Thatta is a historic town in Sindh. It was once the center of culture and scholarship, and its fame drew clerics, pirates, scholars, and kings alike to this colorful city.
Thatta is located approximately 89 km east of Karachi. It is the capital of Thatta district, Sindh. Similar to many other cities in Sindh, Thatta emerged near the banks of the Indus River. It is popularly known as Nagar Thatta, where Nagar means town and the word Thatta denotes a settlement located on the banks of a river or its branches.
Although historians still debate the origin of this city, they agree that Thatta at the height of its glory was a flourishing city with a thriving inland port and an educated and affluent population.
Arguments have been put forth as to whether Thatta existed when Alexander the Great came down the Indus. Some even say that Thatta was in fact Patala, a city mentioned by Greek historians in relation to Alexander. Others refute this claim, pointing out that the lower districts of Sindh have undergone many geophysical changes since 325 BC. It has also been referred to as Saminuggar, before the Arab invasion of Sindh, which was situated some 5 km north of present day Thatta. Yet others claim present day Thattta to be Debal, a city in the Arab kingdom of Al-Mansura. It is now conjectured that Thatta and Debal were in such close proximity that they were closely identified with each other. The Indus shifted its course away from the port of Debal, causing its ruin and giving rise to a new port by the name of Lari Bandar by the city of Thatta. Hydrographic evidence corroborates the shifting in the course of the Indus.
The name Thatta first properly appeared in 1025 AD in reference to the conquest of Sindh by Mahmud of Ghazni. Amir Khusrau (1253-1325 AD), a famous poet of the Indian subcontinent, mentioned Thatta in a couplet, thus attributing fame and renown to it.
In 1351, the Samma Dynasty overthrew the Summras in lower Sindh and made Thatta their capital. Under prince Jam Nizamuddin, Thatta became an important commercial and cultural center. Jam Nizamuddin was known to be a just and moderate ruler whose forty year reign is considered to be a golden age of Sindh. His benevolence and devotion to learning drew many scholars and pious men to settle in Thatta.
Within a short period after his death in 1512, Sindh was again in the midst of battle as various dynasties vied for power. The Sammas ruled until 1520, after which the Arghuns came to power (1520 – 1554) and after them the Tarkhans (1554 – 1593). In 1555, Portuguese sailors plundered Thatta, killing thousands of innocent people and looting the treasures of the city. European sources claim that the Portuguese had a deal with the Tarkhan prince Mirza Isa who did not follow through on his promise and thus the Portuguese decided to loot in order to recover their due.
Between 1612 and 1736, the Mughals ruled over Sindh, after which the Kalhoras came to power and made Hyderabad their capital, leading to the demise of Thatta. By 1843, the British had annexed Sindh and Thatta had fallen into their hands.
The Shah Jahan Mosque was built in 1647 by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a tribute to the city of Thatta, which offered him a refuge when he was exiled by his father, Jahangir. Unlike other mosques built by the Mughals, there is no use of marble in its construction. The UNESCO World Heritage site describes it as “a heavy brick structure of simple construction built upon a stone plinth, with heavy square pillars and massive walls … centered around a courtyard”. There is no minaret and instead of the three typical domes within the prayer hall there is only one. All together there are 93 domes and 33 arches in the entire mosque, contributing to the amazing acoustics. The tile work displayed in this mosque is perhaps the most elaborate in the entire subcontinent.
Ghafur, M.A. The Calligraphers of Thatta. Karachi: Indus Publications, 2004.
Lari, Yasmeen. Traditional Architecture of Thatta. Karachi: Heritage Foundation, 1989.
Nadiem, Ihsan. Makli: The Necropolis at Thatta. Lahore: Sang-e-Meel Publications, 2000.