M. H. Panhwar's contribution towards history of Sindh

 

By: M. Umer Soomro

 

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Introduction

 

M. H. Panhwar, the greatest Sindhologist Sindh has hitherto produced, born on Christmas day of 1925 at village Ibrahim Kachi, district Dadu of Sindh. He obtained bachelors degree in mechanical and electrical engineering from NED Engineering College in 1949 and M. Sc agricultural engineering, from University of Wisconsin at Madison (USA) in 1953.

 

Professionally he specialized in ground water development, earth moving, agricultural machinery, water-logging, salinity control, drainage and agriculture. He worked with governments of Sindh and West Pakistan; as Agriculture Engineer in Sindh for four years and Superintending Engineer for Sindh and Baluchistan for twelve years, up to the end of 1969. From 1970 till death he ran a consulting company specializing in irrigation, water-logging, drainage, agriculture, scientific equipment for education, research and industry and horticulture, working only on government and multi-national projects.

 

Continuing with his ancestral occupation of farming he established a horticultural farm near Tando Jam (Sindh) in 1964, converted it into a research farm to introduce new fruit crops suiting climate of Sindh in 1985 and developed many new and different fruit cultivars, including 17 of mango, 6 of lychee and many others, among which some extend harvest season of fruit by many months. During the last decade of twentieth century he eliminated pesticides and herbicides from his farm to make it fully organic one. For his researches on farm, he wrote manuals, one on each fruit crop, running into four thousand pages and other ten manuals on post-harvest of fruits and vegetables.

 

Studies about every aspect of Sindh have been his hobby since school days. As local libraries can not afford to buy every book on Sindh or horticulture or engineering, he used to buy books for his personal collection and reference. Thus, his personal library had some 50,000 non-fictional books almost equally divided on Sindh, horticulture, engineering and environments etc.

 

Though he traveled widely, but lived at 157-C, Unit No.2, Latifabad, Hyderabad (Sindh), Pakistan, from where he ran his consultancy and research work He also maintained an office at 54-D, Block-9, Clifton, Karachi, Pakistan.

 

He had four sons, Rafi Hussain (passed away in 2004), Tariq Hussain, Sani Hussain and Muhammad Ali - all settled in USA. His first wife died and second wife Farzana, a bio-chemist, has authored many books and attended many international conferences.

In June 2003 M. H. Panhwar established a trust to undertake social work in Sindh. He transferred his home, office, agriculture land comprising farm/orchard, library and other property in the name of the Trust.

 

Having lived an eighty-one plus years’ purposeful, joyful and colourful life, as he himself used to assert, he passed away on 21st April, 2007 AD.

 

The trust is now managed by his wife and sons who have plans to open an agriculture research center at his farm near Tando Jam and collaborate with the administration of University of Sindh in establishing M. H. Panhwar Chair, where his complete library will be transferred to facilitate the researchers.

 

 

Contribution

The contribution of M. H. Panhwar, as a historian of Sindh, lies in the fact that he is the beginner of scientific history writing of Sindh and the only one who tried to uncover the faces behind the social organization of Sindh. As in ‘An Illustrated Historical Atlas of Soomra Kingdom of Sindh’ he writes: “My definition of history is that it is the history of production, control over means of production and production to its final distribution. The history is more history of people than politics”. From this very stand it is clear that M. H. Panhwar attempted to interpret the history of Sindh from the peoples’ point of view. Because for him; people are the makers of history. M. H. Panhwar offered a lot to the intellectuals of the Sindh to de-mythologize the stories, which need to be retold in a scientific manner.

 

Mian Mumtaz Sumra of Multan, himself a scholar, told me in a personal communiqué that Mr. Panhwar is a scholar of the level of Haig, Raverty and Lambrick, who will not mince words or be influenced by others, except new research, based on which he will revise his previous opinions, as he is neither dogmatic nor affected by tribalism, nationality or religious bias and could be highly trust-worthy.

 

The unique quality of Mr. Panhwar’s work is his treatment of the subject on scientific lines. He does never speculate or rely on hypothesis. His word is the word of science; authentic, accurate, particular and permanent. He had vision to analyze things to their correct historical perspective and in this context he took support of archaeology, which is the support of scientific truth. Writing history with data acquired through carbon testing is new phenomenon in Sindh, which Mr. Panhwar made.

 

M. H. Panhwar is one of the pioneers in giving a new meaning to history by including geography, archaeology, culture of the people including the ruling elites and the common folk, the progressive science, crop technology, forest, wildlife etc – political development is only a part of his emphasis. He rendered a unique service by illustrating the text of his works with large number of maps, pictures and outlines, which leave a testing impression on the reader. This shows his total commitment to the subject matter that makes him a teacher, a historian, an intellectual and an all rounder rolled into one.

 

Almost all the maps he created himself from his vast first hand knowledge of the region and its history; this kind of resource is not available anywhere else in the literature on Sindh and South Asia.

Talking on different occasions he told that:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Due to scarcity of reliable historical works, reconstructing the history of Sindh had become a problem to conventional historians. M. H. Panhwar being an engineer used different scientific methods to build the history. Firstly, he investigated and listed the settlements now in ruins and surface collection of all kinds of articles from there, now available in five museums of Sindh at Karachi, Jamshoro, Hyderabad, Banbhore and Badin. Next, he examined material found from cities destroyed during the different periods. All these collections, mostly of terracotta, gave him some plain and decorative geometrical patterns stamped or die cast on them. In addition to these, limited ornaments of metallic and stone or both materials are also available. In general these objects throw some light on day-to-day life and were awaiting investigation. He traced their designs back to those on Buddhist stupas of Sindh and further beyond to Mohenjo Daro, compared them with designs of ornaments of neighbouring Indian states and found similarities among them. This gave him clues to arts, crafts and some fashions of different periods.

 

M. H. Panhwar used aerial photographs to build river courses and major changes in them, which led to flourishing and decaying of important religious and commercial centres and shifting of capitals - the important finding that removed all past guesswork.

 

He also used the courses of the River Indus to reflect on irrigation system.

 

He used unique study of climates of the past and found “Climatic Optimum” periods world over with more rainfall, more snow melt, more water in the Indus, more canals running for longer period, more cultivated land, more production and therefore more economic activity and well-being of the people.

 

To build up political history he uses Sindh’s contacts with neighbouring forces and concludes that Sindh could maintain independence so long as those forces were too weak to capture it and as soon as any of them became strong it subjugated Sindh.

 

An interesting part of his work pertains to social life in Sindh like marriage and love lives, position of women, the first women ruler of Sindh, polygamy, seclusion of women or Purdah, Sati, women’s property rights, dresses and fashions, ornaments, food and drink, children’s toys, entertainments, house-hold furniture, sports and amusements, etc. These are built either from historical records or traditions.

 

As an archaeologist he used to state and lament that:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Subject wise list of M. H. Panhwar’s works on various aspects of Sindh is given hereunder:

 

History

 

 

Archaeology and Anthropology

 

 

Geography and Maps

 

 

 

Sociology

 

 

Climate

 

 

 

Biographies

 

 

 

Geology and Geography

 

 

Trade

 

 

Paintings

 

 

Economy

 

 

Bibliography

 

Ground Water

 

Horticulture

 

 

Agriculture

 

 

 

Livestock

 

 

Fisheries

 

 

Irrigation

 

 

Drainage

 

 

 

Energy

 

 

 

Awards Received

 

Honorary Assignments

 

Conclusion

While agreeing with Dr. Ghullam Muhammad Lakho that scarcity of historical accounts available about Sindh prompted Sindh’s historians to quote poetic works, folklore and myths in evidence to their historical works, I anticipate a time when they, instead of quoting Shah Latif, will quote M. H. Panhwar for their historical works.

 

 

Sources

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