On a clear sunny day in winter, I arrived in Thatta, famous for one of the world’s largest graveyards, Makli. In the past, Thatta was considered to be a city of scholars and knowledge, and indeed, it has a lot of history waiting to be explored. When I met Prof Muhammad Ali Manjhi, an eminent historian who has done work on archeological sites of Sindh, he asked me whether I had visited Kalan Kot Fort. I confessed that I hadn’t even heard of it.
The professor briefed me a little about the ancient place and I decided to visit.
Located south of Makli graveyard, about two or three kilometres away from Thatta, lies the Kalan Kot Fort — or Samma Fort or Kalyana Kot — is also called Taghzul Abad after Ameer Taghzul Baig, who also renovated the fort. A broken road leads to the fort, and driving on it will cover your car with dust.
South of the Makli graveyard, the Kalan Kot fort has stood for centuries. Is it a legacy left behind by Feroz Shah Tughlaq and the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb or is it much older?
On arriving at Kalan Kot Fort, I saw a crumbling building; the walls broken and bricks scattered everywhere. At first sight, it appears to have been desolate for centuries. There are no guides or signs installed to offer visitors information about when the fort was built or by whom.
It is also unclear when exactly this fort was built, or how it was destroyed. Some historians trace it back to the 14th century, and say it was occupied until the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb’s rule over the subcontinent. It is also believed that the fort was rebuilt during Jam Tughlaq’s era, in 1427.
Standing amid the ruins, Dr Manjhi shared with me a myth about the place. According to folklore, a huge snake once lived in the city with its face towards Kalan Kot. However, when the serpent turned its face towards Delhi, the latter city flourished while Kalan Kot lost all its charm.
Attacked many times, Kalan Kot was ruled by several invaders and the geography of the city shows that it was made for defence purposes.
Most historians believe that this fort was built during the era of the Rai family, one of the prominent families who ruled Sindh. The Rais were followers of Buddhism. Five descendents of the family ruled Sindh from 450 to 632 CE; Rai Sahasi was the last emperor of the family and following his death in 632, the throne was lost to Brahmin king Taja Chach (Chach of Aror) — Raja Dahir’s father who became the owner of Kalan Kot.
The fort was built with sand stone which has also been used in Makli and Jungshai city.
The soldier’s barracks were on the premises of the huge castle. The 58 towers of the fort are each approximately 20 feet high while the remaining area of the fort is about three square kilometres. Mir Ali Sher Qaney Thattvi, a historian and writer, writes in Makli Nama: “The towers of the fort appear to be touching the sky. The walls of the fort are surrounded by majestic scenery comprising green fields and heavenly orchards.”
Qaney further states: “King Feroz of Delhi [Feroz Shah Tughlaq who conquered Thatta] invaded Sindh and wanted to see Kalan Kot; he left without conquering the fort as it was not an easy feat. The military forces of Tughlaq consisted of 90,000 horse riders, 480 elephants, 500 ships and thousands of soldiers.
“More towers and defence walls were added on the northern side while on the other side ditches were made to protect the fort where there was no lake. After being destroyed twice it was reconstructed. After the destruction of Debal, Thatta became the capital of Sindh. Since the Kalhoras, Thatta remained the capital city of Sindh. Every ruler of Sindh got asylum in Kalan Kot.”
A mosque was also built in the time of Jam Tughlaq. There were two water ponds outside the fort, made by rulers of the time. One of them can still be seen; the other four small ponds were made inside the fort.
According to Dr Manjhi, “Mughals also used the fort as a baroodkhana [ammunition depot]. Many Hindus visited the ruined temple and animals were sacrificed to offer homage to their gods. Nowadays, people come to the temple for worship and apply red colour on the stone walls. When Dara Shikoh burnt down the city of Thatta, the citizens took refuge at Kalan Kot Fort. But no one yet knows who laid the foundation of the fort.”
The silence and peacefulness of Kalan Kot aroused my curiosity to explore the actual story of this beautiful fort. I left wondering if the word ‘kalan’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘kalyan’ which means peace or prosperity.
The writer is a Sindhi fiction writer and journalist, currently working in a daily Sindhi-language newspaper.
Published in Dawn, EOS, January 13th, 2019