Ranokot Fort: Great wall of Sindh, Pakistan

By: Aziz Kingrani

Abstract

It is clear that Ranikot fort was built for the purpose of defense and residence. The rulers of different times lived here and time by time it had been repaired by them. Very old coins, terracotta of Indus Civilization, engraved sign of swastika, leaf of papal tree, peacock, sunflower, lotus flower, remains of Zoroastrians and Buddhists, arrows of different kinds have been found here.  But, who did build it? And when it was built? It is still mystery. In view of some scholars, it had been constructed by Talpurs Amirs while on account of explored above mentioned old symbols and things, most scholars are of the opinion that the fort is built before Kalhora and Talpur rulers. Thus, the mystery can be solved by radiocarbon dating. Paolo Baigi and Renato Nisbet had taken samples of charcoal for radiocarbon dating in 2009, from an outer pillar near Sann Gate which is anyway not a part of original construction of Ranikot Fort. The sample must be taken from Shah-Pere Gate where outer repaired wall has become crumbled and actual ancient inner wall of the fort is appeared. While taking samples of charcoal from Shah-Pere Gate, the genuine radiocarbon dating test must be applied. A great wall of Sindh needs genuine radiocarbon dating and authentic scientific research. By applying, genuine radiocarbon dating or other scientific techniques for dating, this precious and astonishing heritage will receive its authentic historical period and recognition.

Introduction

Ranikot fort, believed to be a largest fort of the world, is situated towards southwest of Sann town, District Jamshoro, Sindh, in vicinity of Khirthar mountainous range, at a drive of 35 kilometers from Sann town. A huge Ranikot Fort, to be considered as great wall of Sindh, Pakistan, is talismanic wonder of the world. It is built with stones fixed with pigment of limestone (Cheeroli). It is spread over an area of 32 kilometers, on zigzag black and brown hillocks. It has four gates, Sann Gates, Amri Gate, Shah-Pere Gate and Mohan Gate. It starts from its eastern Sann Gate. From eastern Sann Gate, towards south, it climbs hills towards southern Shah-Pere Gate and from Shah-Pere Gate; it ends at western Mohan Gate. And towards north from Sann Gate, it sprint up to northern Amri Gate and while mountaineering from Amri Gate, it also meets with northern Mohan Gate. On little distances the defensive entrenchments or embrasures are built which are connected with fortified walls and footpaths for moving from one to another entrenchment. Its fortification shows pre-gun and post-gun periods. It appears to be repaired in different eras.  In surrounding area of gigantic wall of Sindh, Pakistan (Ranikot Fort), three other fortresses are constructed. Miri Fortress, Sher-Garh fortress and Mohan Fortress. The constructions of walls, fortifications, footpaths for moving and entrenchments or embrasures of Ranikot, Mirikot and Sher-Garhkot resemble to one another. The Mirikot has Landhis for residence and other purposes. The cause of constructing fort here seems to be abundant of water in this mountainous region. The flow of hill torrent of Mohan (Nai Mohan) enters at Mohan Gate and joins with the flow of Nai Rani which flows from Mohan Gate towards east through Ranikot and drains out from Sann Gate.  The sweet waters of different sprigs also flow through the bed of Nai Rani throughout year. The view of Rani vale is very amazing. Many depressions of water have been made by hill stream Rani. One of the depressions of water is locally called place of fairies (Paryun Jo Tarr). Still it is believed that the fairies come daily for swimming herein depression of water. Here, three waterfalls can be viewed. The visitors come daily for visiting this talismanic wonder fron Sindh including Pakistan.

In past, Sindh had remained center of civilization. Mazhar Ali writes that unquestionably, the entire area of Sindh is dotted with prehistoric and proto-historic settlements. Although exploration of all archaeological and cultural sites in Sindh is yet to become complete, yet innumerable relics and monuments so far discovered narrate the tale of continuous human activity in Sindh throughout the ages. Secondly it is also a proven fact that the cultural influence of the great Indus valley civilization of the third millennium BC is still prevalent among the people of Sindh in the third millennium AD. Many of the ancient sites of Sindh have great historical and cultural significance. By virtue of their great past, unique architecture and eventful history, they deserve to be valuable cultural heritage of sindh. (1) Ranikot Fort is too one of them which is astonishing cultural and historical heritage of Sindh. The fort looks like a wonder of the world. It is one of the most ancient sites of Sindh. Ranni Fort or Kot which is called Deewar-e- Sindh (Great Wall of Sindh) has stern controversy on its name and antiquity. By-whom and when it was built? How or why it has been named as Rannikot? Still it has not been recognized. I am of the view that the name which is mentioned as Neroon in Chach Nama by Ali Koofi (2) is not old name of Hyderabad but it is an old name of Ranikot. The Roon is old name of Rani or Raeni Nai (hill stream). Later, it might have been changed by local people. A compound word, Ne+Roon is derived from Nai+Roon and Neroon is Arabic pronunciation of Sindhi compound word Nairoon (Nai+Roon). Nai (Ne) means a hill stream or torrent and Roon is the name of stream flowing through the Fort. Whereas, the Sindhi word Roon means a gap, hole or concealed fissure into which water flows. Thus the Neroon (Nairoon) which is surrounded by the Fort might have been called Neroon Fort, as the name is written in “Chach Nama”. Later, when the name of stream might have been changed as Raeni or Rani, the Fort might have been named as Ranikot.

Sustain considerable population and army for longer periods of siege, as it could have been in the case of fort like Ranikot. It is, however, much surprising that there is acute shortage of this commodity in this huge fort. Some experts are of the view that rain water used to have been stored for later consumption during most of the period of the year. There are certain pond-like depressions, which could have been caused to serve as water storage by putting up bunds or embankments. The lifeline of the Fort, however, is the Rani Nain (Nai) or the Rani stream, which probably, also gave the Fort its name. (3( Col. Rashid narrates that we will now reproduce bellow a statement from the gazetteer of the Province of Sind, compiled by A.W Hugues in the year 1876. This will throw further light on its history. It runs on follows: “To the southwest of this place (Sann) river or as it is called the Rani Nai runs through the fort.” It is possible that fort has been named after this stream Rani Nai as Ranikot (4). However, the small hill stream passes through the centre of the fort, from the west to the east, which is now called Nai Rani. It starts from Mohen Gate of fort. Mohen stream as well enters in to the fort at Mohan (western) Gate of Ranikot and flowing into the bed of Nai Ranni (stream) and exits through Sann (Eastern) Gate of Ranikot. The local people cultivate the lands in the vale.

According to Muhammad Hussain Panhwar, this simple unassuming stream turns into a mighty destructive channel much bigger than even Nara canal for 6-12 hours and 3-5 times in every century. It can even be more frequent and once in a decade. The Mohan River before entering the fort has catchments of about 32,000 acres. The fort itself has catchment area of about 13000. We have experience of 7 inches rain fall in Hyderabad with 18 hours on September 8, 2006. The possibility of 5 inches rainfall within a day once in 10 years exists in Rani Kot – Nawabshah (now Sh-BeNazirabad) zone. Even if half of this rain water flows down the Sann River and be about 9,375 acre feet. If this passes through the Mohan and Sann gates in 6 hours, the average discharge at Sann gate would be about 19,000 cusecs and 13,500 at Mohen gate, but peak can be more than 40,000 cusecs. Such rains would certainly breach both Mohan and Sann gates, however, strong and fort could not have been occupied even for more than a decade. It is believed that there is another evidence of its antiquity that the original construction was for bow and arrow warfare, later on modified for cross bow and finally circular bastions or towers were added for artillery fire. Later on probably in 18th or 19th century, additions, and modifications were made for muskets. All these periodic changes in construction are visible at the site and easily recognizable even by laymen. While adding these bastions, the later builders, used sand stone against lime stone in original walls. The two are visible to naked eye. It is considered that artillery guns were developed by Chinese but copied by Mongols and Temur (Mongol) used them in the last quarter of fourteenth century AD.

According to MH Panhwar Brahman dynasty of South India had then been using it about the same time and Babur used it in 1525/26 AD during the conquest of Delhi Sultanate from Lodhis. They were in common use since then and therefore bastions were added any time in or after the sixteenth century AD and before British conquest of Sindh in 1843 AD. Cross bow was used by Rajput soldiers even in Mughal era, but after 1700 AD they also used muskets. Thus modifications to fort for muskets belong to 18th or early 19th centuries. There are two forts inside the main Ranikot fort; the upper is called Sher Garh, built with whitish stone. Though its location at 1480 feet above the sea level makes this fortress a unique structure, it also makes it equally difficult for supply of water, which can only be had from the brooks and rain streams, hundreds of feet below! The steep climb up to Shergarh gives a commanding view down over the whole fort and its entrance and exit points. The lower one is called Miri and is a word used in Seistan (Persia) for small fortress. It has nothing to do with Mirs of Sindh. It is mentioned in history that Miri fort Landhis were used by Geological Survey of India from 1865 to 1879 and they may have put roof over the walls of Landhis, probably already existing, but stone of Landhi walls, is the same as of the original fort wall. Date of their construction therefore is doubtful. They must have been there before the British conquest as British had standardized the designs of quarters for them and never used Sindhi Landhi type roofs in construction.

Further research findings by archaeologists may also be noted that; tomb near the gate has similarity with mosque at Giri near Txila, built by Gaznavids of Lahore in 1050-1180 AD, shows that fort existed before those dates and also a grave inside the fort has lion, peacock and buffalo engraved on it. Lion was emblem of Seljuks (12-13th centuries), buffalo may have represented Sindhi buffalo breeders or Jats and peacock a symbol of local non-Muslims. This in brief reflects an antiquity of fort. Dr. G. Allana a famous research scholar has stated that Mughal coins were found from the fort. All these reflect an antiquity of fort. Badar Abro also has given opinion in his book “Ranikot” that fort is very old and it is Neroon Kot of Chach Nama (5). He has given sound proof to prove it as Neroon Kot instead of Hyderabad. This enchanted fort is located in Lakki Mountains of the Kirthar range on the right side of the mighty River Indus at a distance of about 30 kilometers from Sann and Sann is 226 kilometers from Karachi. A mountainous range, ‘Karo Takkar’ (Black Hill), running north to south, forms its western boundary and the ‘Lundi Hills’ forms its eastern boundary. There are two more gates, rather pseudo gates. One is towards the side of ancient town of Amri. This ‘gate’ is called the ‘Amri Gate. The second is called Shahpir Gate to the south. The Indus highway road leads to Sann from Hyderabad and from Sann a link road leads to this talismanic wonder of Sindh.

As for accurate antiquity of Ranikot Fort, no one scholar is clear. Some scholars have proved with the first radiocarbon date from charcoal included in the mortar of a collapsed pillar lying overturned in the riverbed at Sann (Eastern) Gate Ranikot, confirms that at least this sector of the fort was built, or repaired, between the beginning of 18th and the beginning of 19th century AD, that is between the beginning of Kalhoras and beginning of Talpurs rule (6). The radiocarbon test suggests the repair (renovation) which supports the statements of Colonel Rashid and MH Panhwar. Colonel Rashid writes that leaving aside the descriptions of the fort, which is mostly correct; I am of the view that the Talpurs could not have been the builders of fort. They were neither rich nor resourceful to undertake this gigantic construction, and they were despots surviving on a feudal system.  It is also difficult for me to believe that this fort was built in the year 1812. It was certainly repaired about that time and a few alterations were made. But the fort is certainly much earlier construction. My reasons for saying so are follows:

  • The corbles and the mochicolations are of pre-gun-powder period and meant for bow and arrow warfare.
  • The serpentine outer wall is interspersed with rectangular towers, which were in vague before the 10th century of the Christian era.
  • The naming of eastern gate as the Amri gate shows that Amri was still flourishing when the fort was built and not buried under ground as in the last century.
  • The carvings in the Miri Fort are of Scythan artistic pattern.
  • The domed shaped structure in the interior of the entrance at Sann Gate belonged to Scythio-Sassanian period.
  • There is very great resemblance between the Great Wall of China and Ranikot, thus indicating older period of construction (7).

Meanwhile, MH Panhwar has already suggested the chronological period of Ranikot Fort. His logical analysis has been proved by the radio carbonic tests. He writes that the description of Sun gate given by col. Rashid is correct but the present entrance; the gate (Sunn Gate) is not original construction. It must have been repaired or renovated by Talpurs, 160 years back (8). Thus, radiocarbon test confirms his logical opinion. Because of, in different periods, partially constructions, repairs and renovations have certainly been done by different rulers in their time. Even in British period, it is believed that William Thomas Blandford (7 October 1832 – 23 June 1905) while carrying out research work, built some chambers at Mirikot (9)

While taking samples from ancient parts of the fort, the ancientness of the fort can be proved through the radiocarbon techniques. Some techniques or methods have been explained by the experts. Tree ring dating, a technique that utilizes measurements and comparisons of tree rings from ancient wood recovered from archaeological sites is often used to assign ages to sites and structures that have wooden beams and timbers incorporated into their construction. Opportunities for such studies can be eliminated by consumption of such wood materials during fire (10).  Radiocarbon dating, a technique that utilizes measurements of organic carbon in materials, such as wood in order to date archaeological sites can also be affected by fire (11). It can be applied carefully during the usage of technique.

Undoubtedly, cultural resources composed of organic materials such as bones; shells, wood, and plant fiber are among the most fragile of all archaeological resources. Not surprisingly then, they are also among the most rare items to be found in an archaeological setting and are among the most valuable from the scientific perspective (12) For radiocarbon dating, mortar device is used. Mortar is a ground-stone tool generally believed to be used primarily in the processing of acorns, other fleshy foods, and other materials (pigments etc) that required grinding. Mostly made of sandstone or soapstone in the Chumash area, they were used in carbonization with pestles (13). The radiocarbon (C 14) dating, a relativity precise dating method based on measuring the amount of radioactive carbon isotope (C14) present in all living organisms. Because, C14 has a relatively short half life (5730 years), it can be used to date organic (wood or charcoal, shells, bones, etc) samples from archaeological or geological sites dating between about 40, 000 years ago and the present. After the careful C14 dating of thousands of samples (tree rings etc) of known age, radiocarbon dates can now be calibrated to calendar years, providing a more precise estimate of the age of archaeological samples (14). Further details have been described by author of radiocarbon dating that primarily aim this book is to provide an introduction method to radiocarbon method in particular in applications to archaeology. Approaching archaeological techniques and artifacts from an interpretive viewpoint, the series looks in detail at specific classes of artifacts that have contributed most to our knowledge of the past, and at particular investigative techniques that are now being used to refine this knowledge and thereby to question previous assumptions (15).

Concerning, the precise ancientness of Ranikot Fort would be confirmed by applying radiocarbon technique or other scientific methods. For this purpose, the samples must be taken from the most ancient parts of the fort which must not be considered doubtful as to be repaired or renovated. By, getting samples from Shah-pere Gate or Mohan Gate for applying radiocarbon test, the accurate period of Ranokot Fort would be recognized.  However, I am of the opinion that remains of Zoroastrians’ graveyards (15), the name of hilly stream Mohen, names of gates “Mohen” and “Amri”, domed-like construction, fortification and depicted or pecked lotus and peacock here are indicating to an ancient period of construction of the Ranikot Fort including Mirikot and Sher Garh. These were absolutely built in earlier period, prior to Talpurs and Kalhoras. In the light of the mentioned remains, it can be believed that Rankot Fort existed before Muslim period. Most probably, the Ranikot fort might have been built during some last centuries of BC.

References and books

1, Mazhar Ali, Rani Kot For: A Talismanic Wonder, Omniscriptum Gmbh & Company Kg., 2015,

2, Ali Kufi, Dr.N A Baloch, Chachnama, Sindh Adabi Board, 2004, p-144, 145

3, Ihsan H Nadiem , Forts of Pakistan, Al-Faisal Publishers, 2004, p-124

4, Lieut. Col. Rashid, Illustrated Weekly of Pakistan, Volume 21, Pakistan Herald Publications, 1969 P-10, 11

5,  Badar Abro, Ranikot, Deewar-e-Sindh, National fund cultural heritage, 1996, p- 90

6, Paolo Baigi, Renato Nisbet, Rnikot (Jamshoro, Sindh): An AMS Radiocarbon Date from Sann (Eastern) Gate, Journal of Asian Civilization, vol. 32, no: 2, December 2009, P-1

7, Lieut. Col. Rashid, Illustrated Weekly of Pakistan, Volume 21, Pakistan Herald Publications, 1969 P-10, 11

8, MH Panhawar, Ranikot Fort: its old location and why? (1981). www.panhwar.com

9, Ishtiaq Ansari, conservation Report, EFT Karachi, 13 December 2014, p-10

10, Fire, Fuels, and Related Vegetation Management report, United States. Bureau of Land Management, 2008, P-156

11, Fire, Fuels, and Related Vegetation Management report, United States. Bureau of Land Management, 2908, P-156

12, Fire, Fuels, and Related Vegetation Management report, United States. Bureau of Land Management, 2908, P-157

13,   A Canyon through Time: Archaeology, History, and Ecology, Jon M Erlandson, Torben C Rick, Rene L Vellanoweth, 2008, P-187

14, ,   A Canyon Through Time: Archaeology, History, and Ecology, Jon M Erlandson, Torben C Rick, Rene L Vellanoweth  2008, P-187

15, Sheridan Bowman, Radiocarbon Dating, University of California Press, 1990, p-7,

16, Badar Abro, Ranikot, Deewar-e-Sindh, National fund cultural heritage, 1996, p- 91

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