Sindhis are the natives of the Sindh province, which includes Karachi and the southeast coast of Pakistan and a lot of desert. The Sindhi language is spoken by fewer than 4 percent of the population. It has fewer dialects than Punjabi, uses a script similar to Urdu and has its own literary tradition. Sindh social and economic life is dominated by ruling feudals lord that included the Bhuttos.
Sindhis (pronounced SIN-deez) are dominant in Sindh and are found throughout Pakistan. They divided into occupational and caste groupings. At least 80 percent of Sindhis are Muslim, mostly Sunni. They live primarily in Sindh Province and elsewhere in Pakistan. The other 20 percent are mostly Hindus that live in India, migrating there from Pakistan to India after the partition India and Pakistan in 1947, when there was a mass exodus of Hindus to India and Muslims to Pakistan. Sindhi communities in India are concentrated in Delhi and the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh. Many Muslims that fled India and ended in the Sindh are Urdu-speaking Muhajirs who culturally quite different from the Sindhis.
There are about 40 million Sindhis, with about 33 million in Pakistan, where they make up about 14.1 percent of Pakistan’s total population; around 4 million in India; and 340,000 in the United Arab Emirates. Sindhis make up about 64 percent of the population of the Sindh. Of these about 30 percent are Sindhis of Baloch origin that speak Sindhi Saraiki as their native tongue. The lower course of the Indus River flows through the Sindh into the Arabian Sea. Both the terms Sindhi and Sindh are derived from "Sindhu," the ancient name of the Indus. Modern Sindhis are descendants of the many peoples who have settled in the area from earliest times.
According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “Although unified by religion and language, this population reflects the diversity of Sind's past in its ethnic composition. Many Sindhis are descended from Rajput and Jat groups of western India and are known as Samma Sindhis (descendants of Yadavs) and Sumra Sindhis (descendants of Parwar Rajputs). The Bhutto tribe, which gave Pakistan two prime ministers (Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and more recently his daughter, Benazir), are Sumras. Other Rajput and Jat groups are more recent converts to Islam. Some Sindhis, such as the Sayyids and Pashtuns, trace their ancestry back to Muslim invaders of the past. The Mallahs are fishing peoples settled along the river and in the delta region. The Talpurs, former rulers of Sindh, are Balochs from Balochistan. However, they now speak Sindhi as a mother tongue and have been assimilated into Sindhi society. [Source: D. O. Lodrick “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 ]
Sindh is an arid province known for its feudal landowners, Sufi saints and irrigation agriculture. Named after the Sanskrit word the Indus River, it is situated between the Punjab, the Thar Desert, the Arabian Sea and the barren Kirthar region and bordered to the east by the Indian states of Rajasthan and Gujarat and to the west by Balochistan. The southern half is irrigated with canals from the Indus River. The entire state covers 140,914 square kilometers (54,407 square miles), making it slightly larger than New York state, and embraces Karachi and Hyderabad.
The economy of the Sindh is dominated by agriculture and it n turn is dominated by irrigation. Where there is irrigation, fields of wheat, cotton, rice, oil seeds, sugar and millet and orchards with mangoes, guavas and citrus fruit stretch for miles and miles, with mud-wall shacks here and there occupied by the feudal serfs who work the land. The land is owned by wealthy landlords. There are three main dams: 1) the Ghulan on the Punjab border; 2) the Lloyd; and 3) the Ghulam Muhammad, farthest south
Where there is no irrigation the landscape is dry and forbidding. Sindu also means ocean in Sanskrit. The Aryans gave the Indus that name because they believed the Indus was so large it seemed like the sea. The great Indus Valley city of Harappa was established here 5,000 years ago. During that time the Sind received more rainfall than it does now and contained more dense vegetation and was the home to tigers and elephants. The remnants of these times are tamarisk, scrub forest that grow around the river banks.
Sindh is home to about 48 million people but population statistics for Sindh are notoriously inaccurate. Sindhi are the main ethnic group but there is also a significant presence of other groups. Sindhis of Baloch origin make up about 30 percent of the total Sindhi population. They speak Sindhi Saraiki as their native tongue). Urdu-speaking Muhajirs make up over 19 percent of the total population of the province, followed by Punjabis (10 percent) and Pashtuns (7 percent). In August 1947, before the partition of India, the total population of Sindh was 3,887,070 out of which 2,832,000 were Muslims and 1,015,000 were Hindus. Among the diverse groups of people that live in the Sindh are fishermen that live in reed houses and wear turbans; castes, including Jats and Rajputs, who live in mud houses; Baloch tribes in the Kirthar mountains; and Vagri, Bhil, Meo, Mina and Kil tribes in the Thar desert;
Sindh province is bordered by the provinces of Balochistan on the west and north, Punjab on the northeast, the Indian states of Rajasthan and Gujarat to the east, and the Arabian Sea to the south. There are three distinct regions: 1) the Thar Desert; 2) Indus River plains; and the Kirthar Range. The Indus River flows in a southwesterly direction through the heart of Sindh. The Sindh’s main agricultural areas and population centers are situated here. To the east of the Indus plains is the Thar or Great Indian Desert. The Kirthar Range, in the west, is a steep wall of mountains rising from 1,220 meters (4,000 feet) in the south to nearly 2,400 meters (8,000 feet) in the north, dividing the rugged hills of Balochistan and the fertile Indus plains.
The climate of Sindh is characterized by extremes. The mean maximum June temperature in Jacobabad in northern Sindh is 45.5°C (114°F). Jacobabad has also recorded the highest temperature on the Indian subcontinent, at 53°C (127°F). Temperatures drop to 2°C (36°F) in winter and fall below freezing at higher elevations. Annual rainfall averages less than 20 centimeters (eight inches) and in some places is less than 10 centimeters (4 inches). Thorn scrub, acacias, and tamarisk are the only vegetation that grows in these conditions.
Early History of the Sindh
Sindhi’s history goes back deep to the misty past as it is home to the Indus Valley culture, which dates back to around 3000 B.C. and ranks with ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and China as being one of the world’s first civilizations. D. O. Lodrick wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “The Indus is central to the history of the Sindhis. It was along this river that the Harappan (or Indus Valley) civilization developed during the 3rd millennium bc. Usually identified with Dravidian peoples, this sophisticated urban culture matched the achievements of Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt. The Harappans left an archeological record of contemporary life in Sindh, but we know less of the centuries following their decline. [Source: D. O. Lodrick “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]
“From around 1700 B.C. onward, successive waves of Aryan invaders entered the Indian subcontinent from the northwest. The earliest of these nomadic tribes settled in the Punjab, where the outlines of Hindu Vedic religion and society emerged. This was quite different from urban Harappan culture. It was nonurban, based on the herding of cattle; its religion was dominated by male deities and sacrificial ritual; and its society was organized into a hierarchy of classes (castes), with the Aryans at the top and local non-Aryan peoples at the lowest levels. As the Aryans pressed steadily southward along the Indus Valley, their culture replaced that of the Harap-pans. The Harappan towns and cities disappeared, with Aryan (Hindu) civilization emerging as the dominant culture of Sindh. Subsequently, groups such as the Persians, Greeks, Scythians, and White Huns who entered the region were absorbed into the existing structure of the Aryan-dominated society. During the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C., Sindh formed part of the Mauryan Empire. At this time, Buddhism was the main religion in the region, though it was subsequently reabsorbed by Hinduism.
“Arabs reached the mouth of the Indus by sea in A.D. 711 and within a few years gained control of Sindh. From this time on, the region was dominated by Muslims and the culture of Islam. Around ad 900, the Arab governors of Sindh — at first subject to the Caliph in Baghdad — established their own dynastic rule. Of mixed Arab and local blood, Sumra and Samma chieftains governed for several centuries, eventually being replaced by invaders from Afghanistan between 1518 and 1522. By the end of the 16th century, Sindh was annexed by the Mughals. It remained part of the Mughal Empire until the mid-18th century.
Later History of the Sindh
Sindh was conquered by the British in 1843. After his victory, the commanding officer, British General, Sir Charles Napier, an infamous one word dispatch to his bosses: "Peccavi" — Latin for "I have sinned." Sindh was part of the Bombay Presidency until 1937, when it was made a separate province. Following Pakistan's independence, Sindh was made part of West Pakistan in 1955. In 1970 Sindh became a province of Pakistan. [Source: D. O. Lodrick “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]
During the British Raj, Sindh, situated south of Punjab, was the neglected hinterland of Bombay. The society was dominated by a small number of major landholders (waderas). Most people were tenant farmers facing terms of contract that were a scant improvement over outright servitude; a middle-class barely existed. The social landscape consisted largely of unremitting poverty, and feudal landlords ruled with little concern for any outside interference. A series of irrigation projects in the 1930s merely served to increase the wealth of large landowners when their wastelands were made more productive. Reformist legislation in the 1940s that was intended to improve the lot of the poor had little success. The province approached independence with entrenched extremes of wealth and poverty. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]
There was considerable upheaval in Sindh in the years following partition. Millions of Hindus and Sikhs left for India and were replaced by roughly 7 million muhajirs, who took the places of the fairly well-educated emigrant Hindus and Sikhs in the commercial life of the province. Later, the muhajirs provided the political basis of the Refugee People's Movement (Muhajir Qaumi Mahaz — MQM). As Karachi became increasingly identified as a muhajir city, other cities in Sindh, notably Thatta, Hyderabad, and Larkana, became the headquarters for Sindhi resistance.
In 1994 Sindh continued to be an ethnic battlefield within Pakistan. During the 1980s, there were repeated kidnappings in the province, some with political provocation. Fear of dacoits (bandits) gave rise to the perception that the interior of Sindh was unsafe for road and rail travel. Sectarian violence against Hindus erupted in the interior in 1992 in the wake of the destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, India, by Hindu extremists who sought to rebuild a Hindu temple on the contested site.
The peoples of Sindh speak a language called Sindhi. It is spoken by about 14 percent of the population of Pakistan. It has fewer dialects than Punjabi and has a small but important literary tradition of its own. There are several million people who claim it as a native tongue: they are concentrated in the Sindh, Kharipur State, the area around Karachi and in Balochistan. The Sindhi script is similar to the Urdu script but different enough so that Urdu-readers have a hard time making out exactly what is said. The script is Arabo-Persian in its origin, but the language is Indo-European. [Source: Sarwat S. Elahi, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]
D. O. Lodrick wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: Sindhi is an Indo-Aryan tongue but has a large number of Persian and Arabic words, reflecting centuries of Muslim influence in the region. Vicholi is the standard dialect of Sindhi, while Siraiki, Thareli, and Lari are other local forms of the language. Kachchi, a dialect of Sindhi, is spoken in neighboring areas of India (the Rann of Kutch, and the Kathiawar Peninsula). Hindus use a form of the Devanagari script for writing Sindhi. [Source: D. O. Lodrick “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]
“Perhaps the language closest to the original Prakit and Sanskrit of all the tongues of north India, Sindhi has a literary tradition that extends back to the 11th century. The earliest Sindhi works were poetry showing both Islamic and Hindu influences, though later epics emerged as important. Perhaps the best known Sindhi poet, Shah Abdul Letif (1690-1773) emerged during the early 18th century, while modern Sindhi literature consists of works of both poetry (dominated by the giant figure of Shaikh Ayaz [1923-1997]) and prose. *\
Sindh Languages and Literature
In Sindh — more so than other provinces — a wide variety of different languages are spoken. Sindhi is the major spoken language in Sindh. Key dialects are Kachchi, Lari, Lasi, Thareli, Vicholo (Central Sindhi), Macharia, Dukslinu (Hindu Sindhi) and Sindhi Musalmani (Muslim Sindhi). [Source: Ministry of Culture, Pakistan pakistanculture.org ]
Nearly 14 million Muslim refugees (Muhajirs) settled in Sindh after the independence of Pakistan, populating mostly urban centers of the province. They spoke Urdu, Gujarati, Bengali as well as other languages that reflect their different regions of origin. Urdu is the second major language spoken in urban areas of Sindh.
Dhatki, also known as Dhati or Thari, is a Marwari dialect of Rajasthani language. Bagri language, a dialect of Rajasthani language is also spoken in Sindh. Goaria is a Marwari Rajasthani language spoken by some 25,000 people in Sindh Province of Pakistan. This language is used by Hindus prominently.
Memons speak an unwritten language called Memoni, a mixture of Sindhi and Kutchi. Kutchi language, a dialect of Indo-Aryan is spoken in Bhanushalis (Bhunsari in Kutchi), Nizari Ismaili Muslims (satpanth), and various other Muslim communities in the region, including other Muslim Khojas and the Kutchi Memon community.
Parkari Koli (sometimes called just Parkari) is a language mainly spoken in the province of Sindh. Saraiki is also spoken in Sindh. It is an Indo-European language, related to Kutchi, Gujarati and other Indo-European languages. Aer is an Indo-Aryan language spoken by approximately 200 people in Sindh, Pakistan.
Sindhi language known for its rich literature was very popular literary language between 14th and 18th centuries. The Sindhi language first appeared in writing in the 8th century AD. It is established that Sindhi was the first and the earliest language of East in which the Quran was translated in the eighth or 9th century A.D.
Its writers have contributed extensively in various forms of literature both in poetry and prose. The rich literature of Sindh comprises of books on religion, philosophy, medicine, sociology, logic, literature, history, politics and culture. Pir Sadruddin (1290-1409 A.D.), was a great poet, saint and Sufi of his time. He composed his verses (ginans) in Lari and Katchi dialects of Sindhi.
Shah Abdul Latif of Bhit (1690?1753) is the greatest thinker, Sufi, musician and poet of all time, produced by Sindh. He wrote Sassi Punnun, Umar Marvi in his famous book Shah Jo Risalo. Sachal Sarmast, Saami and Khalifo Nabi Bux Laghari are celebrated poets of the Talpur period in Sindh (1783-1843 A.D.). Shah lutufullah Qadri, Shah Inayat, Mir Masoom Shah, Makhdoom Nooh of Hala and many others are the renowned literary personalities, who enriched the language with mystic, romantic and epic poetry. Sindhi is taught in schools in the province of Sindh.
Sindhi Religion and Festivals
Most Sindhis are Sunni Muslims. There used to a large number of Hindus in the Sindh but they migrated to Indian after partition in 1947. “The worship of Muslim saints (pirs) is one aspect of Sindhi religion that deviates from orthodox Islam. Historically, the region has been extremely receptive to the Sufi movement, and one of the most revered saints of Sindh today is Lal Shabhaz Qalander, a 13th-century Sufi. Saint worship and its attendant rituals reflect Hindu influences in Sindh, and indeed in the past — especially at the level of folk religion — there was a great deal of mixing of Muslim and Hindu religious practices. It is not unusual for Muslims and Hindus to venerate the same saint. The patron saint of the Indus River, for example, is revered by Muslims as Khwajah Khidr, or Sheikh Tahir, and by Hindus, as Darya Shah, or Uderolal. *\
“As orthodox Sunnis, Sindhis celebrate all the major Muslim festivals (e.g., Muharram, Ramadan, Id ul-Fitr, Id ul-Adha). However, festivals of particular importance in Sindh are the death-anniversaries (Urs) of three local saints. Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, who is said to have died in A.D. 1345, is buried in the village of Sehwan, near Lake Manochar in central Sindh. People from all over the country attend his Urs, which is an occasion for the gathering of musicians, qawwali -singers, and dancers. The mela held to observe this Urs is, in effect, a festival of Sindhi culture, folk music, and dance. The Urs of Shah Abdul Latif, a mystic poet born in ad 1689, and Sachal Sarmast, an 18th-century poet, are also major festivals celebrated by Sindhis. *\
Sufi festivals known as “urs” are held annually to mark the anniversaries of a saints’ deaths and their “marriage” to God. They attract thousands of pilgrims from both sexes and have accompanying meals. Pilgrims arrive in specials buses, trains and trucks. There is a singing and dancing. Food and entertainment is offered at the accompanying fairs (“mela”). The fairs are open to anyone, regardless of their beliefs, and many of those in attendance normally don't set foot in a mosque.
Description in the Insight Guide to Pakistan of a Sufi festival in the Sind: “There is constant music, singing and dancing, keeping pace with the booming of the big copper drums. One party follows another and the ritual continues from morning to the evening. The drums thunder, men and women celebrate the occasion by ritual dancing and achieve grace with quick steps, forward and backward, hands flailing above the shoulders. The singing girls of whom Qalander is patron saint gyrate furiously, tossing their heads and swinging their long hair, drenched in sweat, wanting frenzy to reach the state of “la hoot la makan”, no self space, perfection union and peace with the divine."
According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “When a death is about to occur, relatives gather to participate in the death rituals. Passages from the Quran are read, the Muslim creed is repeated, and prayers are offered for the dying person. After death, the body is washed, the big toes are tied together, and the corpse is wrapped in a shroud in preparation for burial. The body is carried to the cemetery on a bier by close relatives. At the graveside the mourners, led by a maulvi (religious teacher), pray for the departed soul. The body is placed in the grave on its side with the face towards Mecca. Prayers for the dead, followed by a feast, are held on the third and tenth days after the death. The mourning ritual is completed with a feast for all relatives on the 40th day after the death. [Source: D. O. Lodrick “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009]
Sindi Character, Customs and Life
Sindhis are elegant, with a lovely, soft and slow gait; they are fond of the art of songs, music and dancing and full affection towards their country. The majority of Sindhis converted to Islam by the Sufi mystics from Middle East and Central Asia. Sufi Saints explained the intricacies of human philosophy. Hence, genuine love for fellow beings, large heartedness and hospitality constitute the very spirit of Sindhi culture and it is the association of the cultural elements that elevate it among the contemporary cultures. Sindhi culture has been strongly influenced by Sufism. Jhulay Lal, the Sufi pioneer of Sindh, is revered by both Hindus and Muslims. A common greeting among Sindhis is "Jhulelal Bera-Hee-Paar". Spirituality is a common trait in every Sindhi, following any religion.
The center of social life for Sindhi men is the “otak,” (autak) a special room or building building where they gather to discuss politics, play cards, watching television, watch cockfights, listen to musicians, watch dancers, drink alcohol; and chew on betel nut mixtures. The otak is often outside the walls of the house compound a discrete distance beyond the thorn hedge of the family quarters.. Each hamlet will have at least one otak. If for some reason it doesn’t a large shady tree is designated as meeting place. The otak is where landlords traditionally asserted their power and meet their followers. [Source: Sarwat S. Elahi, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992]
Sindhis follow many Muslim norms but also veer away from them. The usually greet one another with the Muslim greeting "Salaam" or "Salaam alaikum") but also still use the Hindu "Namaste." No visitors are allowed to enter a Sindhi home without the consent of the head of the family. Landlords hold great power and prestige. Further honor and prestige comes from having family members, including daughters, who have achieved high levels of education, have professional careers or hold political power. [Source: D. O. Lodrick “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009]
Sindhi Marriage and Family
According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: Marriages among Sindhis are arranged, with partners sought from within one's zat or biradari. The ideal marriage is between first cousins (i.e., a male marries his father's brother's daughter). If a suitable bride is not available, a male can marry outside his clan, even into a zat that is socially inferior to his. However, no father would allow his daughter to "marry down" into a zat of lower social standing. Betrothal of infants was common in the past, although this is no longer practiced. The marriage ceremony (nikah) is preceded by several days of festivities. The groom and his party travel to the bride's house in an elaborately decorated transport (car, donkey, or camel). The actual ceremony involves each partner being asked three times if he or she will have the other in marriage. The marriage settlements are agreed to and witnessed, and the ceremony is completed by readings from the Quran by a maulvi. (Hindus in Sindh perform their marriage ceremonies according to the Vedic rites.) Divorce is permitted by Muslim law. [Source: D. O. Lodrick “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]
“Sindhi society is predominantly Muslim. However, it shows the influence of its Hindu past in its organization into zats. Th ese are hereditary, occupational groupings (e.g., cultivators, blacksmiths, weavers, barbers) that function very much like Hindu castes. Zats are further subdivided into biradaris, groups of individuals within the zat who can trace their lineage on the male side to a common ancestor. The biradari is an important social unit within the village. *\
“The family is the basic unit in Sindhi society. It is organized along the lines of the patriarchal joint family. The male head of the family is the dominant authority, responsible for the family's affairs. His wife or wives, as Sindhis may have more than one, run the household. The wives of sons reside in the household, while daughters live with their husband's family after marriage.
“Three ceremonies are associated with birth in Sindhi life: naming, head-shaving, and circumcision. Naming takes place soon after birth, immediately after the father or an elderly male relation has whispered the Call to Prayer into the baby's ear. The head-shaving ceremony is held in the first few weeks after birth. Goats are sacrificed (one for a girl and two for a boy), and the meat is cooked and given to relatives. The goats' bones are buried with the infant's hair. Circumcision (sunnat) usually takes place in early boyhood. The boy is garlanded and taken around the town in procession before the circumcision is performed by a barber at the family home. When the boy has recovered, a celebration is held for family and friends. *\
The custom of purdah — the seclusion of women in the the house — has traditionally been common among upper class Sindhis but has not been practiced by rural women who have had to work out in the fields and in urban areas. If the upper class women left the house, they had to be covered from head to toe to avoid the gazes of men. In some places when veiled women left the house they were escorted by boys who rang bells and yelled out “Pass” so that people would move out the way when they approached. [Source: Sarwat S. Elahi, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]
D. O. Lodrick wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “Women largely communicate within their own caste, within which they marry exclusively. Opportunities for meeting women of other castes become more restricted with higher status. Rajput women observe strict purdah (seclusion) while poorer Bajeer, Bheel, Menghwar and Kohli are freer to undertake their field tasks. They are victims of centuries-old customs like Karo Kari, marriage with the Holy Quran and latter occur specially in the Upper cast in Muslims or most conservative families. But it is very hopeful that this custom is very low. Tribal system is more powerful and implementation of laws is another question. [Source: D. O. Lodrick “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]
“Sindhi women live in either Hindu or Muslim societies, both of which are patrilineal in nature. As a consequence, they are generally prohibited by law from inheriting property and see their role in society as wife and home-maker, subservient to the wishes of their children, husbands, and in-laws. Marriages are typically arranged, according to local customs, and — even though it is illegal in India (Pakistan has no legal proscriptions against the practice) — dowry is usually given. Bride burnings are commonly reported in both India and Pakistan, and the press occasionally reports "honor" killings in Sindh. In 1998 the adult sex ratio (i.e. among people over 6 years of age) in Sindh was 891:1000, indicating the importance of males in Sindhi society. The low number of females is explained largely by sex selective abortion and neglect of young girl children. *\
“Even though Sindhi women have emigrated to other parts of the world where they may be involved in business, Sindhi attitudes towards the role of women in society are mirrored in a marked lack of ambition. Poverty, illiteracy, lack of education, and cultural attitudes are the greatest problems faced by women in Sindh. *\
Sindhi Food and Houses
The Sindhi are particularly found of fish, both from the sea and the Indus River, and seafood. The most delicious fishes are “palla” and a white river salmon. In Karachi you can get wonderful prawns, lobsters and a variety of ocean fish. The Sindhi there often flavor their food with amchur (powdered raw mangoes), limes and tamarind. Chapatis and roti — flat unleavened breads made with wheat — are eaten with spiced pulses (dal), vegetable dishes (sabzi), and yogurt (dahi). Lamb, goat, and chicken are eaten. Poorer people eat meat less, typically during special occasions. Sweetened tea, buttermilk, lassi (a drink made from yogurt) are the most popular drinks. Sindhis also enjoy Mughal-style dishes such as biryani (lamb or chicken cooked with rice), rice pilaf and tandoori lamb or chicken. [Source: D. O. Lodrick “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]
According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “Architecture in Sindh has a pronounced Arab flavor. Villages consist of clusters of houses, surrounded by compounds, and walled for privacy. Wooden gates often shut off the compound from the outside world. Houses themselves are generally built of unbaked mud bricks, roofed with straw or bamboo. Poor people have a single room for eating and sleeping, and their houses are sparsely furnished. The houses of the landowners are more elaborate and may be built of brick and have tiled roofs. They have several rooms, with a cookhouse and a latrine in the compound (the poor go into the fields to perform their bodily functions). The otak of the wealthy are furnished with carpets, overhead fans that are swung by servants, tables, and chairs. *\
Sindhis are the natives of the Sindh province, which includes Karachi, the lower part of the Indus River, the southeast coast of Pakistan and a lot of desert. Both men and women wear turbans and dress in loose tunic and baggy trousers Women are skilled embroiderers and decorate their tunics and the skull caps of men with patterns made from pieces of mirror. "Ajrak" a traditionally made shawl. Women wear garments with hand-blocked red resist dyes, In urban areas, people dress in modern-styles. Some women wear saris, or salwar-kurta.
According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “The original dress of the Sindhi male is the dhoti, a type of coat (jama), and a turban. A round, embroidered cap, cut away in the front, is commonly worn by Sindhi men. As with many societies in South Asia, different communities within Sindh have developed their own distinctive style of dress. Th us, Amils have adopted flowing pyjamas, high-topped caps, and leather slippers with their toes curled up. They follow the custom of tying a kamarband (i.e., cummerbund) around the waist. Muslim influence can be seen in the salwar (loose baggy trousers) and serwani (a long, tunic-like coat). Hindu communities have their own styles of dress. Traders and businessmen, for example, favor the Marwari-style turban of Rajasthan. \ [Source: revised by M. Kerr, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]
The Shawl of the male Shalwar-Kurta is called a lungi and is used as a garment of honor or on special occasions. Sindhi men wear embroidered decorative Caps cut-away in the front as an essential part of their dressing. Traditionally embroidered decorative skull Caps and Ajrak on the shoulders with Shalwar Kameez are worn by men in Sindh. [Source: Ministry of Culture, Pakistan pakistanculture.org ]
Sindhi Women’s Clothes
According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “Traditional dress for older Sindhi women consists of a white cotton tunic and a thick white or red skirt that reaches the ground. The head is covered with a thin muslin scarf that is larger than the modern dupatta. Slippers complete the ensemble. Sometimes, a white sheet (chaddar) is worn covering the entire body, with only a small peep hole (akhiri) left open so that the wearer can see. Younger women wear the salwarkurta, or the suthan, a pyjama-type outfit, along with slippers and the scarf. Mirrorwork on the kurta is typical of Sindh. Ornaments include ivory bracelets and bangles, silver anklets, and gold earrings and nose rings. [Source: revised by M. Kerr, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]
In Sindh, for their clothes women turn to the basic colors, red, yellow and black, to counteract the monotony of the desert. They embellish with skill and care each of the three items of their dress, the rawa or veil, the chola or shirt, and the voluminous trousers called suthan. [Source: Ministry of Culture, Pakistan pakistanculture.org ]
The Sindhi woman's method of brightening her shirts is perhaps unique in the world. Tiny mirrors are tacked on to the material with the aid of closely worked embroidery. The effect is enchanting for the brilliant sun transforms the mirrors into a thousand sparkling gems, and lamplight turns the dress starry at night The chaddar is of bright color block printed cotton cloth with thick embroidery and sprinkling of mirrors. Women use shredded mica mixed in starch to add sparkle to fine cotton saris and dupattas. For the suthan, a special striped material that drapes well is woven. The sussi is traditionally used only for making the trousers. With this ensemble, slippers are worn. The tops are made of a woolly carpet weave that just covers the feet, sewn onto leather soles.
Eastern Sindh has its share of migratory people and among the most colorful are the Koli, Bheel and Mengwart. Women wear ankle-length skirts with yards of fabric which accentuate their graceful movements, the blouse or Kanjiri is short sleeved and backless. The head is covered with a chunjji, tie-dyed. Tight knots are tied all over the material done up in liberal colors.
Across the ends of the Sindh border region camel train has moved for centuries carrying goods and people on their journey across the subcontinent. Under the blistering sun head covering becomes essential. The headgear combines utility with decoration. The mirror work is typical of Sindh, as is the printed cotton Ajrak or Gharara. [Source: Ministry of Culture, Pakistan pakistanculture.org ]
Jewelry is simple with a primitive flavor about it. Round ear-rings are worn right round the edge of the ear, making it look like a chandelier. Necklaces of several strands of coins and gold beads with a large pendant, called durri, symbolize the wealth of the weaver. The rich women of Sindh wear a lot of gold jewelry to show the grandeur and dignity. Sindh have preserved the old technique of enameling blue and white glazed minakari of silver and gold metal base. The women of Tharparkar wear white bangles that covers the whole arm and bold golden or silver nose pin.
Sindh Culture, Art and Sports
The Sindh is a repository of varied cultural values built on a foundation of being home to the great, ancient Indus Valley civilization and enriched by being a crossroads of many cultures and peoples. With that being said, Sindh's cultural life has also been shaped, to a large extent, by its comparative isolation from the rest of the subcontinent. A long stretch of desert to its east and a mountainous terrain to the west served as barriers with the Arabian Sea in the south and the Indus in the north provided the easiest access.
Melaas (fairs) and malakharas (wrestling festivals) are popular. Three-days Urs for great Sindhi poets and Sufi mystics are celebrated with great exuberance reverence at their shrines on specific times of the year. Folk performers impart the universal message of the Sufi Saints with Qawwalis and Kaafis. Sufi mysticism can also be found in poetry of Shah Latif, who wrote in about peace, love and beauty, and Sachaal Sarmast. is another saint poet of Sindh who served the humanity through his poetry. In villages of Sindh, the gatherings between castes are largely restricted to men. The locale for such interactions being the otak (autak).
The Sindh jhooman is a folk dance that honors a national hero. Sindhi children play local variations of games, such as hop-scotch, marbles, and tag. Wrestling is a popular spectator sport in villages, while men enjoy cockfighting, pigeon racing, and camel racing as well as cricket and field hockey.
Sindh Crafts and Textiles
Sindhi craftsmen are also known for producing lovely lacquerware and beautifully-painted tilework. Women are skilled embroiderers and decorate their tunics and the skull caps of men with patterns made from pieces of mirror. Mirrorwork, the sewing of tiny pieces of mirror onto cloth, is a Sindhi speciality and used to decorate the brightly colored clothes many Sindhi women. Blue-glazed tiles from Sindh decorate mosques and shrines all over the country. *\
Ajrak block printing, glazed pottery with handpainted designs. Karachi and Hyderabad are famous for their colored glazes and enamel inlay works. Muslim wood workers, who migrated to Karachi after the partition in 1947, have made remarkable contributions to inlay works. Hala is known for its unique lacquered Jandri (rotation) wooden furniture. Blue on white ceramic glazes are the specialty of Hala and Hyderabad. The tile makers craft is on full display in mosques and mausoleums. Among the finest example is Shah Jahan Mosque in Thatta. [Source: Ministry of Culture, Pakistan pakistanculture.org ]
Sindh pottery is noted for its black and maroon, pre firing glaze. Sindhi artisans are celebrated also for their lacquer ware decorated in patterns of blue, mustard and brick-red providing a lively contrast to their desert environment. In Sindh, decorated basketry is widely practiced craft; bearing intricate geometric patterns woven from pre dyed grass is used by snake charming communities of yogis and Hindu tribes' people.
Sindh has a rich heritage in textiles. One of the oldest kinds of double woven cloths in bright geometric patterns produced here is the Khes, created by the weavers of Thatta, Nasirpur and Sehwan. Fine patch work rilly (Bed covers) are also famous all over the country. Another popular fabric is the Sussi with its multicolored strips in pure cotton are blend of cotton and silk. This region weaving mirror work embroidery stands out in the world. However the Ajrak enjoys a special place in any Sindhi home. This ancient art of block printing, involving eighteen stages, traditionally uses deep blues and maroons, offset by white star like motifs. The Ajrak is normally used as a turban or a chador when it is draped over honored guests as gesture of hospitability. Other Sindhi textiles include the colorful Chunri (created through the tye and dye method), worn by women as dupatta. Down south in Sindh, the richness in both variety and techniques is captivating. The greatest attentation is paid to the Gajj, the heavily embroidered shirts traditionally worn by brides.
Chamois leather rug embroidered in multicolored silk, gold and silver is the regional specialty from Sindh. The desert of tharparkar is rich in intricately embroidered fabrics, hand-blocked and tye dye cottons and silver jewelry. Makran coast fisher folk are famous for net witting. Sindh is known for its bandhanu, tye and dye process for dupattas and shirting. Patterns are generally geometric arrangements of dots, squares or circles in vivid green, yellow or indigo. Elephants, peacock and dancing figures are some of the other motifs used.
Sindh Folklore and Literature
D. O. Lodrick wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “Sind has a rich and varied folklore. One folk tale addresses the relations between Hindus and Muslims in the region. In the 10th century ad, so the story goes, a Muslim ruler in Sindh began forcibly converting Hindus to Islam. The Hindus panicked and prayed to Darya Shah (Varuna, god of the Indus) to protect them. The answer to their prayers was Uderolal who, riding a horse and with a sword in his hand, struck terror into the hearts of the Muslims. He told people that there was only one god — Allah or Ishwar — and that both Muslims and Hindus should worship that one god. The Muslim ruler was suitably chastened and stopped his forcible conversions to Islam. Uderolal is identified with Zindapir (Sindhu Pir), who disappeared into the river Sindhu along with his horse and sword. Th is water deity is worshiped by both Muslims and Hindus, who depend on the waters of the Indus for their livelihood. [Source: D. O. Lodrick “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]
“Important sites, such as Mohenjo-Daro, Amri, and Kot Diji, have left a record of the achievements of the ancient Harappan civilization in the areas of city-planning and building, economic production, social organization, and religion. It is generally held that there is little direct continuity of cultural tradition between the Harappans and modern-day society. However, some writers trace elements of modern Sindhi folk culture to Harappan times. They argue, for example, that the bullock carts used by farmers along the Indus today, or the pipes played by Sindhi shepherds, differ little from those used by the Harappans, as revealed by the archeological record. *\
“Sindhis have a rich tradition of folk literature and mystical Sufi poetry dating to the 14th century ad or even earlier. The legend of Dodo Chanesar, for example, an early Sindhi folk tale, is thought to date to the time of the Sumras. The most famous Sindhi poet, however, is Shah Abdul Latif, whose work, Shah Jo Risalo, is known and recited throughout Sindh. Sachal Sarmast (ad 1739-1829) is another eminent Sufi in the Sindhi literary tradition. In addition to poetry, Sindhi folk culture embraces music, using instruments, such as the sahnai (a wind instrument), dances, songs, and riddles. *\
Music from Sindh province is sung in Sindhi, and is generally performed in either the 'Baits' or 'Waee' styles. The Baits style is vocal music in low voice or high voice. Waee instrumental music is performed in a variety of ways using a string instrument. Waee is also known as Kafi.
Common instruments used in Sindhi regional music includes Ektara known as Yaktaro in Sindhi, Tanpura known as Danburo in Sindhi, Alghoza, Bansuri, Pungi known as Been in Sindhi, Narr, Naqqara and Dhol.
Sindh is the land that inhabited Indus Valley Civilization. The extravaganza of dance and music retraces the origin of classical dancing to the times of Moenjodaro, where the 'Dancing Girl' becomes a real character depicting the life of the people of Sindh. From the province of Sindh, comes the charming 'Jhoomer Dance' performed by village girls on Sindhi folk song, 'Hey Jamalo'. People of Tharparkar come with the Dandia (stick) dance on the festive occasions. The ritual of 'Dhamaal' originated in Sindh, where pilgrimages from all over the country would journey to lay their offerings at the Shrine of the Saint 'Shahbaz Qalander'. Gyrating to the ever increasing beat of the drum, the devotees dance themselves into a wild state of ecstasy.
Many people in the Sindh are engaged in agriculture and livestock raising. The fertile Indus Plains are heavily irrigated and provide a valuable source of income for the local people who practice farming on these lands. Nomadic way of lifestyle is commonly seen in the deserted regions of Thar Desert where people move from place to place in search for drinking water sources along with their animals.
According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: Traditionally, Sindh lacked the pan-Indian four-tiered caste system (Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Sudra). Brahmans, who elsewhere in the Indian subcontinent enjoyed high ritual status, were numerically insignificant. They were neither learned nor affluent, functioning only as priests to the Hindu trading castes. There was no question of royal patronage as the region was under Muslim rule. Since no Sindhi Hindus formed part of the nobility or army, Kshatriyas were notably absent from the region, as were Sudras, the castes who were tillers of the soil (these were mainly Muslims) or the service castes. The main Hindu communities in Sindh were, thus, of the trading caste — e.g. the Lohanas, Bhatias, Khatris, Chhaprus and Sahtas — and social hierarchies among these groups were primarily based on wealth. This social structure was unique to Sindh, and regional identity became more pronounced than caste identity. *\ [Source: D. O. Lodrick “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]
“Around 70 percent of Sindhis derive their living from cultivation. Given the meager rainfall totals in the region, agriculture is dependent almost entirely on irrigation. The principal source of water is the Indus River, on which there are three major irrigation dams (called "barrages") in Sindh. They are the Ghuddu and Sukkur Barrages in the north, and the Kotri Barrage in the south near Hyderabad. The major crops grown include wheat, millet, maize, rice, cotton, and oilseeds. Fruits, such as mangoes, dates, and bananas, are also cultivated. Away from the Indus Valley, herding sheep, goats, and camels has become the dominant economic activity. Fishing is important along the Indus River and the Arabian Sea coast, where prawns, shrimp, pomfret, shad, and catfish are caught. *\
“Although Sindh is essentially a rural province, the provincial capital, Karachi, is Pakistan's largest city, with a population of over 13 million inhabitants. Karachi is Pakistan's leading commercial and industrial center, giving Sindh an important role in the country's economy. Industrial plants include cotton mills, sugar refineries, cement factories, steel mills, and automobile manufacturers. *\
Social Problems and Education in the Sindh
According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: Though Sindhi literacy (56 percent) is higher than the Pakistani average (50 percent for Pakistanis over 15 years of age), Sindhis still face problems in education typical of the country as a whole. In rural areas, children must work in the fields, the school drop-out rate is high, and there is a Muslim antipathy to education for females. Literacy among males in rural areas is 39 percent but among women it is only 13 percent. However, urban males have the highest literacy in the country, with that in Karachi being over 90 percent, and reaching 100 percent amongst communities, such as the Parsis. Among the elite, education — even of daughters — is seen as a matter of prestige and a means of political power. For example, Pakistan's former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, was educated at Harvard and Oxford. Sindh University, located in Hyderabad, and Karachi University are the major academic centers in the province. [Source: D. O. Lodrick “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]
“Sindhis face many of the problems suffered by all rural, agricultural populations in developing countries. Population pressure, poverty, lack of education, and rural indebtedness contribute to low standards of living for the mass of the people. Migration of the rural poor to the cities has created huge squatter populations in Karachi and other towns, as well as an inadequate agricultural labor force in rural areas. *\
“The most serious problems, however, relate to ethnic conflict in Sindh and the volatility of Pakistan's politics. Sind's political fortunes have been closely linked to those of the Bhutto family. Sindhis have long resented the concentration of political power in the hands of Punjabis, along with perceived threats to Sindhi cultural identity. Attempts to replace the Sindhi language in schools with Urdu, and the national government's policy of Islamization, have both been strongly resisted. Conflict between Sindhis and Urdu-speaking muhajirs, who comprise an estimated 25 percent of Sind's population (and 70 percent of Karachi's population), has led to violence and many deaths. Murders, kidnappings, drug gangs, sectarian violence, and ethnic conflict are commonplace in Karachi, where even Pakistan's security forces have been unable to restore law and order. *\
“On the political scene, Sindhis are outnumbered by Punjabis, who are seen as dominating the politics of Pakistan. However, Benazir Bhutto, a former Prime Minister of Pakistan, was a Sindhi and her Pakistan People's Party (PPP) was widely expected to win the 2008 elections outright. However, Bhutto was assassinated on 27 December 2007 and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, replaced her as leader of the PPP. The elections in Pakistan were postponed for a month as a result of the assassination and the PPP emerged as the leader of an anti-Musharraf coalition. The PPP won a majority of seats in the National Assembly, though not enough to form the government by itself. However, the PPP, in association with Nawaz Sharif's Muslim League (N), formed the Pakistani government, with Yousaf Raza Gilani (Gilani was born in Karachi and thus is a Sindhi), a loyalist of slain leader Benazir Bhutto, as the nation's new prime minister. *\
Water Issues in the Sindh
According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “Access to adequate supplies of water, both for drinking and irrigation, remains a major problem in Sindh. The area is essentially desert, with precipitation averaging less than 8 inches a year, and the major source of water is the Indus River. However, the Punjabis seem to control most of the Indus water, and lack of water has provoked hundreds of angry demonstrations in Sindh, with farmers and politicians alike charging that "water robbery" has been committed by Punjab Province. Even the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA), created by Pakistan after the 1960 Indus Basin Waters Treaty was signed with India, appears to be violating the 1945 Sind-Punjab agreement on water sharing, with total disregard for the lower riparian rights of Sindh. Virtually all of the crops grown in Sindh (rice, cotton and cereals) depend on irrigation, and when water is not available, they are lost. [Source: D. O. Lodrick “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]
“In addition to these economic losses, the reduced flows that characterize the River Indus as a result of water withdrawals in its Upper Basin, has resulted in severe water pollution. The river receives raw sewage from about 40 cities and hundreds of small towns and villages, untreated industrial wastewater from hundreds of industrial facilities, and irrigation returns from the millions of acres of agricultural lands spread along the riverbanks. Although it is attempting to reduce use because of health hazards, Pakistan still uses around 25,000 tons of chemical nutrients and pesticides in a year. With population growth and reduced water flows, Indus pollution is worsening. Levels of oxygen depleting organic contaminants from sewage, toxic compounds from industrial discharges, and pesticides and chemical nutrients from irrigation returns are increasing. Water borne diseases are on the rise. Many fish and other aquatic species have declined in number and diversity. If the situation is not reversed further water degradation will continue to occur, and its impact on aquatic life, public health, and other uses of water will be very significant. *\
“The lakes and wetlands of Sindh are being degraded at an alarming rate. The lakes in Sindh are an important source of drinking water, recreation, fish, edible vegetables that grow in them, and employment for many people. With the lower Indus basin receiving reduced flows, the lakes and wetlands of the Sindh are losing their inflow and slowly becoming polluted, and smaller ones are even drying out. Manochar, for instance, the largest lake in Sindh is a source of drinking water and irrigation, but has become a dumping ground for discharge from salinity outfalls originating in Punjab and Balochistan. Millions of people have been affected and thousands of Manochar fishermen have migrated to other areas of Pakistan. Furthermore, salt water intrusion into the plains of lower Sindh is directly related to the decrease of flow in the Indus River. Salt-water intrusion has been witnessed inland up to 100 kilometers (over 60 mi) north of the sea. *\
“In 2008, a breach appeared in the Rohri Canal at Tehsil, New Saeedabad, District Matiari, Sindh Province, resulting in heavy losses to local peasants, including damage to standing crops, houses, roads, bridges, water courses, and embankments. The breaches inundated many villages nearby and caused extensive damage to houses in the vicinity. The floods affected 90 percent of the population of 50 villages involving over 19,000 persons. Over 300 houses were destroyed completely, and over 2,000 hectares (c.5,000 acres) of cultivated land were inundated. The crops lost included both commercial and food staples, including rice. This was the third time in ten years that breaches occurred in this area, and the ministry of irrigation, which is responsible for checking the stability of the canal embankments on a regular basis, was tardy in providing assistance to the affected people. June 2007 saw torrential rains and flooding in Sindh Province as it was hit by cyclone "Yemyin." The latter left vast areas of the region flooded with several hundreds dead and missing and substantial collateral damage to houses, livestock, and crops. Such natural disasters are not unique. In January 2001, when Gujarat — to the east — was hit by a devastating earthquake, Sindh also experienced some deaths and significant damage to buildings. *\
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (tourism.gov.pk), Official Gateway to the Government of Pakistan (pakistan.gov.pk), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated February 2022