloch really boosted my morales.  Since he had personally surveyed the lower Sindh and was familiar with every inch of its land his acknowledgment meant a great deal.  In one of his books [v] he recalls his wanderings in Sindh: “As a student of Sindh’s history and folklore, I have roamed around in the Lower Indus Valley of Sindh for quite a few years, seen numerous sites and collected the current lore about settlements of the bygone times. As a friend of the archaeologist, I propose to share, in a layman’s language , information relevant to what I presume to be the potential Indus Culture sites contemporary with or successor to the great city of Moen jo Daro. ..A search for the location and identification of pre-historic sites can profitably be made, mainly along the old courses of the Indus. A guiding hypothesis may be formulated: if one follows the old beds of the Indus and its channels, it is very likely that the prehistoric sites are discovered.” The shrine of Chand Morya, located close to my village in the Tharparkar district, incidentally stands on the bank of the abandoned bed of Puran, an ancient tributary of Indus.

Dr. Baloch was also familiar with the most unknown landmarks of Pakistan and he drew my attention to the group of Chandragup mud volcanoes of Baolchistan. I was excited to learn that yet another version of the name Chandragupta exists in Pakistan and because of the sanctity attached to the highest volcano of this group and its proximity to the sacred cave temple of Mata Hinglaj, I found this geographical feature very interesting and relevant to my research. This is just one example how Dr. Baloch promptly came up with relevant information regarding topics on history and archaeology.

I had published two articles on the site of Chand Morya, one in the Daily Dawn and the other in the Pakistan Times, the idea was to make my research known to the public but these articles also showed me a path of how to share my ideas on archaeology, history and culture, hence I also got addicted to writing journalistic articles. My plans to work in a foreign institute had failed and freelancing was the only means left for me to keep bonded to the books. I finally felt that I should devote myself to something more academic and thus registered for a Ph.D. at the Karachi University.  It was during these years that one day, through the editor of Dawn, I received a letter from Dr. N.A Baloch. It was dated 25th January 1988, almost a decade after our first meeting.  Once again he appeared as a guiding light in my life as he suggested that instead of writing articles I should be writing a book on the Talpur History. I was little surprised because of the coincidence as a few weeks ago Justice Mir Khuda Buksh Marri had also made the same suggestion. Justice Marri, the Chief Justice of Balochistan High Court had not only served as the, governor and chief minister of his province, but he had also written the history of Balochs and was keen that the ‘golden period’ of Baloch history under the Talpur rule should be written in English by a Baloch.  It was obvious that because of the suggestions of two honorable Baloch intellectuals I will consider the idea very seriously, though I felt little incompetent for such an undertaking. So when I met Dr. Baloch again at an international seminar on Sindh held at the University of Sindh I told him writing a book is a long assignment whereas I am used to writing short articles. I had started the conversation on a negative note but he gave me hope by saying that I should not think I am writing a book, “think of writing just one chapter at a time, think you are writing a long article and call me anytime you need help.”  I promised Dr. Baloch that I will write the book. But I did not anticipate that my circumstances will suddenly change and push the freelancing, the Ph.D and the Talpur book on the back burner.

I moved to the United States in 1990 where the first seven years kept me busy with the research on Indus seals at the Cornell University, New York.  After the publication of my research reports in the Wisconsin Archeological Reports and a book from the Institute of Sindhology, I decided to call Dr. Baloch to say that I am now getting back to the Talpur History. I was little nervous to call as it had been so many years and I thought by now he would have lost faith in me. But that was not the case as he spontaneously responded by saying “You are a true Baloch, you have not forgotten your promise.” This is how in 1996 began another phase of correspondence between us. I mailed a letter along with a copy of my book on Indus seals[vi]. Luckily Dr. Baloch’s reply to my letter is also published in his book of correspondence and can be seen in the attachment. I also called him often for advice; he was always available and welcoming I still remember how on each call he said “very kind of you.”

In 1997 I made a short visit to Pakistan and made sure to meet Dr. Baloch and present to him the draft of my book.  He invited me over for a lunch at his bungalow in the old campus of Sindh University. The bungalow was located on a huge yard in the city of Hyderabad. It had an aura of peace and it was hard to believe the way it maintained such quietness in the heart of the city. This was the first time I visited Dr. Baloch’s house and met his wonderful wife Adi Khadija, a professor by profession and a very warm person. I found them to be a very hospitable couple. The lunch was very delicious and they even asked me to stay overnight as it will be tiring to return to Karachi on the same day. After the lunch three of us sat in the drawing room and the conversation revolved around a variety of subjects. I asked Dr. Baloch a few questions but to avoid shop-talk  never for once did I bring any reference to the Talpur book. He answered questions politely and in detail. I asked his opinion about a few people and he answered without any hesitation which showed his honesty. In this homely atmosphere I found Dr. Baloch to be a very interesting conversationalist.

A year or two later I had a few telephonic conversations with Dr. Baloch when he and Adi Khadija were visiting their son Fareed in USA. It was during this trip that I also emailed him my final draft.  The book was finally published by Ferozsons in 2002.  And then in 2003 I made the most sad call to Dr. Baloch, Adi Khadija had passed away, it was a condolence call. In the brief conversation I could feel the pain of his loss but he was going through the tragedy in a very graceful manner.

In December 2006, Dr. Baloch was the chief guest when I made a presentation on the Indus Seals at the Pakistan Study Centre, University of Sindh, Jamshoro. It was during this event that he suggested the idea of writing a book on Moen jo Daro for general readers.  The idea was very well-timed as I was to spend the year 2007 as a visiting professor at the Sindh University and this was to provide me the opportunity to revisit Moen jo Daro and enough time to receive guidance from Dr. Baloch.

I will never forget Dr. Baloch’s gesture of kindness when he visited me and my husband at the University’s guest house. He visited along with his daughter Adi Hamida and grandson Arshad Baloch, who I always saw on the side of Dr. Baloch on each university event he attended, surely Arshad is the upholder of the Baloch legacy.   Adi Hamida gave me a gift of beautiful Sindhi prints and told me about the school that her great father had established in their village, I always knew that he believed in educating the younger generation of Pakistanis.

This is a good place to mention Dr. Baloch’s great knowledge of etymology. During the conversation my husband told him how he appreciated his knowledge of Arabic and Persian languages which helped in the translations and interpretations of several important documents of history such as the Chachnama and Talpur period manuscripts. Dr. Baloch replied that one of his regrets is that he did not learn Sanskrit as that would have led him to the roots of many more Sindhi words. Nonetheless, he enlightened us on the roots of a few,  I still remember the two words that came under discussion- Runni Kote and Hurlo the word used for the Persian wheel. Dr. Baloch even emphasized that the concept of lifting underground water for irrigation has its origins in Sindh and the idea later went to Persia during the Achaemenid rule of Sindh. Next day, Dr. Baloch sent me his article “Irrigation Technology in the Indus Basin: A Peep in the Past” published in 1982 by the Irrigation Research Council. This article explains in detail the word Hurlo used for the Sindhian wheel. Today, I am struggling to solve the mystery of the 600 wells discovered in Moen jo Daro, can these wells shed some light on the origins of Sindh’s wheel technology or at least the origins of the idea of such a technology? I have the article of Dr. Baloch in my hand and I am looking at his hand-written note at the end of the article where he writes “the origin of Urlo/Hurlo is defined. You will find some of your answers in these interpretations.”

Once again in 2007  Dr. Baloch invited me over for lunch and I had the honor of meeting his children and grandchildren, what a wonderful family,  I am grateful to Farooq Baloch and Arshad Baloch for staying in touch with me.  As I said Dr.Baloch will always provide me with tons of information and references on each query that I made and his answers will always open a new door of knowledge for me. In this regard I must mention how I was led to seeking clues of the past from folklore. It was the day we discussed the ideology of Moen jo Daro I asked what he feels about the Great Bath and if there was any water cult associated with it. Without any hesitation he said, water worship must have been central to the Indus culture and it is the most logical ideology due to the sanctity of Indus. He also felt it is the most lasting ideology as reverence for water in Sindh continued even after the advent of Islam, to illustrate the point Dr. Baloch quoted a verse of Shah Abdul Latif with his English translation:

One who does not make offerings to water
And does not light diyas (clay lamps)
Should not hope for union with the beloved
Returning safe from the journey overseas

The verse appeared to me as a lost letter unearthed from an ancient port town which could be Bhanbhore, Lothal or even Moen jo Daro. I began to read the Risalo as a source of history and archaeology. Latif’s  Bhanbhore, a flourishing emporium, where Sassui and Punhoon played their destinies can very well be mistaken with any ancient Indus city. I felt the verse had bestowed life to the deadness of archaeology and I explained these thoughts in greater details in my book[vii] on Moen jo Daro.

Dr. Baloch also believed that Moen jo Daro is a much larger city but in view of the continued ban on excavations, he had already suggested horizontal excavations to the relevant authorities. Incidentally, a couple of years later, UNESCO also suggested similar excavations in order to establish the limits of the ancient city.

I came to know many more dimensions of Dr. Baloch’s life and personality through his book “World of Work” which I received in my office at the Pakistan Study Centre, Sindh University Jamshoro. It was a fine spring afternoon of April 2007, I had just finished preparing the next lecture and therefore, had time to browse through it. There was an envelope that came with the book, inside was a letter requesting me to write a review of the book. The letter was by Dr. Shoukat Shoro the publisher of the book and director of the Institute of Sindhology. I am so thankful to Dr. Shoro for giving me this opportunity as the book gave me a chance to know more about Dr. Baloch’s life.

Dr. N.A. Baloch needs no introduction. He is known to all for his vast knowledge on a variety of subjects and for his passion for quality education to the younger generation of Pakistanis. For me he will always remain a mentor who put me on the path of writing books and who always acknowledged my work. It was very kind of him to refer to me always as “Dr. Talpur.” One day I took the courage to remind him and said “Dr. Sahib, it’s so nice of you to call me “Dr. Talpur” but I have not earned a Ph.D.” He replied quickly: “But you have done more research than a Ph.D holder.” This was an overwhelming acknowledgement. I was unable to say a word and after this I never even thought of a Ph.D. degree.

(Article contributed on the 5th death anniversary of Dr. N.A.Baloch)

Endnotes:

[i] N. A Baloch, “Decipherment of the  ‘Indus Script’ of the Sindhu Civilization” https://ia801709.us.archive.org/35/items/DECIPHERINGINDUSSCRIPTDRNABALOCH/DECIPHERING%20INDUS%20SCRIPT%20DR%20N%20A%20BALOCH.pdf Accessed on April 4 2013

[ii] N.A. Baloch.  Deciphering Indus Script. http://archive.org/stream/DECIPHERINGINDUSSCRIPTDRNABALOCH/DECIPHERING%20INDUS%20SCRIPT%20DR%20N%20A%20BALOCH_djvu.txt Accessed on September 2012.

[iii] Parveen Talpur, “Moen jo Daro: Metropolis of the Indus Civilization (2600-1900 BCE)” SIJ Books, USA, 2014

[iv] N.A. Baloch,  “World of Work: Predicament of a Scholar” Institute of Sindhology, University of Sindh, Jamshoro, 2007.

[v] N.A. Baloch, Sindh:Studies Cultural. Pakistan Study Centre, University of Sindh, Jamshoro. 2004

[vi] Parveen Talpur, “Evidence of Geometry in Indus Civilization 2500-1500 BCE” ” Institute of Sindhology, University of Sindh, Jamshoro, 1994.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Why am I writing a blog on Myanmar (also called Burma)? What has it got to do with Pakistan or the ancient Indus civilization?

Myanmar is a Buddhist country, in a few previous blogs I have already explained that Buddhism represents a resilient nonviolent philosophy which may have originated in Pakistan’s remote past. Some of the earliest evidence, predating the period of Gautama Siddhartha Buddha, is preserved in the 5000 year old archaeological sites around River Indus.  The mountain walls of the Kirthar Range, between the provinces of Balochistan and Sindh, depicting images of stupas, lotus flowers and swastikas, were engraved in an era that goes even beyond Indus Civilization. In the historical period, therefore, it was logical for Buddhism, as we know it, to flourish in the Indus and Gandhara region. This is verified by several sources including the accounts of two famous Chinese pilgrims; Faxian (approx.337-422 CE) and Xuanzang (approx.600-64 CE), who visited these regions and listed thousands of Buddhist stupas and monasteries. In fact Sindh had been a stronghold of Buddhism even after the Muslim conquest in early eighth century and the peaceful coexistence between the Muslims and Buddhists lasted throughout the Muslim rule in Sindh.

The debate of the demise of Buddhism in the Indian subcontinent is long, suffice it to say here that with its collapse elsewhere in India it finally collapsed in Sindh. Hence, in 1910 when Buddha’s ashes were discovered from a stupa in Peshawar, they were fated to be transferred to Mandalay. Myanmar at that time formed a part of British India and the British rulers trusted the sacred ashes to their Buddhist province.  Overwhelmed by this discovery, Frank Carpenter, who had already traveled through the vast Buddhist World and who covered the  impressive ceremony of Viceroy’s handing over the ashes to the Burmese monks ,  reported that  the “ Buddhist religion is on the eve of a revival.

Buddhism may have been expelled from India but it was flourishing with a greater vigor from Burma in the west to Japan in the east and from Tibet in the north to Sri Lanka in the south.  Many of us know of Myanmar of that period through the writings of Somerset Maugham, Pearl Buck and of course George Orwell. In “Burmese Days” we learn of politics and society at a time when the membership of a native to a British club was one of the highly debated issues.

Over a century now, issues have inflated today’s elections in Myanmar  is not only a contest between democracy and military dictatorship; a fight between Buddhists and Muslims; a show of strength between majority and minorities; but at the core it has become a battle between violent and nonviolent forces. Buddhism is going through a test but this time it is not merely the question of the survival of Buddhism it is more about the survival of it in its true spirit.  Many monks have already joined the hardline Buddhist movement Ma Ba Tha who calls for preservation of Buddhist identity against the threat of Islam and demands stricter measures for the Muslim population. Some hope comes from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the internationally acclaimed hero of Myanmar, who has already declared that “any effort to use religion for political purposes was unconstitutional, and she threatened to lodge complaints with the election commission.”

Pakistan, the ancient home of nonviolence,  where Buddhism, Jainism, Gandhism and Sufism could easily thrive had also seen its religion being used for political purposes since the decade of 1980s when the Soviet Union  occupied its neighbor Afghanistan.  The repercussions of a distorted and militant Islam created to combat communism is now reaching the Arab world and disturbing the global peace. The peaceful citizens of the world are not ready to see the misuse of yet another great religion. In Burma it is just the beginning, if we are to learn a lesson from history we have to stop it now.

The much awaited Parliamentary elections in Myanmar  are over and the polls are closed. . Results will show how fair and free this election has been.  There are fears such as a voters’ list in which ‘dead people have been listed, and many of those alive not included.’ More than that in the elected Parliament un-elected military representatives will take up 25% of the seats and will have a veto over constitutional change. . Amid all these fears it is still hoped that Myanmar continues to remain a land of golden pagodas and peace, images of blood and burnt bodies appear too sharp against the nonviolent background which radiates from the hearts of its people.

Read Full Post »

Sir Alexander Cunningham, the first director general of the Archaeological Survey of India, has contributed a lot to the Indian archaeology. His work on epigraphy and Buddhist monuments are noteworthy. Although Moen jo Daro was not discovered during his lifetime, but his observations on Buddhist history and the history of the Indian writing are of great value for the understanding of the Harappan or the Indus Civilization.

Cunningham had identified many common features between Buddhism, Brahmanism and the ancient western traditions of the Druids and he believed in a more ancient Buddhism which prevailed not only in India but in several other parts of the world. His book “Bhilsa Topes or Buddhist Monuments of Central India” published in 1854 is not only an account of Buddhist monastic complexes but it is a history of Buddhism. Years after writing the book when he arrived in the land of the Yusafzai tribals near Peshawar, he identified Shahbazgarhi with Po-Lu-Sha, recorded by Xuanzang (Hiuen Tsang), the Chinese pilgrim who in mid seventh century had visited India and listed hundreds of Buddhist places.

Northwest of India, which is now Pakistan, had been a land of Buddhism. Shahbazgarhi is still marked with a rock engraved with the edicts of the Buddhist King Asoka Maurya (273-232 BCE). In Cunningham’s words, “The great inscription of Asoka is engraved on a large shapeless mass of trap rock, lying about 80 feet up the slope of the hill, with its western face looking downwards towards the village of Shahbaz-garhi.” The edicts, preaching the principles of Asoka’s Dhamma policy, were engraved on rocks and pillars throughout his empire. Asoka declared that he has got them written on the rocks so that they endure longer and the future generations can see them. Also, they are written in the vernacular dialects of their location so that the ordinary people can understand them.

Asoka’s edicts give a good insight in the social and moral code that the good king gave to his people but they are also valuable specimens of the earliest known scripts of the Indian subcontinent. Hence, Cunningham’s book on the inscriptions of Asoka is very important for the understanding of the history of Indian writing. While referring to the Shahbazgarhi inscriptions he writes, “The inscriptions of Asoka are engraved in two distinct characters, one reading from right to left, which is confined to the Shahbazgarhi …and the other reading from left to right.” Later, the Shahbazgarhi script was labeled Kharoshti and the script used for Asoka’s edicts elsewhere came to be recognized as Brahmi. In 1896, Georg Buhler while identifying the four varieties of Kharoshti, considered the Shahbazgarhi and Mansehra rock edicts (also in Pakistan) inscribed with the oldest variety of Kharoshti. Structurally Kharoshti and Brahmi are similar but Brahmi, originally used for Buddhist scriptures, became more widespread as it came to be used for a variety of Prakrits or the vernacular dialects.

Cunningham had rejected any influence of the hieroglyphs and the cuneiform system of the west on the Indian writing and was inquisitive about the origins of this indigenous script. He was aware that the ancient sites were not thoroughly explored and the older specimens were yet to be recovered, the only evidence of an earlier version of Shahbazgarhi writing he could think of was engraved on a tiny steatite seal “…I have , however, come across one monument which I believe to be a specimen of the archaic alphabetical writing. Its age is, of course, quite uncertain, but I do not think its date can be later than 500-400 B.C. This monument is a seal of smooth black stone, which was found by major Clark in the ruins of Harapa in the Panjab.” This was the only Indus seal unearthed during Cunningham’s times and yet his observation, based on a single seal, has turned out to be most logical. His idea that the Harappa seal script was a predecessor of the earliest known script of India is not fully lost. Though Kharoshti is sidelined and most of the research after him is focused on the more known Brahmi and its links with the Indus script.

It is ironic that half a century later when many more seals were discovered, clues to decipher their symbols were being sought in distant lands and cultures, first in Sumer and then in South India. These have been unnecessary detours in the journey of Indus seal research. Dr.N.A Baloch while taking note of the attempts made to relate Indus script with remote languages states “In order to resolve this problem on a rather firm rational ground, a third hypothesis can be presented basing on the assumption that the key to the decipherment of the Indus script may be found right in the land where it had been lost— Indus Valley. The decipherment could, perhaps, be worked out looking into the words and phrases of the language of the Indus valley, the language of the land itself, Sindhi of the peasants, as it has remained unaffected throughout the centuries.”

The largest number of seals, about 1200, were unearthed from the ruins of Moen jo Daro. Most of these had the format of the Harappa seal- a row of signs engraved above the image of an animal facing an unidentified object. The signs are considered to be an ancient script and like Shahbazgarhi inscriptions these too run from right to left. Some of the seals are also engraved with the symbols of Buddha. Towards the end of the urban phase, narrative seals were made, they seem to represent events and can very well be the precursors of Jatakas, which are engraved with stories of Buddha’s birth. Marshall’s observation of a narrative seal from Moen jo Daro, depicting seven female devotees facing a deity standing in the ‘pipal tree’ is revealing. According to him “This is the tree of knowledge (Bodhi or bo-tree) under which Buddha gained enlightenment.” Another seal depicting a ‘proto-Shiva’ image with two deer images under his ‘throne’ reminded Marshall of the deer motif in Buddhist imagery symbolizing the Deer Park where Buddha gave his first sermon. He also saw semblance between the floor pattern of the Pillared Hall and the Buddhist monasteries where the monks seated themselves on low benches. The Priest King, draped in a shawl with his right shoulder exposed, may have even reminded him of the Buddhist monks attired in the same fashion. There is more of this scattered in John Marhall’s three volumes of “Mohenjo Daro and the Indus Civilization.” These pieces of evidence would have been enough for Cunningham to trace the roots of his ‘ancient Buddhism’ in the Indus Civilization, but this is not what the new generation of archaeologists thought.

Moen jo Daro’s ruins are still crowned with a fragment of the stupa wall but this symbolism has always been ignored. Twenty first century, however, has begun with some hope as Giovanni Verardi of Naples University, Italy has casted doubts on the dating of the ‘so called stupa.’ Cunningham, through Buddhist scriptures had already surmised that stupas were existing before the advent of Buddha and people revered them, in fact, Buddha considered the ancient sages as his immediate predecessors. Buddha came to be represented in human image during the Kushan period, prior to that he was represented by symbols and the stupa image was one of the symbols.

Kirthar mountain ranges between Sindh and Balochistan are engraved significantly with the images of stupas and several other auspicious Buddhist symbols. This is yet another evidence suggesting the existence of an early Buddhism in the Indus region, therefore, it is very likely that Moen jo Daro stupa is a relic of a much earlier period. Michael Jansen of the the University of Aachen, Germany feels that it may not be of Kushan origin but might be Harappan.

We have to bear in mind though, that we cannot expect Buddhism to appear in its conventional sense in the Indus civilization but We can safely assume a peaceful way of life prevalent in the Indus Civilization. To label this non-violent characteristic of ancient Indus a philosophy, an ideology or a religion will be inappropriate because the civilization at that moment of socio-cultural evolution was at a stage where philosophy, ideology and religion were all rolled together. It was only in later times that the nonviolent traits of the region came to be defined with different labels-Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, Gandhism and Sufism.

Read Full Post »

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 »


Image

Moen Jo Daro Stupa

“The restoration of the stupa sketched (above) is meant merely to give the reader a rough idea of the appearance it is likely to have presented in the days of the Kushans.” Sir John Marshall.

The recent news about the restoration of the defaced Buddha’s images in Swat is a strong message to those who had been on a spree of vandalizing the pre-Islamic heritage in the region.  Beginning in 2001 with the destruction of the colossal Buddha images in Bamiyan, Afghanistan the mischief had infiltrated in the North Western Pakistan, Vishakha Desai, the former Director General of the Asia Society, New York, was one of the first to report the damages in 2007. Read here.

Many archaeological remains in Pakistan have already been victims of time, weather, waterlogging, thefts and neglect of officials.  Almost nine decades ago, Sir John Marshall had described the sorry state of the remains of the ‘largest and the highest’ Buddhist stupa of Sindh.

“The dome of the monument has long since disappeared and all that is left is the lower part of the circular drum, which is still standing to a height of 8ft. 4in. above the plinth…long before Mr. Banerji’s arrival, villagers are said to have excavated beneath the hollow middle of the drum, to a depth of some 14 feet, in the hope of finding hidden treasures and to have lighted upon a relic casket.  Some fragments of this relic casket, which was of alabaster, were subsequently found by Mr. Banerji in the debris but not enough to its reconstruction.”  Sir John Marshall.

That outer wall of the lower part of the circular drum still exists and crowns the site of Moen-jo-Daro, the metropolis of the Indus Valley Civilization (2600-1900 BCE), located in the Larkana district in upper Sindh.

In 1919 when R.D. Banerji, superintendent of the Western Circle of the Archaeological Survey of India, surveyed the stupa he had no idea that a whole city, separated by three thousand years laid buried only few feet below its foundations.  However, once the city was exposed Sir John Marshall, Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India, announced its discovery with a bang. On September 24, 1924 by publishing an article in the Illustrated London News he informed the World about the greatest archaeological discovery of British India.  It was a discovery that led to the identification of the fourth ancient civilization of the World (Three other known civilizations at that time were in China, Egypt and Mesopotamia).  But let’s not forget the value of the fragments of the relic casket as it is an important clue to understand the lesser-known Buddhist period of Pakistan’s history.   The caskets containing fragments of Buddha’s charred bones and ashes had attracted British archaeologists and officials to the Buddhist monastic complexes scattered in India. With the dawn of the twentieth century they had reached the North Western fringes of their empire where Buddha, according to a legend, had forecasted the flourishing of his religion. Here they rummaged through the cinerary stupas, special stupas that preserved caskets.

Historical records confirm that Buddhism was prevalent in the Indus region at least from the times of Asoka Maurya (273-232 BCE). The King, who after fighting the horrifying battle of Kalinga, converted to Buddhism and looked forward to victories of Dharmmavijaya, the victory of the faith

Amongst his many contributions to Buddhism, Asoka had also retrieved Buddha’s remains entombed originally in eight stupas and redistributed these  in smaller portions to many other stupas.  Mauryan dynasty ended violently in 180 BCE but the strong Brahmin reaction failed to uproot Buddhism in the region. Two centuries later a second grand era of Buddhism was ushered in by the Kushan dynasty which lasted for 125 years. Kushans territories extended from the Indus region to Gandhara which is parts of Punjab, North West Pakistan and Eastern Afghanistan.

Hieun Tsang, a Chinese monk who visited India during 630-644, just about half a century before the Arab invasion listed the Buddhist monasteries.  In Sindh alone there were 460 with 26000 monks.  Most of these were in lower Sindh, concenterated in the Central Delta area, Mirpur Khas, Sehwan and Makran in the Balochistan, province.

Fa-Hien or Faxian another Chinese pilgrim who had visited earlier, some two hundred years after the Kushan rule, describes Taxila, the city known for education, religion and great trade.  Today, its ruins composed of three cities built in different time zones, is a window to diverse cultural layers.  Conquered and constructed one after another by Darius, Alexander, Chandragupta Maurya and the Greco-Bactrian King Demetrius it had been a melting pot where Persian, Greek, Hindu, Jain, Buddhist and Bactrian cultures merged.  Taxila located on three important routes was also a trading center.  The Silk Road provided opportunities to Buddhist traders and craftsmen to sell their goods and raise money to support their monastaries.  The bloom of Gandhara art in the region suggests not only an amalgamation of Indian and Greek styles but also an immense prosperity that afforded monumental artworks.  It was in such lavish times and place under the Kushans that Buddha, for the first time, came to be represented in human form.  The largest Buddha sculptures in the mountain walls of Bamiyan were constructed under their patronage and Moen jo daro stupa was built during their rule.

Kanishka, the most known Kushan King too reached for  Buddha’s remains scattered by Asoka and stuffed these in precious caskets.  When one of these was discovered in an excellent shape in a stupa in Peshawar it made big news was reported in a full page article in the New York Times in 1909.  Another casket was discovered from Kahu jo Daro in the suburbs of Mirpur Khas in my home district Tharparkar in lower Sindh.  During my childhood days I remember passing by it and even playing around in the spacious yard around the stupa and being overwhelmed by Buddha’s images in relief.

Stupas in Sindh were also discovered at Depar Ghangro, Thul Mir Rukan, Jherruck, Mitho Dero, Sudheran jo Daro and as these awaited a thorough search, strong rumors  of a relic casket buried in the stupa on top of the unexcavated mounds of Moen jo Daro reached the British officials. But while the early intruders searched in vain for treasures in the abode of a religion that renounces worldly treasures by the time Banerji reached the hollowed drum the region itself was empty of Buddhism.  Peshawer casket had been handed over officially to the Burmese monks in a ceremony that symbolizes the final expulsion of Buddhism from the land where it flourished for thousands of years.  Nonetheless the presence of Buddha’s bones- many lost but few found- in a close proximity to each other in Pakistan indicate that the land must have enjoyed an exalted sacred status in the Buddhist world.

Indus region is still dotted with some of the most spectacular Buddhist remains in Punjab, Swat and Khyber Pakhtunkwa province whereas many have perished in the saline land and air of Sindh.  The ASI reports as early as of 1919 had described Kahu jo Daro infected with ‘kalar’ salt encrustation and appealed to the Director to dispatch a chemist from Bombay to cure the problem.  In my lifetime Kahu has withered away and the mounds do not bear any semblance to the stupa that I saw half a century ago.  It is time to preserve as much heritage as possible.

Read Full Post »