Volume - 2 : Issue - 1

Published : Jan. - Mar. 2003

Group : History



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Inhabitants of Sindh

By Prem Matlani

Whoever has gone through the article “The defining definition” by Mr. Ranjit Butani in Sindhishaan’s April-June 2002 issue can recollect what I had to say about “Sindhiat”. To understand my present article in its true perspective, it won’t be futile to repeat some of its portions. “Whatever differentiates a Sindhi from others or description of Sindhi values should be termed as “Sindhiat”. A combination of all those factors that makes a Sindhi recognizable could be true essence of the term”.

“There are four basic ingredients of any nation - namely natural environment or geographical conditions, history, ethnology and the religion. Under the influence of these factors, Sindhi nation too developed varying patterns of living, constituting external forms such as food, dress and shelter, social customs and behaviour, psychological and spiritual attitudes which manifest through choices, beliefs and ideals. Sindhis have their own customs and traditions, their typical apparel, Sindhi sports, Sindhi music, peculiar habits, their Sufi perspective of religion and resultant tolerance, their own architecture, folk heritage, different food habits and world famous Sindhi hospitality et al.”

Here, I shall try to introduce readers to Sindhis and their dress code, as exercised by them in different periods and different locations. Sindhis can be broadly divided into followers of two religions i.e., Muslims as well as Hindus. Though recently some conversion towards Christianity has been noticed and described by various writers, including Sindhishaan. Sindhis are mainly either Muslims or Hindus. The former being by far more numerous, comprise almost quite two thirds of the entire population of Sindh before partition.

Before invasion of Sindh in 712 AD by Arab Muslim general Mohammed Bin Qasim, Sindh was a flourishing Hindu kingdom guarded by a well-appointed and efficient army. The conquest of Sindh led to a flurry of conversions and after that it was governed by Sindhi converts whose descendants are settled in Sindh. Sindhi Muslims comprise of different castes, the superior of them termed as Sayeds - The Bukhari, Matari, Shirazi and Lekhirayi. The Pathans have originally come from Khorasan and settled in Sindh since generations and are mostly found in Shikarpur and Jacobabad. The Sindhi Baloch is the descendant of mountain tribe, inhabiting the tract of province known as Balochistan to the west of Khirthar, the range of mountains, which separate it from Sindh. They are said to have originally come from Aleppo in Syria. Another of the naturalised classes are the Makranis (one who hails from Makran, an area of Balochistan), often called as Shidis as they are said to have originated from Africa and came into Sindh by way of Muscat. They became the inmates of the families, which purchased them, and lived so comfortably that at the conquest of Sindh by the British, emancipation was to them rather an evil than a benefit. When a Sindhi married a Shidiani, the half-caste offspring was called a ‘Gaddo’ while the children of a Sindhi father and a Gaddo mother were known as “Kambrani”. As far as Memons are concerned they are Kachhi Hindu converts, fondly termed as Momin which became Memon with the passage of time. The majority of Memons live in Gujarat province of India.

The Hindu population of Sindh may be divided into Brahmans, Kshatrias, Waishias and Shudras with their different sub divisions. Captain Richard Burton in his book “Customs, language and literature of the people of Sindh” said, “The Hindu portion of Sindhis occupies in Sindh the same social position that the Muhammadans do in India, it is very probable that few or none of the Hindu families which existed in Sindh at the time of the first Muslim inroad have survived the persecution to which they were subjected, and it is most likely that by degrees they were either converted to Islam, or emigrated to another land. The present race is almost entirely of Punjabi origin, as their features, manners, religion, ceremonies, and opinions, as well as their names,  ufficiently prove.”

Of the Brahmans we find two chief castes which do not inter-marry viz, Pokarno and Sarsudh. The former are Shewaks (or worshippers) of Maharaj and are therefore pure Hindus. The Pokarno considers himself superior to the Sarsudh, he can read, if not understand Sanskrit and is skilled in drawing out the “Janam Patri” or horoscope of children. He worships Lord Shiva and goddess Parvati, his consort. Most of the Tirthas, or places of Hindu pilgrimage in Sindh and Balochistan are sacred to the latter deity – as Hinglach, the Makli Hills near Thatta and Dhara Tirth in Lakki Hills near Sewhan. As regards dress he wears the clothes of a Shahukar or Hindu merchant and shaves the beard. Most of them wear a white turban, whereas the Pokarno prefers a red one; and the former will occasionally assume the costume of an Amil (an individual in civil employment).

Regarding Kshatriyas of Sindh as per Hindu history, the whole of the race was annihilated by divine wrath. Richard Burton affirms that the Kshatrya of Sindh is almost invariably a Wani or Baniya, who becomes a follower of Guru Nanak Dev’s faith i.e., a Sikh, but this statement is held to be altogether incorrect by others. Of the Waishia, Wani or Banya caste, there is one great family, the Lohano. It is usually divided and subdivided almost endlessly, but the distinguishing features of the race are still sufficiently prominent. He eats meat, drinks spirits and will not object to fish and onions, some are followers of the Vaishnia faith, others worship the different incarnations of Shiva and his consort, some again are of Sikh faith, while others venerate the Sindhu river god as Jhulelal or Zindah Pir. The two faiths (Islam and Hinduism) are found mixed up in an unsusual way in Sindh; the Hindu will often become the murid (disciple) of a Muslim or vice versa. So, too, the same Pirs, or saints buried in different parts of the country, are not only respected by individuals of both religions, but the Hindus will have one name for each, and Muslims another. Thus the former venerate the river god as Zindahpir whereas the later call him Khwaja Khizr, Uderolal becomes Sheikh Tahir; Lalu Jassraj is converted into Mangho Pir and Raja Bhartari is called Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. Ofcourse the Hindus claim these worthies, most probably with more justice than the Muslims, who have merely altered the name for their own purposes.

Contrary to the practice of high caste men in India, it is said in Sindh that Hindus who have been forcibly converted to Muslims and compelled to undergo circumcision, recite the Kalima, attend the mosque, and eat beef, can be re-converted into their original Dharma by going through certain ceremonies. People say that Chawlas are the reconverted Hindus. The Amils had adopted the Muslim costume, wore the topi (cylindrical hat), the beard long, the shalwar and only shaved the crown of the head. They did not however trim the moustache according to Sunnat, but often put on the tilak and wear the shirt with a gore across the left breast, whereas the Muslims always had the opening down the right side. In the Khudabadi caste of Lohano, if a girl became a widow early in life, the deceased husband’s brother generally married her. An Amil was rather acute than talented and evinced much readiness in accounts and in managing money matters. Even the Mirs with all their hatred and contempt for Kafirs, could not collect or dispose of their revenues without the aid of Hindu Amils.

Of the Shudras, or servile caste, there were several varieties. The Sonaro (Goldsmith) properly speaking a mixed caste, descended from a Brahman father and a Shudra mother. In Sindh he was distinguished for a superior degree of craftsmanship and usually a wealthy man for his station in life. The Hindu families in Sindh wore a profusion of ornaments and the Muslims had imitated the custom but to a lesser degree. The “Sochi” or shoemaker would not dress or tan leather, he bought it from Muslim Mochi (tanner), sewed it and delivered to customers.

In the dress of a Sindhi, whatever his creed, social position or sex, may be, there were two indispensable garments, trousers (shalwar) and a shirt (peheran); and the shirt was worn outside the trousers. In pre-partition days Hindu Sindhi used to wear trousers resembling pyjama and a Muslim Sindhi Shalwar, a baggy trouser narrow at the ankle end.

Presently every Sindhi of Sindh, be he a Muslim or Hindu has commonly adopted it, though school or college going children may opt for western apparel i.e., shirt and pants with jacket to be worn in winter season. Previously Hindu Sindhi ladies used to wear baggy pyjamas as trousers which though scarcely, can still be seen in Ulhasnagar, a township located nearby Bombay in India. After partition the baggy pyjama gave way to shalwar which is not only commonly used by Sindhi women but even large sections of Indian female population has also dumped Sari for the sake of it. In Sindh, shalwars or pyjamas are fastened with a cord (navel string or agath). It is multi-coloured ornamented, even bejeweled, the making of it is an industry in Sindh. In pre-partition days the Hindu Sindhis of upper  Sindh cleaved to national dhoti. A Sindhi Muslim likes to wear a waistcoat (sadree) of velvet or embroidered silk, over which he may, or may not, wear a long coat. Finally all classes used to wear a kind of scarf which may be used as a “kamarband”, or thrown about the shoulders like a Scotch plaid, and has multifarious conveniences. If made of silk, with a border perhaps of gold thread, it is a Lungi for a prosperous Sindhi Muslim (It should not be misunderstood with Madrasi Lungi which is used as loin cloth in Southern India), if it is of white cotton it is called a bochhan.

Shoes are more universally worn in Sindh than in the Deccan or Konkan. Those worn by Sindhi Muslim females are slippers described by Richard Burton, “A leather sole destitute of hindquarters, whose tiny vamp hardly covers the toes, its ornaments are large tufts of floss, silk, various coloured foils, wings of green beetles, embroidered or seed pearls sewed upon a bright cloth ground.” The headgear of Sindhi Hindu and Muslim introduces more diversity and was the index of caste and creed. The Hindu wore an embroidered round cap indoors, or in the north a simple white topi but a turban when he went out. If he was Pushkarna Brahman or a Bhatia, the turban was red, close fitting, shaped like a pie-crust with a very narrow projecting rim. In the north it had the Multani shape, broader and not so neatly bound. If the wearer was a Sarswat Brahman or a Lohana, it was the same but white, unless he was an Amil, in which case he would adopt the Muslim fashion and appear on occasions of ceremony in the wonderful Sindhi hat made of velvet or Kimkhaab with a broad brim running round the top. On other occasion he would wear a globular, amorphous turban (Patko), white or coloured.

Women wore in addition to two indispensable garments, a covering for the head (a Rao) which took the form indoors of a thin veil. Though in India Sindhi women have literally renounced it and use it as a fashion accessory rather than a piece of covering. Both Hindu as well as Muslim women wore a chadar over the head and shoulders. This corresponded to the free end of a Maratha woman’s sari and fenced modesty. Pre-eminent modesty was indicated by a “burka” which is an extinguisher of white cotton reaching to the ground, with a netted window in front of the eyes to enable the extinguished to see her about, but the garment properly belonged to Moghals and foreigners.

Though Sindhis had some way or other maintained their individuality as for as apparel is concerned, then too the growing urbanisation and large scale uprooting and migration and resulting interaction with different nations and communities has obscured and diffused the difference of clothing habits. Sindhis, in order to assimilate them into their new environment, have more and more modified their apparel, language, living and food habits coinciding with the customs and traditions prevalent in their new residential countries.

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