BHANBORE, Sindh: Bhanbhore, an ancient city located about 65 kilometers east of Karachi, is said to have witnessed several political upheavals since its emergence in the first century BCE. Yet, the place was immortalized by an Arab general who changed the course of history by invading this town.
Long before the mighty Indus river meandered away from the settlement, forcing the residents of Bhanbhore to abandon their dwellings, Muhammad bin Qasim, an Umayyad warrior, defeated Sindh’s Brahmin ruler, Raja Dahar, in 711 CE and conquered large swathes of land. Today, Pakistan’s second busiest harbor, Port Qasim, is named after the Arab general.
“The south gate of Bhanbhore Fort from which Muhammad bin Qasim entered the citadel was later called the ‘gateway of Islam’ in South Asia,” Qazi Asif, a researcher, told Arab News.
The first excavation survey of Bhanbhore was carried out by Sindh’s Department of Archaeology and Museums in 1965. More recently, the government launched another round of exploration in 2012 in collaboration with Italian and French missions in Pakistan.
The report detailing the latest findings is yet to be made public. However, a description of the site at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s website says: “The site has a sequence from the first century BC to the thirteenth century AD. Whilst its earlier phases are waterlogged, the site’s surface remains to represent the best-preserved early Islamic urban form in South Asia and the region’s best-preserved medieval port.”
There was no trace of a mehrab – a semicircular niche in a mosque wall indicating the direction of Kabah – but an inscription on a structure, dating to 727 CE, claims that it is the best-preserved example of an early mosque in the region, others having been rebuilt.
“The presence of the industrial sector and the port’s wealth of imported ceramic and metal goods, in combination with its strategic siting at the mouth of the Indus, reinforces the pivotal role of Bhanbhore linking the international Indian Ocean traders with the resources of the interior,” it adds.
Although a French archaeologist, Monique Kervran, says her findings of Bhanbhore confirm that Debal – ruled by Raja Dahar – and Bhanbhore are names of the same place, Dr. Asma Ibrahim, a Pakistani archaeologist, says her research unearthed an underwater city nearby that was most likely Debal.
“The excavation work is still to be carried at the [underwater] city some 12 kilometers from Bhanbhore in the sea where a panel of Kufic inscription – along with one big and one small mosque – has been found,” she told Arab News.
The outline of the underwater city, she added, could be observed between 6 am and 8 pm on the 20th and 21st of a lunar month.
Ibrahim, whose research is yet to be published, informed that the excavated material of glass from Bhanbhore confirmed that it was imported from the Middle Eastern since there was no kiln in this region in olden days.
“It was one of the major industrial and trade centers of the world,” she said, adding: “While the archaeological sites in Bhanbhore await more excavation, there are strong imprints of Arab Muslims.”