IN THE BEGINNING was the word. The first recorded word was the Veda. And the Veda is just ecstatic about the Sindhu, the cradle of Indian civilization.
``Sindhu in might surpasses all the streams that flow.... His roar is lifted up to heaven above the earth; he puts forth endless vigour 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.... Rich in good steeds is Sindhu, rich in gold, nobly fashioned, rich in ample wealth.''
Sindhu is too alive and too divine to be ``it''; and so Sindhu is ``he''!
When the Vedic seer invokes heaven and earth, he also invokes the Sindhu. The Veda refers to the Ganga only twice; but it makes as many as thirty references to the Sindhu.
This is the Great Sindhu that gave Sindh --- and Hind! --- its name. It is the oldest name in Indian history --- and in Indian geography. When Shiva carried the immolated body of his divine consort Sati over all the land, her skull-top with its Hingula (Sindhur) fell at what has been Hinglaj ever since. It is near Karachi on the Sindh-Baluchistan border. To this holy spot --- sanctified by the visit of Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana --- went the great Sindhi Sufi poet-saint Shah Abdul Latif in the company of yogis. As long as East and West Pakistan were one state, a major attraction to the Bangladesh Hindus visiting the west wing was, Hinglaj.
Sindh was part of Dasaratha's empire. When Kekayi goes into a sulk, Dasaratha tells her: ``The sun does not set on my empire. Sindh, Sauvira, Saurashtra, Anga, Vanga, Magadha, Kashi, Koshal --- they are all mine. They produce an infinite variety of valuable articles. You can ask whatever you like.''
Of course Kekayi wants nothing short of the throne for her son, Bharata. The rest is epic history. When Sita was kidnapped by Ravana, Rama sent the vanaras(monkeys) to look for her, among other places, in Sindh with its ``remarkable swimming horses.'' Later, when all ended well, Rama gave Sindhu-Sauvira (the Sindh and Multan areas) to Bharata, who duly extended his rule farther north to Gandhara --- the home town of Gandhari of Mahabharata fame --- now Kandhar. His sons founded the cities of Peshawar (Pushkalavati) and Taxila (Takshasila).
Sindh emerges in a shady light in the Mahabharata. It is called ``paap-purna pradesh'' (a sinful province). And thereby hangs a tale. King Jayadratha of Sindh was married to Kaurava prince Duryodhan's sister, Dushhala. He was, therefore, all along on the side of the Kauravas --- an-l against the Pandavas. However, be it said to the credit of Jayadratha that he, like Dhritarashtra and Bhishma, opposed the disastrous game of dice between the Pandavas and the Kauravas.
However, Jayadratha's hostility towards the Pandavas had deeper roots. At the time of Draupadi's aswayamvara (free choice of husband in an assemblage of princes) he was one of the disappointed aspirants. Later, when the Pandavas were spending their time in exile, Jayadratha accosted her while she was alone. Draupadi innocently enquired of him about the people of Sindhu- Sauvira. However, when she found him full of mischief, she asked him to get lost. Thereupon he forcibly carried her away. When Arjuna and Bhima caught up with him and liberated Draupadi, Bhima cut off his hair in five places --- to make him look ridiculous. And he would have killed him, but for his eldest brother Yudhisthara telling him that it would make their cousin- sister Dushhala a widow --- and grieve uncle Dhritarashtra and aunt Gandhari.
In the titanic battle of Mahabharata, when Abhimanyu, Draupadi's son, got killed, Jayadratha ``pushed'' his body with his foot. Arjuna was furious. He vowed to kill ``Sindhu-Pati'' Jayadratha that very day, before the sun set. Jayadratha wanted to flee the field, but it was too late- He died an inglorious death.
In India, right up to the time of Shivaji, Pratap, and Guru Govind Singh, the traditional royal flag was some shade of bhagwa (ochre) or kesari. This was the case in the days of the Mahabharata also. The only difference was in the symbol on the flag. lnterestingly enough, Jayadratha's symbol was a silvery boar --- the wild pig, that the Rajputs love to hunt to this day.
Jayadratha's other love was milk and condensed hot milk (the Sindhi khirni). When announcing his determination to kill Jayadratha. Arjuna said: ``Jayadratha is a relation, but he is evil; he has been brought up on kshir and kshirni, but now I'll cut him to pieces with my arrows.''
One can only hope that the Mahabharata referred to Sindh as ``sinful'' because of its king and not because of its .people. (For the same reason, Karna refers to Shalya's Madraraj in similar terms.) In the ``Bhishma Parva'' of the Mahabharata, the Sindhu is referred to as the great protector which must be remembered day and night. Obviously the mighty river was a mighty defence line of the country. The ``Anushasan Parva'' of the Mahabharata prescribes Sindhu-bath for going to heaven after death.
Interestingly enough, the Bhagvad Gita is based on an earlier sermon involving Sindh! Once upon a time, the king of Sindh had defeated young prince Sanjay of Sauvira. Sanjay had lost heart and wanted to forget all about his kingdom. But his brave mother Vidula had shamed him into action. She had told him to remember his ancestry, remember his responsibilities to his people, uphold dharma, and live nobly or die nobly. At a time when the Pandavas were dispirited and did not want to fight, their mother Kunti reminded Krishna of the story of Vidula and asked him to repeat it to her sons --- to move them to action. The result was the immortal sermon of the Gita.
Dushhala also did a great good turn to Sindh. Since the movement of the centre of Indian civilization from the Sindhu to the Ganga, the former had obviously become a rough frontier tract subject to frequent invasions. Dushhala was pained to find the tribes of Jats and Medes in Sindh quarrelling endlessly. She therefore requested Duryodhana to send some Brahmins to tone up the socio-cultural life of Sindh. Duryodhana was good enough to send 30,000 Brahmins to Sindh. It was these Brahmins who later formed the backbone of resistance to Alexander. But of that, later.
Kalidas says in the Raghuvamsha that on the advice of his maternal uncle Yudhajat, Rama conferred Sindh on Bharata. Rama's ancestor Raghu's triumphant horses had relaxed on the banks of the Sindhu.
Another great Sanskrit poet, Bhasa, had done a whole play, ``Avimark'' on the romance of prince Avimark with princess Kurangadi of Sindhu-Sauvira.
The Bhavishya Purana says that Shalivahana, the grandson of Maharaja Vikramaditya of Ujjain, established law and order in ``Sindhusthan'' and fixed his frontier on the Sindhu.
Anshnath, the eleventh Jain Tirthankar, was a Sindhi. He died in Bengal.
The Jaina Dakshinyachihna (eighth century) speaks of the Sindhis as ``elegant, with a lovely, soft and slow gait. They are fond of songs, music and dance and feel affection for their country.''
There is a legend that the great Buddha had graced Sindh with his visit. Finding the climate extreme, and the area dry and dusty, he had permitted the bhikshus to wear shoes here. He had also permitted the use of padded clothing, forbidden elsewhere. Here Sthavirtis, the prince of Rorik or Roruka (Aror or Alor near modern Rohri) became his disciple.
When the Buddha went round his native Kapilavatsu in a chariot, it was mentioned that the ``four auspicious horses, of lotus colour, had come from Sindhudesh.'' To this day, historic Buddhist stupas are found in Sindh. No wonder when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had become President of Pakistan, even he adorned his office with a statue of the Buddha.
The Divyavadana (Tibetan version) reports: ``The Buddha is in Rajgriha. At this time there were two great cities in Jampudvip (north India): Pataliputra and Roruka. When Roruka rises, Pataliputra declines; when Pataliputra rises, Roruka declines.'' Here was Roruka of Sindh competing with the capital of the Magadha empire. When Bimbisara was king of Magadha, he sent Rudrayan, king of Sindhu-Sauvira, a rare portrait of the Buddha. The two powerful ministers of Sindh at the time were Hiroo and Bheru, their names still common among the Sindhis!
Chandragupta Maurya first won Sindh and the Punjab. It was from this base that he displaced the Nandas, occupied Pataliputra and established the great Mauryan empire
Kashmir's ancient royal history Rajatarangini has many references to Sindh and the Sindhis- Kuya's son Sindhu rose to lead the elephant brigade of Kashmir- He was adviser to the good Queen Dida. A top honour in Kashmir was ``Sindhu Gaja'', Elephant of Sindh.
Obviously, Sindh was quite at the centre of things