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Humshehri: Thinking Pakistan's History

Thinking Pakistan's History

Sindh Historical Overview

The history of Sindh encompasses the rise and fall of numerous peoples. Inhabited as far back as the stone ages, it was home to the Indus Valley Civilization, one of the oldest civilizations in the world.

Origin of name

Sindh His 1
Indus River between Punjab & Sindh

The province of Sindh derives its name from the Sanskrit word Sindhu which means ocean or a vast collection of water. Long ago the Aryans arrived in our land. They called the Indus River the Sindhu and the area which today comprises of Pakistan, Kashmir and east Afghanistan Sapta Sindhu or the land of seven rivers. The ancient Persians dropped the S and added an H and called it the Hindu River and called the areas of Punjab and Sindh Hindush. The Greeks further changed the name to Indos River, from which the modern day name Indus is derived and referred to the land as Ind, from which the word India is derived. When the Arabs arrived, they referred to the river as Mehran and the land as Al-Sind. Over time, the name Sindh came to be applied specifically to the lower Indus Basin. To derive the name of this region from the river is most apt because without the mighty Indus flowing through it, Sindh would have been a barren desert.


Sindhu in might surpasses all the streams that flow.
His roar is lifted up to heaven above the earth;
He puts forth endless vigor with a flash of light.
Even as cows with milk rush to their calves,
So other rivers roar into the Sindhu.
As a warrior-king leads other warriors,
So does Sindhu lead other rivers.

-Excerpt from Rigveda

Ancient beginnings

Hunters and gatherers inhabited Sindh as early as the Stone Ages (500,000 to 100,000 years ago). The Rohri Hills in Sindh provide evidence of flint tools that were made by these people. Archeologists refer to the Rohri Hills site as a flint tool factory since numerous tools were crafted here. Occupying 32 acres, it is the largest known Stone Age tool factory of Asia. Archeologists believe that hunters would make their weapons in the Rohri Hills before they set out to hunt large animals.

From 100,000 to 10,000 years ago, the sea levels kept changing, causing Sindh to be submerged intermittently. For example around 90,000 years ago, the coastline was near Hyderabad but 20,000 years ago it was near Multan. About 8,000 years ago, all of Sindh was re-exposed as the coastline receded. From 9,500 to 4,000 years ago, the Rohri Hills factory were producing stone knives, arrow points, scythes, and fishing hooks and were supplying them to hunters as far as Marwar and Gujarat in India.


Image 2
Excavations at Mohenjo-daro, Sindh
(M. Imran)

Around 4000 BC Iranian people began to migrate into Balochistan and Sindh. They had a rudimentary concept of agricultural practices. Around 3500 BC they settled in Amri, a small fortified town on the Indus near the Kirthar Range, where they evolved a technique of growing wheat without the help of rain. The town of Kot Diji, near the Rohri Hills flourished between 3200 to 2600 BC and was considered one of the most developed urban civilizations of the ancient world. These towns are considered the forerunners of the Indus Valley Civilization. Eventually, both Amri and Kot Diji were destroyed by fires.

Suddenly small towns became immense cities and the Indus Valley Civilization emerged. Mohenjo-daro, meaning the mound of the dead, became one of its major cities. It was known for its high standard of art and craftsmanship as well as its brick buildings, public baths, advanced drainage system and use of standard weights and measures. This civilization began to decline around 1700 BC. Around 800 BC the Aryans either migrated to Sindh or rose to prominence in the area. Their religion intermingled with that of the original inhabitants who taught them farming. The Aryans were so awed by the Indus that they composed numerous hymns on it.

Early history

Sindh His 2
Sindhu man presents
gold to Persian King

Sindh and Punjab were conquered by the Persian Achaemenid Empire in the late 6th century BC and were known to them as Hindush. Hindush was the wealthiest of all the provinces belonging to the Achaemenids and it paid tribute to the Persian kings in the form of gold!

In 325 BC Alexander of Macedonia and his army sailed down the Indus and fought the tribes of Sindh. Greek control was only superficial and very quickly Chandragupta Maurya began to conquer the Indian subcontinent. His Greek opponent Selekous finally signed a peace treaty and acknowledged Chandragupta’s rule in 305 BC. The Mauryans remained in Sindh for over a century. Ashoka, the third Mauryan king is responsible for spreading Buddhism throughout the subcontinent. After the death of Ashoka, Mauryan rule deteriorated and Sindh was subjected to continuous foreign invasions. The Indo-Greeks, Scythians, Kushans, Parthians, the Persian Sassanids and the Huns invaded and ruled Sindh for more than 600 years.

Ashoka is credited for spreading Buddhism throughout his kingdom which also included Sindh. But it was under the Kushans (78-145 AD) that Buddhism became dominant in the region. Most of the known Buddhist stupas in Sindh, now in ruins, were constructed between 200 and 500 AD. In the 13th century, Buddhism completely disappeared from Sindh, probably due to the presence of Ismaili preachers who converted the locals to Islam.

Rai Dynasty and Chach

The Rai Dynasty established itself in 499 AD and ruled till 640 AD. It is possible that they ruled under the suzerainty of the Sassanians but this is a matter of debate. The Rai Dynasty consisted of a total of 4 Buddhist kings. In 640 AD, a Hindu Brahmin by the name of Chach usurped the throne and ruled independently of the Persian Sassanids. Chach was extremely unpopular with his people due to his discriminating policies. The tribes of Jats and Meds who resided in Sindh were not allowed to wear silk, satin, shoes or even turbans. They were forced to remain either woodcutters or caravan guides their entire lives. Chach’s son Raja Dahir was the last ruler before the Arab invasion of Sindh.

Muhammad bin Qasim

Muhammad bin Qasim
Muhammad bin Qasim

Only 17 at the time, Muhammad bin Qasim was sent by the governor of Iraq to retaliate against Raja Dahir’s refusal to help recover an Arab ship that had been looted by pirates. Fourteen previous campaigns in the subcontinent by the Arabs had failed before this. Muhammad bin Qasim entered the subcontinent by way of Balochistan in 711 AD. With the help of local Buddhist rulers and the Jewish merchants of Debal, he was able to defeat Raja Dahir. His army conquered all of Sindh and part of southern Punjab up till Multan. The conquest was halted after he was recalled back, and Sindh was managed by governors under the authority of the Umayyads and later the Abasid Caliphs but their hold was nominal.

Al Mansura

Some time in the 9th century, local governors rebelled and set up their own kingdoms in Sindh and Punjab. The Arab kingdom of Al-Mansura stretched from the Arabian Sea to the city of Multan and nearly coincided with the present day area of Sindh. Al Mansura had 11 main cities, of which Mansura was the capital and also included Al-Nerun, present day Hyderabad, and Debul, an important port city of the time. The most important rulers of this kingdom were the Habbarids who allowed local Sindhi to practice their own religion, and themselves dressed like Indian kings. They kept their hair long, wore earings and dressed in kurtas. In 1010 AD, Mahmud of Ghazni took Sindh under his dominion.

Local and foreign rule

For the next few centuries local tribes and foreign kings vied for power in Sindh. The Sumras, a Rajput tribe, took lower Sindh from the Ghaznavids, while upper Sindh remained in the hands of the Ghaznavids. In time, Upper Sindh was absorbed into the Delhi Sultanate. The Sumras were overthrown by Alauddin Khilji, the second king of the Khilji Dynasty that had established itself in Delhi. The Sammas, another Rajput tribe, established their rule in Sindh in 1333. The most famous of the Samma rulers was Jam Nizamuddin II who made Thatta his capital. In 1521, Shah Beg Arghun established his dynasty in Sindh after being driven out of Kandahar by Babar. He defeated the Sammas and established his rule. After the death of his son in 1554, the Turkhan Dynasty took control of Sindh.

Image 4
Mir Muhammad Naseer Khan
(Wikimedia Commons)

However, in 1592, Akbar seized Sindh and made it part of the Mughal Empire, where it remained for over a century. As Mughal authority began to deteriorate, a local tribe by the name of Daudputras established their rule over upper Sindh and founded the town of Shikarpur. In the late 1600s, another local tribe, the Kalhoras, also began to oppose Mughal authority. Finally in 1701 Aurangzeb gave them the title of ‘Khuda Yar Khan’ and a tract of land between the Indus and the Nara. In 1719, the Kalhoras took the Shikarpur area from the Daudputras and eventually ruled over the territories from Multan to Thatta. In 1739, Nadir Shah of Iran claimed all the Mughal provinces west of the Indus and upon his death they passed into the hands of the Durranis. The Kalhoras continued to rule in Sindh under the suzerainty of the Durranis. In 1783, the Talpurs established themselves after a long struggle with the Kalhoras.

British rule and partition

In 1843, the British waged two successful battles against the Talpurs and shortly thereafter annexed Sindh into their dominion. Sindh was added to the Bombay Presidency, a move which the local population found highly offensive. By 1936 it was made a separate province. The Sindh assembly was the first British Indian legislature to pass the resolution in favor of Pakistan.

Sindh Historical
Sindh is part of Bombay Presidency
(J.G. Bartholomew)

After partition, the province of Sindh was tasked with settling a large number of Muhajirs. The overwhelming majority of the local Hindus (64% of urban population was Hindu in 1941) migrated to India, thus Sindh lost a large portion of its business community. Currently, a small population of Hindus, roughly 6%, remains in Sindh today.

Primary sources

Chachnama: A book based on an Arabic manuscriptthat tells the history of Sindh before its conquest by the Muslims in 711 AD and the events thereafter.

Find out more

Books & Articles

Meyer, William Stevenson. “Sind.” Imperial Gazetteer of India. Vol. 22. Oxford: Clarendon, 1908-1931. 389-432. Digital South Asia Library.

Panhwar, M. H. Chronological Dictionary of Sindh. Jamshoro: Institute of Sindhology, U of Sind, 1983. Archive.