Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

The Chandios

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Four kilometres to the northwest of village Ghaibi Dero (Larkana district) a group of domed buildings rises above the scrub and tamarisk-covered sand dunes. This is the family graveyard of the Nawab family of Chandio tribe of Baloch people whose ancestral seat is at Ghaibi Dero. All the buildings have plain exteriors while the interiors are painted with colourful frescoes of curving vines and bright flowers. There are also depictions of hunting and social scenes. These latter have largely been defaced, I am told, on the exhortation of some mullah who condemned them as un-Islamic. Of the two dozen odd tombs in this group the one on the far west end, an unpretentious little building, is that of Hafiz Wali Mohammed a.k.a. Ghaibi Khan. Although the simple headstone gives no date, the family’s genealogy would place him roughly around the beginning of the 19th century.

He was, they say, a man of great piety, humility and love for his fellow man. No traveller, rich or destitute, ever went by his door without partaking of whatever fare the good man could offer. One day, so the story goes, travellers arrived at his door seeking to be fed. Hafiz Wali Mohammed asked his wife to prepare for them, but unbeknownst to him, there was no food in the house. Nevertheless, even before the wife could tell him of their own want, foodstuff miraculously appeared in the kitchen. Now, since the victuals had come through divine (ghaib) intervention, so was Wali Mohammed to be known henceforth as Ghaibi Khan. From then on, too, there was never a fire to be burnt in the village of Ghaibi Dero for Nawab Ghaibi Khan established the tradition of feeding every single mouth in the village.

Although the Chandio chieftainship remains in the family of Nawab Ghaibi Khan, the tradition of the langar has been dead for the last about forty years. ‘Gone are those days when the Chandio Nawabs would spend on others. Now, like the rest of us, the only want more and more and more for themselves,’ a friend joked in Kambar.

Near the tomb of Hafiz Wali Mohammed alias Ghaibi Khan are two platform-type constructions with mock arches on the sides. To me they seemed like half-finished buildings; but these, my host the young Nawabzada Ahmed Nawaz Chandio, said were mass graves dating back to some forgotten war. He did not know when the war was fought or against whom. There was only the vague notion that the struggle had been against the Pathans; perhaps the armies of Nadir Shah Durrani. But that was all. Neither was there any written record in the family; and so it was in search of this war that I came to Shahdadkot to the home of Raees Imdad Ali Chandio, a teller of fascinating tales.

Long ago there lived a man called Sreman of the tribe of Chandio who ruled over this land. He was a great leader and administrator who established the first Chandio jagir (fief) that comprised of nine hundred thousand acres. Hafiz Wali Mohammed alias Ghaibi Khan was from his line as indeed are the present family of Nawabs. It was just before the time of Sreman that the predatory Afghans under a man called Zunnu Pathan descended on Sindh. Thirteen times, says Imdad Ali, they attacked the country and carried off immense plunder. Perhaps the figure is inspired by the seventeen raids against India by Mahmud Ghaznavi, but thirteen times Zunnu Pathan is said to have come and thirteen times the Chandios vainly tried to fight him off.

Afraid that yet another attack would soon be on its way, the brave Sreman got his council together to devise a plan. The thing to do, it was decided, was to take the Pathans unawares; and not as they came down the northwestern gorges to raid, but in the safety of their own home. Accordingly, five hundred camels were made ready, each with two boxes each one large enough to hold one fighting man in battle gear. The men in the boxes were then liberally covered with musk and the convoy set off for the stronghold of Kandahar in the guise of a musk trader’s caravan.

At the first border checkpoint, the officer in order to verify the contents ran his dagger through a slit in the crate on the lead camel. The dagger pierced the arm of Sreman, who without a sound quickly wiped off the blood with a musk scented kerchief. The fragrance of musk was heavy on the dagger as it came out of the box and the caravan was allowed to pass. And so it was at the next checkpoint and the next until the caravan arrived outside the gates of Kandahar. The sun was setting and it was the hour before the gates would be shut for the night when the caravan was permitted to enter.

And so it was that as the Pathans slept within the safety of their homes, one thousand fully accoutered Chandio warriors erupted from the secrecy of their musk-scented wooden boxes. Stealthily they crept through the deserted streets of the town, stealing from house to house cutting up every able-bodied man they came across. The massacre was so great as to avenge all the plundering raids that Zunnu Pathan had ever mounted against the land of Sindh. In the slaughter Zunnu himself was slain and the Chandios made off with much plunder and no loss of life on their own side. The honour of Sindh had finally been redeemed.

It is a fanciful story, not recorded either in the annals of Kandahar or elsewhere but in the hearts of a few Chandios. To them it has been transmitted by word of mouth. The question, then, is: who was Zunnu Pathan? The name of Zunnun Beg Arghun, a direct descendent of Chengiz Khan, features in the annals of Kandahar where he was appointed the governor by Sultan Hussain Mirza, the overlord of Badakhshan. He spread the authority of Kandahar by taking Quetta and Mastung in 1480 and mounted raids on the dependencies of these two places. Although such a raid is not recorded, but surely at that time, the Arghuns would have come against the outlying cities of Sindh as well. Perhaps the superior power of the Mongols had humbled the Chandios. Subsequently the Arghun, having sided with the rebellious son of Sultan Hussain Mirza, fell out of favour and when the northern Uzbeks came down against him he found no recourse. In a battle near Herat in the year 1507 Zunnun Beg Arghun was killed by the Uzbeks – not by the Chandios in the safety of his home as the legend relates.

Surely the Chandios, smarting under the humiliation of the raid, would have considered the murder of the Arghun. To settle the account they might even have prepared for the next raid; but it never came. Instead the news of Zunnun Beg’s death would have cheated the Chandios of their only chance of redeeming their honour. Therefore even if the Chandios did indeed embark upon such an enterprise, it is very likely that, having heard of the demise of the Arghun, they abandoned it before reaching Kandahar. But because the birth of romantic tales disregards actual fact and history, the fiction continued on to the fruition of the expedition in the Arghun stronghold. Thereafter it was the natural accretion from the passage of years that the handful of Chandio warriors who may have said ‘Aye’ to Sreman’s call magnified to a full one thousand men. Of course there is the greater likelihood that the story of this great expedition is simply fable.

The genealogy of the Nawab family gives no dates, but the graveyard outside Ghaibi Dero records the dates of death of three chiefs in the last century. Going back from them, it seems that Sreman would have lived around the end of the 15th century. Moreover, the mass graves are built of the large kiln fired tile that was in use in Sindh from very early times until the end of the 16th century when the Moguls introduced the smaller brick. Perhaps these are the dead of the Mongols plundering raids under Zunnun Arghun.

Sreman, the founder of the Chandio jagir, then was the one who possessed the audacity to plan an expedition to spirit himself beyond the walls of his enemy’s stronghold and kill as he pleased in order to avenge the havoc wrecked on the land of Sindh. Even if that never happened, that is the glorious light his descendents prefer to see him in.

Related: The Kohistan, A Sindhi Trojan Horse's Tale Less Told

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 12 September 2013 at 12:23, Anonymous Ramla said...

These remaining symbols of history...

At 12 September 2013 at 12:37, Blogger Lahoremassagist said...

In our circumstances, pursuit of history and preservation of such relics seems like a dream. Thanks to you that you still are doing it.

At 12 September 2013 at 13:32, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Bhai au kuch karna jo nahin aata!

At 12 September 2013 at 14:18, Blogger Majorsri said...

Nice one. Keep at it sir.

At 12 September 2013 at 14:30, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

At your service, sir, Major!

At 28 September 2013 at 01:43, Blogger Unknown said...

loved it

At 13 August 2015 at 12:57, Anonymous Muhammad Athar said...

I love to read such artcle, however it makes me glommy once i learnt that there is no one to preseve such heratage.

At 21 August 2015 at 11:57, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Athar, at least the Chandios do have some regard for their heritage.


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