Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Pari Nagar

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In 1984, I saw the ruins of Pari Nagar for the first time ever. And what a haunting, mystifying and awesome place it was. Smothered by thickly growing mesquite in the low ground, by the sand dune on which, the Virawah Rangers mess (Tharparker) sat. Here was an area of perhaps, two or three square kilometres choked with ruins constructed either from kiln-fired bricks or neatly dressed gray limestone.

There were stone foundations of houses some clearly palatial, others humbler; several ruined temples; arched doorways and, the most intriguing of all, a rectangular stone platform with a free-standing arch. The remains of the lintels and pillars, only a few then in place, the rest in the dust, were all richly carved with motifs that we still see in the Chaukandi-style tombs of Sindh and Balochistan.

Pari Nagar was established as a port way back in the 6th century BCE (by another estimation, 400 years later), on an arm of the Rann of Cutch coming right up into the desert. On this inland sea did Pari Nagar become a thriving port whose ships sailed to distant marts. Its Jain merchants, assiduous and honourable in matters of commerce and trade, made good money and the city flourished.

In the winter of 1222, glorious Pari Nagar met the beginning of its end. The cowardly Jalaluddin, erstwhile king of Khwarazm, fleeing before a general of Changez Khan’s army, turned up outside the gates of this city. Defeated, humiliated and pursued like a hunted beast, Jalaluddin in his frustration had already vented his spleen on the cities of Multan, Uch and Bhakkar. Looting and sacking, he had left behind smouldering ruins of those once great cities. He did likewise at Pari Nagar.

But after Jalaluddin withdrew towards Bhambore (which, too, he sacked), Pari Nagar rebounded right back. Powered by the riches of its Jain merchant class, the port city soon bustled anew. Another century was to pass before life slowly began to ebb away from the lively streets and market squares of Pari Nagar. The inland sea receded until it had completely forsaken the port. No longer could ships sail up into the desert. The commerce of Pari Nagar died; its merchant class forsook it for other places. The walls of the city fell silent, wild growth overtook the ruins and the abandoned buildings of the once beautiful city crumbled. Only its name, Pari Nagar, and tales of its grandeur refused to leave the collective memory of the people of Thar.

That was how I found it in April 1984: in the bazaar of Virawah men had tales and tales without end to tell of the past glory of Pari Nagar. Later, I checked with the Department of Archaeology in Karachi, but no investigation had taken place on this fabulous site and there was little to learn of its life in those far off times.

In the summer of 2009, I returned to Virawah with the hope of photographing the ruins of Pari Nagar. Other than one ruinous Jain temple and some scattered pieces of masonry, I found nothing amid the thick undergrowth. The place had been picked clean of the ruins. The Rangers man accompanying me said, the locals had over the years taken away the stones and bricks to make their own houses. Later, in the Virawah bazaar I found this to be true.

In anger, I turned on the Ranger: if he and his colleagues had spotted a young woman and man holding hands and strolling among the ruins, they would have belaboured them for obscenity. And here, the greatest obscenity, the pillaging of the cultural heritage of this sorry land took place right under their eyes and nobody moved.

But the Rangers in the desert are not the only ones to blame. The people of Pakistan are spectacularly blind when it comes to heritage and history. We embrace a false, contrived history; we reject our true heritage. That is the way we have been trained for the past six decades.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 11:55,


At 25 May 2014 at 13:32, Anonymous Mitthee Babe said...

Its so beautiful! Can't you reach this temple. I mean is there a way to go in this Temple ?

At 25 May 2014 at 13:33, Anonymous Irfan Aslam said...

A beautiful place... the structure looks amazing

At 25 May 2014 at 13:54, Anonymous Amardeep Singh said...

The land of Rajasthan in India is filled with amazing architectural beauty of the Jain temples. As Sindh in Pakistan, just touches Rajasthan, one would naturally expect at one time there would have been such great Jain temples also existing on the other side of the border. I am glad to see this one survive.

At 25 May 2014 at 14:25, Anonymous Francene Stanley said...

Wonderful article, which points out a failing.

At 25 May 2014 at 16:45, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Francene, We see these failings of the state everyday everywhere.

At 26 May 2014 at 14:31, Anonymous muhammad athar said...

A great article. Sir app kis kis failing k roona roin ghe. No one gets away from family heritage, it is only with National heritage

At 26 May 2014 at 16:15, Anonymous Sheel said...

Such things happen everywhere: whole cultures and heritages are wiped out of memory over a generation or two, and nothing remains of them but a few ruins. And then out of the ruins the useful bits are taken away to build something else entirely! Or to sell to art collectors... making it so easy to wipe out the common heritage of India and Pakistan and Bangladesh...


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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days