This article was published in Dawn, The Review, May 17-26, 2001, as the second installment in a series of three articles dealing with the history of the Arab conquest of Sindh.
While reading the most important primary source on the subject, Chach Nameh, I had always been impressed to note that the author did not seem to demonize Rajah Dahar, the fallen king of Sindh. This in spite of the fact that the book was commissioned by the descendants of Muhammad bin Qasim, the Arab general who took the kingdom from Dahar. In this article, I tried to give the modern reader a characterization of Dahar as it appears in the oldest classic on the subject.
“Whoever marries your sister will become the ruler of Sindh,” the astrologers told Dahar, the Rajah of Sindh. Dahar was the eldest son of Chach, the founder of the Brahmin Dynasty in Sindh, and he had inherited lower Sindh. His younger brother, Daharsingh was ruling upper Sindh, and both of them were born of Suhandi, the ambitious wife of Chach. Bai, their sister whose horoscope posed a dilemma for Dahar, was born of a Jatt mother.
“The administration of a large kingdom is a delicate matter,” said the grand vizier Budhiman to Dahar. “For the sake of their kingdom, kings bring death upon their brothers and relatives or banish them from their country. You should marry your sister, and seat her with you on the throne though you will never consummate the marriage. As she will be called your wedded wife the kingdom will remain with you, according to the astrologers’ prediction.” When this argument didn’t convince Dahar, the grand vizier made a practical demonstration about the so-called collective memory of the people. He laid mud on the back of a sheep, and grew plants on it. When the sheep was paraded through the streets of Aror, it caught everyone’s attention. But only for three days! Afterward, the sheep would roam around in the streets and no one would pay heed to it. That much is the human attention span.
Much has been said about Dahar’s marriage to his sister, but as far as we can gather from recorded history it was a nominal marriage and never consummated. Yet, it earned Dahar a bad reputation, so that his name became proverbial and synonymous with “big mistake” in the Sindhi language. His younger brother, Daharsingh, who was ruling the northern areas of the empire, rose in rebellion, although death overtook him before a decisive battle could settle the affairs between the brothers. The true casualty of this whole affair goes mostly unnoticed by the historians of all schools. The saddest part of the story was perhaps the fact that a young woman was condemned to a life that she did not deserve.
Apart from his “big mistake,” Dahar certainly possessed some remarkable characteristics. He was exceptionally brave and fearless. There is even a story about how, when a ferocious lion once attacked Dahar’s hunting retinue, Dahar wrapped his scarf on his left arm and thrust that arm into the lion’s mouth while killing the beast with his right arm. Even if we don’t believe this story, we have witnesses to his other acts of bravery, and such witnesses are found even among his enemies, the Arab invaders. As described by the ancient historians, Rajah Dahar is the tragedy of a man who set out to take lessons in being a king. His flaw was his willingness to place his faith in the external factors: stars, destiny, enemies and friends. By the time Dahar learnt his lessons, it was too late for him to live like a king. The only option left before him by then was to die like one.
Dahar had the opportunity to rule for a long period over his kingdom – almost forty years (c. 668 – 712 AD). Over that period his major achievement was to secure law and order in his land by routing the bandits and banishing them to the seas. His major weakness was his foreign policy, specially towards the western borders of his empire where the threat of an Arab invasion was increasing everyday since the Arab occupation of Persia in 635 AD.
It seems that Dahar was nostalgically looking back towards the days of the pre-Islamic Persia when the glorious Sassanid Dynasty ruled over that vast empire with great pomp and show. It was difficult for him to accept that the ancient glory of Iran had gone forever, and he could never make up his mind to deal with the Bedouins of the Arab Deserts as successors of the great Persian Emperors.
The Arabs, at the same time, displayed no desire for establishing friendly relations with the other powers of their time. Specially in the case of Sindh, the Arabs had always been speaking in terms of whether it was difficult or easy to annex this state, and never in terms of whether or not the Sindhis have given them a cause for invasion. We must remember that “world peace” is a very modern term and has its origin in the Romantic Movement of the 18th and 19th Century. Even so it wasn’t until after the World War I in the 20th Century that the concept of world peace became a reality in the foreign policies of states. The modern Muslim historians, more than anyone else, are guilty of anachronism when they try to perceive of the early Arab colonialism in terms of the 20th Century notions of democracy and world peace.
Dahar, it seems, didn’t display any personal aversion to the Muslims or their religion. He welcomed the Arab talent at his court, and was a great admirer of the Arab military genius. Unfortunately, the Arabs who found refuge at Dahar’s court were the Allafi adversaries of the Umayyad Caliphate. It is said that one of their relatives, a dignitary of the Allafi tribe, was beheaded in Mekran by a deputy of Hajjaj bin Yousuf as he refused to pay proper honour to that deputy. His skin was taken off and his head sent to Basra. In true Arab spirit some of the tribesmen of the victim took their revenge upon the deputy, who had by that time become the governor of Mekran, and then fled to the court of Dahar.
We cannot be certain how far the famous story about the plunder of eight Arab ships at Debal is true. It has been recorded in most histories that the King of Sarandeep had sent some gifts to the Umayyad Caliph Walid bin Abdul Malik, and the caravan of eight ships also carried the orphaned daughters of deceased Arab merchants. These ships were forced by rough weather to take refuge on the coasts of Sindh, possibly Debal, and there they were looted by some outlandish tribes. The story even relates that one of the women called upon Hajjaj when she was being captured, and this message was conveyed to Hajjaj by a survivor. Hajjaj sent a letter to Dahar asking him to release the women, and we are told by historians that, “in that letter he couched many threats in very strong terms.” If that was the case then Dahar must be praised for his patience in replying only, “This is the work of a band of robbers over whom I do not have power.”
Mainly two facts make this story doubtful. Firstly, Chachnameh, the primary source of these events, narrates that when Muhammad bin Qasim later conquered Debal he found all the women in the castle prison. Why would those women be kept in the prison? Women captured in this manner were usually treated as slave girls and distributed among the captors for their pleasures, as Mohammad Bin Qasim reportedly did at the time of his capture of Sindh.
Secondly, the Chachnameh states again in the events of a year later that after the Arabs had conquered almost all of Sindh, the Hindu vizier Siyakar brought those Muslim women prisoners to Muhammad bin Qasim. How could they be freed now, if they had been already freed and sent home from Debal? Indeed, it seems that the story had become a folk tale and there were many versions of it. We can’t be sure that the version that has come down to us was closest to reality.
In the light of what we know, it is more plausible to believe that some ships were probably looted but that was an act of the robbers whom Dahar had banished from his lands with great difficulty and now didn’t want to provoke by challenging their hold over the seas. Dahar’s personal involvement in the events, as well as the captives’ release from the prisons of Debal and (or) Alore, seems to be a fabrication by the later storytellers for obvious reasons.
The events of Muhammad bin Qasim’s invasion of Sindh are well known. What isn’t so well known to most students of history is the manner in which Raja Dahar met his death. It is said that when the Arab conqueror had captured most of Sindh, and Dahar’s countrymen had changed their sides to join the Arabs, Dahar called his Arab friends, the Allafi rebels. In a way they were the cause of Dahar’s misfortune because it was by giving them refuge that Dahar had first annoyed the dreadful Hajjaj bin Yousuf. “O Allafi!” Dahar said to his Arab friend, “It was for such an emergency that we patronized you. You are best acquainted with the ways of the Arab army, and it is advisable that you should go with my forces in advance.” The Allafi replied, “O King! We are grateful to you, but we cannot draw our swords against the army of Islam. If we are killed by them we will earn a bad name, and if we kill them we will burn in hell. We agree that in return for the favours you have shown us, we must at least give you some advice on how to fight these invaders even if we do not draw our swords against them. But if we give you advice, then again, this army will never forgive us. Please be kind to us and allow us to depart quietly.” In a magnanimous gesture of royal grace, Dahar allowed these dubious characters to leave his camps in safety.
Sometime before the final battle, Dahar’s vizier approached him and suggested that Dahar should take refuge with one of the friendly kings of India. “You should say to them, ‘I am a wall between you and the Arab army. If I fall, nothing will stop your destruction at their hands.'” If that wasn’t acceptable to Dahar, said the vizier, then he should at least send away his family to some safe point in India. Dahar refused to do either. “I cannot send away my family to security while the families of my thakurs and nobles remain here. And I consider it shameful as well that I should go to the door of another prince and await his permission to see him.” Vizier Budhiman then asked Dahar what did he intend to do. To this Dahar gave a very dramatic reply, which was recorded faithfully by the early Arab historians despite their hostility to the unfortunate infidel.
“I am going to meet the Arabs in the open battle”, he said, “And fight them as best as I can. If I crush them, my kingdom will then be put on a firm footing. But if I am killed honorably, the event will be recorded in the books of Arabia and India, and will be talked about by great men. It will be heard by other kings in the world, and it will be said that Rajah Dahar of Sindh sacrificed his precious life for the sake of his country, in fighting with the enemy.”
After Dahar was killed in the Battle of Aror on the banks of the River Indus, his head was cut off from his body and sent to Hajjaj bin Yousuf. His queens burnt themselves to death in the tradition set by the Rajput heroines. These included Bai, the unfortunate sister of Dahar. Other ladies of the royal household, who remained alive, were captured by the Arab conquerors along with other women of Sindh, and sold into slavery. Thus ended the dynasty that had sprung out of the ambitions of Queen Suhandi and Chach the Brahmin.
Entrance to the fort in the ruins of Bhanbhore,
believed to be the city of Debal
mentioned in the biography of Rajah Dahar
Khurram Ali Shafique is the author of several books on Iqbal, including “Iqbal: an Illustrated Biography”, for which he received Presidential Iqbal Award, and the recently published “Iqbal: His Life and Our Times”. He has vast experience as an educationist. He is the founder of Marghdeen Learning Centre, the pioneer of online courses in Iqbal Studies, conducted since May 2011.