Tag Archives: Indus valley

Article: Relations between Sehwan Sharif and the Indus in Sindh. Genealogy of a separation, by Delage and Ortis

In a journal issue dealing with the relations between cities and rivers in South Asia (2014, republished in 2016), Rémy Delage and Delphine Ortis published an article (in French) dealing with the case study of Sehwan Sharif and the Indus:

Relations between Sehwan Sharif and the Indus in Sind. Genealogy of a separation.” pp. 67-90.

“Up to the nineteenth century, the Indus made the fortune of the small town of Sehwan Sharif, located in central Sindh, in southern Pakistan. Today, the river is no longer the characterizing feature of this locality. This contribution traces the history of the fluctuating relationship between the town and the river up to the present day, where any direct references to the Indus in the local society have vanished. It is therefore a narrative of detachment, both physical and economical as well as ritual, which is considered here. We address specifically how the cult of the Indus, through its divine manifestation Udero Lāl, changed with the departure of the Hindu Sindhi community to India. Through the relationship to the holy figure which currently dominates in Sehwan, the Sufi saint La`l Shahbāz Qalandar, we will also show how the latter has come to encompass the deity of the river.”

Book launch in Karachi, AFK, 28 October 2011

The Express Tribune, Karachi, 30 October 2011

The book by Michel Boivin, Artefacts of Devotion. A Sufi Repertoire of the Qalandariyya in Sehwan Sharif, Sindh, Pakistan, was launched on 28th of October 2011 at the Alliance Française de Karachi (AFK). Read the book description from the official website of OUP in Karachi: Continue reading Book launch in Karachi, AFK, 28 October 2011

Book review: Objects of translation by Finbarr Barry Flood

Finbarr Barry Flood, Objects of Translation: Material Culture and Medieval « Hindu-Muslim » Encounter, Princeton-Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2009, 366 p.

Flood’s Objects of Translation: Material Culture and Medieval « Hindu-Muslim » Encounter is according to me, that is to say according to a young historian of pre-modern South Asia and ‘Islamic’ cultures, the book one has to read if interested in the history (that is to say possible comprehension of) and more particularly in the genesis of the Indo-Muslim worlds and cultures, and beyond, if interested in trans-cultural processes, forms, perception, and reflection about them.

The book, which is composed of six thematic chapters dealing both with commercial and political (notably through looting and gifting) trans-cultural contacts through artefacts, coins, dress, paintings, inscriptions, and architectural structures, or literary translations, is an invaluable contribution to Indo-Islamic studies, which widely breaks away from the still traditional division between “Islamic” and “Indianist” or “Indic” fields. The material it considers, presents and analyses, – including pre-Islamic, Ghaznavid and Ghurid Afghanistan –, is extremely vast and rich, and it thus offers a unique and complete synthesis about the first Indo-Islamic artistic productions and their historical significance, from the beginning of the eighth to the early thirteenth centuries.

Flood’s recent work in general has largely participated in the making of a “new” history and new forms of history regarding pre-modern South Asia, giving material culture and complex perception and understanding a more important place. This book is both a broadening and deepening of this approach and reasoning. One can find here for example his study of Ghurid monuments in the Indus Valley, displaying an important Indo-Islamic composition both in their forms and patterns. But it also constitutes, as the author himself declares he is “forging a dialogue between those interested in the relationships between precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial history and historiography”, an important theoretical and reflexive (or epistemological) contribution by knowingly reflecting and using contemporary theories. Rejecting, and arguing against the Manichean and teleological views of history that have been flourishing in Indian historiography under colonial and nationalist banners, the static and narrow conception of pre-modern Ages, and the monolithic perceptions of religions, cultures, and identities, it first recalls the vast mobility and fluidity that existed during the period (Roots or Routes? in the introduction), – which is again highly displayed through the different material productions analysed in the book –, and ends (Conclusion: In and Out of Place) by calling new ways of negotiating the present challenges, notably regarding transregional cultural flows, contingent cosmopolitanisms, subaltern diasporas, and trans-cultural elites, i.e. globalization, or one may say, identities on multiple scales.

Johanna Blayac (EPHE/MIFS, Paris)

Other publications

Piety and Politics in the Early Indian Mosque, Edited volume in the Debates in Indian History and Society series, Oxford University Press India, 2008.

“From the Prophet to Postmodernism? New World Orders and the End of Islamic Art”, In Elizabeth Mansfield, ed., Making Art History: A Changing Discipline and its Institutions, Routledge, 2007.

“Signs of Violence: Colonial Ethnographies and Indo-Islamic Monuments.” in ‘Art and Terror’, a special issue of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art, 5.2, 2004.

The Great Mosque of Damascus: Studies on the Makings of an Umayyad Visual Culture, Brill, 2000.

“Ghurid Architecture in the Indus Valley: the Tomb of Shaykh Sadan Shahid,” Ars Orientalis, 36, 2001, 129-166.

PhD thesis: Shia-Ismaili Motifs in the Sufi Architecture of the Indus Valley

Hasan Ali Khan, Shia-Ismaili Motifs in the Sufi Architecture of the Indus Valley, 1200-1500 A.D., PhD thesis in Religious Studies, SOAS, London, 30 April 2009.

“The relationship between Shiism and Sufism is one of the most unexplored areas of Islamic studies. Its study has traditionally been hindered by the lack of primary sources. This is especially so in the case of Ismailism in the medieval Islamic Era, which is more easily associable to Sufism.

Ismaili associations with early Sufism go back to the Fatimid Era in Egypt of which the Indus Valley was a part. This is in the tenth century when dominant Ismaili and Twelver states ruled the Middle East. After the destruction of these Shia states by the incoming Sunni Turkic dynasties, Ismailism went underground in Iran and its ideas reappeared in the shape of Sufi Orders in Iraq, most prominently the Suhrawardi Order. In this period, Ismailism flourished again in the Indus Valley under missionaries sent from neighboring Iran, who freely worked on the metaphysical commonality between Indian and Iranian cultures for their proselytism. Its zenith was reached under the Ismaili missionary Shams in the thirteenth century, who after a long spate of problems in his host country, perfected a system of metaphysical interlacing called the Satpanth, or true path, setting up ceremonies which tied him to the Suhrawardi Sufi Order which preexisted here. This association led to the falling out of the court patronised order with the Imperial Authorities in Delhi. The Satpanth worked through an astrological framework based on the Persian New Year, and the vice-regency of the first Shia Imam Ali, which is the basis of the Shia faith. The astrological resonances of Ali’s succession or vice-regency to Muhammad were known to Muslim scholars in the Iranian Shia-Ismaili tradition before Shams’s time, but are historically first interlaced by Shams with the local calendar for the benefit of his followers. The Satpanth later found its way as astrological symbolism on the monuments of the Suhrawardi Order. In addition, an unorthodox monument archetype which accommodates Satpanth ideals is common to the buildings associated with Shams, his descendants and Suhrawardi Sufis over three centuries. Evidence suggest that Shams may have been responsible this archetype.

A comparison between extant religious ceremony, iconography and the common monument archetype in the latter chapters shows the covert Shia-Ismaili beliefs of the Suhrawardi Order in the Indus Valley. This complements the critical reexamination of historical sources for the purpose in the first half of the thesis.”

Keywords: Shiism, Ismailism, Suhrawardi Sufi Order, Satpanth, Shams, Indus valley, Pakistan

Interview with Monik Kervran, 2008

Monik Kervran, a researcher at CNRS, headed the French Archaeological Mission in Sindh (MAFS) between 1989 and 2002. We interviewed her in October 2008 to reconstruct the scientific itinerary that led her from the Persian Gulf to the Indus Valley and the region of Sindh, specifically the site of Sehwan Sharif.

On the excavation site, Sehwan Sharif

Can you describe us the steps that led you to open new sites of excavation in the Indus Valley?

In the 1970s the Persian Gulf opened up to scientific expeditions from the West, including archaeologists, iranologists and islamologists. At that time, the scientific challenge was to deepen our knowledge of commercial activities between the Arab and Iranian coast. Trade with Asia, India and China, was also a field to be studied, in particular the period from antiquity to the Islamization of the Indian subcontinent. When I did excavation in Bahrain and Oman, I was intrigued by the strong presence of a very special sort of ceramic, which is red and strongly micaceous. Following this discovery, I decided to find the export ports of this ceramic, which led me on the side of the Indus Valley.

The common thread running through your scientific route is the presence of these red glazed tiles, so you wanted to discover its origins.

Yes indeed. During a private trip in Sindh in 1987 or 1988, I was quickly fascinated by the presence of red glazed tiles in the oldest ports that we could find, that of Barbariké/Daybul now called Banbhore. We dated it between 400-300 BC and 950-1000 AD.

Is it there that you opened the first excavation site of the MAFS?

No, not at all. In fact, after negotiations between France and the Government of Sindh for the opening of an archaeological excavation site, an agreement was reached and the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs was ready to finance the project. But in 1989, when we arrived in Pakistan to begin the excavation, the new Director of Antiquities in Karachi did not agree that we work in Banbhore, ostensibly for security reasons. We finally started our excavation work at Ratto Kot (see map), an outpost of Banbhore located fifteen kilometers downstream. Between 1989 and 1995, the MAFS was principally interested in this outpost and then in a second port, the Juna Shah Bandar or Lahori Bandar, mentioned in written sources from the 10th century. During this mission, six ports were discovered in the lower Indus Valley, but only some of them were excavated.

What have you learned from this first campaign of the MAFS?

The excavation of these two ports has helped us to highlight the mechanism with which ships were cleared for entry into Sindh. Such a device was also described by a source dating from the 16th century. But this system met its match when faced with more important invaders, for instance the Arab armies who conquered Daybul and Sindh in 711 or the Portuguese invasions of the 16th century. Having no reference study, we had problems dating the ancient and medieval ceramics. So we had to find a new site in order to have a stratigraphic reference, necessary for the calibration and timing of our samples found in the Indus Valley. After an initial refusal by the authorities (1994) to open an excavation site in the city of Hyderabad, again for security problems, we obtained the necessary permits for the site of Sehwan Sharif.

Why did you particularly choose the site of Sehwan Sharif?

Firstly, this city, which had suffered the invasion of Alexander in 325 BC and of British troops in the 1840s, had the advantage of having a tell overlooking the city and separated from it by a ditch. The site had never been excavated and archaeological layers were clearly visible. The first sounding, from the top of the tell up to the initial layer, that is more than twenty meters sounding, delivered vital information. Seven phases of cultural occupation of the city were made clear and were easily interpretable, from the 4th century BC until the 16th century AD. Finally, we were able to draw up the necessary stratigraphic reference for dating the sites discovered in the Indus delta. This has also delivered a number of clues allowing a better understanding of the history of the city and the region. For instance, we found confirmed that in the 13th century, when the city fell under the thumb of the Delhi Sultans, the tell became essentially a garrison and local people occupied the southern part of the fortress. The stratigraphic reference from Sehwan Sharif between 1996 and 2002 allowed us to put forward many other hypothesis for historical research. The opening of another site in the town of Sehwan itself would have enabled us to look for signs of more ancient urbanization.

More on Monik Kervran

Monique Kervran (2005), “Pakistan. Mission Archéologique Française au Sud-Sind”, Archéologies. 20 ans de recherches françaises dans le monde, MAE, Maisonneuve et Larose/ADPF-ERC, pp. 595-598.

Monique Kervran (1996), “Le port multiple des bouches de l’Indus: Barbariké, Dêb, Daybul, Lâhorî Bandar, Diul Sinde”, Res Orientales, VIII, pp. 45-92.

Monique Kervran (1993) “Vanishing medieval cities of the northwest Indus delta”, Pakistan Archaeology, 28, pp. 3-54.

Monique Kervran (1992), “The fortress of Ratto Kot at the mouth of the Banbhore River (Indus delta, Sindh, Pakistan)”, Pakistan Archaeology, 27, pp. 143-170.