Notes on Sindh’s fascinating history and culture

It seems that often we only learn or know about another country by watching the news after a tragedy has struck it.
The flooding that is currently hitting Pakistan is an example of this amongst many other natural disasters, such as the Haiti earthquake earlier this year and the South Asian tsunami a few years earlier.
In 2001 a devastating earthquake hit India and parts of Pakistan, the epicentre being Kachcch which lies south of Sindh and across the border in India. Many people I have told about my visits to Kachchh only knew of the area because of this earthquake. Although, a terrible thing to happen, the livelihood of many artisans who were struggling before the earthquake now have thriving businesses. This was due to the heightened attention the area received following the disaster. Along with the prime relief effort of food and new homes came government and NGO help to re-start businesses and enable artisans to re-build their lives through what they know and have skills in.
Being so close to Kachchh, Sindh has many cultural similarities, especially because many communities now living in Kachchh migrated here from Sindh, and many still have family there. Nomadic groups moved between the regions for centuries up until partition after 1947 when border control was strictly enforced.

Sindh is home to the Indus valley civilisation site of Mohenjo daro (‘mound of the dead’) Evidence was found at this site the practice of weaving, madder and indigo dyeing and patterning cloth as well as symbolic stone carving that were found to have originated around 2500 BC. Other major Indus sites are Harappa in Punjab and Dholavira in Kachchh.

I have been searching for the origins of some of the patterns that are used today in ajrakh printing. As it originated in Sindh, this means looking to within this province for the meanings and stories behind these, and why they are so symbolic of both a Sindhi and Kachchhi person’s identity.

While viewing the Sindhi ajrakh cloths in the V&A, I came across a familiar pattern of interlinking circles, which bear striking resemblance to patterns found on Harappa civilisation pots dating to the 2500 BC :
This is an image of the old patterns found at Harappa taken from the book ‘Threadlines Pakistan’

This is one of the ajrak cloths from Sindh, Pakistan, not dated but probably mid 20th century.

In such a simple pattern, there can be seen so many further patterns and shapes – as well as the circles, a four petalled flower can be seen, diamonds, squares and triangles. It is mesmerizing to look at and the fact it continues endlessly is why it has endless connotations and symbols in many cultures and religions. It is considered by some to be a symbol of sacred geometry, said to contain ancient, religious value depicting the fundamental forms of space and time.

The patterns found in ajrakh are made up of symmetrically geometric forms typical of Islamic art. Ismail Mohammed says the patterns come from God, and it is said that the perfect symmetrical patterns reflect the perfection of God’s creation.

The trefoil found on a stone king priest at Mohenjo daro can also be linked with patterns still used today. It is thought by some to have strong religious links to the trinity, the unity of powerful gods of the sun, water and earth.

The ajrakh artisans think their kakkar (cloud) pattern derived from this trefoil pattern

Having never visited Sindh, I have little knowledge on the province. I do hope to visit there and learn more about its fascinating history, and find out whether old traditions are still in practice, such as the use of these historic patterns in the printed and embroidered cloths. I do hope that, like Kachchh the crafts can continue and provide the world with a positive and hopeful view of the country and its people through beautiful products with important history and fascinating stories.

A wonderfully written book Empires of the Indus, by Alice Albinia, provides a compelling insight into the world of the Indus valley civilisation. While touring the length of the river, she speaks to communities now living along the river banks, as well as giving a historic narrative of who once lived in the same spots.

2 Comments

  1. i was very fascinated , reading about the rich culture of the state of sindh…i was born in quetta, but came away to india after partition…..similar weaves and textiles are still made in our very own state of kacch……i was really very happy to see this write up, about those lovely textiles and designs.

    • Thank you for your comment. I’m pleased that you were interested in this blog post. I have travelled to Kachchh on a few occasions and my work and research there led me to know about the culture of Sindh too. There are many similarities in culture and textiles between Kachchh and Sindh, because so many have migrated like you. I’d love to visit!

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