Hidden in Sassi and Pannu’s tale lies Bhambore and Makran’s affair


When the late folk singer Jiji Zarina Baloch used to mesmerise her audience by singing “Peren pawandi sa”, she actually touched upon a clue to a great archaeological mystery, preserved ingeniously by the Sufi saint Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai in his tragic love story of Sassi and Punnu.
In the song, Sassi, daughter of the king of the ancient city of Bhambore in Sindh, pleads with her lover Punnu, the Hoth prince of Makran in Balochistan, to stay the night in her city, and she is prepared to “get on her feet; take the camels by their reins and tend to them and take care of them and also climb a mountain top and call out for him” just to make sure he doesn’t leave.
At a conference in Karachi recently, Prof Dr Valeria Fiorani Piacentini of the Cattolica University pointed out that the tale of Sassi and Punnu is among one of the clues that link the ruins of Bhambore to the “Green Belt”, which stretches west-eastwards for some 200 miles from Mand, along the Nihing and Kech rivers to the depression of Kulwa.
In her research, she discloses that the Green Belt was settled and inhabited since at least 6 BC when it was the cradle of a local civilisation and culture. It was also the western bastion of the Indus Civilisation’s “empire”. There was a “void” and depopulation in 2 BC, but in 1 BC, Makran faced a new phase punctuated by major and minor settlements, which mirror the re-population of the region, and the revival of all activities linked to urban life such as agriculture, craft and trade.
The period between the 3 and 10 AD emerges as a “golden” period of order and prosperity. Minor and major centres prospered along the two rivers’ waters, agriculture was intensively practised, trading activities flourished in a cosmopolitan atmosphere and merchants and people of every race and colour, language and creed, from all parts of the world, converged and gravitated on this blooming “belt”. “Kij” – the Makran Division of our time – was mentioned as the main centre of the region in 15 AD.
But the question for archaeologists was, “which great harbour and which outlet hosted the riches traded along the Green Belt and/or there conveyed from West and East, North and South?”
 “Attracted and inspired by local legends,” Professor Piacentini writes in her research paper, “We set off from Makran and moved eastwards in search of ‘the great harbour’, that mighty outlet of the great wealth circulating east-west and north-south. And thus we came to the Indus and its delta.” Bhambore is a field of ruins located on the northern bank of the Gharo river, likely a creek when the ancient shoreline of the ocean was located much to the east than today.
Various sources mention sources mention “Daybul” – Bhambore’s old name – as a powerful and magnificent city-emporium and harbour, well-sheltered by the seasonal typhoons, protected by a massive citadel encircled by towered walls and ramparts, rich and fertile, ornamented with gardens and temples: a resplendent city and one of the most prominent participants in the vast network of overseas trade, as it controlled the Indus delta and the access to the Indus system, and hence an immense and immensely rich volume of land and sea trade.
It was classical model of a harbour-town, and the life of a town and its traditional elements and activities, that is a citadel, seat of some ruler, and a vast territory gravitating on it in terms of administration, economy, agriculture, trade and arts. Prof Piacentini concludes that Bhambore must have been that vital trade link that led to the rise of Makran – a connection immortalised by Bhittai when he mentions how a distraught and barefooted Sassi tried to cross the desert to reach Turbat so she could reunite with her lover.
Also an evidence of Punnu’s existence is the ruins of Punnu Fort near Turbat, believed to be between 6,000 and 8,000 year old, a towering structure much of which has withered way with time.