Sindh, one of the four provinces of Pakistan, lies in its southeastern part. Till 1947, it was part of undivided India. The name Sindh is derived from the Sanskrit word Sindhu, the name of one of the longest rivers of Asia flowing through India and Pakistan. Indus is the Europeanised name of river Sindhu. The history of Sindh and its neighbouring regions starts from the second ice age some 2.6 million years ago. During the period from 3500 BC to 1000 BC, it became the cradle of Indus Valley Civilisation, one of the oldest civilisations of the world. After the Vedic period, it went through a series of invasions by Persians, Greeks, Mauryans, Rajputs, and Mughals. Religions like Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Jainism, Islam, and Sikhism flourished in the region. Due to proximity to the Arabian sea and the presence of the mighty river Sindhu flowing through Sindh, Sindhis have always been water worshippers. The Sindhi identity – its culture, religious faith, and cuisine – is an amalgamation of all these influences.
The original inhabitants of Sindh
Traces of human settlements in the Indian subcontinent some 2.6 million years ago found.
9000 BC – 3500 BC
Evidence of hunting and fishing tribes are found in Sindh. These settlements probably gave rise to the Indus Valley civilisation. The settlers of this region worshipped water.
3600 BC – 1000 BC
During the Bronze Age (3300 BC – 1300 BC), the Indus Valley had one of the most developed civilisations of the world with highly cultured people and well-planned cities on river Indus. The ruins of the settlements of Mohanjo Daro and Harappa with the brick buildings, public baths, covered drainage systems, and the use of beads, jewellery, seals, pottery as well as a writing system suggest the existence of a very organised and sophisticated community. Evidence such as seals, clay tablets, and ceramic pots with Hindu symbols and gods leads us to believe that the people of this civilisation followed Hinduism.
1050 BC – 850 BC
The Vedic period started in the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age of the history of India. The Aryans came to Sindh and wrote the Vedas. The doctrines of the Hindu religion of Karma (action) and Moksha (liberation of the soul from the cycle of birth and death) were crystallised.
The Vedic literature shows Sindh as an ancient kingdom. There are glowing references to the mighty and awe-inspiring river Sindhu in Rig Veda. Sindh is mentioned in the Indian epic Mahabharata as being part of Bharatvarsha (Indian subcontinent).
Sindh was invaded by the Persian Achaemenid Empire, an ancient Iranian empire founded by Cyrus the Great. Larger than any previous empire in history ranging from the Balkans and Eastern Europe in the west to the Indus Valley in the east, it was known for its centralised administrative system, good infrastructure, the use of an official language across its territories, and a professional army. It reached its peak during the rule of Darius. The empire spread Zoroastrianism in the eastern countries including Sindh.
Alexander the Great from Macedonia, an ancient kingdom of Greece, invaded parts of Sindh and destroyed the Iranian empire. After the death of Alexander at the age of 32, there ensued a fight among his generals, family, and friends for the succession of his vast empire. Seleucus, one of his generals, won and founded the Seleucid Empire which became one of the largest empires of the ancient world. Sindh was ruled by the Seleucid dynasty till it was captured by Chandra Gupta Maurya.
305 BC- 185 BC
Within a year of Alexander’s death in 323 BC, Chandra Gupta Maurya founded the Maurya Empire in India. He fought the Greeks and brought Sindh under his rule. It was during this time that Buddhism spread in Sindh. The Mauryan Empire was one of the largest of its time. Trade, agriculture, economy, art, and culture flourished during this period.
187 BC – 80 BC
Demetrius I of Bactria in Central Asia led a Greco-Bactrian invasion on India and annexed Sindh. His descendants converted to Buddhism and spread the religion in the region. They built the Buddhist city of Siraj-ji-Takri along the Rohri Hills of Sukkur district in Sindh.
80 BC – 46 AD
Indo Scythians, a group of nomadic Iranian people, defeated the Greco-Bactrian Empire and took over Sindh.
46 AD – 78 AD
The Parthians ruled over Sindh. The Parthian Empire was a major political and cultural power in Iran.
65 AD – 283 AD
The Kushans, nomadic tribes from China, formed an empire that ruled over the Sindh region. They followed Zoroastrianism and Buddhism and were responsible for many Buddhist temples and stupas found in Sindh today.
The Sassanid Empire from Persia, also known as the Empire of the Iranians, became dominant in Sindh.
3rd century AD – 499 AD
The Gupta Empire, an ancient Indian empire, takes over Sindh. The empire covered much of the Indian subcontinent. It had notable rulers such as Chandragupta, Samudragupta, and Vikramaditya. This period is known for its achievements in the fields of science, technology, mathematics, astronomy, religion, and philosophy. The decimal numeral system and zero were invented in India in this era.
499 AD – 641 AD
Rai Sahiras and his son Rai Sahasi ruled Sindh and formed the Rai Dynasty. Their kingdom extended from Kashmir in the east, Makran, and Debal in the west, Surat port in the south, and from Kandhar in Afghanistan in the north. They ruled for 143 years. The Buddhist power was at its peak during this time.
641 AD – 712 AD
Chach succeeded the Rais and founded the Brahman Dynasty. Chach Nama, a historical account of the Chach-Brahman dynasty, gives information about this period. Hindu king, Raja Dahir (Chach’s son) took over from Chander ( Chach’s brother). Raja Dahir ruled Sindh for several years. Though ruled by a Hindu king, the southern parts of Sindh followed Buddhism. Alor was the capital of the Brahman Dynasty.
711 AD – 854 AD
After the death of Prophet Muhammad, four major caliphates were established, one of them being the Umayyad Caliphate. It was the only dynasty to rule over the entire Islamic world of its time. Muhammad Bin Qasim, a 17-year old Umayyad general from Central Asia, invaded Sindh with a force of 20,000 cavalry and five catapults. A bloody massacre followed, during which the royal women committed Jauhar and burnt themselves to death. The Hindu ruler Raja Dahir of Sindh was executed. The Arab conquest was followed by widespread conversion to Islam, the building of Mansura as the capital, and the development of a port city at Debal (Bambhor). During this time, the Sindhi merchants traded with Basra in Iraq, Bushehr in Iran, Muscat in Oman, Zanzibar in Tanzania, Malabar in India, Sri Lanka, and Java. The Sindhi sailors were known for their navigation skills, geography, and languages.
854 AD – 1010 AD
The Umayyads continue to rule Sindh through the Arab Habari Dynasty. The Habari rulers were based in the city of Mansura until Sultan Mahmud Ghaznavi defeated them and destroyed the capital city, Mansura.
1010 AD – 1351 AD
The Soomro dynasty ruled for 300 years, initially as the vassals of the Caliph of Baghdad, later as independent rulers. The Soomras were one of the first indigenous Muslim dynasties of the Sindh. The dynasty derives its name from the two Parmar Rajput Hindu brothers, Soomro and Vegho, who were appointed to rule the region. Vegho remained a Hindu, while Soomro converted to Islam. The Parmar Rajputs are found even today in Sindh, Rajasthan, and Kutch. The Soomros were the first Muslims to translate the Quran into Sindhi. By then, the entire region from the Arabian Sea to the Hindu Kush was referred to as Sindh by the historians and travellers.
The Arab culture and language as well as the Soomra syncretic traditions had a lasting influence on the Sindhi identity. Sufism, the phenomenon of mysticism in Islam, became prevalent during this period.
The religion Jainism was at its peak in Sindh between the 12th and 15th centuries AD. Parkar in Tharparkar district was the cradle of Jainism in Sindh. A collection of abandoned Jain temples with exquisite architecture exist even today in the Nagarparkar region of Sindh.
1351 AD – 1524 AD
Jam Unar, in 1339, founded a Sindhi Muslim Rajput Samma Dynasty which reached its peak in the 15th century. During this period, Sindh became famous for its art, architecture, music, and culture. Thatta became the capital of Sindh.
Makli Necropolis, one of the largest cemeteries in the world, spread over an area of 10 km near Thatta, has over 1 million tombs built over 400 years. This site, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has several elaborate tombs belonging to Samma royals, saints, and scholars and is a magnificent architectural legacy of the Samma dynasty.
It must have been in this period that Guru Nanak (1469 Ad – 1538 AD), the founder of Sikh religion, visited Shikarpur, Sindh. He travelled up to Karachi and spread his teachings. Many Sindhis were moved by his words and followed Sikhism. A syncretic religion of Hinduism and Sikhism was born.
1524 AD – 1554 AD
The Arghun dynasty was established in Sindh by Shah Beg, a descendant of Genghis Khan of Mongol. Genghis Khan founded the Mongol Empire that went on to grow as big as the continent of Africa in size.
1554 AD – 1591 AD
General Mirza Isa Beg found the Tarkhan Dynasty in Sindh (Turks in origin) after the death of Shah Hassan Arghun. In 1555 AD, the Portuguese ransacked Thatta, the bustling metropolis of Sindh.
1587 AD – 1736 AD
In 1524, Babur defeated the Arghuns and the Tarkhans. Mughal rule was established in Sindh. In 1540, the Mughal Emperor Humayun was forced to withdraw to Sindh by Sher Shah Suri. Akbar was born in Umerkot in Sindh in 1542.
During the reign of Akbar, Sindh gave birth to many scholars and poets who went on to contribute richly to Sindhi literature. This period is known as the golden period of Sindhi literature. Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai is one of the prominent poets of Sindh of this period.
Akbar was known for his religious tolerance and in his reign allowed Hindu temples to be built.
1700 AD-1783 AD
In 1700, the Mughal ruler Aurangzeb appointed the Kalhora Nawabs belonging to a Sunni Muslim dynasty to rule Sindh. They brought stability to the region by defeating the Marathas and the Rao of Kutch. Their capital was Khudabad. Later they shifted their capital to Hyderabad. Their entire army consisted of soldiers from Balochi tribes, who were known for their military prowess.
1783 AD -1843 AD
The Kalhoras were succeeded by the Talpurs, who were ethnically Baloch and Shia by faith. Under the rule of Mir Fateh Ali, four branches of the Talpur dynasty were established: one ruled lower Sindh from the city of Hyderabad, another ruled over upper Sindh from the city of Khairpur, a third ruled around the eastern city of Mirpur Khas, and a fourth was based in Tando Muhammad Khan.These were looked after by Fateh Ali and his three brothers from their seat of the rule, Hyderabad, forming a unique consortium called ‘The Chauyari’ – the Four Friends. They spoke Sindhi and were among the last royals of Sindh.
Sachal Sarmast, Sami, and Khalifo Nabi Bux are renowned poets of this period.
The Talpur rulers of Sindh and Balochistan were defeated by the British under Sir Charles Napier. However, the Khairpur branch of the Talpur dynasty continued to maintain some autonomy during the British rule as the princely state of Khairpur. It was fully amalgamated in West Pakistan in 1955.
The British divided Sindh into districts and later made it part of British India’s Bombay Presidency. During this period, the British introduced railways, printing presses, and bridges.
Sindh was made part of the Bombay Presidency.
Sindhi was declared the official language of Sindh.
The final version of the Sindhi script was adopted by the British throughout Sindh and Bombay, which still exists today.
Sindh was separated from Bombay and made an independent province.
June 26th, 1947
Sindh became the first province to vote for joining Pakistan.
August 14th, 1947
The Indian subcontinent was divided into two countries and three parts: India, East Pakistan, and West Pakistan. Sindh was lost entirely to West Pakistan.
Sir Cyril Radcliffe, who had no previous knowledge of the Indian subcontinent, was given the task of dividing India. This act decided the fate of millions of people from both sides of the newly drawn border as they were forced to leave their homeland behind – the Hindus from Sindh to India and the Muslims from India to Pakistan. Communal hatred tore the two countries apart and around a million people died due to the ensuing violence or by starvation and poverty. Many Sindhi Hindus who were once prosperous in Sindh were treated as refugees in India, their own country, and were put up in refugee camps where they lived under harsh conditions. Despite the untold difficulties and miseries, the Hindu Sindhis with their hard work and perseverance went on to form a prosperous and philanthropic community in India.
Featured Image: Dholavira, Kutch, an Indus Valley Civilisation Site
Featured Image Credit: Dinesh Shukla, Ahmedabad
Jyoti Mulchandani, Ahmedabad