The Chachnama

Published: January 18, 2013

The writer is author, most recently, of The Apricot Road to Yarkand (Sang-e-Meel, 2011) and a member of the Royal Geographical Society [email protected]

The Chachnama takes its name from Raja Chach of Sindh, whose son Dahar stood against the Arabs under Mohammad bin Qasim (MbQ). It comes down to us in its Sindhi, Urdu and English versions. In 1216, one Ali bin Mohammad Kufi, then being a resident of Uch in south Punjab, wishing to learn about the history of his adopted country sought out true sources.

His search brought Kufi to Bhakkar (the fort midstream between Sukkur and Rohri) where the Qazi, Ismail bin Ali of the tribe Sakifi became his mentor. Among his collection, the Qazi had a manuscript that he said was written by one of his ancestors and which detailed the account of Sindh at the time of the Arab invasion. Now, Sakifi was the tribe that MbQ also belonged to, so the Qazi was a descendent from the conqueror’s line. The book, therefore, was the version of the victor — something that we always tend to hold against history.

Impressed by the book “adorned with jewels of wisdom and embellished with pearls of morality”, Ali Kufi resolved to translate it into Persian, then a better known language in Sindh than Arabic. Indeed, Kufi’s impetus may have been Qazi Ismail’s lament that the book being in its original Hijazi Arabic, its content was virtually unknown in Sindh.

It was from Persian that the book came into English in 1900, by the learned pen of the remarkable Mirza Kalich Beg. The Chachnama opens with a very detailed account of the Rajput King, Sahasi Rai, and of a young Chach, a Brahman, joining his staff. The author’s source for this part was clearly native oral or written tradition, whereas the account of the invasion is from Arabic sources.

Segueing again at the end, Ali Kufi reverts to local sources. He tells us how the virgin daughters of Raja Dahar upon being presented to Caliph Walid bin Abdul Malik misrepresent out of malice: that they have already spent time with MbQ. Upon this, the incensed caliph orders for the hero to have himself sewn in a fresh cowhide and dispatched back to the capital. He arrives dead and Walid gloats over the corpse. “The Caliph had a stick of green emerald in his hand at that time, and he placed it on the teeth of the dead body, and said, “O daughters of Rai Dahar, look how our orders are promptly obeyed by our officers …”’, the Chachnama tells us.

This is clearly a Sindhi dramatisation of a different event. From Ahmed Al Bilazri’s Futuh-ul-Baladan we know that upon his return to Iraq, MbQ hardly received a hero’s welcome. His kinsman and mentor Hujaj bin Yusuf had fallen from favour and on the orders of Walid, MbQ was imprisoned where he succumbed to torture. Sifting between the two versions, one has to admit that it is nearly impossible to piece together the exact truth. Nevertheless, it is clear that owing to political rivalries, the young conqueror did not return home to accolades.

Now, the Chachnama has been billed variously, either as a romance or as authentic history. We know that Mir Masum Shah, the governor of Bhakkar (where Ali Kufi was tutored by the Qazi) during the reign of Akbar the Great, writing his famous Tarikh-e-Masumi in the early years of the 17th century, drew heavily from Kufi’s translation. Likewise, Ali Sher Qanea of Thatta for his Tuhfa-tul-Kiram, a century-and-a-half later. Modern researchers would not altogether dismiss the Chachnama as balderdash: it has to be looked at critically but it, nevertheless, is authentic in parts.

Until I read the book in 1984, I, too, believed that the Arabs invaded Sindh because a ship en route from Serendip (Sri Lanka) to Arabia was plundered by Sindhi pirates and the wailing of the captive Muslim women passengers raised the ire of Hujaj bin Yusuf, the governor of Iraq, causing him to send his cousin MbQ to teach the Sindhis a lesson.

The truth, and it has to be taken as that because it comes from the pen of a kinsman of MbQ’s, is that this invasion of Sindh in 711 was the sixth. Five earlier attempts were routed with great loss of Arab life and investment.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 19th, 2013.

Reader Comments (32)

  • John B
    Jan 18, 2013 - 11:40PM

    It is an interesting book to read. Gives a perspective of various cultural aspects of the societies lived during that period.

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  • Jawad U Rehman
    Jan 19, 2013 - 12:14AM

    Another little known fact that comes out of Chachnama is the fact there were Arab Muslims in Raja Dahar’s army too from earlier migration or exile from Arabia. There is an interesting account in the Chachnama of how they dealt with the situation of having to fight an Islamic army.

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  • Khan Jr
    Jan 19, 2013 - 12:23AM

    The five earlier failed attempts would suggest that the Arabs wished to conquer Sindh for reasons than “the wail of captured Muslim women passengers”. World history informs us that most conquests were related to aggrandizement of wealth and power, using religion as a pretext was by no means uncommon. There is no reason to suggest that the Arab conquest of Sindh in the early part of the 8th Century was any different.

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  • sahil
    Jan 19, 2013 - 1:04AM

    The last para and your insistence on its being the truthful version and all others’ not, shows as always, your bent of mind.

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  • Hammad Mian
    Jan 19, 2013 - 1:26AM

    Mr. Salman,

    Capturing of Muslim women and children by Raja Dahir is a fact and made cause one of the factors of sending Muslim Army to Sindh by Hajjaj bin Yusuf and this fact can not be denied. But there were also other factors that compelled Hujjaj to teach Dahir the lesson and the reason was he was patronizing the Allafi brothers who rebelled against Central Government and not following the orders of Hujjaj. Hujjaj had warned Dahir so many times from not to helping or patronizing the Allafi brothers but he refused to do so. Dahir’s stubbornness became one of the reason of Sindh’s capture.

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  • Sindhi_Sufi
    Jan 19, 2013 - 1:37AM

    In short, Arabs conquered Sindh in sixth attack killing Raja Dahir. The hero should be Raja Dahir who laid down his life in battle not one who colonized our land. Pls Pakistan teach true history, no more arabization please. Lets return to roots.

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  • Hammad Mian
    Jan 19, 2013 - 1:57AM

    @Jawad U Rehman:

    They were those Arab soldiers who rebelled against Hujjaj bin Yusuf and were being patronized by Dahir due to this Hujjaj warned Dahir so many time from not to patronize them but Dahir refused to do so. this was one of the factors which compelled Hujjaj to invade Sindh.

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  • No to your 'chariya' law
    Jan 19, 2013 - 2:28AM

    The Beauty of this is that the ‘truth’ regarding the invading Arabs is hinted at in the Nama is made clear to us Sindhis by the common sense. Our history is older and richer then our neo-Arab conquerors or Pakistanis would admit to.. Jeay sindh

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  • Watan dost
    Jan 19, 2013 - 5:09AM

    So one book read in 1984 is the ultimate truth for the author, sorry to say but your column, like all other columns by you, is biased and cannot be regarded as authentic research.

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  • Sindh_version
    Jan 19, 2013 - 8:51AM

    Lets us honor real heros of land, who resisted foreign occupation and laid down their lives. Please Lets not forget our heros and ancestors just because they were not following the same faith as ours current one, it is all social evolution. Arab colonization of Sindh in 711 AD was no different than British colonization in 1843. Forget for few seconds our religious beliefs, think rationally and you will start honoring real hero Raja Dahir, who scarified his life for his motherland.

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  • basharat
    Jan 19, 2013 - 10:00AM

    Muhammad bin Qasim was nephew and son in law of Hajjaj bin Yousaf, and was not cousin of Hajjaj, as has been described by the Author. He was son of Hajjaj´s brother, Qasim bin Yousaf. Walid could not gloat over the dead body body of Muhammad bin Qasim, he had already died, It was Suleman bin Abdel Mlik who had deposed and called back Muhammad bin Qasim in order to quench his vengeance against hajjaj bin Yosaf, who had opposed succession of Suleman bin Abdel Malik.

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  • Rajeev Nidumolu
    Jan 19, 2013 - 10:05AM

    All the ancient histories, as one of our wits say, are just fables that have been agreed upon.
    – Voltaire 1694-1778
    Historians are gossips who tease the dead.
    – Voltaire 1694-1778 French Philosopher and Author

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  • Shiv
    Jan 19, 2013 - 10:38AM

    I doubt if today’s Pakistanis would ever accept the truth. Accepting it would blow the myth that they are descendents of Arabs, something they want to believe it but know internally that it is that, just a myth. Accepting that truth would mean accepting that they were the losers, and from a position of mythical superiority, they would find themselves at the bottom of the ladder. So why not build on the myth? It at least makes you feel better.

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  • Shiv
    Jan 19, 2013 - 10:43AM

    It is not ‘one book read in 1984″ that’s the point; it is which book you quote from. Important to understand is that it is not the author’s point of view; it is that of a kinsman of the same conqueror who Pakistanis consider a hero.
    If it’s just one book that’s the point, isn’t it just one book then ‘revealed’ some 1500 years back that started all this?Recommend

  • Umer Soomro
    Jan 19, 2013 - 11:17AM

    Professor Hardy thinks that Chachnama was translated and re-shaped to advice Delhi Sultans and their Amirs how to govern India and, therefore, has a lot of additions and alterations to the original Arabic text.
    Hardy, “Chachnama”: An article read in the seminar “Sind Through the Centuries, Karachi, 1975″.
    This quotation has been taken fron “Chronological Dictionary of Sindh” by M. H. Panhwar.

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  • John B
    Jan 19, 2013 - 11:23AM

    Readers may also find these original Persian translations useful to understand the history of the region.

    A history of Sind Vol I & II by MIRZA KALICHBEG FREDUNBEG -continuation to Chachnama

    A history of Sind by MAHOMED MASOOM

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  • Sindh_version
    Jan 19, 2013 - 12:22PM

    @Shiv:
    Pls dont judge every Pakistan on your prism bro. It’s true that true heroes have not got due recognition in the eyes of government but in literature and culture, they are still remembered. I as Pakistani and Sindhi feel proud on our pre-Arab colonization era. I am proud to be Pakistani and I dont believe this notion that we all are descents of Arab, we are sons of soil. Let me say, Raja Dahir sacrificed his life for motherland Sindh, so he is our Hero in Sindh,

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  • John B
    Jan 19, 2013 - 1:12PM

    @Rajeev Nidumolu:
    If you don’t know your past, you don’t know where you are going. History is as important as science and it is even more important in business and politics than money.

    Without historical knowledge one cannot make progress in any field.

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  • Ah-ho Zaree
    Jan 19, 2013 - 5:37PM

    Even about present events, we have so many versions then what to say of history. Collingwood says: “The historian does not know the past by simply believing a witness who saw the events in question and has left his evidence on record. That kind of mediation would give at most not knowledge but belief, and very ill-founded and improbable belief.”
    The Chachnama is just such witness. It should not be taken as representing absolute truth. Regarding Raja Dahir, everyone is free to believe whatever one wants. He was an oppressor for some and hero for others. Like many other converts from Hinduism, Sindh has its share of the lingering and residual cultural and attitudinal inclinations of pre-Muslim era and these cannot be wished away.

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  • Abid P. Khan
    Jan 19, 2013 - 5:59PM

    @sahil:
    “The last para and your insistence on its being the truthful version and all others’ not, shows as always, your bent of mind.”

    .
    Being a researcher in history, you have once again presented which according to you is a more dependable version of what really happened. However it surprises the reader that by book by the famous historian Ferishteh’s(Farishta) on the same subject does not find even a fleeting reference. He was Persian but grew up in Ahmadnagar, India.

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  • anwar
    Jan 19, 2013 - 6:17PM

    Glad someone is doing something different other than politics

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  • Anonymous
    Jan 19, 2013 - 6:40PM

    Credit should be given to GM syed whose birthday was celeberated recently. He wrote a book ” Heroes Of Sindh” in late sixties or early 70s. Raja Dahir was his ” first and oldest hero”. He was severely criticized for this but I am sure that he may be feeling relieved to know that ,after all ,people are acknowledging his version.

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  • Ah-ho Zaree
    Jan 19, 2013 - 6:42PM

    @ET
    What is wrong about the comment sent earlier and copied here as under? Why are you not publishing it?
    Even about present events, we have so many versions then what to say of history. Collingwood says: “The historian does not know the past by simply believing a witness who saw the events in question and has left his evidence on record. That kind of mediation would give at most not knowledge but belief, and very ill-founded and improbable belief.”
    The Chachnama is just such witness. It should not be taken as representing absolute truth. Regarding Raja Dahir, everyone is free to believe whatever one wants. He was an oppressor for some and hero for others. Like many other converts from Hinduism, Sindh has its share of the lingering and residual cultural and attitudinal inclinations of pre-Muslim era and these cannot be wished away.

    Recommend

  • Aahjiz BayNawa
    Jan 19, 2013 - 6:57PM

    How can “Chach-nama” be an Arabic title as “nama” is a Persion word?

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  • Faraz Kakar
    Jan 19, 2013 - 7:07PM

    ”That which can be destroyed by the truth should be.” – P.C. Hodgell

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  • Kyon Hai Bayqarar
    Jan 19, 2013 - 7:39PM

    Historical imagination is extensively used for writing History. (See Isaiah Berlin, for example.)

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  • Kyon Hai Bayqarar
    Jan 19, 2013 - 8:43PM

    @Tabay Imam:
    I seek Refuge and forgivenes from Allah. With that kind of criterion, there would an endless list?

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  • Rajeev Nidumolu
    Jan 20, 2013 - 7:11AM

    Every imperialist cloaks his greed and justifies pillage and inhuman treatment of conquered people by noble intentions. Mohammad bin Qasim (MbQ) was in the same league as marauders like Francisco Pizarro,Cortez and Columbus who caused misery and oppression of indigenous people in pursuit of “true religion” and looted for gold. Worst afflicted people by MbQ were people of Sindh and Punjab
    Loot by MbQ amounted to 600 million Dirhams . Two hundred thousand Sindhi Hindu men,women and children were taken prisoners and put to auction all over Darul-Islam (Futuhul Buldan by Al- Biladuri died A.D.892).
    Chachnama boasts of thousands of soldiers put to death, imposition of ziziya on people who refused to convert and forceful abduction of wives of defeated opponents.

    It is surprising that airport in Pakistan is named Muhammad Bin Qasim International Airport

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  • Kyon Hai Bayqarar
    Jan 20, 2013 - 5:04PM

    @Rajeev Nidumolu:
    All the ancient histories, as one of our wits say, are just fables that have been agreed upon.
    – Voltaire 1694-1778
    Historians are gossips who tease the dead.
    – Voltaire 1694-1778 French Philosopher and Author”

    I couldn’t agree with you more on that.

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  • Shiv
    Jan 20, 2013 - 5:22PM

    Appreciate that very much dear! Hope your kind grows to be proud of their history and clear on their identity.

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  • Roti, kapra aur..
    Jan 21, 2013 - 6:07PM

    My hero is Muhammad Bin Qasim.. who was a great warrior and a great administrator as well.. many ancient books including Chachnama rever him… and he was joined by many local Sindhi tribesmen and rajas who hated Dahir for his expansion. As ibne Qasim promised not to impose jizya on them…

    Ibn e Qasim was the man who brought Islam in this region and it’s a reason enough for me to love him

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  • Roti, kapra aur..
    Jan 21, 2013 - 6:27PM

    Ha ha people here jumping is excitement to cite quotes of philosophers who question history and the events presented as facts by them.. Bhai!!!! putting Raja Dahir in heroes’ category is also based on historical citations – how can I believe it to be true. Further the witer wrongly put Waleed bin Abdul Malik instead of Suleman as the caliph who mistreated Ib ne Qasim, how can you beleive such a writer.

    It’s better that we debate on the real issue here who aould you like to associate yourself with, Ib ne Qasim or Raja Dahir

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