Volume - 4 : Issue - 2

Published : April - June 2005

Group : History





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In The Genes


By Prem Matlani

The Sindhi business instinct and acumen is legendary and every other community has been envious of it.   Let us get to the crux of the matter to analyse this quality which is almost second nature        to the Sindhis. The word ‘Pani’ has been often used in Rig Veda, which means ‘Trader’. It has been derived from ‘Pani’, which means - to bargain, purchase or trade.  Arya people have categorized them as ‘Vaishya’.
The word ‘Pani’ changed with the passage of time and became ‘Vanya’, a term used by the Sindhi Muslims to describe Sindhi Hindus. Sindhi Hindus, however, were divided into two groups; those employed as government or corporate servants known as ‘Amils’ and the rest who were self employed in agriculture or trade, called ‘Bhai-Band’.
The ‘Pani’ or ‘Vanyas’ had their business interests scattered not only throughout India but beyond its shores too.  There were prominent Sindhi businessmen in Kabul, Middle East, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Spain and rest of Europe too.  Goods were transported on foot, on camelback, in caravans or through sea routes. 

The presence of wide rivers like Sindhu and five other tributaries, which gave the name Punjab to the northern portion of the Indus valley, encouraged boat building, ship building and navigation.  Even in the days of Mohan-Jo-Daro, Sindhis used to export many goods to Egypt, Sumer and Akkad (present day Iraq) through the sea route.  Rig Veda has described the hard bargaining acumen of Sindhis but it must be borne in mind that they always honoured their word, even during unfavourable times. 

Though Rig Veda does not specifically mention the destinations of Sindhi traders in those times or the oceans they sailed, the description of the four seas is available quite vividly. Geological experts have proven that in olden days, Arabian Sea reached up to Rajputana.  The subsequent earthquakes led to the emergence of Rajputana and Sindh’s Thar desert.  The same earthquakes might have been responsible for the disappearance of the legendary Saraswati river, though it can never be said with certainty. 

Rig Veda states that Sindhis also carried on trade with China and Bengal. Of the four oceans described in the Rig Veda, one is termed as ‘Purav’, which means the Eastern Ocean.  Sindhi traders used to sail towards China through Bengal.  After the vedic period, came the period of recorded history and business with China continued as always.  Vedic period also describes Sindh’s trade with Babylon and Mesopotamia.  Arabs of yesteryears might have been introduced to China by Sindhi traders.  West Asians also had trade links with India, which is well documented in the Bible (Chapter38 Ayat 25).

The Bible describes the sale of young prophet Yousuf to traders from India who had brought spices and scents from India and were heading towards Egypt.  Even Shah Abdul Latif of Bhit mentions about Sindhi traders venturing out for business with China and Bengal :

“aude Karan Sambri, Vehoon Vanjaran,
Vaya Cheen Bengal de, Rakhi Manek Man.”

Poised to trade, embarked traders,
went towards China Bengal, armed with humility.

It should also be borne in mind that just five years prior to the fall of Sindh to the British, i.e. in 1838 AD Karachi was the centre of business with alien shores and this is well documented by Commander Carless.  His detailed report furnishes some particulars of great interest.  The value of the total trade for that year was estimated at Rs. 21,46,625. The most important item on the list of imports being Chinese and Bengal silk. (Gazetteer of the Province of Sindh, Vol 1, Chapter VIII, Page 368)

In the days of Shah, Sindhi traders had extensive trade with Ceylon too, which is documented by Shah in his various couplets :

“Lanka Lanka Kan, Lanka je usrya,
Suni Soan lanka jo, sukh na Samoonden.”

With Lanka on their lips, they start for Lanka
stories of Lanka’s Gold, Keep traders awake.

Shah’s couplets unambiguously sate that overseas trade in those days was carried on by Hindu Lohanas.  They used to worship God Varuna.  They used to sail from the western shores of India passing through Kutch, Malabar and reach Ceylon. As monsoon was considered risky period for sea-expeditions, traders waited for the end of monsoon and celebrated its end by ‘Naryal Purnima’ and on that auspicious day they worshipped the Sea and offered coconuts to it.  Even today Sindhi Hindus celebrate ‘Naryal Purnima’ in a big way and they exchange their old Janyo for a new one and donate generously to Brahmans on that day.

Sindh’s trade with Malabar is also well documented. The trade relations with the Malayali had a linguistic influence on Sindhi as well.  The word ‘Elaichi’ is a Dravidian term, which has been well received in Sindhi and rarely any one contests its Sindhi origin.  Even ‘coconut’ itself is not Sindh’s local production as it has been imported from Malabar since long long ago. The use of Kanada words in the Sindhi game ‘Deeti-Dakkar’ might have been the result of the interaction of Sindhi people with the Dravidians.  We use ‘Bakat, Laine, Moon, Naar, Akh, Vehi and Jag’, which are nothing but numericals in Kanada language.

Sindhi ‘Pani’ (Traders) had extensive links with west Asia in olden days and therefore they are referred to as ‘Punic Race’ or ‘Phoenicians’ by them.  Dr. A.C. Das in his book ‘Rig Veda Culture’ (Page 88 & 152) had described Phoenicians as descendants of Panis, an amalgamation of the Aryan and Semitic races.  ‘Sumer’ was the name given to the area, which is the southern part of present day ‘Iraq’. Its main city was Babylon.  It was an ancient city on the left of the ‘Euphrates’ river about 70 miles south of Baghdad.  Babylon is the Greek form of Babul or ‘Gate of God’ (as described in Encyclopaedia - Britannica).  ‘Shumer’ actually did mean all Babylonia and is evident from the Biblical use of Shinar, i.e. Shumer, to describe the district which comprised four chief Babylonian cities viz. Babul, Erech, Accad and Canch.

When Mohan-Jo-Daro was excavated in 1922, archaeologists found many coins resembling Mesopotamian coins.  Sir John Marshal, the then Director General of Archaeology, was so impressed by this resemblance that he termed Mohanjodaro civilization as Indo-Sumerian civilization; but later corrected himself and described it as the ‘Indus Valley Civilization’.

Dr. James A B Sherer, in his book ‘Cotton as World Power’ has conceded that India was the original home of cotton.  Professor H.G. Rawlinson, in his book, ‘Intercourse between India and the Western World’ has referred to some books recovered from India in 668 B.C., where the word ‘Sindhu’ has been used for ‘Muslin’.  This means that the stuff was simply called by the name of the country which exported it.

To sum up the description of the ever soaring spirit of enterprising Sindhis, I shall quote a few lines from the book ‘India in Greece’ by Pocoke :

 “At the mouth of the Indus, dwell a sea-faring people, active, ingenious and enterprising as well who, with the warrior denizens of the Punjab, were driven from their native land, to seek far distant climes of Greece.  The commercial people dwelling along the coast that stretches from the mouth of Indus to the Coree, are embarking on that emigration whose magnificent contribution to civilization and whose gigantic movement of art, fill the mind with mixed emotions of admiration and awe.  These people coast along the shores of Mekran, traverse the mouth of the Persian Gulf and again adhering to the sea-coast of Oman, Hardamant and Yemen sail up the Red Sea and ascending the mighty stream that fertilises a land of wonders that formed the Kingdoms of Egypt, Nubia and Abysinia.

These are the same stock that centuries subsequent to this colonization, spread the blessings of civilization over Hellas and her islands. The connection therefore, which is so constantly represented by Greek historians as subsisting between Egypt and Athens, as well as Benotia and other parts of Greece, is perfectly natural, and in fact is just what we should anticipate from a people, who so highly honoured and deeply venerated their parent state as to receive from its hands their sacred fire and their ministers of religion.

Of the triple connection that links Egypt, Greece and the lands of the Indus, there will remain no longer the shadow of doubt as the reader accompanies me in the geographical development of the colonisation of Africa founded by the mercantile and thriving community of ‘Corinthus’.  This is past controversy, for the Abusin, a classical name for the Indus is reproduced in Greece as the Coi-Indus (Corinthus) that is the people of the Coi-Indus.”

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