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One of the most notorious class of pirates which existed from the 8th to the 13th centuries CE were from Indus Valley, specifically the coastal areas of Sindh and its neighbouring regions. These pirates wreaked havoc all from the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea, earning themselves a name in notoriety in the high seas of Asia.

Of the Bawarij Pirates of Sindh.

The Bawarij were a specific group of pirates from South Asia who had earned high notoriety amongst the naval world due to their actions. They mainly belonged to the coastal regions of Sind, Kutch, and Gujarat however the site of their exploits was much vaster. There are 2 theories of how the Sindhi pirates came to be known by a clearly Arabic. One theory is that the name is derived from a specific form of warship which was known in Arabic as the ‘Barja’. Another popular theory is that the name is derived from the word bera for boat. However, it is the former which is more widely accepted by Historians and scholars.

The War ships of the Bawarij were nothing short of tools of pure anarchy. Al Tabari writes in his 3rd volume, of an attack by the Bawarij on Basrah. There he describes the warships as each having one pilot, three fire throwers, a carpenter, a baker, and 39 rowers and fighters. Later on Ibn Battutah described south Asian war ships as having 60 oars and others as having 50 oars and 50 Abyssinian men working, adding the detail of an extra modification in the form of a large roof that protected the workers from arrows during battles.

The Bawarij were known for harassing and raiding ships which were on their way to South and South East Asia. In the era when the Bawarij were active, there were 2 main naval routes through which much of naval transport took place:

Ships could either stay in the port of Muscat in Oman to grab necessities for a longer trip and then sail directly across the Indian Ocean to the Malabar islands. Or they could follow the coastal route, from Hormuz to Makran, then to Deybal, Mansurah and other ports of Sind, and onwards to Gujarat. This route was infested by pirates who’d make sure to harass any lone ship they could spot from Gujarat to the mouth of the Tigris in the Persian gulf.

But one of the largest reasons for their documentation as some of the most notorious pirates of their time was due to their activity near the southern Red Sea, specifically the island of Socotra. The island of Socotra was known for pirate activity but it also served as one of the dens of the Bawarij.

The magnitude of anarchy that the Bawarij were causing in the southern Red Sea and the fear that they instilled in the hearts of passing sailors can be estimated by the fact that merchant ships often had to carry Greek Fire to fend away the Bawarij! The Arabs even compared them to the Greek galleys who’d harass the Muslims on the Mediterranean coast! They had also taken over many coastal areas of Oman and were reeking havoc there to the point that the ruler of Oman Ghassan bin Abdullah had to lead an entire expedition to exterminate the Bawarij from his regions.

Ibn Battutah narrates a story of a wealthy Arab merchant who was making his way back from South Asia when he was raided by the Bawarij in Soctora. Interestingly the pirates robbed him of everything but left enough for the victim to make it safely to the port of Aden. This rather generous and peculiar quality of the Bawarij seems intrinsic to South Asian pirates since Marco Polo also noticed that the pirates of Malabar didn’t kill or drown anyone once the fight was over, rather allowed for them to go wherever they wanted.

The Bawarij seem to have been lost from the annals of history after Ibn Battutah wrote about them. The reason behind it can be various but that is a tale for another time.


The History of India as told by its own historians – H. M. Elliot.
Bibliographical index to the Historians of Mohammaden India – H.M. Elliot.
The Book of Ser Marco Polo Vol.2
Arab seafaring in the Indian Ocean – G. F. Hourani, J. Carswell
Journal of the asiatic society of Bengal Vol. 61
Indian pirates – R. N. Saletore
Christians, Jews in Muslim societies – P. A. Lieberman
History of the Imams of Oman – G. P. Badger

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