Six thousands years of irrigation history in Sindh
Muhammad Hussain (M.H) Panhwar was a renowned agriculturist, historian, Sindhologist and an untiring scholar. The book entitled “Six thousand years of history of irrigation in Sindh” is just a small fraction of his unpublished work compiled by the author. The book has been further reviewed and compiled by the Culture Department, Government of Sindh.
The book itself represents the most comprehensive study about the history of irrigation in Sindh ranging from antiquity to the modern barrages systems. Although an indigenous Sindhi, Panhwar (Sitara-e-Imtiaz) wrote thousands of papers in English.
Panhwar was among very few historians of Sindh, who not only searched for diverse cultural and historical sources, but also used detailed maps of almost all historical periods. He created the maps by himself in a very professional manner by using his first hand knowledge about the subject.
The whole theme of this publication is envisaged in the first paragraph of the book, which reads: “Definition of the history is: It is the history of production, history of means of production, history of control over the means of production and history of distribution of production.”
Sindh, which to its western hill tracts Kohistan, is an extension of Irano-Baloch desert and the eastern sandy Thar is an extension of the Great Indian Desert. It is essentially a desert, but its central alluvial plains, which are irrigated by the River Indus, make that area a vast oasis in the midst two of the harshest deserts of the world.
The history of Sindh, therefore, is the history of production by the River Indus and the history of its changing courses, which invariably have led to famines, starvations, deaths and change of dynasties. The Indus plains have supported as much as 80 percent of the population of Sindh. The fluctuations in the level of River Indus are governed by snow melts in the Himalayas.
When summers are mild and snow melting is reduced, the level of water in the Indus goes down. In such cases the canals do not flow to their full capacity, the area under cultivation is reduced and so is the productivity. When it is warm in the Himalayas, canals flow and the area under cultivation is increased. The level of water in the Indus is also governed by the rains in the catchments of its five tributary rivers in Punjab and Kashmir.
When rains are sporadic, flood conditions prevail in the Indus in Sindh. Thus history of production in Sindh also depends upon climatic conditions in the east and the west Punjab, Kashmir and Himalayan ranges to their north.
Panhwar makes the strongest case to establish that Sindhi culture has its origin in the ancient Indus civilization, nurtured by the Indus and Hakra rivers, having its genesis in Mehrgarh, which evolved leading into Amrian and Kot Dijjian cultures of the early Indus civilization to mature Indus civilization of Mohenjodaro and then declining to Jhukar and Jhangar cultures.
In the appendices added at the end of the book, the author has given a list of pre-British canals along with their lengths, area under their command, their slopes and directions and other peculiarities such as silting and de-silting problems and special leveling problems created by the use of bare eye and human judgment; detailed accounts of cities and settlements in Sindh and their rise and fall with changes in the courses of River Indus; he has threshed out the controversy over Hakra or Sarsvati, the lost river of Great Indian Desert, with an apt analysis of different versions of scientists, historians and folklorists about it and has also discussed the situation of ground water in Sindh.
The numerous graphs, photographs and drawings of factors influencing climate and environments, primitive irrigational devices and equipment, architecture, people, artifacts and many aspects of culture provide the reader with independent sources of information.
This volume on one hand fills a critical need for scholars and students wishing to study the history of Sindh in perspective with irrigation by River Indus and finding out more about how it influenced the cultural, social, economic and political development of South Asia with specific references to Sindh, an idea floated and nurtured by the author himself, and on the other hand also provides basic guidelines for planners.
Umer Soomro is a social worker, farmer and author of many books.