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Ancient writing: On the rocks

January 23, 2011

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Rock carvings and inscriptions have been found in different parts of Pakistan but a large number of rock art sites located in different hill terrains of the Kirthar range remain undocumented.

The 150-mile-long-Kirthar range runs from north to south and looks like a wall from the plains with only ten points in its entire length through which laden camels can go across.

The highest point in Sindh is at Badi Ji Qabar at 7,112 feet, followed by Daryaro nearly 6,000 feet and Kutte Ji Qabar or the Dog’s tomb which rises to 6,877 north of Gaj. Two famous summits are Kachrak and Gorakh, the latter rises to 5,600 feet offering a panoramic view of both Nali and Gaj valleys meandering through the hills.

There are two ways to get to the rock art of Sado Mazo in Nain Nali. One could go from Odri Laki via Pahi Laki (pass) to reach the site or from Bodho village. The former is an enchanting route with caves along the way.

The first cave located some three kilometres from Wahi Pandi, is just above the Gaji Kumb, a natural pond in the bed of a perennial river. One finds some graffiti here. From Gaji Kumb, there are two routes; one that goes to Bodho village and the other to Pahi Lak. Just short of Pahi Lak are two more caves, locally called Jhudo.

A camel path goes up to Chakar Gat where lie a few Muslims graves and the ruins of a fortification wall from the medieval period. From here, the rock art site of Sado Mazo is hardly 300 metres away.

As one descends from Chakar Gat to Sado, one can see a cliff with rock carvings and inscriptions. The 20-feet-long cliff or sandstone mountain wall, locally called ban, runs from the north to south and bears a 15-feet-high image of a bull. The lower part of the wall collapsed in the 2001 earthquake while the upper part is still in good condition. The mountain wall which can be divided into northern and southern panels has several petroglyphs and inscriptions.

South of the ban lies the large Kumb of Sado Mazo and a small cave depicting at least 11 magnificent petroglyphs of humped bulls or zebus. Apart from these, there are two representations of a horse and three of horsemen. The most fascinating piece is that of horse whose body is decorated with two lotus flowers, one on the hind leg and the other on the shoulder.

The rock art site of Sado Mazo depicts four Zoroastrian rock carvings of fire altars and a fire temple. Two altars are without flames while the third has flames or what looks a fire vessel represented by wavy lines. The first altar is depicted by the hind legs of the bull and the other lies below the figure of the bull.

Buddhist engravings too are present on stupas and in monasteries at various sites in the Kirthar range. Sado Mazo has five images of stupas. The dome of the stupa rests on the three stories or terraces. The second stupa partially damaged due to the disintegration of the mountain wall is similar in architecture to the stupa with the damaged inscription. Close to the Buddhist stupa is another depiction of a fire altar, shaped like a lamp stand mounted by a fire vessel or flames.

Six Gupta Brahmi inscriptions have also been recorded of which only three are legible. Apart from Brahmi scripts, one also finds some Kharoshthi inscriptions.

The masterpiece of the rock art of Sado Mazo is the dancing girl.

The rock art of Sado Mazo is different from that found in the different parts of Kirthar and its subsidiary ranges as images of humped bulls provide a link to an ancient religion of Sindh when the bull was perhaps widely worshiped as it played an important role in the economy of the Indus Valley. Numerous images of the bull are found on Indus seals and pottery but their style is different from those found at Sado Mazo.

The writer is a staff anthropologist, Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, Islamabad