Thatta: the glory that was

By Omar Mukhtar Khan
THATTA, one of the most famous cities of Sindh, is mentioned as a flourishing city as far back as 1351 A.D. From the fourteenth century onwards it was the chief centre around which the history of lower Sindh developed, and up to 1739 Thatta witnessed the successive rise and fall of four Muslim ruling dynasties. These were the Summa Rajputs (1340-1520), the Arghuns (1520-1555), the Tarkhans (1555-1592) and the Mughal Emperors of Delhi (1592-1739).

The decline and decay of this four hundred year old centre of the cultural and economic greatness of Sindh began in 1739 when the province was ceded to Nadir Shah of Iran by Emperor Muhammad Shah of Delhi. Nadir Shah in turn entrusted Nur Muhammad, the chief of Kalhoras, with the administration of Thatta. Nur Muhammad abandoned Thatta, preferring to rule Sindh from the small township of Khudabad and thus slowly Thatta lost its colour and importance. By the early forties of the nineteenth century, its glory had completely departed.

While all evidence of the economic prosperity and cultural achievements with which the one time capital of Sindh abounded has disappeared, the Dabgir Mosque, Makli Necropolis and Keenjhar lake makes the place worth visiting.

Dabgir mosque (l588) is one of the earliest examples of the famous tile work of lower Sindh. The mosque was built by Amir Khusro Khan Charkas. The mosque consists of a prayer chamber surmounted by three flat domes, the central dome being larger than the side ones. The mosque is known for its superb tile work.

The most significant brick building of Thatta is the Shahjehan mosque (1644-47). This massive structure is built around a central courtyard. The prayer chamber on the west is balanced on the east by another chamber of similar size; both are covered by large domes. The two prayer chambers are linked by galleries with courtyard in the centre. These two-aisled galleries open by means of arcades into the courtyard. Ninety-three domes cover the entire structure and are probably the cause of a remarkable echo, which enable the prayers in front of the Mihrab to be heard in any part of the building. The mosque contains the most elaborate display of tile-work in the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent. The two main chambers are especially covered with them. The tiles are mostly square or rectangular. At places, such as on the arches, one design may cover several square yards of surface. At others, each tile differing from its neighbouring tile in design combine to form another complete design. The domes have been laid in a mosaic of radiating blue and white tiles while floral patterns similar to seventeenth Century kashi work of Iran decorate the main arches. The construction of the mosque began in 1644 A.D. by Nawab Abdul Baqa Amir Khan on the orders of Shahjehan. The eastern wing of the mosque was added later in 1658.

As one travels from Karachi to Thatta, a few kilometres before Thatta one crosses the Makli ridge, which is also the site of the largest necropolis of east. This six square kilometres area has countless mausoleums of princes, ministers, governors, poets, writers and of course commoners.

If one is not interested in history and archeology, Thatta has a soul relaxing place to offer to such a tourist i.e. Keenjhar lake. One should not be misled by the word “lake” as this lake is, with a bit of exaggeration, a mini ocean.

Thatta is strongly recommended for a day out from the busy life in Karachi.

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