By Zahida Rehman Jatt
07 March 2017
The Indus is a mainstay of the Indian
civilisation. For the people of Sindh especially, its mythical status
penetrates each and every aspect of Sindhi life. The mention of River Indus, or
Sindhu, goes as far back as we can go in recorded history.
K.R. Malkani, a Sindhi Hindu who had to
leave his homeland during the mayhem of Partition, notes in his book The Sindh
In the beginning was the word. The first
recorded word was the Veda. And Veda is just ecstatic about Sindhu, the cradle
of Indian civilisation:
might surpasses all the streams that flow,
His roar is lifted
upto heaven above the earth."
It is on the banks of this mighty river
that rishis and sages have spent endless time contemplating the secrets of life
and the universe.
Gradually, a cult of river worship
developed in some of the areas where the Indus flows. The devotees personified
their beliefs: Muslims would call him Khawaja Khizar, Zinda Pir, and Sheikh
Tahir, while Hindus would evoke him by the names like Uderolal, Amar
Lal, Uday Chand, and Jhulay Lal.
The people who follow the cult of river
Indus are called Daryapanthis and their main centre is at Uderolal city, some
30km away from Hyderabad. The axis of the city is the shrine-temple complex;
wherever you may go, it forms a skyline and reassuringly looms over the
horizon. It embodies the spirit of Sindhudesh: the sharing of everything that
is sacred, be it a Sufi shrine, a Sikh Gurudwara, a Hindu temple, or a river
The principle ritual is Chaiti Chand, which
is both the birthday of Jhulay Lal and the celebration of the Hindu New Year.
Chait is the first month of the Hindu calendar.
It sets in when the winter has gone and
spring has also come to an end but the hot, gusty winds have not yet arrived.
It is the time when wheat is harvested and fields are being prepared for cotton
or paddy crop in the south of Sindh.
Even though most of Sindh's Hindus have
migrated to India, Chaiti Chand is still celebrated with religious
fervour and a growing spirit of community. In fact, after Partition, when
Sindhis in India became a de-territorialised community, Sindhi singer Ram
Panjwani tried to bind them together in a sense of Sindhiyyat by projecting the
image of Uderolal as the patron saint or Ishtdev of Sindhi Hindus.
The main rituals commence in the evening
and a stage is set for people to participate. The Mela starts with Jyot
Jagayan, or lighting the sacred lamp.
The proceedings continue with a Pooja just
before sunset, performed at the sacred well of Balanbho sahib. Its water is
believed to have healing properties. After the prayer, Chhando is performed in
which the water is sprinkled on the face. It is supposed to enlighten the
An integral part of the Mela is the Behrano
Parwan Karan, or floating the Behrano. Behrano is a huge brass plate that
is decorated with flour, sweets, dried fruits, lamps, and rose petals. It is an
offering to the river and the Daryapanthis believe that fish and other aquatic
organisms eat the Behrano and bestow blessings upon the devotees.
People bring the behrano to Uderolal from
various cities like Mirpurkhas, Shahdadapur, Sanghar, Nawabshah, Sakrand and
others. Traditionally, the Behrano was floated into the Indus, but now it is
offered to any water body or canal because whatever water there is in Sindh, it
comes from the Indus.
Another ritual that takes place during the
Mela is called Pallao Payan. It is when devotees hold the hems of their
shirts or Dupattas and pray to Uderolal to solve their problems and deliver
them from the ordeals of the world.
The proceedings end with the Chhej dance
performed by energetic men wielding dandia. The swaying movements resemble the
waves of the Indus. The Chhej starts with a low rhythm and gradually
moves to a frantic pace.
As time passes, the air gets thick with the
fragrance of rose petals and incense, and the men passionately chant:
Ayo Ayo, Jhulay
Jhulay Lal, Tehnja Theenda Bera Paar
Jhulay Lal has arrived
One who would say Jhulay Lal's name, his
boat will safely reach the shores
It is followed by Jiay Jhulay Lal
chants from the crowd.
For someone who knows that spaces for such
activities are shrinking, the sight is at once exhilarating and a poignant
reminder that perhaps all is not lost – at least not yet.
Zahida Rehman Jatt is an anthropologist and social science researcher.
She is a lecturer at the department of Anthropology and Archaeology at the
University of Sindh in Jamshoro.