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Heritage: The ancient graves

October 06, 2012

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The bustling village of Wahi Pandi, taluka Johi, 45km from Dadu is the site of two ancient graveyards of what are known as Roman graves. Wahi is a Sindhi word meaning spring stream and the name of the village ‘Wahi’ is derived from the spring torrents that flow down from the Gorakh hills. These graveyards are located on both the banks of a hill torrent named Narri or Nalli.

Both the graveyards are from different periods. The focal point of the graveyard on the left bank is the canopy locally called Smail Fakeer — a unique structure and part of the cultural heritage of the region. It consists of large carved stones and the roof rests on four pillars. The ceiling of the canopy is round and looks like the Sun, with lines carved on the stones similar to rays radiating from the sun.

The graves are constructed with carved grey or yellowish brown stone blocks. The east and west sides consist of heavy carved stones while the north and the south sides are open. The graves are covered with carved stone blocks. In these graves the corpses were exposed in a strange manner. The head of the dead body was to the south and the feet towards the north. Even today one can see the bones in the columned graves. No material was used to fix the stone blocks.

The carving on the stones of the graves located on the right bank of the hill torrent Narri is not as beautiful as that on the stones on the left bank. These stones also bear various inscriptions including holy verses such as ‘Notak Yousif’ and ‘Allah’. Sentences and phrases, either in Kufi script or Persian can also be seen.

When and why did these graves begin to be called Roman graves? It is very difficult to learn the accurate reason and the proper period. Some may believe they date bck to the time of Alexander the Great, who invaded Sindh in 327BC and stayed here till 324BC. However, it would be impossible to build such glorious monuments in three years’ time. Some scholars believe these graves to be Roman, on account of Roman type of carvings; others are of the opinion that these graves are related to Baloch tribes, but it is not known which Baloch tribe had a tradition of leaving the corpses exposed in columned graves.

Bheru Mal Maharchand Adwani writes in his book Qadeem Sindh that some Zoroastrians entered the fold of Islam, and were called Mughals, Afghans, Balochs, etc. It seems more acceptable that these graves belong to that community. Remains of Zoroastrians have also been found near the Ranikot Fort, the Kai Valley and in the ancient rock carvings and engravings on the rocks in Kheerthar mountain range near Wahi Pandhi. Iranian influence in Sindh can be traced to the period of Daruish-I. The following reasons support this:

(a) These columned graves are located on the high hills, in the manner of the Tower of Silence.

(b) When the Muslims conquered Iran in 637AD, Zoroastrians became weak and were called Gabrs. Zoroastrians called themselves ‘Bahadin’, which literally means ‘of fresh religion’. Even today the communities exist in Tehran, as well as in Yazd, Kerman and Kermanshah, where many speak an Iranian language distinct from the usual Persian. They call their language Dari (not to be confused with the Dari of Afghanistan), Gabri or Bahadinan. The word ‘Bahadin’ is inscribed on one stone of the graves at the left bank of the hill stream near Wahi Pandhi.

(c) The compound name ‘Notak Yousif’ inscribed on a stone does not signify the name of any local community. Sindh has no tradition of naming a person in compound words such as Notak Yousif.

(d) While some Zoroastrian communities make the Tower of Silence high, some made them like palanquins and mausoleums or under the ground with stones or cemented columned rooms. These columned graves function as small Towers of Silence with stones paving the surface of the ground.

(e) There are many remains of Gori or Gabr bands in this region. The word Gori is derived from Gabr, which is a Persian word meaning Zoroastrian. The word Gabr was used only for Zoroastrians, and not for other non-muslims. Gabr bands were constructed near the hill torrents to collect water for drinking and cultivating purposes.

In the light of the above mentioned reasons it can be said that the graveyards commonly known as Roman’s graves are the monuments of those Zoroastrian’s who embraced Islam but continued their religious traditions for a long period. Natural disasters and local people have damaged this heritage. There is a need to save and preserve these monuments.