WHEN Mahmud Ghazni was returning from his sack of Somnath early in A.D. 1017 he had decided to take the Sindh route. Here, however, the Jats gave him so much hell that later the same year he had led a special expedition to punish the Sindhis. The `religious' reason for the expedition was that Mahmud was a Sunni, attached to the Khalifa in Baghdad, and the Muslims in Sindh were inclined towards the Karmatian Shia rulers of Egypt, who had even carried away the black stone of Kaaba. The Karmatians in India were half-Hindu; they looked upon Ali, the son-in-law of Mohammed and fourth Khalifa, as the tenth avatar of Vishnu!
Obviously, Mahmud's effort was not particularly successful. The contemporary writers do not even mention it. The later flattering historians, however, claim that Mahmud defeated the Sindhis in a titanic river fight in which his 1400 boats allegedly worsted the Sindhis' 4000 boats. These historians also claim that Mahmud's horoscope was identical with that of Prophet Mohammed. Which, in turn, could be quite an embarrassment for the latter!
However, historians dispute the victory claim. They point out that Mahmud's was a land army and never an amphibious force. They also point out that Mahmud had never before used boats --- and that so many boats were never found even in all the Sindh- Punjab rivers put together.
Mahmud's fans claim that the underwater spikes attached to his boats had pierced and overturned the Sindhi boats. Historians ask: how could Mahmud'5 spiked boats overturn the Sindhi. boats, without themselves overturning in the process!
But Mahmud did seem to have succeeded in carrying away many Sindhis as slaves. Today, they are known as ``Sintis'' among the sixty lakh Gypsies now in Europe.
Students of history, however, do note three points: Mahmud,. who had invaded India seventeen times between A.D. 1000 and 1026, did not repeat the exercise after his Sindh adventure,. though he had ruled for another five years. Secondly, the Karmatians survive today as Ismaili Khojas --- who, till 1937, were governed by the Hindu civil law --- having produced in modern. Sindh, important leaders such as Mohammed Ali Jinnah and the Aga Khan. Thirdly, Mahmud's attack had ended the Arab presence in Sindh and it was followed by the local Rajput clan of Soomras emerging as sovereign rulers of Sindh.
The first big Soomra name early in the eleventh century was that of Dalurai. In folklore, Dalurai was a bad man who required every new bride to spend the first night with him. God, it is believed, visited His wrath on him and destroyed ``Dalurai ji Nagari''. Nobody knows for sure what was this Dalurai's capital. But the local people point to every major pile of ruins in Sindh as ``Dalurai ji Nagari''!
It is possible that Dalurai did indulge in ``First-Night-with-the- King'', an old anthropological custom surviving in some mediaeval societies. (Till modern times the bridegrooms of certain castes in Kerala looked upon the bride's bleeding caused by the tearing of the hymen as ``violence'', and engaged professionals to do the ``dirty bloody job'' for them!) Very probably the public opprobrium represents a later, higher morality. For while a couple of early sources --- known to be hostile to the Soomras, and close to their rivals, the Sahtas of Sahiti, Central Sindh --- denounce Dalurai for this practice, many other sources praise him as a great and just king.
Interestingly enough, the Alor and the Brahmanabad ruins, hundreds of miles apart, are both supposed to be ``Dalurai ji Nagari''. But it is now known that Brahmanabad was destroyed in an earthquake in 962, about fifty years before Dalurai; and Alor was ruined only by the shift of the river course, almost three hundred years later!
History is something more than a chronicle of events; it is also an expression of hopes and fears of the people. The story of ``Dalurai ji Nagari'' is people's way of rejecting a lower morality and fostering a higher morality in men's minds.
The Soomras ruled Sindh for almost three hundred years --- until A.D. 1315. But, who were they? Some Muslim writers are inclined to think that there was at least some Arab blood in them. But scholars have no doubt that, like the Jareja Rajputs, they were Parmars. According to the Tarikh-e-Tahiri, the Soomras were Hindus. According to H.T. Sorley, the Soomras did become Muslim, but nobody knows when. They were like the Jareja Rajputs, he says, ``of whom the Rao himself once averred that out of 2,000 Jarejas, there were not three who knew what their religion was''. Obviously, the Soomras were Hindus with some Muslim influence, who later became nominal Muslims while retaining their Hindu culture.
At this distance in time it is no use going into the rise and fall of dozens of Soomra kings --- from Rajpal and Bhoongar and Dodo to Hamir and Nangar and Chanesar. There even was a Nehro Dodo, who saluted the commanders of Alauddin Khalji's invading force with his left hand, by way of Sindh's defiance of the Khaljis. But more revealing than the chronicles of kings are the epics of men which throw a flood of light on the life and culture of a society. As Arnold Toynbee puts it in his Study of History: ``History, like the drama and the novel, grew out of mythology, a primitive form of apprehension and expression in which --- as in fairy tales listened to by children or in dreams dreamt by sophisticated adults --- the line between fact and fiction is left undrawn. It has, for example, been said of the Iliad that anyone who starts reading it as history will find that it is full of fiction but, equally, anyone who starts reading it as fiction will find that it is full of history.'' The same is true of the tales of Sindh which combine history with story to produce literature that reflects life intensely and reflects it whole.
The oldest extent tale of Sindh is the Rai Diyach, with its locale in lower Sindh and Saurashtra. The Samma Rajputs of Sindh had migrated to Saurashtra (``Sorath'' in Sindhi) after the Arab invasion. In the first decade of the eleventh century, Rai Dewas (or Diyach), belonging to the Chuda tribe of the Sammas, was ruling in Girnar, Junagadh. His sister gave birth to a male child who, the astrologers said, would slay his maternal uncle. The mother asked her maid to dispose of the unlucky child, but the latter was so charmed by the baby's looks that she put him in a box and let it float down the river. The box was picked up by a charan (minstrel) in the territory of King Anirai and the child was named Bijal. Bijal grew up to be a great singer. At this stage, Sorath, the daughter of potter Ratna, in Girnar, was engaged to Anirai. When the marriage procession was on way, Rai Diyach intercepted it, carried away Sorath, and married her.
Anirai was furious over this humiliation. He announced a big platter of precious stones for whoever would avenge his insult and bring Rai Diyach's head. Bijal's wife, who was sure her husband could achieve anything with his bewitching voice, accepted the jewellery on promise of doing the needful. She persuaded Bijal to go and sing in front of the palace of Rai Diyach --- and when the king would ask him for ``any favour'', to ask for his head. That was exactly how it worked out. The king chivalrously agreed to offer his head and said: ``If I had a hundred thousand heads, I'd cut them one by for every song of yours.'' Shah Abdul Latif [Shrine], the Mahakavi of Sindh, has made the story immortal in his ``Sur Sorath''. It makes four great points: justice must be done; fate is inevitable; women have a fatal weakness for finery; and Music has more power over men than anything else.
Another incident of the same period is the story of Lila- Chanesar. Chanesar was the Soomra ruler of Devalkot near Thatta. He was happily married to Lila. Kounroo, the daughter of Rai Khangar, the Solanki ruler of Lakhpat, fell in love with Chanesar, but she could not seduce him. Thereupon Kounroo hit upon an idea. She dressed up as a maid servant and joined Lila's service. After some time she offered Lila a rare necklace, if only she would let her spend one night with Chanesar. In a fit of weakness for a rare piece of jewellery --- and hoping that Chanesar in his cups would not be able to distinguish Kounroo from Lila --- Lila agreed. But Chanesar found it out, rejected Lila for good, and married Kounroo. The story highlights women's weakness for gold --- and for gadgets of all kinds. It also empha- sizes that the Lord --- whether he be temporal or spiritual --- can not be trifled with.
Shah in his Sur Lila-Chanesar tells Lila: ``What you thought was a necklace, became a stone round your neck.'' Lila says: ``Oh God, one should never be too smart; the smart ones come to grief.'' Shah ends with this advice to Lila: ``Oh Lila, weep no more; get up and sweep your yard, and go and sacrifice your own self, your father and your grandfather at the altar of your Lord.''
However, the Sindhi epic of the period par excellence is the Umar Marui. Marui is a village belle, engaged to her kinsman, Khetsen. When the Soomra ruler Umar of Umarkot or Amarkot comes to know of her beauty, he abducts her, confines her in his fort, and invites her to marry him. Marui declines. She refuses to take any rich foods or wear any finery. She would not even oil or comb her hair. She is afraid her kinsfolk have given her up, thinking she may not like to give up the palace for the sand-dunes of the Thar desert. However, she manages to send word to her people. She then tells Umar she would like to go out for a stroll. That makes Umar think she is relaxing and relenting in her rejection of him. She then goes out and is rescued and taken home among joyous scenes.
Marui reminds us of Sita in her confinement in Lanka. Interestingly enough, both Ravana and Umar, old villians, were gentlemen enough; they did not force their will on their captive beauties.
Marui is very emphatic that she is a poor girl, in love with her desert land; that she is already engaged and will not marry any other man --- for love or money or both. Her love of her poor land and poor people almost makes us wish to go and live in a blooming desert. Her pining for her desert-home has elicited some of the most patriotic poetry in Sindhi literature.
Says Shah's Marui: ``I wish I had not been born; or if I were born, l wish I had died there and then, rather than face this ignominy.... Oh Umar, don't make a laughing stock of me by making this poor girl wear those silks of yours. We are poor but we don't change our life-partners for gold. O Umar, when I die, send my body to my land [watan], where it will then come back to life....''
The Umar Marui is one long paean of patriotism. Even more, it is a plea for swadharma --- for y our own life values and life style. The Umar Marui is an abiding source of inspiration for the Sindhi nationalists today.
However, the long and memorable Soomra rule is enshrined most in the historic contest of Dodo and Chanesar. When Bhungar Rao died towards the end of the thirteenth century, the court elders had decided to crown Dodo, his younger and brighter son by his regular wife, and not Chanesar, his elder son, by an iron- smith girl. Neither half-brother was keen on the pugg (pugree, turban or crown); and Dodo even said that he would be a titular sovereign and Chanesar would be the real ruler. But even so, the formal crowning of the younger brother infuriated Chanesar's mother and wife --- even as Kekayi and Manthura had been enraged by Rama's succession --- who provoked him to seek the aid of Alauddin Khalji in Delhi. What followed was a titanic struggle between Sindh and the Khaljis in 1296--1300. A huge army descended on Sindh via Gujerat. The army was so huge, say the Sindhi bards, that ``they drank the Sabarmati dry''.
The Khaljis now not only wanted to replace Dodo by Chanesar; they also wanted Bhagi, Bhungar Rao's daughter by a third (regular) wife, for Alauddin. However, the Soomras would not agree to either demand. Rejecting the idea of a matrimonial alliance, they said: ``Tu Turk asee Soomra, ahri jor na jugai'' (``You are a Turk and we are Soomras; such a union will not be right''). In the fight that ensued, both sides suffered heavily. Dodo's son Bhungar Jr. and even Chanesar s son Nangar ``Nehro'', fought heroically for Dodo --- and fell. Sabar Abro, a Samma chief on the Soomra side, killed Alauddin's son Syed Ghazi Salar. When Dodo was speared and raised high, he told Chanesar standing by: ``Even now I am above you!''
Meanwhile the Khalji attack on his own land and people had induced second thoughts in Chanesar. He now began to hate Alauddin for his excesses against Sindh. He is believed to have died fighting Alauddin.
The most important aspect of this episode is that in Sindh it became a people's war. Even peasants, shepherds, cowherds, bards, faqirs, fishermen, potters and weavers joined the fray. They all said: The sword is our plough.''
The Soomra ladies secretly left for the safety of Samma protection in Kutch, and Alauddin found the palace deserted. He left Sindh disgusted and disappointed.
To this day songs are sung in praise of the heroism of the Soomras and the beauty and purity of their womenfolk. Dodo's martyrdom is still observed with an annual fair in the month of Chaitra. Three-hundred-year-old ballads, still sung in Sindh, go on like this:
``Sindh is the life-breath of the Soomras.... Their Vagahkot is God's own fort; may it not suffer the slightest indignity. Oh Dodo, glory unto your mother who gave you birth. The warriors of Sindh are fighting the enemy. Oh God, give them victory....Let there always be peace and prosperity in this auspicious land....''
The Soomras gave us, even in the twentieth century, Allah Bux Soomro, the prime minister of Sindh, who resisted partition till his dying day. And dearest to the hearts of the Sindhi people are two holy figures of the Soomra times --- Jhoolay Lal and Lal Shahbaz (Red King-falcon).
Lal Shahbaz Qalandar's ShrineLal Shahbaz ``Qalandar'' [Shrine] was born Pir Usman Shah in Marwand, now Afghanistan, in 1143. He came and settled down in Sehwan, famous for its ancient Shiva temple. He is the first well-known Muslim to have preached love and tolerance in Sindh. He, therefore, became an instant hit with the Muslims and the Hindus alike. He was called Shahbaz because he was believed to have turned himself into a falcon to pick up his friend Sheikh Farid Shukur Ganj from the gallows of the fanatics. He was called ``Lal'' (red) for the red robe which he wore all his life. Lal Shahbaz is the first important Sufi saint in Sindh. The Hindus regarded him as the incarnation of Bhartihari, the saintly brother of King Vikramaditya, who is believed to have worshipped Shiva at the spot where Lal Shahbaz's shrine stands today.
The other holy figure is that of Jhoolay Lal, also known as Udero Lal, Amar Lal or Lal Sain. In the tenth century when Arabs were declining and the Soomras were coming up, Mirkh Shah, the fanatical ruler of Thatta, ordered the Hindus to embrace lslam. The bewildered people collected en masse on the banks of the Sindhu and prayed to Varuna Devata for a saviour. Legcnd has it that a handsome young man emerged from the river on a charger, showed many miracles and saved the people from cultural genocide. He is shown in Nasarpur --- where he is believed to have been born to Rattan Rao Luhana and his wife Devaki---as a baby in a silver swing(jhoola or peengho) --- just like Lord Krishna in his childhood. Elsewhere he is shown with a flowing white beard, like Guru Nanak, but seated on the river- fruit, fish. But he was obviously a great youth leader who saved the Sindhi Hindus a thousand years ago. To this day temples are built in his honour and panjaras (five-line verses) are sung to his greater glory. And in recent years Roona Laila has made Jhoolay Lal --- and Mast Qalandar --- household names in Hindustan and Pakistan alike, with her lilting ``O Lal, Meri Pat Rakhiyo Sada Jhoolay Lalan....'' Rendered in English, it reads:
OH LORD of Sindh, Jhoolay Lal, and Sire of Sehwan, the red- robed Cod-intoxicated Qalandar, glory unto you! May I always have your benign protection.
YOUR SHRINE is always lighted with four lamps; and here I come to light a fifth lamp in ycur honour.
LET YOUR heroic name ring out in Hind and Sindh; let the gong ring loud for your glory.
OH LORD, may you prevail every time, everywhere. In the name of Ali, I pray to you to help my boat cross (the river of life) in safety.