Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Mansura of the Arabs

Bookmark and Share

The ancient city marked by mounds spreads in an undulating square some kilometre and a half each way. The earth here is deep red with the colour of fired bricks and pottery. The bricks, some of the large pre-Arab size, others smaller, are eaten away by salinity which turns the terracotta brittle to the touch. This is the last remnant of Brahminabad, the heavily fortified city that was, according to Chachnama, the seat of government of middle Sindh.

From Chachnama we know that Brahminabad was an ancient city even at the time of the Arab conquest in 711 CE. One history records that it was established in about 450 BCE by the Achaemenian King Bahman, also known by the royal title of Ardesher Drazdast. This may well be correct as Sindh was a satrapy under the Achaemenians and Bahman did indeed found at least two other towns here. The city was initially called Bahmandabad after its patron but the name was altered over time, possibly due to the influence of the Brahmin class.

When Chach rose to the throne of Sindh after the death of Rai Sahasi, who he had served as chamberlain, the first thing the young king did was to demand allegiance from the several chiefs within the kingdom. Of all the cities, it was Brahminabad that offered the stiffest resistance, its king Agham Lohana defying Chach, died in the fight for independence. A quarter century later, the Arabs under Mohammad bin Qasim came knocking at the doors of Brahminabad to besiege a fortified city that succumbed only after a spirited defence led by Ladi, the recently widowed queen of Raja Dahar, son and successor of Chach.

Chachnama tells us that Mohammad bin Qasim, having taken the city, arranged the distribution of booty and despatched 20000 slaves to Iraq. Then he settled the rate of taxation and made peace with the Brahmins, leaving them to govern their city and nearby country in their own fashion. Thereafter, two decades of silence descended on Brahminabad.

Later, Arab geographers and historians point to the foundation of a new city between 746 and 750 CE called Mansura or Victorious. Mansura was not too far east of the river Mehran or Indus and on the shore of what was either a lake or a marsh. Based on most accounts, the new city was near the site of ancient Brahminabad. But others believe that Mansura was actually old Brahminabad under a new name with buildings raised with bricks plundered from pre-Arab edifices.

The site of Mansura has long remained controversial. Henry Cousens, the doyen of Sindhi archaeology, wrote almost in exasperation in the 1920s, “No ancient site in western India has given rise to more controversy, or has been more harried by the excavator, than that which has been known as Brahmanabad [sic] …”

Cousens’ excavation revealed that the topmost layer of occupation, clearly from the Muslim period, was constructed of smaller bricks that came into use after the Arab invasion. Below it was a layer of older buildings using the large bricks measuring 40 x25 x 5 centimetres prevalent in Sindh since the 1st millennium BCE. The upper level of occupation also revealed a vast array of pottery both glazed and plain, terracotta, ornaments, toys, glassware, and an over abundance of coins. These last, heavily corroded in the saline soil, could just barely be read as Arab issues.

At the lower level, amid the great jumble of large bricks, Cousens found some fine statuettes of Surya and Ganesh as well as a rendering of Parvati and Shiva in an amorous pose. Together with the large bricks, these images offer a glance into the pre-Arab past of Brahminabad.

As to the end of Mansura, from the vast scattering of low-value copper coins on the surface and an absolute lack of anything valuable, Cousens concluded that the city was plundered and sacked. In his view, Mansura was raided, looted and set alight by the Rajputs. He scoffed at the theory posited by some Muslim historians that the city was destroyed in a devastating earthquake, believing instead that the myth was created to hide the shame of Muslim defeat at the hands of Hindu Rajputs.

Yet others find it irrefutable that Mansura was put to the sword by Mahmud of Ghazni in 1025. This was Ghazni’s punishment for the population’s conversion to Ismaili Islam which, in his view, was apostasy. Howsoever the end may have come, one thing is certain: it was cataclysmic, brutal and unsparing. And the city of Brahminabad or Mansura never rose again.

For the casual visitor, Mansura or Brahminabad has little to offer besides the foundation of a mosque and the last remaining portion of a Hindu temple. Other than that, whatever the archaeologists may reveal later is covered up to protect this precious site from deterioration and plunder.

Previous: The Very EdenBesting the NileTreasure ForsakenRendering in Dressed Stone - TaxilaCompass ConverseTown with Seven LivesRiches beyond MeasureAncient Emporium of SindhMonastery of the Fount, Bounty of the Kushans, Perch of the Queen

Odysseus Lahori one year ago: Taxilian Minds

Labels: , , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


Post a comment

<< Home

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