A Citadel in Ruins

There is something particular about domestic affairs in my part of the world. Garahsti stuff (Urdu pronunciation for ‘domestic chores’) tends to bind you in the whirlpool of routine, making life nothing but a monotonous recurrence. It’s dull and static, but it does give an illusion of calm and tranquility. I was having my share of the calm at my parents’ home in Karachi on annual leave. There was this impending occasion (a marriage to be precise) for what we were hosting guests and it had left little room for something that was non-routine. Such was the setting, when a family getaway got abruptly planned on almost emergency footing. A number of factors coincidentally happening on the same day within a same time slot contributed to make it possible

Bhanbhore ruins lie around 20-25 miles exactly from the doorstep of my parents’ home. Anica (a cousin and my wife’s niece), visiting us from Canada with a typical archaeological appetite about Pakistan, got more than excited upon the mention of Bhanbhore during the conversation. Mani (my wife) had this scheduled audience with other ladies of the family that evening. The trip presented itself as a window of opportunity to her and she immediately hopped in (just for the record; she unanimously considers my interests to be quite old fashioned and is normally not a party to my outings). Amelia (my daughter) is blessed with this particular habit of taking extraordinary interest in whatever happened before her arriving into this world. She was the fourth companion on the trip.
… and we were travelling to Bhahbhore.


Bhanbhore in ruins

Bhanbhore is identified by many historians as Debal (ancient port-city off the Sind Coast as mentioned in Chach Nama) that was conquered by the forces of Muhammad Bin Qasim back in 8th Century AD. In that it’s regarded as the Gateway of Islam in the Sub-Continent. Bhanbhore is more than that; on the pages of history, its origin dates back to 1st Century BC. Built as a Citadel off the coast of Arabian Sea, it served as a seaport. Present day ruins of Bhanbhore lie around the Gharo Kreek witnessing the delta formed by the great River Indus as it flows into the Arabian Sea.

Much was of archaeological interest while visiting the site. We discovered the Citadel’s parameter bearing the remnants of what once were fortified boundary walls. The remains lie on the elevated ground dominating the area all-round. Among the on-site attractions were the remains of The Grand Mosque claimed to be the first one built in South Asia, evidence of the use of limestone as a major floor element and a well-organized and laid-out drainage system, a signature find in the remains of the Indus Valley Civilization. A small museum on site holds the artefacts excavated from the ruins. The polished red pottery from the Scytho-Parthian period, painted/stamped ceramics from Hindu-Sasanian era; glassware and semi-precious stones from the Muslim period. Though only partly excavated, Bahbhore is a significant archaeological site that needs further exploration.

The Folk Element

In the midst of the family outing and serving the historic appetite of the visitors, I was there following the trail of a folk tale, Sassui-Punhun. It’s one of the ‘seven prominent tales’ of the Sindhi Folklore, primarily retold by Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai through his verses. Sassui-Punhun had its origin in the city of Bhanbhore, where Sassui, born as a princess, was abandoned on some astrologer foretelling that she was doomed to bring upon dishonor to the Bhanbhore Royals. Growing up as the adopted daughter of a washerman at Bhabhore, she had the stories of her beauty and charm echoing the streets of the Citadel. Punhun was the Prince from Kech Makran (area that stretches from north-western Sindh to southern coastline of Balochistan). Having heard of the beauty of our princess, he visited Bhabhore and fell in love with Sassui eventually tying the knot. As happens in all tragic sagas, the prince’s wedlock with a sub-caste girl was not approved by the family and Punhun’s brothers were sent to fetch him back from Bhanbhore.

It was a night, not like every other night in the life of Sassui, when Punhun intoxicated by his brothers was pulled on a camel back with the caravan setting course for Kech. Sassui getting up the next morning and discovering herself being robbed off his lover runs on Punhun’s trail in distress. Here comes the focal point in our story and the same has been deliberated in various versions of the folk tale. Sufis, poets, the local story-tellers, through time, in their traditional ways have rhymed Sassui’s grief and her sense of deprivation and in a way this has turned out to be the most celebrated peculiarity of the love story. Our lead female of the Sassui-Punhun cast is repeatedly cautioned to stay awake and be vigilant of the wickedness of the camel folks lest it would bring upon her the agony and torment of trailing her lover in the wilderness of Kech-Makran.

As all folk stories are synchronous to melodies, here is a beautiful rhythmic rendition from Ataullah Essa Khelwi …

نی اُوٹھـاں والے ٹُرجان گے
فیـر لبھـدی پِھریں گی ہانْـڑیں
سسّیے جاگدی رھیٔں
رات اجّ دی نینـد نہ مانْـڑیں

The camel folks would depart from you (abducting your love, Punhun with them), and you shall be left bewildered in search of your soul-mate;
Beware! O Sassui, stay awake, tis a night for you not to fall asleep…

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author bio

Imran Saeed

I am a teller of old tales. History, folklore, military, and more. Mostly covering Pakistan, my homeland, but also the Great White North, where I am currently settled.
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