In the mid-1980s, during our first few seasons excavating the long-dead city archaeologists call Harappa, my colleagues and I watched the passage of the annual spring fairs without realizing their implications for our studies of the ancient Indus civilization. Every year in Pakistan's Indus River Valley, people living in villages travel to larger towns to attend festivals called sang, "gathering fairs" where musicians, performers and circus troupes entertain the crowds while itinerant merchants and traders hawk their wares. During the single-day event, women present religious offerings to professional pilgrims, who, on the women's behalf, will later petition the Sufi saint Sakhi Sarwar for healthy children, especially sons. At day's end the holy sojourners and their colorful secular entourage make their way by foot and donkey cart to the next town along the region's age-old trade routes.
Eventually various groups of devout wayfarers arriving from different parts of the country converge on the saint's tomb hundreds of kilometers away in the Baluchistan hills. Here they deliver the alms and prayers they have collected during their treks to the saint's precinct. Making their way along the same path the next year, the pilgrims bear salt and sacred earth from the distant shrine, tokens of favor for the fortunate mothers and their precious newborns.
This article was originally published with the title Uncovering the Keys to the Lost Indus Cities.