The Udero Lal research Project (ULRP): A workshop

The Udero Lal research Project (ULRP) at the crossroads of architecture, Urban Studies, history and anthropology: an overview of a French-Pakistani project

14th of December 2022


2 Cours des Humanités – Room A 202

9:00 -Rémy Delage (CEIAS Codirector)

Welcome Address

9:10 -Michel Boivin (CNRS-CEIAS) and Masooma Shakir (NED University)

Introducing the ULRP

The two Principal Investigators Michel Boivin and Masooma Shakir will review the origin of this project, as well as its progress, given that it was interrupted for two years by the pandemic. The project started in 2019 based on a collaboration between the French Embassy in Pakistan and HEC, under a PHC PERIDOT collaborative program. Three key elements constitute the project: 1. the fieldworks, 2. the workshops, accompanied by exchanges of researchers between France and Pakistan, and 3. the publications. The foundation of the project is multidisciplinarity and it includes six researchers: three French and three Pakistanis. Since the beginning of the project, several fieldworks have been completed, in Karachi, Sukkur, Lake Manchhar, Keti Bandar, and Sehwan Sharif. Several conferences and workshops have been in Karachi and Paris. The fieldwork reports were published on the MIFS Newsletter hosted by the blog Sindhi Studies Group: Society, Culture, Territory ( The ambition of this workshop is to take stock of the project as it nears its conclusion.

9:30 -Fahmida Shaikh (NED University)

Indus River and Cultural Heritage: Commemoration of Jhulelal in Sindh

The various ways in which the communities have attached sanctity to the River Indus in the Indian sub-continent through history highlights its significance. This can be gauged by the sanctity associated with it through some used and abandoned temples, tombs, and rituals associated with river. The communities closely associated in their livelihoods with the River include the Mallah/Mirbahar (Boatmen), Mahigeer (Fishermen) and Mohanas (people living on boats). Among the rituals of the Hindu communities attached to worship of the River God, Jhulelal stands prominent as the myth plays a dominating role within the integrative culture of Sindh. The chapter presents the meaningful association of the Hindu Community with waterbodies considered to be essential connectors to the Indus River and their link to the River god at three historic sites— Uderolal, Sukkur, and Nasarpur. Using the theories on collective commemoration and rituals as a way of structuring legacies, the chapter describes the socio-spatial aspects of commemoration of legends associated to Indus River. It highlights the physical boundaries of negotiations between the people of the two faiths as the syncretic cultural history is unmistakably under stress given political and religious delineations

10: 00 -Suneela Ahmed (NED University) and Masooma Shakir (NED University)

Altered social structures and fluid identities: Case of Mohanas of Manchar Lake

For indigenous communities, place plays a vital role in cultural practice. Rituals and beliefs are closely related to economic context and locational advantages shaped by landscapes. When there is a change in environment, like a shift in the course of a river, economic, cultural and social shifts result. This research taking the case of Mohanas/Mallas of Manchar Lake, in Sindh Pakistan, documents and analyzes the altered social structures and resultant fluid identities along with impact on livelihoods and associated cultural practices of local indigenous communities as a result of environmental changes. This is work in progress and what is being presented is the research methodology outlined to gather this information and conduct site work, along with some initial findings. The idea was to decode what is lost, and what is retained in this migration and connect the findings to the sense of identity and place attachment. Literature review, site visits, in-depth interviews with various stakeholders and personal observations were used as main research methods.

10:30 -Tea Break

11:00 -Delphine Ortis (INALCO-CEIAS) and Saba Sindhri (EHESS-CEIAS)

A preliminary survey of the Mallah community in today Sehwan Sharif

This presentation focuses on the Mallah community which is said to form the majority of the population of Sehwan Sharif, in central Sindh. Sehwan was for centuries located on the banks of the Indus River, but today, it lies on the banks of the Aral Wah, a canal that connects the river and Lake Manchhar. After presenting the methodology used, the presentation will focus on the organization of the community of the Mallahs, according to the categories it uses, as well as the numerous subdivisions they have inside. It will also tackle with its (non) relationship with the Indus River. While the vast majority of Mallahs in Sehwan Sharif no longer practice a profession related to the river or the lake, it will examine the representation they have of it, in the narratives and also, possibly, in certain rituals. Finally, the community of the Mallahs of Sehwan will be put in perspective with that of the Mallahs of Lake Manchhar.

11: 30 -Michel Boivin (CNRS-CEIAS) and Trisha Lalchandani (EHESS-CEIAS)

From Thakurs to Vaniyas: making and remaking of Jhulelal beyond the borders

This presentation considers the cult of Jhulelal, the god of the Indus River as worshipped by Hindu Sindhis, from the perspective of its entrepreneurs and of the transmission of authority and tradition. The starting hypothesis is that at a period yet to be determined, perhaps around the partition, the traditional entrepreneurs’ authority in the Jhulelal cult was challenged by competing new entrepreneurs who did not belong to the religious sphere, but to that of commerce. The first category of entrepreneurs is made of Thakurs, who belong to a hereditary priest caste, and claim to be the descendants of Jhulelal’s relatives, through two distinct lineages. The Vaniyas, the Sindhi form of Baniyas, belong to sometimes different castes, but are mostly Lohanas, which are involved into commerce. This said, they should be associated with the middle class in terms of revenues. The presentation intends to address a number of issues, such as how, in what context, and why did these new competitors emerge? How did the Thakurs react, if they reacted at all, and if so, why did they not react? What was the impact on the figure and the cult of Jhulelal? The data under study has been collected from case studies from India and Pakistan.

12:00 – Conclusive comments, Michel Boivin

Cite this blog post
michelboivin (2022, December 4). The Udero Lal research Project (ULRP): A workshop. Sindhi Studies Group. Retrieved May 18, 2024, from

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