KARACHI: Experts at a day-long seminar on Saturday highlighted the rich pre-colonial literary heritage of Sindh and Balochistan.

The seminar — Glorious Past of Sindh: A New Perspective — was organised by the N.A. Baloch Institute of Heritage Research at the Arts Council here.

In the inaugural session, Dr Abdul Ghaffar Soomro delivered the keynote speech on ‘Shah Jo Risalo: Sindhi Script and Orthography’.

Giving the background to his talk, he said it was to do with the confusion regarding the Sindhi script. He said in 1843 the British conquered Sindh and Charles Napier became its governor. In 1847, R.K. Pringle became the first commissioner of Sindh. At the time the idea of Sindhi as the official language of the region was contemplated, which meant British officers needed to learn Sindhi. It developed a situation in which two groups were created: one wanted the Sindhi language to be written in the Arabic-Sindhi script and the other wanted it to be in Devnagri, the latter group was led by Captain Stack. In 1852, it was decided to go with the Arabic-Sindhi script.

All major cities had educational institutions in past, moot told

At that point Dr Soomro went back in Sindh’s history starting from Mohenjo Daro telling the attendees that many centuries back Sindhi words and script were used. As for Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, he said the first complete collection of his poetry was transcribed in 1793 having the title Ganj. (He showed images of old manuscripts of the Risalo, making the point that the Sindhi script was there way before the British set foot in India.)

The first speaker of the first technical session of the seminar was Dr Idrees Soomro who gave an informative presentation on ‘Antique Manuscripts of Sindhi Scholars’. During his time on stage, he talked about his personal collection, mentioned several rare books and ran their images on screen for the audience. They included Kifayatul Qari Fi Sharh Sulasiyat al Bukhari, Al Mawahib al Latifah Sharh Musnad al Imam Abi Hanifah and Hayat al Quloob Fi Ziyarat al Mahboob.

Dr Hafeez Jamali was next who spoke on ‘Pre-colonial manuscript cultures and the emergence of a new social space in Balochistan for religious reform in colonial Balochistan (1882-1948)’.

He said from the time Pakistan came into being (historical) narratives had moved around the partition of the subcontinent. There’s no sufficient study on the maritime corridor such as Gwadar and Makran and the areas attached to the Afghan frontier.

“Unfortunately, the British taught us that the people belonging to the areas from where they controlled Balochistan and upper frontier of Sindh were wild savages, dacoits and thieves who had nothing to do with literature and intellectual activities. But if we go back to both early colonial period and before that the pre-colonial time (late 18th century and the middle of the 19th century) we will find that all major cities in Blochistan, including Pishin, Kalat and Khuzdar, had madressahs and educational institutions. They were connected with cities in Sindh such as Sukkur and Shikarpur. They were also intellectually connected to places such as Thatta in the south and Kandahar and Samarqand in the north, both through trade routes and intellectual pursuits. Therefore, ideas and manuscripts kept circulating in these regions.”

He said people were told that modernity reached Europe after the advent of the printing press. “If we look at it closely, then we will see that in India and particularly in Balochistan, the first people who used the printed material were scholars (ulema).”

Dr Jamali then shed light on the Maktaba-i-Darkhan at the mouth of the Bolan Pass established by Maulana Mohammad Fazil Raisani Darkhani. “We learn from this that the foundation for the emergence of the religious discourse in the region through printed books was laid by khanqahs and madressahs which had in circulation handwritten manuscripts.”

The scholar in the last part of his address spoke on the intellectual networks that existed between Sindh and Balochistan.

Earlier, Dr Asma Ibrahim gave a brief introduction to the institute and the distinguished Dr Baloch. She said the late scholar had a dream to render his services to Sindh’s heritage and history. He was an eminent individual who was a mentor to her. Most of his research was in the realms of literature and heritage. He had dedicated his entire life to Sindh studies.

Informing the audience why the seminar was brought to Karachi since it’s usually arranged in Hyderabad, Dr Ibrahim said the advisory committee of the institute decided to introduce its objectives to those who were not familiar with it.

Two books were also launched on the occasion: The Kahlhoras of Sindh by Z.A. Kalhoro and Shah Jo Risalo compiled by Miyun Noor Mohammad.

The second technical session of the seminar had names of the following speakers: Prof Dr Jonathan Mark Kenoyer, Dr Noman Baig, Dr Randall Law, Dr Z.A. Kalhoro and Dr Kaleemullah Lashari.

The seminar was held in collaboration with the Sindh Exploration and Adventure Society and the Arts Council.

Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2024

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