Sindh Under the Kalhoras: Persian Histories, Chronicles, Epistolaries, and Compendiums of 18th Century Sindh
By Humera Naz
Oxford University Press
Dr Humera Naz is a well-known historian from Sindh, having previously published a book on the historiography of the region titled Sindh Under the Mughals. The book under review, Sindh Under the Kalhoras is thus the second in a series that looks at the historiography of Sindh, this time in the context of the rule of the Kalhoras, and other Sindhi dynasties.
As an academic, the author is not concerned so much with a narration of historical events, but with the study of the history of Sindh as a discipline and, specifically, which sources can be used for the purpose. This book is an exposition of primary historical sources for Sindh in the 17th and 18th centuries and beyond.
It is a slim volume, but is packed with information and helps the general reader (like this reviewer) understand the art of choosing the right source for the study of history, as well as identify the possible obstacles along the way.
The book begins with a very useful (for the general reader) chapter on the significance of primary sources, and why such original materials, written at or close to the time period they are describing, are crucial to the study of history. As she points out, primary sources can go far beyond documents and may include paintings, physical artefacts or any other method of creating a record.
A compilation about the historiography of Sindh under the Kalhora and other dynasties is an excellent exposition of primary historical sources in the 17th and 18th centuries and beyond
At the same time, the author is quick to clarify that primary sources are by no means infallible, and are sometimes not the main source used by a historian — in general, academics look to verify or triangulate the findings from primary sources through secondary source material. Having said that, this book is a compilation of primary sources, which highlights the importance of such material in historiography.
Although the focus of this book is the 18th century Kalhora period, the author’s research on primary sources from ancient to mediaeval times is the subject of the first chapter. Amongst ancient primary sources are the Hindu epics — interestingly, it is mentioned here that the earliest mention of Sindh in a written text is in the Rig Veda, which was likely composed between 1,500 and 1,000 BCE.
Other sources from ancient times include accounts of Alexander’s battles, but also some non-traditional sources, such as legends, myths and epics. The written historical record of Sindh, however, starts after the Arab invasion of the early 8th century. One of the most famous treatises of that time is the Chhachh Nama, written in 1216 in Bhakkar.
The three core chapters of the book consist of a painstaking exposition of primary sources on the history of Sindh in the 18th century. They are divided up into a) political chronicles; b) non-political genres or alternative sources of history; and c) the insha literature or epistolography (literally: the art of writing letters).
For each form of original source material, the author first presents a context or historical background. For example, for the chapter on political chronicles, Dr Naz explains that the Arab rulers of Sindh had left a legacy of scholarship, a tradition that was continued by the Samma rulers, and later the Kalhoras, whose period of rule was a golden age for language, literature (in both Sindhi and Persian), and crafts.
The key original sources from political and literary chronicles on the history of Sindh in the period included the Tareekh-i-Abbasia by Ali Sher Qani Thattawi (interesting to know that it is extant in Thatta); Tuhfat-ul-Kiram by the same author; and the Tareekh-i-Sindh by Munshi Topan Mal among others. For each source that she mentions, Dr Naz gives some detail on the author, the key contents of the document(s), and where to access the original version.
The same pattern follows for non-political sources (mainly tazkira and malfuz sources). Dr Naz explains each of these source “types” — a blessing for lay readers like this reviewer. It is interesting to learn that the tazkira or biographies/anthologies of famous poets, has a strong tradition in Sindh, to the extent that the oldest work of this nature was composed in what was then Sindh (the city of Uchh) in 1221.
Similarly, Sindh has been a centre for the writing of malfuzat, or discourses about Sufi saints. A key tazkira, detailed by Dr Naz in this volume, is the Tuhfat-ul-Tahirin by Shaykh Muhammad Azam of Thatta. Dr Naz provides references of other tazkira referred to in the Tuhfat-ul-Tahirin, and narrates some of the storied miracles attributed to Sufi saints from Sindh, as recorded in the Tuhfat.
Lastly, the author expounds on the insha or letter-writing tradition, which in Sindh begins in the 14th century, with dispatches about the working of the Tughlaq administration. Key sources of insha literature which mention Sindh, as per Dr Naz, include Adab-i-Alamgiri (letters of the Emperor Aurangzeb), and the Dastur-i-Hakumat, a compilation of letters of the Mughal governor of Sindh in the 18th century, among some others.
Once again, Dr Naz, in a remarkable feat of scholarship, provides important insights into each of the epistolary compilations she lists, whetting the appetites of many historians who I am sure will be interested in following up on these original sources.
The book concludes with a section on the message of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai’s Shah Jo Risalo — a piece of writing which has spawned a wealth of scholarship in Sindh, and will continue to be researched for some time to come.
Dr Naz has done no small service to the historiography of Sindh, and indeed to Sindhi “alternative” sources of history, with this compilation. It is bound to interest researchers working in the region, and will be an invaluable resource for those looking for primary sources.
The reviewer is a researcher and policy analyst
Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, October 1st, 2023