Religious Evolution of Sindhi (Hindu) Diaspora
By Dr. Hiro G. Badlani
Sindhi (Hindu) Diaspora is a community, which originally belongs to the province of Sindh, now in Pakistan. Before the partition of India in 1947, the members of this community--the Sindhis-- had lived in their birth place Sindh for thousands of years. Their origin may be traced to the pre-historic Saraswati-Sindhu Civilization. Around 10,000 years from now, at the end of the last Ice Age, a cluster of seven rivers Sapta Sindhu—Indus, Chenab, Jhelum, Ravi, Beas, and now extinct Saraswati rivers—started from the great Himalayas in the North, and travelling across the Western part of the Indian sub-continent, merging together, finally entered the Arabian Sea in the South. Toward their journey in the South, it is believed that the colossal civilization--the Saraswati-Sindhu civilization-- developed along this verdant belt, which was more widely spread than the civilizations of Egypt or Greece. More than fifteen hundred cities developed on the banks of these two great rivers. In these cities, roads were sixty feet wide, and there were brick and stone two-story houses, large community baths, and excellent gravity-operated drainage systems. There is evidence of art pieces, silk and metal articles, crafts, leather seals, and a large variety of agricultural products and storage facilities. These ancient people established reliable marine transport and conducted a trade and cultural relationship with distant lands such as Egypt, Greece, Mesopotamia, Babylon, and others, making it an honored member of the earliest group of civilizations on Earth. For long, this great civilization remained buried, forgotten and hidden. In 1922, it was discovered by the British archeologists and new concepts about the history, culture and religion of India became known to the world. Mohan-Jo-Daro, or perhaps more correctly, Moen-Jo-Daro (the mound of the dead), was the epicenter of this highly developed society. This ancient site is in the central part of a small state of Sindh, which was earlier in the western corner of undivided India, and after the partition in 1947 became part of Pakistan. Sindhis originally hail from this land; Sindhi (Hindu) Diaspora is a smaller part of this larger community of Sindhis. The Diaspora migrated from their homeland of many millennia as its members, who now proudly call themselves Sindhis all over the world, feared religious persecution and physical insecurity. At the time of partition there were about 1.3 million Sindhi Hindus. Most migrated to India. This is a record of the religious and spiritual development of this small community of the Sindhi Hindus who migrated after 1947.
The excavations show evidence of carvings of Shiva in his proto form as Pasupati, the lord of all animal kingdoms, and also in the yoga asana, or yoga positions. There are also carvings of exuberant feminine deities, which would later be known as various forms of the Mother Goddess, Shakti. The naked figurines, in meditative poses of the lotus position and standing kayotsarga (relaxation with self-awareness), are very similar to those later adopted by the Buddha and the Tirthankars (those who achieve enlightenment as per the Jain religion). These carvings are said to point toward the concepts of God as prevalent in that period. The concepts of yoga and meditation too were probably born in this prehistoric era. Although Hinduism recognizes the Vedic teachings as its basic principles, the roots of this religion go back a long way, much earlier than the inception of the Vedas, probably in this period of the ancient Saraswati-Sindhu culture. It is now believed that the Vedas too were created on the banks of Sindhu; name of Sindhu river is mentioned no less than 176 times in the Vedas. No other river has been enumerated close to this! Sindhis are the inheritors of this grand ancient society, which flourished in peace, and not in blood-shed. They encouraged arts, crafts, jewelry, and other fine things of life. But above all, they were the earliest amongst the humans to search for the spiritual answers to the mundane problems of mankind; they became fully anchored to the faith in the Supreme God. Thus they blended rather splendidly the material and the spiritual aspects of life, which would sustain them through thick and thin for a long time. From the ancient times, India became a prosperous nation, bathing in milk and bedecked in gold. Prosperity however is like honey, and always attracts the invading ants. These ancient people, living in high culture and peaceful pursuits, did not know much about self-defense; they became easy prey for repeated attacks. Sindh became a portal of entry for the invaders; the Greeks, Persians, Scythians, Arabs, and Moguls invaded one after another, and plundered mercilessly. Many were forcibly converted, the languages changed as per the dictate of the rulers, the ancient Saraswati river dried up and the Sindhu river too changed its course time and again; the fertile land became part desert and a poor country. But surprisingly their character remained stable; they remained peaceful, humble, and fully anchored to their faith. Despite repeated assaults, they did not become violent; they would rather be resilient and resurgent. They learnt the art of adoption and adjustment in most trying situations; they also became very pragmatic and realistic in their approach.
Bathed in the chants of the Vedas, the community grew with divine teachings in morality and became God-fearing from very ancient times. Around 500 B.C.E., Lord Buddha was born. It is said that more spiritual leaders were produced in India than in any other land. Soon the influence of his spiritual precepts spread far and wide, across many distant places. The region of Sindh too came under the spell of Buddhism. With the renaissance of Hinduism after a few centuries, Brahmin kings ruled the region. The virtues of the Buddhist teachings of peace and non-violence however remained firmly embedded in the people. Later the stream of visitors and invaders influenced the community; Sindh virtually became the gateway for the entry of many varied cultures rubbing their impact and stimulus over a period of time. One of the most impressive impacts was that of Sufism—the belief in one universal God and brotherhood of all mankind. In fact the teachings of Sufism were already incorporated in the ancient Vedas—Ekam Sad, Viprah Bahudi (There is one truth, the names are varied). With the introduction of the caste system in Hindu society, these teachings were forgotten and kept at bay. Sindhis imbibed Sufism in their culture heartily, and to a very large extent, there was a general amity between Hindus and Muslims of the region before the partition of India in 1947.
After 8th century, the region of Sind was ruled continuously by various Muslim dynastic rulers and Hindus were subjected to many atrocities and penalties. Conversion to Islam became common and a majority became Muslims. In 10th century, a Hindu deity Jhoolelal appeared on the scene to protect and save the Hindu religion. He did this only by the spiritual power; no violence and bloodshed took place. Hindus have since worshipped Jhoolelal as their personal god Ishta-devta. Later in the 15th century, again in response to persistent persecution and harassment, the emergence of Sri Guru Nanak came as a divine boon for the community. Influenced and supported by the subsequent Sikh gurus, the conversions were halted to a great extent. Ever since then, Sindhi Hindus developed utter faith and devotion in Guru Nanak's teachings and worship at the Sikh Gurudwaras diligently.
Toward 18th century, Sindh came under the rule of the British Empire along with the rest of India. This also heralded a modern era for the country. Even though there were many indignities and exploitations associated with British foreign rule, there was also a wave of fresh air. The long period of religious repression was over, and a new age of science and democracy spanned the globe. This led to a spurt of renewed activity in Hindu society after a long time. Although British rule largely encouraged and supported conversion into Christianity, no force was used. There were hardly any Sindhi Hindus who converted into Christianity, unlike in many other parts of India, where there was a large scale of conversion. On the other hand, many recently converted into Islam took the opportunity of the British liberal rule and returned to the Hindu faith by a religious ritual called the shuddhi. British rule also provided liberal atmosphere for many saints and sages to preach and conduct their religious activities through the length and breadth of Sind. A chain of other spiritual and religious leaders soon followed; Sant Teoram, Sant Dharamdas, Sai Satramdas, Bhagat Kanwaram, Sadhu Hiranand, Sadhu T.L. Vaswani, Baba Hariram, Dada Lekhraj, Dada Chellaram, Sant Hirdaram, Swami Gangeshwar Anand, Swami Shanti Prakash, Swami Ganeshdas (Sadhubela Ashram), and many others brought solace to the community. They always preached peace, love and service and no saint ever spoke of violence or revenge. The eternal trio of Sindhi poets—Shah Abdul Latif, Sachal and Sami--also composed poetry of the highest class, eulogizing religious teachings of one universal God, service to mankind and peace.
Partition brought in its wake riots, killings, and looting in many parts of India. Minority Hindus in Sind sensed the danger of renewed attacks and possibilities of enforced conversions. The past experiences of persecution and forced conversion caused a sense of apprehension and foreboding in their minds, and they took the painful decision to migrate for safety and to preserve their Hindu religion. More than 90 per cent of the Hindu population of Sind migrated, almost empty handed, leaving their beloved land of birth forever. They had to choose between mammon and God and they chose God! In Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna too presented two similar options; “On one side will be I without any army and other material belongings, and on another side will be the corporeal possessions, but not I!” With utter faith in God, they determinedly marched on their new life. They willingly sacrificed all they had for the sake of their religion.
Soon after the partition, Mumbai (Bombay) became the hub of activity for the displaced Sindhi community. Many stalwarts came forward to render yeoman service, which will be forever gratefully remembered. Prof. Ram Punjawani moved from place to place with his famous earthen pot matka, singing Sindhi folk songs and performing the Sindhi devotional dance - Bhagat! What a great inspiration he provided when it was needed the most. He had complete faith in God and confidently predicted that the future of the community was bright whatever be the present situation. He projected Sindhi god Jhoolelal as the personal divine Ishta-devta for Sindhi Hindus; this has been securely maintained ever since. It is said that the real test of a person's worth is gauged by his or her reputation after the person passes away. Prof. Ram Punjwani's Sindhu Cultural Center, started by him when he was alive has grown enormously after his death and continues to spread the message of Sindhi folk and spiritual music.
Sindhis are passionate about religion although they are not fanatics. They have faith in God; they go to temples and pray regularly. After leaving their homeland, they soon got busy in re-establishing themselves in different parts of India and also in several other countries around the world wherever they could get the opportunity. However they always carried their God with them; their spiritual leaders sowed the seeds of peace and service to mankind. Sadhu Vaswani made Pune his new abode with most modest beginning. The mission again started their philanthropic activities—schools, colleges, hospitals, and of course the daily religious discourse sat-sang—and has now reached new heights under the guidance of Dada Jashan Vaswani. It has very active centers spread in many countries where it conducts religious and social service programs benefitting millions of people, not only Sindhis but all the communities.
Dada Lekhraj moved to Abu in Rajsthan, and established a very large Brahma Kumari organization. After Dada Lekhraj passed away, the leadership was placed in the hands of his female followers. They believe in meditation, ethical conduct, and social service. The institute is involved in many spiritual activities and philanthropic projects. This organization has now adopted the new name, World Spiritual University. As of writing this, it has over four thousand branches in sixty-two countries. The United Nations and UNICEF have recognized the organization for its charitable activities. Dadi Janki Kriplani is currently the head of this Spiritual Organization.
So too Swami Shanti Praksh, head of the Sant Teoram Ashram, Swami Gangeshwar Anand Mahraj, Dada Chellaram, Swami Ganeshdas, Sant Hirdaram, Baba Hariram, Dr Rochaldas and Sant Asharams established their temples and ashrams in different parts of India as well as in many other countries around the globe. Soon most of these centers became very popular, much more than they were originally in Sindh. They have rendered invaluable service not only to the Sindhi community, but to humanity at large and have become light houses of spirituality guiding and supporting the community beyond measure.
Sindhis have a very open arm approach to religion; they are not rigid and dogmatic. Many have also become followers of other Swamis and Sansthas like Tirupati Temple, Shirdi Sai Baba, Swami Chinmayananad, Satya Sai Baba, Sri Rama Krishna Vedanta Temple, Swami Yogananda Parmhansa's Self Realization Center, Hare Krishna Temple, Mata Amritanadamayi “Amma”, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and others. Spirituality runs in their veins and they exert diligently to support the religious centers and in return they derive divine blessings and peace of mind.
(Dr Hiro Badlani is a retired ophthalmologist from Mumbai. He is now settled in Los Angeles, USA. He has recently written book Hinduism: Path of the Ancient Wisdom. The complete book is uploaded on the web site www.hinduismpath.com. He may be contacted at email@example.com)