Talpurs and their tomb architecture – Chitorri

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“Talpurs and their Tomb Architecture,” a Pakistan Historical Society article about Chitorri cemetery tombs.

By Shaikh Khurshid Hasan

Not much is known about the rule of Talpur Mirs in Sindh. An authentic and comprehensive history of Talpurs’ rule (1784-1843) is yet to be compiled and published. Whatever references are available in the travel accounts of the foreigners, they have a tint of bias. It may be mentioned that two local dynasties namely Kalhorahs and Talpurs ruled, in succession, over Sindh, before its British occupation. Ghulam Shah Kalhorah (d. 1772) proved to be the most capable and vigorous ruler of the Kalhorah dynasty. He was the last representative of Kalhorah prowess and character His successors lost political insight but continued intermittently till 1783. The Kalhorahs generally derived their strength from Talpurs. Many of their chiefs served them as ministers and military commanders. Due to palace intrigues, the last Kalhorah rulers became suspicious of the rising power of the Talpurs. Some of the prominent Talpur chiefs were murdered. The situation became worse during the reign of Miyan ‘Abd al-Nabi, the last Kalhorah ruler. There was complete anarchy and disorder in the country. A reign of terror was let loose upon the Talpurs. Mir Fateh (Fath) ‘Ali Khan the Talpur chief, could not bear all this. He finally defeated the last Kalhorah ruler and took the reign of the government in his hands in 1784.

Realizing the signs of dissension amongst the Talpur chiefs, Mir Fateh ‘Ali Khan divided Sindh into three distinct regions, each ruled by a separate branch of the family at Hyderabad, Khairpur, and Mirpur Khas. The Hyderabad branch of the family had devised a method by which the senior members of the family ruled jointly in unique harmony. Mir Fateh ‘Ali Khan, therefore, ruled the country along with other brothers namely, Mir Ghulam ‘Ali Khan, Mir Karam ‘Ali and Mir Murad ‘Ali Khan. They became Char Yar (four friends or companions) while the government was known as Chauyari. Whenever any partner died, his next of kin was included in the Chauyari. The Mirs of Khairpur and Mirpur Khas were the offsprings of Mir Chakar Khan and Mir Manik Khan respectively. They had got full autonomy in their respective regions. However, central authority rested in the Chauyari based at Hyderabad.

Mir Fateh ‘Ali had succeeded in restoring peace and comparative tranquillity and had regained much of the territory lost by the Kalhorahs. Karachi was retaken from the Khan of Kalat, Shikarpur from the Afghans, Umerkot from the Rajah of Jodhpur, and some territory from Bahawalpur.

Gains thus made were consolidated and firm Government established throughout the country. In view of his victorious struggle, Mir Fateh ‘Ali Khan is known as ‘Fateh-e-Sindh’ (conqueror of Sindh).

After the rule of the first Chauyari was over, the Talpurs, due to internal strife and machinations of the British, lost their grip over Sindh. Their fate was finally sealed at the battles of Miani and Dabba in 1843. The disunity amongst the Talpur chiefs not only deprived them of their rule of Sindh, but they had to face a great humiliation at the hands of the British. The ring chiefs were all imprisoned at different places in the subcontinent. They were kept at Calcutta, Hazari bagh, Poona, and Lahore. Some of them were later allowed to return and were granted pensions. An idea about the pathetic condition of the ruling chiefs can be had from the petition which they had made to Queen Victoria. It inter-alia mentioned that they were deprived of all their valuables and forced to live in huts like destitutes. The monthly allowance given to them was hardly sufficient for a week. The story of the downfall of the Talpurs, which was mainly due to discord amongst themselves, has got a lesson for all of us, particularly the politicians.

In order to secure their frontiers, the Talpurs constructed a series of forts/fortresses. These include

(a) Sea Frontier Mahora (also Manora) near Karachi, Rutto Kote on the Gharo Creek, Vikkur (near Jati), and Kotri at the crossing of the Koree Creek to Kachch (opposite Lakat). Recent archaeological investigations carried out at Rutto Kote have, however, indicated that the Fort was built sometime in the 8th century A.D. It is contemporary with Banbhore. Presumably, Talpurs had carried out repairs to the Fort to make it functional.

(b) Southern Border: Naokote, the citadel of Diplo, the citadel of Singaro, the citadel of chellhar, the fortress of Mithi, the fort of Islam Kote and the fortress of Nagarparkar; and

(c) Eastern Border: Beginning from Mirpur Mathelo and ending in Nagarparkar, the defense line had the forts/fortresses of Sutiyaro Kote in Taluka Mirpur Mathelo, Liyaro Kote, in Ubaoro Taluka, Fortress, of Tanot in Ubaoro Taluka, Fortress of Dangu; 6 miles east of Ghotaharu, Fort of Dingarh; 16 miles north of Tanot, Fortress of Gadhrro, Fort of Shahgarh in Khuddi; 25 miles east of Chhachhro, Judey-jo-Kote; 40 miles south of Shahgarh and the of Satti-Dera on the present boundary line between Chhachhro and the Nagarparar Talukas.

The construction of a fort at Ranikot in Dadu district is also attributed to Talpurs, but this claim is yet to stand the test of archaeological soundings.

The Talpurs were gifted with great political astuteness and took solid measures to promote public welfare. They had the political vision to restore Sindh to its lost glory. They were connoisseurs of art Mir Karam ‘Ali Khan was a good poet and had a poetic collection known as Diwan-e-Karam.

The Talpur Court was a center of cultural activities. Men of letters and poets from Khurasan, Iran, Iraq, etc. frequently visited the Talpurs’ Court. Mir ‘Azim al-Din ‘Azim Thattwi was poet laureate of Mir Fateh ‘Ali Khan’s Court. He was the author of Fateh Namah, which is the metrical history of the beginning of Talpurs’ rule in Sindh. The other luminaries were Mir Ghulam ‘Ali Ma’il, Sayyid Thabit ‘Ali Shah Thabit, Miyan ‘Isa, Mir Kazim Shah, Sarkhush, Munshi Dola Ram etc.

Nawab Wali Muhammad Khan Laghari, who served as prime minister and commander-in-chief, was a great statesman of his time. The only comparable figure is that of Darya Khan in the reign of the Sammah Jam Nizam al-Din Nindo; who was the other great prime minister of the Sammah period. Of the two, Nawab Wali Muhammad Khan Laghari is probably the greater and certainly the better known. He was a poet of Persian as well as a physician. His pen name was Wali. His famous poetic collection is known as Diwan-i-Wali. Another distinguished courtier was Mirza Isma’il Shah who served as a special ambassador and foreign policy expert.

The Talpurs did a lot for the promotion of education in Sindh. A chain of madrasahs and maktabs was established in important cities like Hyderabad, Sehwan, Umerkot, Matiari, etc. Princesses of the Talpur family also took a keen interest in the promotion of education. Princess Khayran is well known for her contribution to establishing a prestigious madrasah. The Talpurs, like all the Muslim rulers, were also great patrons of calligraphists and used to send them to Persia for attaining higher skill in this art.

The Talpurs had a rich collection of books and unique manuscripts. There were several libraries in the Hyderabad Fort and other cities. However, all these libraries were plundered at the time of the British occupation of Sindh. Many manuscripts now constitute the prized collections of the libraries in Europe. The art of miniature paintings also received royal patronage. Paintings still in possession of the Talpur families in Sindh eloquently speak about the skill and ingenuity of the artists.

From Dr. James Burns’s account, who came to Hyderabad in 1827 for the treatment of Mir Murad ‘Ali Khan, one can find some references about the splendor of the Talpur Court and the way of life of the Mirs. The walls of the palace were richly decorated with paintings and the Darbar Hall was covered with Persian carpets. The Mirs used to sit on a masnad, a slightly elevated cushion of French white satin, beautifully worked with flowers of silk and gold, the corners of which were secured by four massive and highly chased golden ornaments, resembling pineapples and together with a large velvet pillow behind, covered with rich embroidery, presenting a very grand appearance. The Mirs used to wear tunics of fine white muslin, neatly prepared and plaited with cummerbunds of silk and gold, wide Turkish trousers of silk, tied at the ankle, chiefly dark blue, and the Sindians cap, made of gold brocade or embroidered velvet. A pair of Kashmiri shawls of great beauty, generally white, thrown over the arms and a Persian dagger at the girdle, richly ornamented with diamonds or precious stones completed the dress and decoration of the Amirs. They had a good collection of rubies, diamonds, and emeralds. One of the emeralds was as big as a pigeon’s egg.

The Talpurs were fond of hunting. There were several Shikargahs (hunting grounds) along the river Indus from Hyderabad to Sehwan which also served as preserved nurseries of wildlife. Once or twice a month, they used to go hunting.

As regards to their Tomb architecture, the Talpurs took due advantage of the various styles of architecture prevalent in the periods prior to their rule in Sindh. Their domed mausolea were much influenced by the Kalhorah funerary architecture, which owes its origin to pre-Mughul architectural traditions. At some places, there are stone pavilions enshrining the mortal remains of certain Talpur chiefs and nobles. These stone pavilions have got their roots in the indigenous architectural devices, provided to serve as an entrance to the burial chamber. On the top of the niche, there is an inscription tablet containing a chronogram in Persian. On each corner of the parapet, turrets have been provided. In the interior, there are three graves on a raised platform. There is a railing all around the platform, constructed with perforated stone slabs (jalies) and supported by pillarets at intervals, the jalies contain both floral as well as geometrical motifs. Some of the pillarets contain surface tracery in beautiful patterns. The stone railing around the edge of the platform is also found in some of the Chawkhandi graveyards. In Sindhi, it is called Rank. Internally the dome chamber is octagonal in plan. The square chamber has been converted which were first adopted by the Sammah rulers of Sindh, in their funerary architecture at Makli Hills, Thatta.

The concentration of Talpur tombs is at the new Khudabad, located at a distance of some 4 kilometers to the north-west of Hala. It was their first capital. Later, the capital was shifted to Hyderabad where there are two groups of Talpur tombs. There are a number of tombs at Chhitori about 16 kilometers from Mirpur Khas on Mirpur Khas-Khipro road. The tombs belong to the Mankani clan of Talpurs; the descendant of Manak Khan. A group of tombs is also located at a place known as ‘Qubbah Mir Shahdad’ some 19 kilometers to the north-west of Shaur in Nawabshah district. Amongst others, the graveyard contains the grave of Mir Shahdad Khan (d. 1147 A.H. / 1734 A.D.), who was the son of Hotak khan.

At New Khudabad, the most significant mausoleum is that of Mir Fateh ‘Ali Khan (d. 1217 A.H./1802 A.D.), the founder of the Talpur dynasty. It is square in plan and is crowned by a hemispherical dome having a three-tiered glazed tile finial emerging from an inverted lotus type base. On top of each corner, there is a solid kiosk, surmounted by a domlet with a miniature finial. Each side of the kiosk contains an arched paneling. The facade of the mausoleum has been constructed in such a way as to give the impression that the building has more than one storey. This has been done by dividing each side of the facade into three ornamental stories. Each side of the facade on its right and left contains single-blind arches one upon the other. This innovation has got its roots in Taq-i-Kisra (Iran) from where it was adopted in the ‘Alai Darwazah, Delhi. In some of the Kalhorah tombs, as well as in the Jami Masjid Khudabad, this device is very much there. The prominent feature of the mausoleum is its well-designed entrance. There is a rectangular frame with a decorative scroll all around in floral patterns. Then again, there is a rectangular panel in which a recessed arch has been provided. In the recessed arch, there is another rectangular panel in which an arched niche has been into octagonal through honeycombed squinches in the four corners.

The octagonal drum contains arched windows (clerestory) in alternating order. These have been covered with enameled latticework. The interior is embellished with colorful fresco paintings. Three graves are those of Mir Fateh ‘Ali Khan (d. 1217/1802), his brother Mir Ghulam ‘Ali Khan (d. 1227/1811), and his son Mir Sobdar Khan (d. 1262/1846). This fact is confirmed by the inscription tablet on each grave.

Over some graves, standing on rectangular stone platforms, pavilions have been constructed. They are generally square in plan and are supported by 12 or 8 pillars. The three pillars in the corner make a triplet and take a cross lintel thus turning the square into an octagonal base for the ultimate dome. The parapet is crowned by a series of pointed merlons having various decorative motifs. The chhajja (eave) protruding from the parapet is also embellished with beautiful carvings. In some pavilions, spandrels carved in attractive designs have been inserted. They give the appearance of an arched opening. Similar arches are noticed in the tomb of ‘Isa Khan Tarkhan II, Makli Hills Thatta, and the pavilion in the graveyard of Jams at Bela. On the top, there are kiosks, one on each side. The pillars, platform, cenotaph, etc. are bedecked with beautiful carvings in geometrical and floral patterns. The graves are inscribed with the name of the deceased, date of demise, and some verses from the Holy Qur’an. The pavilions with their headgear in the form of a dome reflect, in a way the personality of the deceased.

At Hyderabad, the Talpur tombs are square in plan and follow more or less the same architectural pattern as that of the mausoleum of Mir Fateh ‘Ali Khan at New Khudabad. When Mir Karam ‘Ali Khan died in 1244/1828, he was buried in a domed mausoleum, which was constructed sometime in 1812. The other grave in the mausoleum is that of his brother Mir Murad ‘Ali Khan (d. 1449/1833). Behind this, is a smaller building containing the graves of his two wives, the wife of Mir ‘Abd Allah Khan and an infant Mir. To the north of Mir Karam ‘Ali Khan’s mausoleum, is one containing the graves of Talpur rulers, Mir Nur Muhammad Khan, Mir Nasir Khan, Mir Shahdad Khan, Mir Hussain ‘Ali Khan, etc. The marble graves have the actual royal turbans of these rulers placed upon a projection at the end of each. The building in front of the last on the east contains the remains of the wife and child of Mir Nur Muhammad Khan and the wife of Mir Husayn ‘Ali Khan. Other wives of two of these rulers and three young children, repose in the small tomb in the north-west corner. Still, other Mirs lie within the two small tombs at the south-west corner of Mir Karam ‘Ali Khan’s mausoleum, and the remaining buildings contain the bodies of wives, daughters, and children of some of these. In the southern group of tombs, two principal mausolea that are nearest the entrance on the east and immediately behind it, contain the graves of four Mirs, while the rest are occupied by their wives and children. All these tombs are known for their superb tile decoration in multiple colors such as white, blue, green, yellow, and brown. One of the peculiarities of the ladies’ mausolea is that they look like vaulted wagon structures. One of the vaulted wagon mausolea is rectangular in plan surmounted by two domes and flanked by kicks on each of its four corners. The facade containing the entrance door is divided into three arched panels on each side. On top of each arched panel, there is a rectangular panel covered with tiles in floral patterns. The other sides of the mausoleum contain more or less the same arched paneling and similar decorative color scheme. The vaulted wagon mausolea are just like a closed structure and it seems that the ladies even after their demise are still observing purdah as in their lifetime.

At Chhitori, there are twelve domed mausolea and some stone pavilions and brick linked graves. Out of these twelve, nine are stone-built while the remaining three are of brick masonry. The mausolea fall into two groups. Six are on the south side and six on the north of the royal cemetery. Those on the south belong to the ruling house of Talpur Mirs, who were the descendants of Mir Manik. His eldest son, Mir Allah Yar Khan, had three sons; Mir Masu, Mir Jado, and Mir Rajo. All these chiefs lie buried at Chhitori along with their relatives. Mir Sher Muhammad Khan Talpur, the ‘Lion of Sind’ whose very army was defeated in 1843 at the battle of Dabbo and who died in 1876, is also buried at Chhitori. Those in the northern group do not belong to the Talpur tribe. They were high officials of some other clan.

In their over-all plan, the tombs are cubical each having a globular dome plastered with lime. The most fascinating features of the ornamental setting of these tombs consist of the exquisite grace of carved yellow sandstone treatment of their pillars, doors, facades, ceilings, and tombstones. The foundation and their plinths, without exception, are laid in stone. The description of some of the tombs is given below.

Tomb of Mir Masu Khan

(Southern Group)

The lower plinth of the square tomb measures 34 feet. The upper platform is 24’ x 24’ while the building is 18’ x 18’ feet. The inside corner lintels over the capitals make the plan octagonal and support the dome. The lime planed dome is intact, but cracks have appeared all over its surface. Its inner casing, which is of well dressed small yellow sandstone slabs, is well preserved. Outside, a stone kangurah, (ornamental serrature cordon), partially intact, runs all around and in each corner of the roof, there is a small turret. Traces of stone brackets are visible below the kangurah. A yellow stone pinnacle adorns the top of the dome. Inside, on a raised stone platform rounded by carved railing rests the grave of Mir Masu. The pillar of the northern wall contains a stone inscription in Persian characters recording the date of demise as 1166/1753 and the cost of construction as Rupees five thousand.

Brick tomb Arzo Khokhar

(Southern Group)

It is a square tomb of brick and lime masonry measuring 22 feet and 6 inches with a globular dome and octagonal drum. The drum has arched openings (clerestory) which were originally adorned with blue enameled latticework. The exterior of the tomb is plastered with lime and in order to break the monotony of plain surface, two rows of seal-loped panels, one above the other, were provided on three sides. The eastern facade still preserves the traces of white, blue, green, and brown tiles.

Inside the tomb chamber, on a low platform of brick masonry, there rest three graves covered with tiles. The western grave bears a Persian inscription on a tile slab and records the name of one Arzo Khokhar who fell fighting in 1190/1776. The inscription on the central grave is missing. The eastern grave contains an inscription in Persian characters recording the name of Faqir Khokhar, who also died in a battle in 1190/1776. The lineal identity of the deceased could not be ascertained.

Tomb of Mir Fateh Khan and Mir Mirza Khan

(Northern Group)

It is square in plan with a dome, corner chhatries, and small turrets. Over its entrance door in the eastern wall, there is a marble slab containing a Persian inscription. It records that the tomb was built by Mir Baqar Khan s/o Mir Mirza Khan in 1201/1766 at a cost of Rupees sixteen thousand. Mir Fateh Khan and Mir Mirza Khan both died in 1294/1780. The graves are built on a raised stone platform. In the northern, western, and southern walls there are trellised openings for light. The corner squinches bearing the weight of the dome display honeycombed designs.

One of the pillared pavilions over the grave is of exceptional beauty and design. Normally the pavilions are crowned with a squat dome. But at Chhitori, the pavilion under reference contains a ribbed dome with a high neck. The other prominent feature of the pavilion is the arched openings, which have been provided by inserting carved spandrels in between the corners of each pillar.

The Graveyard at Qubbah Mir Shahdad contains a number of domed pavilions, which are ornamented. Mention may be made of two stone pavilions on a common platform. There is a perforated stone railing all around the platform with pillarets at intervals. The stone slabs used in the railing contain beautiful decorative motifs such as diamonds, rosette within dotted circles, vertical bars bordered on the top by diamonds, multiple combinations of stars and diamonds, etc. The tracery on the stone pillarets is also remarkable.

The pavilion on the right is eight pillared while the one on the left is four-pillared. The base of the pillar is rectangular. The lower part of the shaft is square while the upper part is octagonal, which has been achieved by chamfering its corners. The shaft is richly carved and presents a pleasing appearance. Capitals are four-armed but are plain. The dome has been constructed through an over-lapping system of lintels and corner brackets, which went to transform the square into a circular base of the dome. The parapet is battlemented and is composed of arched shaped merlons. The dome is crowned by a candle-stick like a finial with its base on an inverted lotus. There is one grave in the pavilion which is made of yellow sandstone. The cenotaph is resting on a four stepped platform in reducing tiers. The top of the grave has got an arched ridge with a beautiful caring of sunflower in high relief. The ridge is said to represent a ‘qalamdan’ or a pen box representing a man of letters or a distinguished personality (perhaps a wazir or diwan).

The other pavilion on the left has got the same architectural features except for an unusual innovation that the grave in it is covered by a miniature four-pillared stone canopy. In some mausolea, such canopies are noticed, but they are usually of wood. Both the pavilions in their design and decorative scheme, resemble a great extent the pavilions at Manghopir and Chawkhandi.

The Talpur tombs and pavilions have got their own style and beauty. They represent in their own way an important phase in the evolution of funerary architecture in Pakistan. Unfortunately, due care is not being given to their proper preservation. Most of the tombs are already in a dilapidated condition and if timely action is not taken to arrest their further decay, they are likely to suffer irreparable damage.

– Courtesy: Quarterly Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society

(The writer is former Director-General of Archaeology, Government of Pakistan, Archaeological Advisor Quaid-i-Azam Mazar Management Board, Karachi, and Member Executive Committee Pakistan Historical Society, Karachi, Pakistan. Apart from the Quarterly Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society, this article was also published in Daily Star, Karachi, on 15th January 2000.)

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