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Sindh’s magnificent past

Sindh’s magnificent past

Interpreting the Sindhi World, Essays on Society and History edited by Michael Boivin and Matthew A. Cook captures the diversity, beauty and rich heritage of Sindh. Before the searing effects of British colonisation and Partition, Hindu, Muslims, Sikhs and Buddhists were well integrated in Sindh.

Hindu-Muslim unity is exemplified through the emergence of the legendary Jhuley Lal as the principal saint for the Sindhi Hindus who revere him as Udero Lal. Among Muslims, Jhuley Lal is venerated as Tahir Shaikh. In her essay on Sindhi culture, Lata Parwani explains that Jhuley Lal is a metaphor reflecting the cultural assimilation within Sindhi society and is an enduring symbol of Sindhi identity.

The Indus River flowing though Sindh formed the centre of all economic and cultural life and as a result Sindhis have traditionally been fishermen, farmers or merchants. The word ‘Sindhi’ is derived from the local form of the river’s name – Sindhu, which means river or ocean in Sanskrit. Sindhi literature and folklore are filled with references to the Indus. Sindhis interpret the annual migration of the Indus River’s palla fish as a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Muslim saint Khwaja Khizr in Rohri, also revered by the Hindus as Jinda Pir.

Sindh spawned its own pantheon of Sufi poets, most notably the celebrated mystic Shah Abdul Latif whose poetry and folk tales resonated powerfully with all the communities of Sindh. To this day, Shah Abdul Latif is regarded as an immutable part of Sindhi tradition and culture. Though Sindh had been one of the main transit zones through which Islam was introduced into the subcontinent, Sindhi identity had flourished to include a varied blend of religious and cultural influences. Religious tensions were settled through accommodation
and reaching a pragmatic, conciliatory conclusion as Sindhis ultimately recognised their common bonds and shared economic interests, united as patrons of a proud and brilliant civilisation.

Though Sindh was part of the Mughal Empire during the 16th century, it operated almost autonomously by virtue of its distance from the imperial capital, located at the margins of the Mughal Empire. The fact that the defeated Mughal emperor Humayun fled to Umarkot in Sindh as a haven from the victorious Sher Shah Suri in 1541 illustrates its peripheral location from the ruling seat of power. This is also where Humayun’s son, the great Mughal emperor Akbar was born in 1542.

The capitulation of Sindh to British forces in February 1843 was the beginning of a dark and unsettling era in Sindhi history which had been under Muslim rule for centuries. British colonialists were shocked to discover the integration of various religious communities with shared saints and religious festivals. It was only after British colonisation that serious schisms and sectarian fissures began to emerge between the communities of Sindh. Sindh was one of the last areas to be colonised by the British in the subcontinent and assumed significantstrategic importance in the early 19th century as a gateway to Afghanistan and a formidable bulwark against Russian expansion in the region.

Despite the settlement of Sindhi Hindus in India after the partition of the subcontinent, the community still has a close affinity with Sindh and assiduously maintains its cultural and linguistic bonds.

When a petition was brought in 2005 to the Indian Supreme Court advocating the deletion of the word ‘Sindh’ from the Indian national anthem on the basis of its geographical inaccuracy, the Sindhi community in India protested vociferously arguing that Sindh is much more than a region but a culture, identity and a civilisation that cannot be defined by territory alone.

In his extensive research on Sindh, Professor Ram Panjwani observed: “A Sindhi is a Sufi, above all considerations of caste and creed. He does not discriminate… [Sindhi] poets and saints have given us glimpses of the light that has lit up the soul of Sindh.”

This book makes you fully grasp the tragedy of present day Sindh which is currently mired in economic misery as ruling feudal landlords have consigned much of the population to lives of endemic poverty. As Sindh continues to suffer from poverty and neglect, this book reminds us of Sindh’s primordial past replete with legends, poetry and prosperity.

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