Tombs of the fallen Burfats

Zulfiqar Ali Kalhoro takes us to a site that marks a tribal clash decided by trickery

Tombs of the fallen Burfats
There are many cemeteries in Thatta which contain stone-carved graves of fallen heroes who died in various tribal battles. One such cemetery is located to the east of the Thatta-Hyderabad road, just before the village of Ongar.

This cemetery contains stone-carved graves of the fallen heroes of Burfat, Jakhra and Jat tribes who died in a battle fought against the Jokhia tribe for Siri Jagir. In the chronicles of Sindh, this battle is known as the Siri Battle or the Battle of Ongar. The necropolis is spread over ten acres and home to several dilapidated and dislodged stone-carved graves. The decorated dislodged slabs of tombs are lying on the ground.

There are more than twenty stone-carved graves and two dilapidated canopies in the cemetery. Most of the tombstones bear figurative depictions of weaponry. On two gravestones, one finds depictions of shields, axes and spears on the upper slabs. There are three dislodged slabs scattered over the site that show daggers, axes and guns. Sindhi inscriptions on the two graves bear the names of Jan Muhammad wald (son) of Unar and Nindo wald (son) of Bakhar. Apart from the graves Jan Muhammad and Nindo, one also finds on the upper slabs of other graves some depictions of guns, swords, shields, bows, arrows and quivers. Mostly the weaponry appears below the headstone of the tomb.

Dislodged slabs of stone-carved graves at the Ongar necropolis

The Ongar necropolis has several depictions of arms and armour on stone-carved graves. Apart from Ongar, there are also some stone-carved stones in the cemeteries at Sonda, Raj Malik, Pir Lakho, (Thatta) Lakho Shaikh (Karachi), Chaukhandi, Jungshahi and Jam Lohar in Thatta, Karachi and Jamshoro districts respectively where one finds depictions of weapons – indicating that person either died in combat or took part in it. But unfortunately, all the gravestones in the Ongar necropolis have fallen into pieces. Not a single tombstone is in its original condition. Most of these were vandalized in the hope of finding treasure.

Apart from representations of weapons, geometrical and floral designs are also found on the tombs. Amongst the floral designs, the lotus seems to have been the favourite flower of the engravers. Motifs of the sunflower can also be found on these tombs. Most important is the motif of the charpoy’s decorative bedposts, which is carved out of the projecting breadth and thickness of the slab at the corner of the casket. The charpoy motif is also commonly found in the tombs in the graveyard.

Weaponry depictions on a gravestone at the Ongar necropolis

On two gravestones, one finds depictions of shields, axes and spears on the upper slabs. There are three dislodged slabs scattered over the site that show daggers, axes and guns

Apart from stone-carved graves, there also exist two canopies in the cemetery which are half-buried beneath the mud. Amongst these, one is in a particularly deplorable condition. Only three pillars of the canopy have survived. Adjacent to this is another copy which is also half-buried under the mud. Only the shafts and the dome of the canopy are exposed. The canopy is eight-pillared, built in a square plan superimposed by a hemispherical dome with a finial atop. The plaster of the dome has peeled off, thus exposing it to further vagaries of weather. The octagonal shafts of the canopy are decorated with chevron lines and the four bracket capitals, too, are ornamented. The chajja (dripstone) and carved kangura (battlement or parapet) add beauty to this crumbling canopy. According to local people, this canopy belongs to Darya Khan Burfat, who died in the battle of Siri or Ongar fought against the Jokhias

During the rule of Mian Ghulam Shah Kalhoro (1758-1772) many tribes rose to prominence in the bucolic areas of Karachi and Thatta and some enjoyed a prestigious position at the Kalhora court. At that time, the Jokhias, Burfats, Lasharis and Kalmatis were powerful tribes. The Jokhias, who claimed Rajput ancestry, found themselves in batle with almost all the tribes, displaying their chivalry and valour.

All that remains of a canopy at the Ongar necropolis

Legend has it that the Jokhias migrated from Nawabshah (now Shaheed Benazirabad) probably in the thirteenth century to other parts of Sindh. Some of the families of Jokhias settled in the mountainous areas near the shrine of Shah Bilawal Noorani. Afterwards, they migrated and settled on the banks of the River Hub and from there they attacked and snatched the areas of Malir from the Kalmatis, backing them into the corner. Several battles were fought between the Kalmatis and Jokhias. However, the Jokhias defeated their opponents almost in every encounter.

Apart from the Kalmatis, the Jokhias also showed their bellicosity and belligerence towards other tribes, particularly to the Burfat tribe.

The Burfats, too, claimed Rajput ancestry. They were a rival force, dominant in the areas of Thatta, Jamshoro and Karachi. It was the Burfats who put up a heroic resistance in every encounter with the Jokhias. They were able to hold their own, except for one at Ongar in which they suffered defeat. Like Jokhias, Burfats also served the Kalhoras.

Vandalized stone carved graves at the Ongar necropolis

The chief of Jokhias Jam Bijar Khan had the backing of Mian Ghulam Shah Kalhoro. Jam Bijar Khan Jokhio had already occupied many areas which previously were under the dominion of the Kalmatis. Finally, Jam Bijar Khan Jokhio set his eyes on the Siri Jagir that belonged to the Burfat tribe. To snatch the Jagir from the Burfats, he got military assistance from Jam Aali Korejo, then ruler of Lasbela and Khan of Kalat. Subsequently, he collected troops to attack. The Burfats also prepared for the battle. Their chief Izzat Khan Burfat was not in the district. Instead, Darya Khan led his tribesmen and supporters and landed at the Baran River near the Ongar village to face the recruits of Jam Bijar Khan Jokio. Jats, Kalmatis and Jakhras also supported Darya Khan Burfat. When Jam Bijar Khan saw such a large number of conscripts under the command of Darya Khan, he was unnerved and thought it was not wise to fight. Instead, he played a trick and raised a green flag that symbolized peace. The Burfats thought that the Jokhias wanted peace parleys; consequently, they also raised a green flag.

Believing that a clash was no longer imminent, some tribesmen and supporters of the Burfat tribe went away to their villages. When Jam Bijar Khan knew that many of the recruits of Darya Khan had returned to their villages, he raised the black flag which symbolized war, the very next morning, and attacked the war party of Darya Khan. By now, Darya Khan’s forces were outnumbered and could not resist the army of Jam Bijar, suffering heavy losses. Thus Jam Bijar Jokhio won the war through a very clever strategy. Those who died in the battle belonged to Jat, Jakhra and Burfats tribes and were buried in the necropolis of Ongar.

Later on, stone-carved graves and canopies were erected by their descendants to commemorate their heroism and gallantry.

The writer is an anthropologist. He can be contacted at

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