Wednesday, December 19, 2007

sindh Golden Age

THE samma and their somara chieftains had unitedly faced the Khalji invasion. But that struggle had completely changed the balance of political forces in Sindh. The Soomras had bled profusely. At the same time the Samma courage and character had stood out bold and bright. A struggle for power between the two, therefore, had become inevitable. Since the Soomras were the established power, Delhi sided with them. Delhi had even instructed Multan and Gujerat to back the Soomras. However, the Sammas had bigger factors working in their favour.
The Soomra territorial base was in south-east Sindh; the Sammas were spread over much of the province. And the Sammas were much more numerous than the Soomras. (The 1901 census, for example, recorded 7,32,897 Sammas as against 1,02, 753 Soomras, indicating a historic disparity in numbers.)
The Sindhu had been changing its course at least since the year 1250. It was shifting westwards --- away from Alor, Brahmanabad, Amarkot, Vagahkot, and Ropah of the Soomras --- and towards the Samma towns of Sehwan and Thatta. For centuries the rock of Rohri has been quarried to carry stones down the river to the Soomra city of Amarkot for construction work. Now all that was over. Soon enough the original channel in the east --- variously known locally as Hakro (Ghaggar?) and Mehran, became smaller and smaller, until today it is reduced to a canal called the Eastern Nara. The only reminder of the Eastern Nara's great days --- when it used to pass through the Thar desert and Kutch and end up in the Arabian Sea, then known as Ratnakar --- are the sea crocodiles there. Obviously they were caught into it when the river dried up halfway and did not reach the sea.
Incidentally, the change of the river-course from ancient Alor, six miles east of Rohri, to the gorge between Rohri and Sukkur had geographic sequences with historic consequences. The rock between Sukkur and Rohri now became the rocky island of Bakhar in the Indus. The fort at Alor was now literally demolished to carry its bricks and stones to build an impregnable new fort on this spot, to stand guard on Sindh. From now on, for centuries, Thatta in the south and Bakhar in the north became -the two poles of Sindh.
This change of water course had the most devastating effect on the fortunes of the Soomras. It had a correspondingly electrifying effect on the fortunes of the Sammas. No wonder the Soomras used to pray for the day when the Hakro would again -flood in by Alor, (leaving the Sammas high and dry), when they would send to the Sammas, gifts of river products such as fish, lotus stalk, and lotus roots.
``Hek wahando Hakro, bhajandi bund Aror, Beeha Machhi ain Lor, wenda Samman Sookhri.''
However, the river maintained its westerly course. The impoverished Soomras even fell foul of the bards and minstrels, who now began to sing songs in praise of the generosity of the newly-rich Sammas. Said a typical disappointed bard of the last Soomras: ``If the rest of the world deserves half our denunciation, the Soomras deserve it whole.'' And as for the Sammas, even Shah Latif said: ``When they are angry, they still give; when they are pleased. they of course give m ore; either way, they mean very well.'' It is also possible that the Soomras, with their base in the sandy south-east bordering Marwar, were, by nature, stingy. So the ``mass media men'' of those times also preferred to salute the rising sun of the Sammas. After intermittent fighting started in 1315, the Sammas finally triumphed in 1351. When Delhi demurred, they killed Malik Rattan, the centre's governor in Sehwan. In the same year, the Sammas first set up their capital in their native town of Samui but soon after they shifted to Thatta, now flowering into a great metropolis.
All this defiance was more than Muhammed Tughlaq, the -sultan of Delhi, could take. He immediately descended on Sindh with a huge army. Elliott and Dawson report him saying: ``Would that God turn my sickness into health, so that I might subdue these people of Thatta. If God should please to take me, still this desire will remain constant in my heart.''

During the campaign in Sindh, Muhammed used to take exces- sive quantities of the delicious ``Pala'' fish of Sindh (from Plu, Skt. for fish. The Bengalis call it ``Hilsha'' and the Americans, ``Shad''). It is so tasty, the Sindhis have a humorous limerick about it: ``Pala is better than halva; halva has no life in it; as for Pala, you can settle down firmly and enjoy it to your heart's content'' (``Pallo seeray kha blti bhallo; seeray mein na sah, Pallo goda khoray kha''). One can only hope that the great Muhammed Tughlaq did not die of eating Pala; but die he did in Sindh. And he was buried near Thatta.
His successor, Firuz Tughlaq, could not pocket the insult to the sultan. The court historians report: ``Whenever he spoke of this place [Thatta] he used to stroke his beard and exclaim that it was a hundred thousand pities that his predecessor, Muhammed Shah Tughlaq, had failed to conquer it.''
Before long, therefore, Firuz also descended on Sindh with a huge army. But he too found it impossible to storm the city. As he raised the siege and retired to Gujerat for the time being, the Sindhi army raised the triumphant half-Persian half-Sindhi slogan: ``Baa Barqat Pir Patho, hik muo biyo tattho''(``with the grace of Saint Pattho, one died and the other retreated''. Pir Patho is believed to be the Sindhi Muslim version of Raja Gopichand. Later he became the patron-saint of the Dhedhs of Sindh.
In 1365, Firuz Shah descended on Sindh once again. This time he persuaded the Samma chief Jam Bambhriyo (Sindhi for Brahmin?) and his paternal uncle (chacha) Jam Juna to go with him to Delhi, while Bambhriyo's brother Jam Tamachi and Juna's son Jam Togachi, jointly ruled Sindh. In Delhi, Firuz Shah brain-washed Juna into going back in 1375 as governor of Thatta, leaving his brave nephew behind. In Thatta, Juna arrested Jam Tamachi, sent him away to Delhi, and began to rule Sindh as the agent of Delhi. This was more than the Sindhis could take. The respected Sheikh Hamad was heard saying: ``Juna is a fool; Oh Jam Tamachi, please come back; all Thatta is for you; God's grace is also with you.'' Another savant, Nuh, a dervish, was heard saying: ``Go and kill Jam Juna, and make Jam Tamachi king!'' Before long, Jam Tamachi was acclaimed king and Sindh now had a golden age.
During the ensuing period, Sindh and Gujerat became great friends and allies --- in their common bid to maintain independence. There were many princely inter-marriages.
The Tarikh-i-Tahiri goes ecstatic over the prosperity of Sindh in the Samma period: ``Lands hitherto barren were now carefully cultivated; there was hardly a piece of ground left untilled. Thatta became the emporium of the East. Sindh became `a second Iraq' in education and wealth. Says an old inscription of the time: `There were wells and trees everywhere.. The people were so happy, even the old became perennially youthful' (``Raiyat razi eh jihay, jo bhudha nit jawan'').
Who were these Sammas? According to Bherumal Mehr- chand, a leading social historian, they were Yadavas. After the Arab conquest of Sindh, many of them had gone and settled down in Gujerat. (Rai Diyach of Sorath was a Samma.) However, early in the fourteenth century, many of them drifted back to Sindh, partly to help the Soomras resist the Khaljis. According to H. T. Sorley, ``The Sammas were unquestionably Rajputs of the great Jadava stock and were probably the same tribe who were known to Alexander the Great as Sambos. They became Muslims not earlier than 1391, and their descendants are known as the Samejas and Jarejas of Kutch.''
This means that for at least four decades after they became the rulers of Sindh, they continued to be Hindu. When, why, and how they became Muslim, is not known; but the pull of the Muslim world in adjoining West Asia and even in northern India seems to have done it. However, Islam sat pretty light on them. Apart from formal Muslim names, they insisted on giving themselves their old traditional names. (In Thailand, to this day, whatever a citizen's religion, he can give his children names only from Sanskrit lists, maintained in the temples.)
However, all good things must come to an end. When Baber lost his native Samarkand and Bukhara, he had decided to descend on India. On way, in 1516, he first captured Kandhar (old Gandhar desh of Gandhari, the mother of the Kauravas), the gateway to both Iran and India. The Arghuns, who were displaced from Kandhar, in their turn descended on Sindh in 1521. In the battle that ensued, the great Samma com- mander Darya Khan, the son of Jam Nindo (Nizamuddin), fell fighting. ln another battle, 20,000 Sindhis died fighting the Arghuns, descended from Chenghiz Khan and his tribe. They got down from their horses and tied their turban and Kamarband A significant factor in Sindhi defeat was the religious fanaticism that marked the last days of the Sammas. Makhdoom Bilawal, a scion of the royal family, represented the liberal school, patronised by Darya Khan, soldier-statesman, himself. When, however, Jam Nindo the Great was succeeded by a weak Jam Feroze, the orthodox group came up. They got Bilawal crushed in an oil press! It broke the heart of Sindh.

Keenjhar Lake
After the Samma defeat, Kazi Kadan, Sammas' governor of Bakhar --- soldier, statesman, scholar, and Sufi saint --- intervened and made the Arghun take-over as peaceful and orderly as possible. Shah Beg Arghun took over Sindh --- under the general tutelage of the Mughals. This pressure from the north pushed and extinguished the Hindu chiefs in lower Sindh, who had maintained their independence all through. Sindh was reminded of its ancient saying: ``ever and anon, our dear little Sindh, you will be menaced from Kandhar side'' (``Jadahin Kadahin Sindhuri, tokhay Kandharan Jokho'').
The happy Samma rule was marked by the very happy romance of Jam Tamachi. One day he was hunting on the Keenjhar lake (near Thatta) when his eye fell on a poor fisher-girl called Gandri (literally ``gandi'', dirty). He promptly renamed her Noori (light). He took her to the palace, made her his chief Queen, exempted her fisherfolk from all taxes --- and then lived happily ever after. The incident is reminiscent of King Shantanu, the grandfather of the Kauravas, falling in love with Satyawati, a fishergirl.
However, the greatest romance of the Samma period was that of Sasui-Punhu. Sasui was born in a Brahmin family. Finding from her horoscope that she was destined to marry an alien, her father put her in a wooden box and let it float down the river. A washerman at Bhambhor took out the box. Since he was childless, he adopted her. And because of her beauty, the child was named Sasui (Sindhi for ``Shashi'', the moon). When -she grew up, reports of her beauty spread far and wide. Punhu, the merchant-prince of Kech-Mekran in Baluchistan, came to Bhambhor. It was mutual love at first sight. Punhu refused to go back home or do any more trading; he married Sasui and became a washerman himself. Punhu's father was furious. He sent his other sons, who drugged Punhu and took him away while Sasui was asleep. When Sasui woke up and discovered what had happened, she left home barefoot there and then.

On the long dreary way, a goatherd viewed her with a leery eye. Sasui prayed to mother earth to protect her honour, whereupon the earth split open and took in Sasui. Later when Punhu recovered consciousness, he broke loose from his brothers, started to move back to Bhambhor, and on the way learned of Sasui's end. It is believed that the earth reopened for him at the same spot --- to unite him with Sasui even in death, with only an onion peel between them.
Sasui's lamentations in Shah's poetry would move any Sindhi to tears. They leave the Gopis' search for Krishna in the woods of Vrindavan far behind. Wailed Sasui: ``I am neither a Sammi nor a Soomri. I am a girl of Brahmins who read the scriptures. I will find my Punhu and be his washerwoman .. They ask me to ply the charkha. I ply it, but not one thread comes out. What does come, is tears of blood, which wet all the charkha ..... Oh trees, don't you grow taller. And oh ye mountains, don't rise any higher. Let my eyes dry, so that I can see Punhu's footprints. Today I will dye my garments geruva. I want to become a yogini. For Punhu, I will wear the yogi's `Kundhals' (ear-rings) in my ears .... It is not a walk like other walks. I feel like screaming, but then they'll think I'm crazy .... Men may blame me for my love. But so what? True lovers don't mind breaking on the rocks . . . Oh you sun, you are setting before I've met my Lord; Okay, go and tell him that I died on the way .... Oh you mountain, you should console the love-lorn --- and not hurt their feet! .... And then both, Sasui and the mountain wept together for Punhu. Even animals collapsed to hear their hearty wa.l .... Those who die for the Lord, they have the Lord in their lap .... Sasui's sorrows continued only so long as she thought she was separate from Punhu. The moment she realised that Sasui and Punhu were one, all her sorrows were over.''
Such were the literary and cultural heights attained by Sindh in the days of the Sammas. Two centuries later, Shah Latif was still singing their praises in `Sur Bilawal': ``When Alauddin came astride his furious elephants, Jam Abro tied his shield and the whole field shone with sabres. The Sammas came to the rescue of damsels in distress --- and then all was well . . . Oh Jam Lakha, I am an ugly Oda. I have built this cottage under your benign protection. You will defend our defenceless selves. It seems God Himself made Jam Jakhro with His own hands; there seemed to have been just so much clay to make one Jakhro.. ``

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