Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

The Battle of Jhal Magsi

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Jhal Magsi, the seat of the Baloch tribe of Magsi, lies northwest of Larkana in Gandava district of Balochistan. This quaint little town may not be famous for many things, but I remember a local bard who sang for me the ballad of the battle between the Magsi-Chandio confederacy on one side and the Rinds on the other. His rasping baritone and the lilt in his voice was goose bump-raising and I write his words in translation.

The Jamalis and Buledis, he sang, stole some properties of the Mugheris. Now having domicile in Magsi area the Mugheris were under the protection of Nawab Ahmed Khan, the Magsi chieftain. They petitioned the chief who immediately rode out at the head of a small army and came upon the Jamali lashkar at the town of Qabula. Ghulam Mohammed, the Jamali chief, made off with his life but the rest were cut down and the stolen properties restored to the rightful owners.

What happened next is the story of Pakistan: the evil you commit is no evil if you are connected to the right quarters. The whimpering Ghulam Mohammed Jamali rode poste-haste to Hyderabad to lament in the presence of Sher Mohammed Rind the 'wrong' done him by the Magsi. The Magsi chief had forcibly removed from his possession what he had stolen from the Mugheris, he is said to have complained. Sher Mohammed, the powerful commander-in-chief of the army of the ruling house of Talpur, wiped the Jamali's tears and told him he would redress this wrong. He would, he averred, sack Jhal Magsi where Nawab Ahmed Khan kept his court.

And so he set out leading twelve thousand fighting men of the finest mettle. As he paused for the night on the banks of the Nara, Ahmed Khan Magsi, having heard of his approach, hastened to Nawab Wali Mohammed Chandio to ask for his help. It is interesting that the latter having killed Ahmed Khan's father only a few years earlier, the two neighbouring tribes were at loggerheads.

In order, however, to defeat a common foe, Ahmed Khan swallowed his pride and asked for the Chandio's aid. Wali Mohammed, so goes the ballad, ordered some of his ace generals to prepare to ride out in aid of the Magsis. But when Nawab Ahmed Khan heard of this he told the Chandio chief that such generals he himself commanded. If the Chandio chief thought it below his station to aid the Magsis in person, he could well keep his generals tethered at home, said Ahmed Khan.

The pact was sealed. Wali Mohammed brought six hundred of his best fighting men to help the Magsis, who mustered only twelve hundred warriors, in their struggle against the Rinds. When Sher Mohammed heard of this alliance, he laughed: the Chandios were small fry. Were the Magsis to ally themselves with the all-powerful Khan of Kalat or even the warlike Rajputs of Jaisalmir, they would be exterminated by Rind arms. Indeed, so the ballad tells us, Sher Mohammed's army was so great that as it scoured its way across the land, birds of the wing could find no place to land.

Fearful of the needless loss of Baloch blood, the judicious Wali Mohammed Chandio tried to broker a peace. 'This is not your battle, Chandio,' Sher Mohammed Rind is reported to have taunted. 'Take your men and return the way you came or Chandio cries will be heard in Ghaibi Dero where your families live.' Wali Mohammed returned to Jhal and the confederates arrayed their combined force in battle order. Behind them they kept the watercourse that supplied Jhal and in front spread the vast open field that lies a few kilometres outside town. Meanwhile, Sher Mohammed reached Fatehpur where the women of the village came out bearing copies of the Quran on their heads. 'Oh Rind, be warned. The Magsis shall today be like scythes and you and your army like stalks of wheat. Return if you value Baloch blood. Return in peace to your Hyderabad.'

Self-assured and convinced of the force of his arms, Sher Mohammed scoffed the warning. As he rode past, the women uttered their final warning: they would wait there by the roadside to see the passage of his bier and not lament his passing.

At length the Rind army drew up outside Jhal Magsi. There, across the dusty, treeless plain they saw the Magsi-Chandio host bristling with matchlock, spear, sword, bow and arrow. The confederates that day mustered a total of seven hundred matchlocks and the fray was opened with their discharge. There followed repeated volleys of arrows from both sides. Done with that, the matchlocks and the bows were laid aside and the protagonists rushed forward in a frenzy of adrenalin, their battle cries all but rending the sky above.

Sword fell upon sword. Blood flowed freely and many a good man went down, but neither side asked for quarter nor gave it. The Buledis, the ballad recalls, were the first to turn tail. And as the battle raged, first going in favour of this side and then the other, a shout went up that Sher Mohammed Rind, renowned for valour in so many contests to the death, had fled the field. Even as their swords were in mid-stroke, the Rinds faltered: their general had met his match at last; he had quit the battle leaving them to the mercy of the Magsis. They began to fall back.

But Sher Mohammed was alive and in the fray. Only he had been missed in the confusion of battle. So before the rout could begin, riding tall in his saddle, he called out above the din for all to hear. 'Oh sons of the great Rind,' he said invoking the name of Chakar Khan, their common illustrious forbear, 'I am here. Hold you one and all your ground as long as I keep mine. Let it not be said that we of the house of Chakar Khan deserted the field of contest. Let only our corpses be removed from this field of battle this day.'

Then he dismounted and undoing his cummerbund fettered his legs with it. Now even if fear were to ride high, he would not be able to leave the field. Seeing him thus, his army rallied around him and there stood Sher Mohammed that day and fought with courage that knows few parallels. But the Magsis and their allies the Chandios fought better. As noontide approached, the Rinds, despite their greater numbers, were borne heavily against.

Still they sued for no quarter. Many fell on the field outside Jhal that long ago day. There came time when Sher Mohammed too fell, succumbing to thirst and his many wounds: he went down sword in hand his legs restrained by his cummerbund.

When the dust had settled the dead Rind general was borne in state to his hometown near Sibi on the orders of Ahmed Khan Magsi so that none may say that a Baloch did not honour his dead Baloch adversary. The unflinching support of all those Chandios who went down that day received Magsi appreciation in the shape of tombs on high plinths in the graveyard outside Jhal.

The story passed on into the ballads of both the Magsis and the Chandios. It could have remained just a yarn had it not been corroborated by an outside source. That source was Charles Masson. A deserter from the army of the East India Company, this man wrote a remarkable and rather learned account of almost endless journeys in Sindh, Balochistan, Punjab and Afghanistan.

In December 1831, Masson passed through Jhal and met with Ahmed Khan Magsi, then a young and spirited sort of man whose 'personal valour was undisputed'. The traveller also mentioned the blood feuds between the Magsis and the Rinds as well as the battles fought in the couple of years before his visit. According to Masson, the Rinds, despite their greater number, had been roundly discomfited in these battles while the Magsis had suffered losses 'so trifling as to be nearly incredible.'

But Masson is almost esoteric, known only to the few who care to read. The graveyard outside Jhal is the only physical verification of that battle of the late 1820s. Besides the lofty dome of Ahmed Khan's tomb, there are a number of cenotaphs on raised plinths that are said to be the mass graves of the many Chandios who fell in that battle.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 28 September 2016 at 08:41, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Magsis now alive on this earth due to brave chandioz they sacrifies we are brothers , nebhours from centuries .


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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