There are many rock art sites in Gadap taluka in Karachi which I discovered during my research in the area from 2004 to 2020. Amongst such rock art sites is the Suhri Jhap, which is located about 3 km east of Gadap town. Apart from rock carvings, the Suhri Jhap site is also home to cairns: eight square and circular structures which are locally called ‘koteras’. Some structures have illegally been excavated by local people in the hope of finding treasure beneath the monuments. Unfortunately, two circular tombs have also been excavated. Due to illegal excavation, the stone circular structure’s circular pit is also exposed, reflecting that it was probably burial, but no evidence of human skeletons or bones were found from the site. Another nearby structure has also been vandalised. Many such structures are also found in other districts of Sindh.
Moreover, two other circular structures have been partially vandalized. In one of the structures is found a small menhir probably indicating the nature of structures as a burial. Three of the square structures have also been vandalized by the people. The height of all three square structures is not more than 3 feet. Apart from square and circular structures, there are the remains of the two cairns, one of which has been illegally excavated by treasure hunters.
Rock carvings are found at various places at Suhri Jhap. Some of the rock carvings are found in front of the grave of Naugaza Pir and near the stone structures. The majority of petroglyphs are of recent time engraved by pastoral nomads who have also left their signatures at some of the engravings. Axe petroglyphs are numerous which have also been made by herders who herd their cattle in the valley. Some of the nomads have also written their names near the axe engraving. One finds the name of Amir Bakhsh Jokhio near axe and shoe petroglyphs that seem to have been made by him.
The symbol of the fire altar has lost its original association with Zoroastrianism and people identify it as ‘Mal jo dagh’ (cattle brand)
These petroglyphs of axes are symbols of herders/shepherds who as a pastime always make engravings of axes. I interviewed some of the herders and asked them about their reasons for engraving axes. Most of the herders responded that since the axe is an identity of a herder who carries it with himself, they first engrave it as a novice engraver. Once they become established artists, they also engrave other signs and symbols. They believe that they see themselves in the carvings, which become their identity. Axes are depicted either as an individual or in a group by the engravers. Sometimes, an axe is found with shoe-prints. The latter are also found at the Suhri Jhap rock art site.
All these engravings appear to have been made by the herders and some non-herders in the recent past. This heritage is, of course, particularly interesting as rock carvings are still a living tradition in Sindh in general and Sindh-Kohistan in particular. A large number of shoe-prints have also been found in the different valleys in Khirthar, Bado and Lakhi mountain ranges. I have also found a few shoe petroglyphs in Mal Maari Valley which is also a well-known area in Sindh-Kohistan. This valley is otherwise famous for stone-carved graves/Chaukhandi tombs. There are shoe engravings at almost all the rock art sites that I discovered during my excursions at many places in Sindh-Kohistan.
Apart from shoe petroglyphs, one also finds some geometric designs at Suhri Jhap. Some of the signs and symbols are also very enigmatic and the others are known to the local community as ‘mal ja dagh’ (cattle brands). These are signs of tribal identity and ownership which are also depicted on bodies of animals, particularly cows and camels in Sindh-Kohistan and other regions of Sindh. Each of the brands shows affiliation and ownership of the animal to certain tribes.
Some signs are interesting and look more like Zoroastrian altars. There are at least eleven such signs of altars at Suhri Jhap site. Some signs appear more like tamgas (tribal brands) which appear ancient as compared to the axe and shoe petroglyphs. Of all these, however, the signs of fire altars are interesting. ‘Mal ja dagh’ (cattle brands) as people call them actually fire altars which are now used as cattle brands in the Sindh-Kohistan and other regions of Sindh. Likewise, many of the Indus period signs are also used as cattle brands which show that these signs still continue to play a pivotal role in the pastoral communities of Sindh. These signs and symbols show the identity of certain tribes in Sindh. People recognize through these signs and
symbols the castes and tribes. Hence, when these signs and symbols used as cattle brands are actually tribal identity makers. Through these indigenous sign systems, the tribes and castes have saved their cattle from being stolen. Even if they are stolen, they are easily retrieved as the people recognize through the cattle brands the names of the tribes and castes in Sindh.
I believe that these signs and symbols, the majority of which are from Indus script and other religious communities, were used by the local community and now they are known as cattle brands – losing the original association with certain religious communities. Likewise, the symbol of the fire altar has lost its original association with Zoroastrianism and people identify it as ‘Mal jo dagh’ (cattle brand). These fire altars are found almost at every rock art site in Karachi. Sometimes, they are engraved together with other engravings or separately engraved. In some of the cases, one finds these fire altars engraved close to the religious structures which I believe were fire temples.
A few human petroglyphs are also found at the Suhri Jhap rock art site, which all appear to be ancient.
Some engravings of game boards are also found at the rock art site of Suhri Jhap. Local people still use game boards. One recently engraved game board is called Nau Tin game which is played between two players. ‘Nau Tin’ game boards are found almost at every rock art site in Sindh-Kohistan Sindh. It is also found in the valleys of the Khirthar and Bado ranges. Close to the petroglyph of the game board at Suhri Jhap rock art site is an engraving of a mosque which is called kharoth in Sindh-Kohistan as it is built by using small stones. Representations of kharoth are found almost at every rock art site in Karachi and Jamshoro districts. The height of the walls of kharoth does not rise to 4 feet. Generally, they are 2 to 3 feet. At some places, burnt bricks are also used to build kharoth but in a majority of cases, I found kharoth made of small stones.
The author is an anthropologist. He tweets at: @Kalhorozulfiqar. Excerpts have been taken from the author’s published book The Rock Art of Karachi (2020). All photos by the author