Sassui of deebal And the first mosque of South Asia

Sassui of Deebal and the First Mosque of South Asia

Sassui is the prettiest of all girls in the world. 

Oh prince, she is absolutely matchless. 

She is a fairy from Koh Qaaf. 

Her eyes are deeper than oceans on the earth, 

Her cheeks are brighter than stars in the sky, 

Her voice is sweeter than the cuckoos in the jungles. 

Whoever sees her smiling loses heart to her.

Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai 

Shah Jo Risalho reflects the mood of Shah Abdul Latif‘smystical moods, his poetry is inspired by the folk tales of the Indus Valley and Punjab. Shah Abdul Latif’s symbol of the woman soul exemplifies the Virahini (A woman separated from her lover) tradition in the Hinduism. All his folk tales revolve around the fate and fortune of a woman, who are completely dedicated to the union of her lost beloved. The heroines of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai’s poetry are known as the eight queens of Sindhi folklore. All of them are celebrated inSindh for their honesty, integrity, piety and loyalty. The Eight Queens of Shah Latif’s are Marui, Momal, Sassui, Sadia, Noori, Sohni, Sorath, and Lila. Shah Latif has insinuated in elaborate way to these characters of Sindhi folktales and used them as allegories for high spiritual life. Although Shah Latif, came from a relatively orthodox Muslim background, but spent a period wandering through Sindh in the company of Hindu Yogis.

Deebal (Banbhore) is broadly known for two reasons, the folktale of Sassui and Muhammad bin Qasim’s entry point to conquest Sindh.

The folk tale of Sassui illustrates this genre very well. Sassui, a Brahman’s daughter was born with an unlucky horoscope foretelling she would marry a Muslim. The inauspicious fortune prompts her parents to place her in a basket in the river to rid themselves of the child. Retrieved from the river by a washer man. When Sassui became a young girl, she was as beautiful as the fairies of heaven. The handsome young Prince of Kecch falls in love with. Punnhun’s father and brothers were against his dishonourable marriage to Sassui, him being a prince and she being a washer man’s daughter, do what they can to ruin their marriage. Accordingly the made the couple drunk and kidnapped the prince. Waking up in the morning, Sassui finds her bed empty. She became mad with the grief of separation from her lover and ran barefoot towards the town of Kecch in Balochistan. She finally achieves union with her beloved in death.  

All are enemies, camels, camel men and brother in laws,

Fourth enemy is wind that removed the foot prints of Punnhun,

Fifth enemy is sun which delayed its setting,

Sixth enemy is sky which did not make travel easy,

Seventh enemy is moon which did not shine longer.

Shah Latif sings this historic tale as an example of eternal love and union with Divine, symbolising Sassui’s drunken slumber, as sleep of heedlessness, and her setting out in search for her beloved as always beset with trials and difficulties.

The city of Deebal dates from the 1st century BC to the 13th century AD. The city was gradually deserted after the 13th century due to change in the course of the Indus.

Government of Pakistan conducted a large scale excavation during 1958 through 1965 and unearthed extensive remains of various types of buildings and invaluable cultural material. The remains include a large fortified harbour town, an outer city, and industrial areas.

The masonry of the remains of the Grand Mosque is finely dressed limestone laid in mud mortar. A flight of three steps in each portal are decorated with a variety of sunflower and lotus flower patterns. A noticeable feature of all the doorways was the presence of Siva Linga, carved on the lowest step of the stairs.

The moveable cultural material found here included, fourteen specimens of Kufic inscription carved on dressed limestone slabs, many stone blocks carved with sunflower or lotus patterns. F.A. Khan and identified remains of a large structure, as a Grand Mosque, which was constructed in 727-728AD.

Soon after the discovery of the Grand Mosque, in 1960 M Abdullah Chaghatai, a scholar of Muslim Architecture, visited the site and did not agree with F.A. Khan on following points:

The structure has no Mehrab in the western wall. According to him mosque at Kufa and Wasit (The city was built by al-Hajjaj bin Yusuf in c. 702 CE on the west bank of the Tigris across from the historical city of Kashkar) cited as examples of early mosques, did have Mehrabs.

The structure appears as a terrace and must have been a Hindu Temple.

Some of the elements such as basis of pillars are carved with Hindu motifs.

The square ground plan as of this structure is favourite plan of a Hindu Temple.

The discovery of Kufic inscriptions from this structure only suggests its reuse as a mosque during later period.

Later in 1969 S.M. Ashfaq does not agree with Chaghatai and asserts that the structure identified by Khan, functioned as a mosque throughout its existence, showing that the mosques in Kufa and Wasit did not have any Mehrab in their original structure.

The first building phase of the structure represents the famous Hindu temple. As recorded by the Arab historians, the temple was destroyed during the war in 712 AD. The Abbasid Caliph Mustasim Billah decided to utilise the structure, and ordered the Governor of Sindh to convert it into a prison. The job was completed in 853AD in the reign of Caliph Mutawakkil. A strong earthquake in 894 AD destroyed the entire city of Deebal. Prince Muhammad bin Abdullah of the Habbarid dynasty of Sindh converted the structure into a mosque in 906AD that continued to function in the last building phase. This mosque which came into existence does not representthe one built by Muhammad bin Qasim, nor can it be deemed the oldest mosque of the Indo-Pak subcontinent.The observation made by Chaghatai in 1960 stands correct. (Ancient PAKISTAN volume XV Muhammad Ishtiaq Khan)

Since 2010 five seasons of excavation and research have been conducted jointly by Pakistani and Italian team of historical and archaeological mission where Prof Dr Valeria Piacentini, scientific director for the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Milan, Italy, works tirelessly alongside a group of 10 Pakistanis, headed by Naheed Zehra, director for exploration and excavations.

According to Professor Piacentini; what has been found indicates the area to be an interlacing of different religions and a hub of religious creeds, a remarkable harbour, a cultural hub, a bastion town, a thriving marketplace of luxury goods and at the centre of trade with a large part of the world, including Inner Asia, Eastern Asia, the subcontinent and the Indian Ocean. And all the research so far indicates that Banbhore is in fact Deebal. There is no doubt it is Deebal.

The process of Islamisation of Sindh was long and gentle. Most likely the conquest of Sindh was motivated by the economic gain of its land, and the control on Persian Gulf. With a common language, and with the wandering spiritual teachers revered by people of all faith, the division between Hindus and Muslims of Sindh was not, until the recent decades. I hope the religious tolerance prevail in the land of seekers of peace.

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