By Salman Rashid
South of Badin (Sind), in the heart of the Great Rann of Kutch, there is a place called Rupa Mari — Palace of Rupa. In that vast emptiness there sits a low conical mound of clay and an unpretentious grave under a timber canopy. The land around is strewn with pottery shards to remind us of a now forgotten town. They say the ruins are named after the queen of Bhongar, the second of the Soomra kings of Sindh who built the town. The grave is that of their grandson Dodo II.
Legend relates that the first Dodo had two wives: one a blacksmith’s daughter and the other a Rajput woman. The former bore the king a daughter and a son called Bhagi and Chanesar respectively. The other wife was pregnant when Dodo fell in battle, and when the child was born the aged Bhongar named him Dodo after the fallen king.
Upon the death of Bhongar, the chieftains gathered to decide who should wear the crown. Since Bhagi and Chanesar were of so-called low birth, the lot fell in favour of Dodo. However, seeing her own brother deprived, Bhagi contrived to get a resignation from Dodo. The courtiers on their part were adamant that the country should only have a high-born Rajput ruler and opposed Chanesar. In the end, the will of the majority prevailed.
With Dodo confirmed on the throne, Chanesar went to Delhi to seek the help of the Khilji Sultan to gain the crown he thought was rightfully his. The sultan proved indulgent and so Chanesar returned to Sindh via the Thar Desert with a Turkish army. At Virawah, the Turks were confronted by the Rajputs under Dodo and his valiant general Nangar. Peace was almost negotiated when the Turks demanded that Bhagi be made over for the harem of the Khilji sultan.
Declaring that they were men enough to defend the honour of not just their princess, but of every common maiden too, the incensed Sindhis drew battle lines. The conflict that ensued raged, so the ballad goes, for a full fortnight. After many a worthy man was cut down on both sides, the brave Nangar went down in desperate combat. The Rajputs withdrew to Vighekot where Dodo made a second stand. Greatly outnumbered, he fell at the head of his army. It is sung that even in death he did not relinquish his hold on the sword in either hand.
Bhago Bhan, poet and historian, who had ridden in the king’s train, left the lost battle to gather the royal women and take them to the fort of Abro Jam and there, in Rajput fashion, deposit them as saam. This meant that the Abros would defend their guests even to the last drop of their blood. As the Turks came down against the Abros, another battle took place. When defeat seemed imminent, the Abros committed johar: they set alight their fort with the women and children inside and rode out to battle knowing there was no withdrawal that day.
That is the romance of Dodo and Chanesar as passed down through the generations. History tells a slightly different tale, however.
In 1297-98, when the country was ruled by Chanesar the son of Tai Soomra, the imperial army did indeed come down on Sindh under the command of one Zafar Khan. The purpose of this inroad was to dislodge a roving, marauding army of Mongols then engaged in its depredations in the vicinity of Sehwan.
The Mongols were ousted and the imperial army withdrew to Kutch on its circuitous way back to Delhi. We do not know if this expedition to expel the Mongols was undertaken on a request from Chanesar. It may well have been. Over the years as the tale passed through the generations, the kernel of truth was ensconced in a thick layer of fable. Some of which, like the heroic role of the Abros, could have been later historical events.
Be that as it may, something seems to have gone awry. According to historian (the late) MH Panhwar, Kutchi traditions tell of a migration of Sindhi Rajputs to Kutch at the end of the 13th century. This is indicative of some trouble between the Sindhis and the Delhi army.