The Sea in the River

Jeanne Penjan Lassus & Shahana Rajani


Text (English)

Video with Audio (Multilanguage; 3–10 minutes, each)

Captioned (English)


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The Sea in the River is a journey across a river and sea shrine in Sindh, Pakistan, guided by water pedagogies of fisherfolk communities in the Indus delta. As the Indus river has been cut, dammed, barraged, and canalized into the largest irrigation system in the world, sweet water no longer flows into the Indus delta. Most of its inhabitants have been forced to leave following the disappearance of the river and a fast encroaching sea. On many islands, shrines are the only structures that remain. In their persisting materiality, these sacred sites bear witness to the geographies of loss, to the histories of presence and belonging in the delta. While state and scientific studies cast the delta as a site of ruin, beyond hope and repair, the shrines persist, bringing up other temporalities, cosmologies and modes of witnessing.

Despite the absence of the river, stories of its aquatic intimacies continue to circulate. They hold a multispecies yearning for sweet water. The palla fish is central in these tales, appearing at the junction of river and sea. Their presence alerts humans to the making of a sacred union: the sea in the river, the river in the sea. Our journey follows past pilgrimage routes of the palla fish from the delta up the river, age-old movements now obstructed by dams and barrages. We travel up the Indus river to the shrine of Khizr Hayat, also known as Zinda Pir, the saint of all water bodies. From there, we make our way back to the Indus delta to the shrine of Dada Sanvlo, the saint of sharks, in Mul creek close to the India-Pakistan border. Amidst sensings of tension and disturbance in these changing landscapes, we listen to the sounds and stories of these saints, to their kinship with marine beings, to dream worlds and hidden realms, to the aliveness/interdependence of sea and river.

For a better experience, slow down, and tune in with headphones.

⚑  the junction of the two seas

Musa was told he would find Khizr Hayat
at the junction of the two seas.

He sets out on his search,
along with a salted fish
he had been asked
to carry with him.

Here at the junction,
the salted fish comes to life
and swims into the sea.

Here, is where he finds Khizr.

The junction is a threshold

a site of crossing and connection

a place where two bodies meet
realizing they are not distinct or separate
but intertwined and interdependent.

In the delta,

the junction
is the meeting of the river and the sea

of the dead and the living

of human and more-than-human worlds.

Image Description: In the foreground is a blue river with slightly choppy waves. At the edge of it is a thin piece of land peppered with small green trees. Behind the trees, more water flows under a light blue sky.

During our travels in the delta,
everyone we met
spoke of immense longing
for the missing river.

Many stories of multispecies yearning for meetha pani.
sweet water

Fatima Majeed explains:
Before we would proudly say we live in a land
where the river flows into the sea.

Now we say with regret we live in a land
where the sea flows into the river,

Sab kuch ulta pulta hai.
Everything is upside down.

 the saint & the fish

While the barraged and
barricaded Indus river
has long gone missing
in the delta,
stories of its aquatic intimacies
continue to circulate.

It’s the khushboo of sweet water,
Masi Safoori tells us
the palla can smell it.

When the palla fish would start appearing inside the creeks,
fisherfolk would know that new water had arrived.

This crossing of the palla from sea to river,
this flow of sweet water,
would mark the beginning of the new year.

Now that the sweet water has disappeared, so has the palla.
Only when it rains, Masi tells us, do they sometimes reappear.

Image Description: A close-up of battered wooden floorboards with three boats drawn in blue pen. The floorboards are weathered and worn—one of them is painted in chipped white paint. The boats are crudely drawn in unsteady lines, each one unique. A small motorboat sits above a sailboat, and to the left the hull of a larger ship is cut off by the frame. A piece of tattered cloth lies on the floor in the bottom left of the image, a string crossing over the bowsprit.

∽     Bukheiriro Pir            


∽                 Khizr Hayat        ∽

∽  Bukkur Pir                ∽

∽    Zinda Pir        ∽


∽ Uderolal           ∽

A shrine
in the middle of the Indus river

for the living saint
the guardian of all water
depicted wearing a green robe
standing on a palla

echoing Islamic and Hindu cosmologies
where marine life
form the foundation
of our terrestrial worlds.

The sea is full of signs.

Sometimes at night,
it glows and shimmers.

We are told that the glow, called jhar in Sindhi,
is a manifestation of Khizr Hayat.

The silver reflection of fish scales:
a testament to the sacred aliveness of water.

A hand mashes a roti with sugar into two balls
and drops it into the water
on one side of the boat,
then the other.

At the start of their journey,
fisherfolk make an offering to Khizr Hayat
by feeding fish in the sea.

Ye tohji amanat hai
this belongs to you

Ye tohji amanat hai
this belongs to you

Ye tohji amanat hai
this belongs to you

⚑ the saint who was a shark

We flow back down to Mul creek,
one of the many once-active branches of the Indus river.

Far East.
Far East,

almost to the border



Back to the delta,

back to the junction

where land meets sea,
where sea once met river.

Mul creek like all creeks of the delta used to be inhabited, abundant.
The shrine of Dada Sanvlo was surrounded by villages.
The land extended far into what is now the sea.
All the traces of settlements have gone

only the shrine remains.

A saint that sustains and cares for both
marine and human worlds,
blessing fisherfolk with fish,
blessing fish with offspring.

navigation and fishing
are not cold extractive practices
but linked to the senses, nature, rituals, prayers,
dreams and visions.

Image Description: An altar created using painted wooden logs frames the foreground of the image. The ground is covered in brown sand. There are people standing in the distance walking away from the altar, towards the infinite blue sky.

Dada Sanvlo's genealogy
is a site of queer crossings.

Some stories place him
as the hidden son of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai
—a renowned eighteenth-century Sindhi sufi saint.

Other stories circulate of how his grandmother
miraculously conceived her baby
after crossing over the tail of a whale-shark
that had washed ashore.

In the militarized terrain of Mul creek,
Dada Sanvlo unsettles borders

between nation-states
between the living and dead

between human
and more-than-human worlds.


Conversations (in order of appearance): Majeed Motani, Fatima Majeed, Nawaz Ali Dablo, Masi Safoori, Masi Kulsoom, Safia Dablo, Ibo Wado, Nazir Ahmed Mirani, Ali

Image and sound recording: Jeanne Penjan Lassus & Shahana Rajani

Editing: Jeanne Penjan Lassus & Shahana Rajani

Sound mix: Sound Studio Pioch


Research support from Alserkal Arts Foundation Research Grant.

This work emerges from our research project Embodied Cartographies and Visual Entanglements in the Delta. It draws on two years of field work conducted in the Indus Delta, with the help of our research guides Nawaz Dablo and Fatima Majeed, who are both activists and community organizers working to protect water ecologies of the Indus Delta.

A special thanks to Saira Dablo, Safia Dablo, Aqlima, Gulbano, Husna chachi and Masi Kulsoom for their guidance and company on many journeys across the delta.

Produced with support from Bamboat | Mitchell and the Canada Council for the Arts.