The necropolis of Sindh

By Omar Mukhtar Khan
ABOUT sixty kilometres east of Karachi, on the Karachi-Hyderabad highway is the largest cemetery of the East, Makli necropolis. Spread over an area of six square kilometres, these are one of the most substantial remains of Sindh’s greatness between 14th and 18th centuries.

The necropolis presents an impressive array of various monumental buildings, mosques, domes, arches and gateways, designed in several architectural styles. These are finished in diverse geometrical and floral ornaments on tile and stone. The care, pomp and ostentation with which most of the tombs were built led Captain Wood to remark: “Here neither labour nor expense has been spared, but only for the absurd purpose of giving the dead better accommodation than the living.”

Coming from south to north on the Makli ridge, one can distinguish three main groups of monuments. First to be approached are the monuments of Mughal period, namely the tombs of Baqi Beg Uzbek, Diwan Shurfa Khan and the graveyard of Nawab Amir Khan’s family. The second group belonging to Tarkhan and Arghun period includes the graveyards of Isa Khan Tarkhan the elder, Ahinsa Bai, Sultan Ibrahim and others. The third group relates to Summa period and comprises the tombs of Jam Nizamuddin, Mubarak Khan and some canopies built over unidentified graves.

The tombstones and graves, whether built within superb mausoleums or lying on open platforms, are generally elaborately carved with geometric patterns and Arabic or Persian inscriptions. These inscriptions are extracts from the Holy Quran, verses of Nizami, Hafiz, Rumi, chronograms of great literary merit and illuminating biographical clues in prose or poetry. These inscriptions are as pleasing for a tourist who can read them as they are for a student of history.

The most impressive structures at Makli include the tombs of Jam Nizamuddin, Isa Khan Tarkhan, the younger, and Jan Baba. The tombs of Mubarak Khan and Isa Khan Tarkhan the elder are also remarkable for the richness and variety of their designs.

The tomb of Jam Nizamuddin, one of the most important rulers of Summa dynasty, is a stone structure with fine ornamental carving similar to 15th century Gujrat style. The mihrab inside is also delicately carved and has finely cut bands of Arabic inscriptions. The tomb of Mubarak Khan, the distinguished General of Jam Nizamuddin, is a magnificent quadrangle, decorated with arabesque and floral patterns.

The most imposing monument of Makli is the mausoleum of Isa Khan Tarkhan the younger, Governor of Thatta, who in addition to his own tomb built many other tombs including that of Jan Baba, his father. These structures are similar in style to that of Fatehpur Sikri and it is interesting to note that the influence of imperial architecture extended to such a distant area. The massive structure built of large stones contains a central domed chamber surrounded by two-tiered gallery. The tomb of Jan Baba lies to the south of Isa Khan’s mausoleum. It is a small but impressive tomb, which was originally covered with three domes, the central one still surviving. The 12-pillared porch on the southern side, at the main entrance, was added subsequently to the tomb.

Coming back from Makli to Karachi, about 15km short of Karachi are famous Chaukhandi tombs built between 15th and 19th centuries. Chaunkhandi literally means four corners and these tombs are generally attributed to the Jokhio and Baluch tribes. These tombs are built of yellow sandstone, which was quarried from Jangshahi, near Thatta. The most impressive tombs are the pyramidal structures, which are rectangular in shape. The intricate carvings in geometric designs are unique and its delicacy gives the impression of woodcarving. It is interesting to note that same designs can be found in textiles, pottery and jewellry in Sindh and Baluchistan today. The tombs of men are capped with turbans and one can find carvings showing horses, arms and weapons, while the tombs of women are decorated with jewellry such as pendants, bangles and necklaces. These types of tombs are found only along Makran coast, along River Indus up to Sehwan Sharif.

The cemeteries of Makhli and Chaukhandi are our national assets. The mausoleums of Isa Khan Tarkhan, Jam Nizamuddin and elaborately carved tombs of Chaukhandi may have no match around the world. The Department of Archeology is doing a commendable job in preserving these monuments but the Department of Tourism is lagging behind in promoting these sites as a major tourist attraction, especially for the students of arts and history from all over the world. Such promotion will not only boost local economic activity but will also earn the much-needed foreign exchange for the country.

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