Sindh boasts an impressive array of tombs adorned with detailed paintings ranging from holy sites to folk romances
indh boasts an impressive array of tombs adorned with intricate paintings. A majority of these tombs are situated in Larkana, Kamber-Shahdadkot, Dadu, Shaheed Benazirabad (formerly Nawabshah) and Sanghar districts. The pictures feature depictions of popular folk romances like Sassi-Punhun, Suhni-Mehar, Leela-Chanesar and Moomal Rano. In addition to these enchanting paintings, the tombs showcase images of mosques, shrines, and holy cities, including Makkah and Madina.
Mihrab, the arched niche indicating, has been a common feature in the tombs of Sindh’s kings, princes and nobles. Sindhi artisans later incorporated the mihrab into mural paintings by depicting mosques on western wall of the tombs. This unique feature of Sindhi mural painting can be found in many tombs in Dadu, Kamber-Shahdadkot and Sanghar districts, where beautifully painted mosques adorn the western walls.
The necropolis of Shahan Faqir Rodnani, located near Thull village in Dadu’s Johi taluka, features five tombs adorned with mosque paintings that offer a unique glimpse into the region’s architectural history. One of the tombs has a mihrab with a detailed depiction of a mosque, including a man reciting the Quran and water jars. The paintings also showcase hemispherical domes that were common in mosque architecture during the Kalhora (1700-1783), Talpur (1783-1843) and British (1843-1947) periods. In addition, Sangu Faqir’s canopy in the graveyard of Shahan Faqir displays a simple illustration of a mosque without any religious figures or objects. These paintings are a valuable source for reconstructing the evolution of mosque design and decoration in Sindh.
The necropolis of Mir Allahyar Khan Talpur houses a few exquisite depictions of mosques. Among the three tombs adorned with mosque paintings, the western wall of a tomb west of Mir Allahyar Khan Talpur’s displays a remarkable three-domed mosque structure. The artwork includes several objects such as rosaries, water jugs, jars and rehals used traditionally for placing Holy Quran. In addition, a fruit panel is depicted above the mosque, a common feature seen in many tomb paintings where fruits and vegetables are displayed alongside the mosque depictions.
The tomb of a Shahani noble near Baleel Shah in Johi taluka boasts the best painting of a mosque with fruit representations. This three-domed mosque painting is accompanied by a pair of rosaries and various fruits, vegetables and fish, providing an insightful glimpse into the diverse artistry of Sindhi mural paintings.
In the cemetery of Mir Allahyar Khan Talpur, near Drigh Bala in Johi taluka, lies a tomb to the south of Mir Manik Khan Talpur’s tomb. This tomb features a beautiful depiction of a mosque and some other objects. Another tomb in the same graveyard showcases a mosque with three domes and projecting corner kiosks. Then, moving on to the cemetery of Rawat Faqir, located near Drigh Bala village, there is yet another tomb with a stunning portrayal of a three-domed mosque featuring three-arched entrances, each adorned with a rosary. Additionally, on both sides of the mosque, depictions of water jugs and jars can be found.
In the Qalandarani necropolis located in Johi taluka, two impressive tombs feature intricate mosque paintings on their western walls. These mosques are characterised by their distinctive three-domed structures. The first depiction showcases a man on the left heading towards the mosque to offer prayers. In the central arch, a person is seen engrossed in the prayers. The illustration also includes various water jugs and jars and a rehal.
The second picture shows a three-domed mosque with a man holding a large rosary in the central arch. Again, the image includes various objects. In addition to the Qalandarani necropolis, a mosque illustration is located in a canopy at Tor village near Rajo Dero. This mosque is also three-domed, with a single arched entrance, and features a man holding a large rosary. It is worth noting that both tombs at Tor village belong to the Leghari tribe.
Another tomb showcasing a mosque depiction can be found at the Muridanai Jamali cemetery in Johi taluka. This mosque is a stunning three-domed structure with onion-shaped domes, adding to its architectural beauty. However, unlike the previous illustrations, this structure does not feature any other objects.
The tomb of Bakkar Jamali, located in Johi taluka, boasts an exquisite portrayal of a three-domed mosque featuring three arched entrances. Each of these entrances features a devout person engaged in prayer.
A striking feature of these paintings is their ability to showcase the architectural details of the mosques. Most of the depicted mosques are three-domed structures with three-arched entrances. The artists have carefully painted the two aisles and a nave
In addition to the striking mosque image, the tomb of Bakkar Jamali is renowned for its paintings that include Sassi and Punhun, Suhni and Mehar, horse riders, birds and fruits. These paintings add to the overall aesthetic appeal of the tomb, making it a must-see for visitors.
One of the most impressive images of a mosque can be found at the tomb of Jangu Jamali, located in Johi taluka. This mosque painting stands out due to its exceptional refinement and attention to detail. The Jangu Jamali mosque is a grand two-storey structure with various objects painted on both storeys. These include water jars and jugs.
The tombs in Khanpur town, situated in the Dadu district, feature a unique style of mosque paintings that sets them apart from those found in the Johi taluka, in which the arched entrances of the mosques are decorated with stunning floral designs. Interestingly, there are three mosque representations in the tombs at Khanpur town, each showcasing this distinctive style.
The Kamber-Shahdadkot district in Sindh boasts some of the most refined mosque paintings in the tombs of the Chandia tribe. However, the beauty of these paintings is not limited to this region. There are many mosque representations in mural paintings across other districts in Sindh.
A striking feature of these paintings is their ability to showcase the architectural details of the mosques. Most of the depicted mosques are three-domed structures with three-arched entrances. The artists have carefully painted the two aisles and a nave. The mosques also feature cusped arches, adding to their aesthetic appeal.
Interestingly, the artists have sometimes included Persian and Khudabadi scripts near the mosque depictions. Persian couplets can also be found close to the mosques’ representations. These additional details add to the richness of the paintings, making them all the more fascinating for visitors to explore.
In addition to the beautiful mosque representations, Sindhi tombs also feature depictions of other significant religious sites, such as the holy Ka’ba and the Mosque of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) in Madina. Central to the Islamic faith and pilgrimage, these sites have been depicted in various tombs and mosques throughout Sindh.
Many of the tombs built during the Kalhora, Talpur and British periods are adorned with depictions of Makkah and Madina. The earliest known representation of the Ka’ba can be found in the mosque of Jam Nindo at Qubo Shah necropolis near Shahpur Chakar in the Sanghar district. This beautiful mosque, built during the Kalhora period (1700-1783), features a depiction of the Holy Ka’aba and paintings of the shrines surrounding it.
These stunning depictions are a testament to the deep reverence and devotion of the people of Sindh for the holy sites of Islam. Visitors to these tombs will surely be moved by the intricate and beautiful depictions of these significant religious landmarks.
The tomb of Syed Hasan Ali, locally known as Mahawali, is considered one of the most splendid in Sindh. Built in 1829, as per the inscription on the western wall of the tomb, it is adorned with exquisite paintings of the Holy Ka’ba and the Mosque of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him). Located near 70 Mori in the district of Tando Muhammad Khan, the eastern wall of the tomb features two panels showcasing the Holy Ka’ba and the Masjid Nabawi, respectively.
In Tando Allahyar, Sangharo Sharif is home to two tombs belonging to Pir Noor Muhammad Qadiri and Bachal Shah, respectively. Both tombs are adorned with stunning paintings of Makkah and Madina. The tomb of Pir Noor Muhammad Qadiri features two panels showcasing the Holy Ka’ba and the Masjid Nabawi. The panel highlighting the Holy Ka’ba is particularly noteworthy as it depicts key annotated monuments in the surrounding area.
The second panel in the Sangharo Sharif tomb depicts the Mosque of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) in Madina, which is shown as a large courtyard surrounded by arcades and topped with four minarets. The painting also shows the tomb of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him), as well as the tombs of Hazrat Umar Farooq, Hazrat Abu Bakr, and Hazrat Fatima Zahra (with whom Allah was pleased). The garden around the latter tomb is also depicted in the painting, characterised by two palm trees.
The tomb of Bachal Shah features two panels representing the holy sanctuaries of Makkah and Madina. Both sanctuaries are depicted similarly, with a two-dimensional view that has become the standard in tombs and mosques throughout Sindh.
The holy sanctuaries of Makkah and Madina have been a popular subject in Islamic art, appearing not only in tombs and mosques but also on tiles. These tiles were produced in Turkish ceramic centres at Kutahya, Iznik, and Tekfur in Istanbul between the mid-17th and early 18th Centuries. They came in various forms, from small portable individual tiles to large panels. During my visit to Istanbul in 2017, I had the opportunity to see some of these tiles. I was particularly impressed by the three large panels depicting Makkah, Madina and Mount Arafat in the mosque of the Black Eunuchs in Topkapi Palace.
Even in colonial Sindh, the holy sanctuaries of Makkah and Madina continued to be represented in the tombs and mosques. For instance, the Gulzar-i-Medina mosque in Dadu town, built in the 1850s and 1860s, is adorned with paintings of the Ka’ba and the mosque of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him). The mosque has four depictions of the holy sanctuaries of Makkah and Madina, where the key monuments are easily identifiable. In addition to the two sanctuaries of Makkah and Madina, the painters also depicted Masjid al-Aqsa, the third holiest place for Muslims. There are two depictions of Masjid al-Aqsa in the Gulzar-i-Medina mosque.
The tomb of Shadi Shaheed, located in the Khairpur district, is another example of the holy sanctuaries of Makkah and Madina being depicted in Sindh’s tombs and mosques. The tomb’s domed ceiling and transition zone are decorated with paintings of various holy sites of pilgrimage. Eight holy sanctuaries are featured on the domed ceiling. Additionally, the transition zone displays numerous other holy sites, such as Ghar-i-Hira, the tomb of Hazrat Ali’s (with whom Allah was pleased) and the mosque dedicated to Hazrat Fatima (with whom Allah was pleased) mosque. The artwork at the tomb also carries representations of some sufi shrines, including those of Abdul Qadir Jilani and Data Ganj Bakhsh.
Excerpts from the author’s book, Wall Paintings of Sindh, From the Eighteenth to Twentieth Century, published by Silk Road Centre, Islamabad,in 2020.
The writer is an anthropologist. He has authored 12 books on anthropology, cultural heritage, art and religion in Pakistan. He tweets at @kalhorozulfiqar