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Bhambore: the city of mystery and romance

Bhambore: the city of mystery and romance

Associated with the story of Sassui Punhun that was immortalised in the poetry of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, the ancient city of Bhanbore was situated 37 miles north of Karachi, near Gharo. The 10th century capital of Bhambo Raja, the city reached the height of its fame as the most important crossroad of the ancient trade route to China and Middle East.

It is believed that Bhambore was destroyed around 1250 CE, but it still lives in the world of romance and folklore. Sassui’s grave lies at a site known as ‘Sassui waro chodo’, 14 miles from Karachi on the road to Kech Makran.

The story of Sussui-Punhun owes its origin to the Soomra period (1024-1351CE), which is known as the period of chivalry and romance. Through the Bhats and the Charans, this story spread far and wide. The first documented source mentioning Bhambore is found in the poetry of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai’s grandfather Shah Abdul Karim Bulri (1536-1623CE) who while narrating the story of ‘Sussui - Punhun’ says:

Sussui says, “When I came outside Bhambore and cried out, if my cries would have been heard by my beloved, he would have not left me.”

After Shah Abdul Karim, many references to this city can be traced in the literature of Sindh. Mir Muhammad Masum Bakhari (d. 1606CE)), the great historian and poet of Sindh also narrated this story under the title of Masnawi Husn-o-na’az in Persian some time around 1594CE. Besides, Mian Shah Inayat (d. I719CE) and Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai (d. 1752CE) also narrate the famous folklore of Sussui-Punhun in their poetry using different variations in spelling and pronunciation of Bhambore such as ‘Bhombore’ or ‘Banbhore’, both of which are still used by the people of Sindh.

Nevertheless, the origin and history of Bhambore is mostly obscure and its location controversial. For instance, David Ross thought the ruins of Bhambore are ‘Deebal’. Sir Henry George Elliot and Alexander Cunningham consider it to be the ancient ‘Barbarikan’ which, according to Maris Erythraei the author of the Periplus, was the delta seaport during Alexander’s time (c. 324 BCE). “There are ruins of great antiquity in ‘Bambura’, comprising ramparts, bastions, towers and houses which show a large population and trace at one time,” wrote David Ross in his book titled The Land of the Five Rivers and Sindh: Sketches Historical and Descriptive when he first saw the site in the 19th century CE. Henry Cousens in, Antiquities of Sind says, “Natives of Sindh consider it as the oldest port of the province.” And that he himself would take it to be a port of Alexander’s days. Notwithstanding, there is no factual evidence that proves whether the city of Bhambore really existed or is just a fantasy. No one could find the traces of this place or its name from any authentic historical source. It might be possible that this city existed during the earlier time and was adopted in the folklore later, however this conception does not have a strong footing.

According to Sindhi folklore, the story of Sussui-Punhun is associated with the region that spreads from Kuch valley to southern Sindh. This region is generally considered a part of the ancient trade route towards Iraq, on which Bhambore seems to be situated 37 miles south-east from Karachi. There are three reasons that substantiate this assumption. First, the ruins of Bhambore are situated on the old course of River Indus; second, in the north west of the ruins, the quarters of textile dying workers are found that are associated with the story of Sussui-Punhun; and thirdly, Sussui took this route while looking for Punhun after he was kidnapped by his brothers and the place where her monument has been erected is situated in the north-west of Karachi near the hills of Pubb and the valley of Sanghar.

Dr N.A. Baloch, who carried out substantial research on this issue, argues that in the name of ‘Bhambore’ there appears to be a convincing philological clue to the name of the old Buddhist temple at Deebal, namely (Bhanmbor = Ban-Bahar) Vana-Vihara which probably may have been the name of the Buddhist temple that stood at this site which should be Deebal. Buddhist temples are known as ‘Viharas’ and in the Fathnama-i-Sindh alias Chachnama (c. 1216 CE), the earliest historical source on Sindh, we get names of some other Buddhist temples in Sindh at the time of Arab conquest. The accounts of Debal speak of the temple which stood approximately 14 yards high. At Bhambore, high on the hillock stand some old foundation of walls eight to 10 feet wide with bastions. This high platform may have been the site of the temple and later on of the mosque that Bhambore is largely known for.

It is believed that Bhambore, which is 35km from the open sea today, was only 20km from the sea during the 13th century, and when Alexander came here in 324 BCE, it was probably on the sea itself or a mile or two in land on the Kalri branch of the Indus. The ancient fort existed much before the Arab conquest but was repaired periodically.

The sandstone used in its construction, and also of houses, came from hillocks just outside the settlement but mud bricks were used for the poor men’s quarters and in core fortification. The settlement occupies about 55 acres, though only 10 per cent of the conspicuous area has been excavated and much cannot be known about the life of the common man. As there is mystery about the origin of this city, it has the same controversy about its end. No authentic and final conclusion has been drawn about its destruction yet.

There are numerous versions regarding the destruction of this ancient city. Some believe that a major change took place in the course of River Indus and the city that was situated on the bank of the river was deserted. Another reason that is given is that the city came to a sudden end following a violent earthquake around 1250CE. Some historians believe that the city was put to fire in the event of a civil war or a foreign invasion. Another account says that the destruction of Bhambore could have been caused when during the mid-13th century CE, Jalal al-Din Khwarzim Shah invaded Sindh, and devastated and conquered many coastal areas of Sindh.

The writer is assistant professor, Department of General History, University of Karachi,

[email protected]

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine October 11th , 2015

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