History on the Walls

Zulfiqar Ali Kalhoro takes us to the Sado Mazo rock art site

History on the Walls
Rock carvings and inscriptions have been listed from many different parts of Pakistan but a large number of rock art sites located in the various Nais (hill torrents) of the Khirthar Range in Sindh remains undocumented and unreported so far. The Khirthar Mountain Range is about 150 miles long and is a watershed all along except for the point where the Gaj Nai cuts its way through from the west by an impassable gorge. The Khirthar mountain range, therefore, looks like a wall from the plains. There are only ten places on its entire length through which laden camels can cross the range, and half of them are close together. The lofty summits of the Khirthar Range run from north to south, with its highest point in Sindh at “Bandu-Ji Qabar” at 7,112 feet followed by Daryaro at nearly 6,000 feet, “Kute Ji Qabar” or the Dog’s Tomb rising to 6,877 feet lying north of Gaj and the two famous summits around the Gaj being Kachrak and Gorakh. From Gorakh one can have a panoramic view of the both Nali and Gaj valleys. The course of the Nali valley meandering through the hills is amazing from the top of Gorakh, which rises to 5,700 feet.

During the course of two decades of research on rock art in Sindh, I have discovered thousands of rock carvings and hundreds of inscriptions in many hill streams (Nais) of Sindh. Amongst discovered rock art sites so far, Sado Mazo (also called Sado Drih) is quite unique and impressive – located about 8 km from Wahi Pandhi. This rock art site is home to a large number of petroglyphs and inscriptions. The most impressive images at the rock art site of Sado Mazo are bull engravings. There are at least 11 petroglyphs of humped bulls or zebus.

The most masterly piece of the Sado Mazo rock art site is that of a horse. The body of the horse is decorated with two lotus flowers, one on the hind leg and the other on the shoulder. Due to a collapsed piece of the panel, the legs of the horse were also damaged.

Image of a dancing girl

The rock art site of Sado Mazo also depicts four rock carvings of Zoroastrian provenance. There are three fire altars and a fire temple that belong to Zoroastrian sprituality. Two altars are without flames and a third with flames (or a fire vessel) is represented by wavy lines. To the southern side and just close to a Buddhist stupa is depicted a fire altar. The shape of the fire altar is like a lamp stand which is mounted by a fire vessel or flames. The base of the lamp stand and the top on which fire vessel rests is flat with concave sides. Two altars without flames are depicted on the northern side of the rock wall close to the bull image. The first altar is depicted by the hind legs of the bull and the other is below the bull figure. Both altars are the similar in shape and resemble the one with flames.

Buddhist images are also found at rock art site of Sado Mazo. There are five images of the stupas. Three stupas are of the same shape and the fourth is a tower-like stupa. The fifth is uncompleted. The first image of the stupa is situated to the extreme south of the rock wall. Close to this stupa is an illegible Brahmi inscription. The dome of the stupa rests on the three stories or terraces and is superimposed by a finial and streamers. The second stupa is partially damaged due to the disintegration of the rock wall, but is similar to the architecture of the stupa with the damaged inscription. This stupa is close to an altar with a fire vessel. The dome of the stupa rests on the three terraces. The dome is badly weathered and the streamer is not clear because the upper part of cliff has disintegrated.

The master piece of rock art at Sado Mazo is that of the dancing girl shown in movement with left hand raised and the right placed on the waist. The eyes, nose and mouth of the dancing girl are clearly depicted. The female headgear of the dancing girl is also prominent. She is shown wearing a shirt and trouser. Due to the collapsed part of the panel, legs are partially visible. The figure of the dancing girl is flanked by swastikas. I have not seen such an amazing figure as the dancing girl of Sado Mazo in the various rock art sites of Nai Nali, Gaj and at other places.  However, I have seen some images of dancers in a group in other perennial rivers of Khirthar. The discovery of the dancing girl from Mohenjo-Daro and one from Nai Nali confirms the fact that dancing has been part of the socio-religious life of the people of ancient Sindh since time immemorial.

A total of six Gupta Brahmi inscriptions have been recorded, of which only three are readable while the rest are either damaged or illegible.

The discovery of petroglyphs and inscriptions in Sindh are watershed for the history of Sindh. There are many rock art sites in the Khirthar Mountain Range and its subsidiary ranges where there are caves and rock shelters with rock carvings. These petroglyphs belong to ancient religions of Sindh.

The images of humped bulls provide a link to an ancient religion of Sindh when this animal was perhaps widely worshiped as it played an important role in the economy of the people of the Indus valley. The images of the bull on the Indus seals and pottery are also numerous. But their style is different from those found at the rock art site of Sado Mazo. The bulls on Indus seals and pottery have separated legs whereas the Sado Mazo bulls have joined legs. I believe that the joined-leg bulls predate the bulls with separated legs. A few terracotta bull figurines with joined legs from the pre-Indus period also substantiate my argument that these were the earliest style of making terracotta figurines with joined legs.

Except for bull images, the Zoroastrian fire altars and temples, as well as the Buddhist stupas, are testimony to the fact that these religions were once dominant, both in plains and mountainous areas of Sindh. One still notices the remains of stupas, monasteries and Zoroastrian temples, which are square in plan and have four openings from four directions (Char Toq style), in the Khirthar Mountain Range. These fire temples may belong to the Sassanian period. The Buddhist and Zoroastrian symbols representing stupas and fire temples and altars are believed to have been engraved during the reigns of the Sassanians (283-356 A.D) and Buddhist Rais of Sindh (499-641 A.D).

The Culture, Tourism and Antiquities Department of the Government of Sindh should promote this rock art site. Many local community members can directly or indirectly benefit from tourism, which will bring a drastic change in the socioeconomic condition of the local community.

The author is an anthropologist at Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), Islamabad. He may be contacted at:zulfi04@hotmail.com

The author is an anthropologist. He tweets at: @Kalhorozulfiqar