Preserving heritage

December 5, 2021

As with many other relics of local heritage, Kahu jo Daro awaits government attention

Preserving heritage

Several historical sites across the country have lost their charm due to neglect and environmental factors. The mound of Kahu in Mirpurkhas, the city of sweet mangoes, is one such reminder of a heritage mostly lost.

Mir Ali Murad Talpur of the Mankani branch of the Talpur family had inherited the region around Mirpurkhas in 1801 and founded the new city in 1806 to serve as his capital. Kahu jo Daro is a significant part of the indigenous heritage. The first excavation took place in the early 19th Century. It was initiated by Sir John Marshall of the East India Company.

The name Kahu jo Daro refers to a Hindu king. However, there is also a bazaar with the same name, and historians are divided on the origin of the name.

Several centuries ago, Buddhism had a stronghold in the subcontinent. It is natural therefore to find relics from that time all over this region. The excavation at Kahu jo Daro further cemented the awareness of reach and presence of Buddhism in the area. Muhammad Ramazan Minhas writes, “the excavation of Kahu jo Daro was started in the British era by John Marshall. After the revolt of 1857, John Marshall was appointed a commissioner in Sindh on a temporary basis. The excavation remained shallow and incomplete. No proper documentation of the site followed. However, in the years 1909-10, a Tharparkar deputy commissioner, Mackenzie, wrote some letters to the Archaeology Department for an excavation.”

Minhas adds that eventually, the survey superintendent of the department, Henry Cousens, arrived for the excavation and discovered a Buddhism temple that is known as the tower or stupa. After the excavation, people started visiting the Kahu jo Daro. Ramazan writes, “ Henry Cousens writes in his report that the site was spread over 40 acres where he saw mounds and barren land. After the excavation of a tumbled down building he found a worship place of Buddhism that was almost 53 square feet in length. The walls were decorated with flowers and there was a big gate in the centre. The statues and pictures were found from the arch of the worship place. The statues were all made of clay and baked in fire.

In ancient times, people made statues of Buddha, which were baked in fire and were hand painted. When this building was excavated from the west side, a statue of Kabeer was also found. And a well appeared too. When the well’s opening was cleared a bottle with a gold-covered candle and another with ashes was discovered.

Preserving heritage

According to Henry Cousens, these ashes belonged to Gautama Buddha. They were saved as sacred relics or benediction. Gautama Buddha belonged to the Shakyamuni clan. It was a ritual that when an important person died, the Shakyamuni would burn their body and build a samadhi (shrine) where ashes of the dead were kept. After Buddha’s passing, his ashes were divided into eight parts and buried in different areas, where people made temples and samadhis.

In the first quarter of the 20th Century the excavation was started again, and a 17 feet long square podium was found on which stood was a 38 feet long tower. The followers of Buddha had used it for religious rituals. On the sides of the podium there were three statues on engraved bricks.

Apart from that, pottery and other artefacts bearing the signs of Pagoda were found. The ornaments and artefacts of Kahu jo Daro were placed in the Prince of Wales Museum in Bombay. That is where they remain.

Ubaid Banglani, a political activist with a keen interest in ancient history of such sites says, “This is ancient site. It is unfortunate that our people have ignored their heritage. The do not realise the worth of their history. Most of the area of Kahu jo Daro is occupied by people who clearly do not care about it.” Banglani laments the neglect suffered by the historical site. “People view this as a barren site because no one from the Department of Archeaology bothers with it.” A peaceful place of worship for followers of Buddhism is crumbling.

“I suggest that the Sindh government and its Archaeology Department take an interest in new excavations, as has been done recently Brahmanabad,“ says the activist.

In her article, Kahu jo Daro: Another Lost Stupa, Pareveen Talpur laments the neglect of the historical site. “My last visit to Kahu jo Daro was in the mid-1960s. Until then images of Buddha stood firm in the niches of its exterior wall; sadly, by now, everything has vanished.” After extensive research on the Buddhist monuments of Sindh, JE Van Lohuizen-de Leeuw remarked that, “the worst fate befell the site of Kahu.”

Not blaming the Arab Muslims for the destruction of pre-Islamic monuments, she identifies salinity as the greatest enemy of buildings in Sindh. “In my lifetime, I have seen many beautiful structures, both old and new, corroding due to salt encrustation and rapidly crumbling. In such a fragile world where abodes of saints do not survive their seekers often beguile their hearts with the thought that under every tree lives a saint.”

In 1859, an officer of the British Army, Sir James, came to the Mirpurkhas district and laid the foundation of Jamesabad. He wrote. “When Kahu jo Daro was excavated, two statues were found, both belonging to the 6th Century.”

Today Kahu jo Daro seems a barren land. Most of the area has been captured by local people. The government of Sindh has installed a barbed wire around it and wants to prevent further encroachment. A quick excavation is still needed to dig up the site buried deep.

Development does not only mean building new infrastructure but also preserving the existing ones, especially where there is historical value. The relevant departments must protect the site of cultural value from further degradation.

The writer is a fiction writer, blogger and   journalist

Preserving heritage