History: Sindh before the Arabs arrived


The ruins of Alor, once a capital of the Buddhist kingdom; (right) Lambrick’s map shows kingdom of Sindh circa 642 AD PHOTO/Dr. Muhammad Ali Shaikh

There are many facets of Sindh’s history that are shrouded in mystery. One such aspect is the era before the advent of Arab rule in 711, when the region was under Buddhist and Brahmin rule.

The limited scholarship that has been carried out on the subject portrays Sindh as a highly developed and prosperous society back then. Dutch scholar J. E. van Lohuizen-De Leeuw, in her 1981 essay ‘The Pre-Muslim Antiquities of Sind’, from the book Sind Through the Centuries, states: “Sind [sic] appears to have been a rich country in those days, materially rich due to its flourishing trade and culturally rich on account of its diversified religious patterns.”

An effort has been made here to draw a picture of Sindh during the interesting times of the 7th and early 8th century CE when, in a span of just 60 years, Sindh went through three great dynastic transitions, from Buddhist to Brahmin rule and then the Muslim conquest.

The Buddhist Rai Dynasty

The dawn of the seventh century saw the Buddhist Rai dynasty ruling Sindh for several generations. The region’s peace was stirred in 626 CE during the rule of Rai Seharas, when, “All of a sudden, an army of the king of Nimruz invaded his [Seharas’] country, entering Makran,” reads The Chachnama, the oldest multi-genre chronicle on the era. It was translated into English from Farsi by Mirza Kaleech Beg in 1900, under the title The Chachnama: An Ancient History of Sind.

Though Sindh’s army repulsed the attack, it lost its king in the battle. He was succeeded by his son Sahasi II, who ruled Sindh from 626 to 652 CE, according to Dr N.A. Baloch in his article ‘The Historical Sind Era’, published in Sind Through the Centuries.

It was around 642 CE when a Chinese pilgrim, Hsuan Tsang, visited Sindh and “found innumerable stupas” and “several hundred Sangharama occupied by about ten thousand monks,” states British historian John Keay in India: A History. Although Buddhism was the most dominant religion in Sindh, Hinduism had a presence too, with about “thirty Hindu temples.”

Speaking about people, the Chinese pilgrim observed that they “as whole were hardy and impulsive and their kingdom … was famed for its cereal production, its livestock and its export of salt,” Keay quotes him.

The Earliest Portrait of a ‘Sindhi’

One of the most important relics from the Buddhist era was discovered from among the remains of a stupa near Mirpurkhas. About 18 centuries old, it is a plaque containing a man’s portrait, which most of the scholars believe was either that of the builder or donor of the temple. Thus, it is held by H.T. Lambrick, in his 1973 book Sindh Before the Muslim Conquest, as “the earliest known portrait of an individual inhabitant of Sindh: perhaps a prominent merchant of the second or third century AD [CE].”

Describing the portrait, Lambrick states: “The figure wears a waist cloth, a necklace and an elaborate headdress which may have been a wig. It was painted; the complexion was wheat-coloured, with black eyes, eyebrows and moustache. One hand holds a small lotus flower, the other is placed carefully on a fold of waistcloth, which we may suppose did duty as a purse.”

The Brahmin ‘Soft Coup’

During the closing years of Buddhist king Sahasi II’s 28-year-long rule, most of the affairs of state were entrusted to his most loyal Brahmin minister Chach. Chach originally came from a humble background, but earned the admiration and confidence of the king on account of his sheer merit, talent and hard work.

“Having the entire support and confidence of the king, his [Chach’s] personal authority over Sindh and its dependencies was absolute,” notes Lambrick.

Another person that enjoyed the confidence of the king was his young queen, Suhandi. “Sahasi [was] entirely under influence of his wife, who was evidently a woman of strong mind as well as of strong passions,” observes Lambrick.

An incident brought Chach and Suhandi closer to each other. Once, Chach wanted to see the king regarding an urgent state business. The king was resting in his palace with his queen. He granted audience to Chach in the presence of the queen, who “fell desperately in love with the handsome Brahmin,” writes Lambrick. Initially, Chach resisted Suhandi’s romantic overtures, citing his religious and moral limitations, but eventually he succumbed to the queen’s persuasions.

Dawn for more

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