History washed away
At the centuries-old graveyard of Agham Kot in Badin, the peeping skulls seem to be
laughing at our frivolous attitude towards heritage
By Jai Prakash Moorani
The recent devastating rains have not only changed the entire ecosystem of Sindh but have also damaged the socio-economic infrastructure of the province. It also washed away many historical sites, while some are on the brink of complete decay.


With the autumn kicking in, it was already time for the migrants to start arriving. Add to it my new found job, the persistent persuasion of a friend to be shown around — and a trip to the riverain belt of Dera Ghazi Khan was finally in the books.

It had been nearly four years since I had undertaken the voyage myself to the forest tracts of the east of the country and so I was craving for a touch of the mighty Indus. The sediment laden water of the river, the chilly baths in the sand floored creeks I had taken; four years of servitude in urban environments had by now washed these memories pretty dry. It was time to relive them!

Being September, the weather was still predicted to be quite steamy during mid-day. Of this, I had warned my friend Sajjad many times, only to have my concerns rubbished without a second thought. Bred in the urban dwellings of Lahore and Risalpur, I guessed Sajjad would not be able to bear the extremes of exposure to the sun and physical toil associated with exploring the untravelled domains, but Sajjad was proving a hard nut to be cracked. Eventually, we were all going to the Indus.

The river bed, the flood plains, the interspersed islands, the channels of the river and the minor creeks only half an hour’s bike ride from my village the river was in easy reach.

Having set-off early morning, in no time we came across the first creek to be crossed. Stilts, Lapwings and Terns observed from a distant perch on a sandbar as one by one the whole party made its way across the creek. As soon as the creek was crossed, the mud house dotted scape of the western bank gave way to grassy fields and marshy lakes with occasional trees; typical landforms of the degraded riverain country. Being autumn, migrants were expected, and we weren’t disappointed, as a few dozens of common teals took to flight from one of the major ponds when they managed to get wind of our presence, despite our cautious approach for observation. By now the sun had assumed quite an imposing posture in the sky, and it was time to beat out a few hours under precious shade.

The riverain tracts of Dera Ghazi Khan have had an amazing history of wonderful flora and fauna. The District Gazetteers of both Dera Ismail Khan and Dera Ghazi Khan mention the presence of rarities such as tigers and alligators. Animals of the likes of Indus Dolphin, otters, boars and hog deers were rather common in the past. Time in this case has been a great exterminator and so of all those mentioned above, only Indus Dolphins, boars and hog deers survive in precariously small numbers today. The huge Tamarix forests of the past are now just scarce bushy jungles while precious Tamarix, Typha, Acacia and Dalbergia stands have now been cannibalised by the notorious Mesquite. Yet, however, even in this decimated form, wherever traces of the original vegetation survive, this jungle is unmatched in its beauty and splendour.

One of the most interesting features of the riverain country is the presence of the fishing communities, locally known as the keehals. They are generally dark coloured and have a diet that principally involves fish. For centuries they have lived alongside the river and thus are excellent fishermen and swimmers. They are incredibly poor, with only subsistence earnings and absolutely no land holdings. Their meager earnings revolve mostly around the quality of Tamarix bushes every year, for these provide the wood from which the keehal make baskets for selling.

Centuries of living in isolation have led to the creation of many superstitions in them, nearly all of which take root from the majestic waters of the Indus or the creatures that dwell in its depths.

On the two days we got to spend in the riverain land, mid-day activity was mostly fishing and bathing. On the first day, the catch of Batti, Mallee, Singhara and Chhali fish was good in number, while the catch on the second day was limited only to a few Singharas and Chhalis. The surprise catch however was a rare spotted pond turtle, which had to see quite a frightening ride before its fate was decided.

Apparently, according to keehal beliefs, slitting the throat of a turtle and hanging it on the neck of a childless person guarantees the birth of a child. The poor spotted pond turtle was all set for the ultimate sacrifice, when at the last moment a cousin of mine intervened and saved its neck. Once put back into the water, the turtle disappeared as if it knew better than ever to never get close to a keehal again!

Another interesting encounter was with a Cray Fish. Due to the intensity of sunlight, sun burn was a common feature and to beat it one was left with no option but to take long and continual dips in the river. During one such dip, a friend came up with an amazing creature, hardly the size of a prawn and with strange legs and kind of antennas. Since nobody could identify it, it was photographed from all angles to assist in identification. Once back in Islamabad, it was finally discovered that our pretty transparent jellyish friend was a little Cray Fish.

Early mornings and evenings were the time for photography. With the sun playing cool and sunlight quantum to near perfection, from the little pink flowers of Tamarix shrubs to the hordes of cattle crossing the river to daily feeding grounds, everything appeared perfect. Both me and Sajjad being novices in dealing with our devices, no wonder that we hardly came up with anything worth even noticing!

Two days were all we could spare for exploring this wild wonderland. In such little time we could get but little insight into this small world whose survival depends upon this magnificent river. Just as days have turned into centuries from the time the Gazetteers of DIK and DGK were written, so would moments change into millennia in no time. It is imperative that this precious relic of ours be preserved, before it changes as much as it has in the last century, if not for ourselves, then for our future generations.

The recent devastating rains have not only changed the entire ecosystem of Sindh but have also damaged the socio-economic infrastructure of the province. It also washed away many historical sites, while some are on the brink of complete decay.

One such site is centuries-old graveyard of Agham Kot or Aghamano, near village Gulab Leghari, in the Matli Taluqa, Badin district — where several skeletons have resurfaced in the radius of just a kilometre. It’s a scary sight; the peeping skulls seem to be laughing at our frivolous attitude towards heritage.

About 2000 to 3000 years old, the site contains graves of those belonging to varied religions. History books ‘Chach Nama’ and ‘Tahfat-ul-Karaam’ mentions Raja Agham Lohana ruled the area much before Mohammad bin Qasim came to Sindh. This part of Sindh, dominated by Brahmins and Buddhist, was ruled for centuries by Raja Agham on behalf of Rai Saheeras son of Rai Sahisi of the Rai dynasty. He was the governor of the area and his capital was named after him.

One skull in Agham Kot was in an upright position that indicated perhaps the person was buried in the sitting position — like the Brahmins or the Rajputs of the ruling class. Also, the scattered bones reflect the buried were war victims probably killed in wars with Rais, Brahmins and later on with Arabs.

Agham Kot also houses ruins of a mosque, named Patan Wari Masjid (the mosque of the port), as this town was once situated on the banks of river Indus. There is also a stone mosque attributed to Shah Mahmood Qureshi. Makhdoom Ismael Soomro, Shah Abdul Majeed alais Baji Shah, Bibi Aisha and Shah Ismael are some of the sufis and saints buried here.

Many Shias come to the graveyard to pay homage to Bibi Maham. A few days ago the construction of the shrine on the grave was started but due to rains it has stopped and now incomplete walls surround it. The original tombstone, now severely damaged by the ravages of nature, had text inscribed in Persian but devotees have replaced it with a marble tile.

Locals have removed stones engraved with historical scripts and have decorated them in their bungalows — a common trend in Sindh, especially in Makli and Chowkundi. It is not that they are ignorant about its historic value but they just feel it is their right to take away the craved stones and other valuable belongings of the monuments. No one is caught, and if by any chance they are caught, the law frees them with a meagre fine.

Apparently, many centuries ago this particular area was a battleground and many soldiers lost their lives in a massive battle. Perhaps there was no time to bury them so the bodies were abandoned and with passage of time they got covered with layers of earth.

Agham Kot is situated near the borders of Tando Allahyar, Badin and Hyderabad districts. None of the district administrations is clearly held responsible for the preservation of the site and hence it is on the brink of absolute ruin.



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