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Monasteries in Ancient Sindh


By Kaleem Butt

January 22, 2013

Sindhi is one of the oldest and major languages of South Asia, inheriting a rich culture, folklore, and a vast literature

This article deals with the ancient monasteries and temples that were the educational hub of those times. It also sheds light on the state of education in Sindh before the Arab invasion. As we know, the only historical record found about Sindh is after the Arab invasion. Very little is written about the pre-Arab Sindh and I have tried to shed some light on that period of history. Details of temples and monasteries found in Sindh are mentioned, as it is known that religion has remained the centre of education in every age.

In every age, we find the influence of religion on education; priests and clergymen were considered to be the most learned people in ancient times. We find such examples in the Egyptian Civilisation, ancient Iraq, Persia, and others. Even in Semitic religions, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam, priests were taken as the most learned men, while churches and mosques were referred to as centres of education. The priests had enormous influence over the common people.

The same is the case with the ancient civilisation of Sindh. Sindhi is one of the oldest and major languages of South Asia, inheriting a rich culture, folklore, and a vast literature. Its literature can stand equal to any developed language of the world. According to some recent research, Sindhi is related to the Dravidian language and its ancestry dates back to the civilisation of Mohenjodaro (Allana, 2000). Dr Allana quoting Jahiz (864 A.D) writes that the people of Sindh are well advanced in Mathematics and Astrology. They have their own script for their language. While quoting Ibne-Nadim (955 A.D), Dr Allana writes that the people of Sindh spoke various languages and believed in different religions. They wrote their language in about 200 scripts. Out of them, nine were very common.

It seems probable that Sindh for a considerable time remained under the rule of barbarians from the west who had first overrun it, and that the Vedic Aryans, when at length they came in contact with the country, were unable to exercise influence comparable to that which they established over the rest of northern India. Traditions relating to Sindh are recorded in Sanskrit, Persian and Pali literature and afford a few glimpses of the political state of the country prior to the first definite date in its history (Lambrick, 1973).

Lambrick (1973) writes that the Mahabharata speaks of the kingdom of Sindh as a cultured and civilised land. He adds that the preserved stupas in Sindh indicate that they belonged to the Mahayana school of Buddhism. He also mentions the Buddhist monasteries in Thul Mir Rukan of Sakrand, and a stupa at Mirpur Khas — where the largest image of Buddha was found — which was gifted to Sri Lanka by Ayub Khan. The Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang travelled through Sindh in 642 AD; there were 10,000 Buddhist monks living in this country in several hundred monasteries. Although these religious centres may not have been vast complexes such as the universities of Nalanda and Vikramasila in Bihar, surely it is astonishing to say that in all we have roughly 15 sites in upper and lower Sindh about which it can be said with reasonable certainty that they were once Buddhist monasteries (Lohuizen, 1981).

Monasteries are also found in Badah, Thul Mir Rukan, Mari Sabar, Depar Ghangro, Brahmanabad, Mirpur Khas, Sudheranjo-Daro, Kafirkot, Banbhore, Thatta, Budhjo-Thakar and Naukot. All these were educational institutions teaching and preaching the teachings of Buddha.

Lohuizen (1981) writes that the votive tablets discovered at Mirpur Khas can be compared to similar objects from many Buddhist sites in India. Similar tablets have been found at other Buddhist sites in Sindh such as Sudheranjodaro. The more recent discoveries from such sites are from Korian to the west of Talhar in Tando Mohammad Khan, district Badin, and are kept at the Provincial Museum of Sindh at Hyderabad. Then there is the discovery at Brahmanabad of many fragments of Hindu stone images, one of which was the frame that surrounded an image, most elaborately carved with rings of little gods around the top and down the sides. In pre-Muslim layers a building was exposed, which obviously was a Shiva shrine, judging by the discovery of two lingas, one of which was still standing on its yoni. Tsang (642 AD) claims that there were about 30 major Hindu temples in Sindh, where people were educated about religion, culture and civilisation. According to Jafarey (1981), the Sindhis appear in the Rig-Veda to have settled well in the Indus Valley and to have completely Aryanised the region.

It is a well-known fact that Sindh has been invaded repeatedly by various tribes and nations. Every invader comes with the same mindset; first, he destroys the ongoing philosophy and then imposes what he believes in simply to enslave the natives. He destroys old structures and literature, while introducing new things as per his thinking. As The Times of April 6, 1843 writes quoting the words of Charles Napier: “The natives were so pleased and welcomed the British troops, and were also pleased on removal of their own tyrant rulers.”

Here is the list of different invasions of Sindh throughout the ages: Barbaric Aryans, who had no sense or respect for city life, invaded and destroyed the cities of Sindh in 3000 BC. In 520-515 BC, the Iranians invaded Sindh. Alexander in 326-325 BC. The Syrians in 305 BC. Greeks in 195 BC. The Hellenist King of Kabul in 155 BC. Sethians and Kushans in 120 BC-200 AD. The Turks in 50 AD-200 AD. The Ephthalites or the White Huns in 400-500 AD. Sassanids from Persia in the second half of the third century AD. The Arabs entered Sindh in 712 AD. Mohammad bin Qasim destroyed the great Shiva Temple in Debal (Lohuizen, 1981). The Arghuns in the 1500s A.D Turkhans in mid-16th century A.D Mughals in late 16th century AD.

In 1839, the Talpurs ruling Sindh signed treaties with the East India Company and handed over Karachi. Finally, on February 17, 1843, the British started ruling Sindh when Charles Napier conquered it, and the Englishmen ruled until 1947.

It is certain that a country that is invaded so many times loses its institutions, education, culture and civilisation, and it takes a long time to rebuild these things.