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River Indus: Flow of life – Part II

By Raza Rumi:

From ancient Vedic times to stories told by Sufi saints, the Indus continues to play a central role in the legends and folklore associated with the region. Even today, the shrine of Uderolal, a composite Hindu-Muslim place of worship and the cult of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar are rooted and nurtured by the Indus and its magic. Not long ago, both Hindus and Muslims believed that the flow of Indus was determined by the saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. Lal Shahbaz Qalandar is also referred to as Jhule Lal, or the god of waters. Some Hindus also referred to him as Raja Bharati.

The Partition of the subcontinent in 1947 brought with it a new shape to the politics and cultures of the Indus region

Current beliefs and practices still reflect continuity with the past. Sehwan Sharif, where the tomb of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s is situated was the site of a Shiva centre. It is said that the name Sehwanistan has been derived from Sivistan, city of Shiva. Moreover, there is a striking similarity between the dressing of contemporary faqirs and Shivite yogis as both dress in ‘torn clothes with matted hair.’

The Mohanas (fisherfolk) have been displaced and driven towards alternative livelihoods

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As noted above, Uderolal is a curious tomb: Muslims believe that a saint named Shaikh Tahir is buried here; while the Hindus consider this place to be the shrine Jhulelal or Uderolal. In common parlance, he is also known as Zindapir (Living Saint). Uderolal is one of the places where the Indus is still worshipped by Hindus and Muslims. It is also worshipped in another part of Sindh, near the town of Sukkur.

Shrines of Sufi saints are situated along the riverside in Sindh. It is believed that 125,000 holy men are buried ‘in the yellow sandstone necropolis at Thatta’ alone, writes Samina Quraesihi in her book on Sufism. All year round, a great number of people continue to visit the tombs as a way to show their respect and receive blessings. Just like Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, Khwaja Khizr is also referred to as Zindapir and ‘ pani ka badshah‘ (Water King). The devotees still believe that he lives under the water and the river flows the way that he commands. As recently as the late nineteenth century, Hindus and Muslims also worshipped side-by-side at the Zindapir’s shrine in Sukkur. Moreover, many of the saints have said to have caused miracles in the region through their powers over the Indus.

Mangroves are vanishing and the boat-communities are struggling for their survival

Such meta-religious beliefs and practices can also be understood with reference to Shah Abdul Latif’s Risalo. This is a sacred Sindhi book put together by Latif. It is given equal reverence by both Hindus and Muslims, and contains excerpts from the Quran, the traditions of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), Persian poetry and Sindhi folklore. It does not focus on any one form of authority and includes doctrines from various sects in Islam. On the whole it represents the similarity in spiritual beliefs related to Hinduism and Islam as practiced in the region. Moreover, it is still a symbol of this peaceful co-existence between the followers of the two religions. […]

River Indus: Flow of life – Part I

By Raza Rumi:

Along its 1,800-mile course, the Indus joins cultures from the steppes of Central Asia to the arid plains of the South Asian subcontinent. It affects patterns of thought and behavior, shapes expressions of culture and provides inspiration for art. The hopes and aspirations of its people are reflected in stories and elaborate myths, transmitted through the consciousness of successive generations by bards and story-tellers. It is important to mention that the Indus Valley Civilization originated in the fertile plains of the Indus River, in the third and fourth millennium BC. This civilization, or the Harappan Culture, was coeval with the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia, and is recognized as the third major civilization in the history of humankind. Mohanas, the boat-people of the Indus valley, still live along its banks, near the shrine of Khwaja Khizr and elsewhere. They traverse the mighty river on boats which have remained essentially similar in design to those depicted in the art of the Indus Valley Civilization thousands of years ago.

To the Sindhis, it is known as “Purali”: the capricious river whose floods can make and destroy civilizations

Alice Albinia in her excellent book Empires of the Indus: the Story of a River reminds us how the Indian subcontinent derives its very name from the great river. The ancient Sanskrit language referred to the Indus as “Sindhu”. Later, the Persians entitled it the “Hindu” and through the subsequent eras, it finally came to be known as India. Albinia has painstakingly researched how the Indus region excited the imagination of Europeans from early antiquity. The lure of the Indian subcontinent had reached the West even in the time of Alexander the Great, and ever since then, exotic tales of this enchanting land have spurred on the ambitions of many a great conqueror.

Sohni meets her tragic end in the Indus which up till recently had been a facilitator in her love-story, but suddenly becomes the ultimate obstacle in allowing it to continue

The multitudes of peoples who live along the banks of the Indus know it by a number of names. To the Sindhis, it is known as “Purali”: the capricious river whose floods can make and destroy civilizations. Further up the course of the river, the Pashtuns refer to it as the ‘Nilab’ (blue water), ‘Sher Darya’ (Lion River) and ‘Abbasin’ (father of Rivers). The mountain people of Baltistan know it as ‘Gemtsuh’ (the Great Flood), or ‘Tsuh-Fo’ (the Male River). […]

Moenjodaro might have been washed away

I just read this message (pasted below) from the Director of the World Heritage Centre on impact of Pakistani floods on the Archaeological Ruins at Moenjodaro, Sindh. While millions are suffering this is also a huge tragedy. The response of the UN is a little disappointing – yet another damage assessment when water recedes. While rescue and relief efforts continue, UN must also arrange for a small team of locals to visit the area and suggest immediate and urgent measures to get something done. By no means I am suggesting that this should take precedence over saving human lives but this issue also deserves urgent attention.

In addition to their dramatic consequences for the affected people, to which the World Heritage Centre […]

August 13th, 2010|Arts & Culture, History, Pakistan|4 Comments

Capitulating Rajas: why Taliban might not be resisted

My new piece for The Friday Times

South Asian history is a tale of capitulation of local elites before external invaders. Be it the Aryans, the Mongols or East India Company officials, we have always relented, and sometimes quite painlessly. This is an area of history that remains less explored as it conflicts with the grand narratives of ‘resistance’ and nationalist myths we love to construct.S

A phrase locked into our cultural memory – Hunooz Dilli Door Ast (Delhi is as yet far away) explains this historical pattern. It has become a metaphor for the insularity of the elites and the powerlessness of the common people. The complacency that Delhi, the capital of the Islamic empire was not accessible to the hordes of invaders, was the tragic reaction by debauched kings, local Rajas and their henchmen who were either men of straw or active collaborators. […]

Saving Kahoo Jo Daro

Read this impassioned appeal in the press – it also alerted me to the situation that haunts this ancient relic.

The city is built beside an old Buddhist metropolis of 4th century. There are remnants of the Stupa in ancient city known as Kahoo Jo Daro.

The Stupa on Moen Jo Daro , Kahoo Jo Daro and some other un-excavated Stupas can be classified as the lower Indus basin sites. They are different in art & material. Mud & terracotta is widely used instead of stone. […]

On Damadam Mast Qalandar

Renuka Narayanan writing for the Hindustan Times
So many wake-up calls

The unrelenting terror trail across India recalls young Pakistani author Raza Rumi’s wistful remark that Hindu-Muslim amity seems like “a fairy tale from Never-Never land”. But surely India can wake up and recall how she managed things? Here’s an old story about one of modern India’s favourite songs, Damadam Mast Qalandar. Runa Laila of Bangladesh, Reshma of Pakistan and the Wadali Brothers of India have all sung it. The song came back this month with Ruby, Reshma’s daughter, who was in Delhi to sing at a Deepavali party held in a Muslim gentleman’s house.

The fact is that Jhuley Lal and Lal Shahbaz Qalandar are the patron saints of both Hindus and Muslims. Jhuley Lal (or Udero Lal/Amar Lal/Lal Sain) is said […]

Extracts from Empires of the Indus by Alice Albinia

From the Guardian

Water is potent: it trickles through human dreams, permeates lives, dictates agriculture, religion and warfare. Ever since Homo sapiens first migrated out of Africa, the Indus has drawn thirsty conquerors to its banks. Some of the world’s first cities were built here; India’s earliest Sanskrit literature was written about the river; Islam’s holy preachers wandered beside these waters. Pakistan is only the most recent of the Indus valley’s political avatars. I remember the first time I wanted to see the Indus, as distinctly as if a match had been struck in a darkened room. I was twenty-three years old, sitting in the heat of my rooftop flat in Delhi, reading the Rig Veda, and feeling the perspiration running down my back. It was April 2000, almost a year since the war between Pakistan and India over Kargil in Kashmir had ended, and the newspapers which the delivery man threw on to my terrace every morning still portrayed neighbouring Pakistan as a rogue state, governed by military cowboys, inhabited by murderous fundamentalists: the rhetoric had the patina of hysteria. But what was the troubled nation next door really like? As I scanned the three-thousand-year-old hymns, half listening to the call to prayer, the azan, which drifted over the rooftops from the nearby mosque (to the medley of other azans, all slightly out of sync), I read of the river praised by Sanskrit priests, the Indus they called ‘Unconquered Sindhu’, river of rivers. Hinduism’s motherland was not in India but Pakistan, its demonized neighbour.

At the time, I was studying Indian history eclectically, omnivorously and hastily – during bus journeys to work, at weekends, lying under the ceiling fan at night. Even so, it seemed that everywhere I turned, the Indus was present. Its merchants traded with Mesopotamia five thousand years ago. A Persian emperor mapped it in the sixth century BCE. The Buddha lived beside it during previous incarnations. Greek kings and Afghan sultans waded across it with their armies. The founder of Sikhism was enlightened while bathing in a tributary. And the British invaded it by gunboat, colonized it for one hundred years, and then severed it from India. The Indus was part of Indians’ lives – until 1947. […]

September 5th, 2008|Arts & Culture, books, India-Pakistan History|4 Comments