Chaukhandi graveyard requires attention

By: Zulfiqar Ali Bhatti

A leading sindhi newspaper Sindh Express has reported that historical Chaukhandi graveyard near Karachi has reached at the verge of destruction.

The Chaukhandi  tombs form an early Islamic cemetery situated 29 km (18 mi) east of Karachi, close to the National Highway near “Fast National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences” in Sindh province of Pakistan. The tombs are remarkable for their elaborate sandstone carvings.

The style of architecture is typical to the region of Sindh. Generally, the tombs are attributed to the Jokhio (also spelt Jokhiya) and known as the family graveyard of the Jokhio tribe, although other, mainly Baloch, tribes have also been buried here. They were mainly built during Mughal rule sometime in the 15th and 18th centuries when Islam became dominant.

There are various opinions as to the meaning of the word Chaukhandi. Shaikh Khurshid Hasan writes. Some scholars believed that Chaukhandi is the name of a place. Others take it to be an architectural term. On the necropolis of ‘Chaukhandi’ stands the tomb of one Jam Murid bin Haji, which contains the word Chaukhandi, along with the name of the deceased. Shaikh Khurshid Hasan therefore considered Chaukhandi to be the name of the place. More so, when Banerji visited the Chaukhandi graveyard in 1920, he referred [to] it as “the little village Chaukhandi”. According to Mumtaz Hassan, Chaw in Sindhi language means four and Khundi corner or pillar. Chaukhandi would refer to the four pillars supporting the umbrella shaped dome over the tomb and would apply to all tombs having the same construction. However, this argument has flaws because all the tombs covered with umbrella shaped domes or with a rectangular pavilion at Chaukhandi have more than four pillars or columns. Even at Mangophir, a canopy over similar graves has more than four pillars. As regards to the suggestion that Chaukhandi is the name of a place, Mumtaz Hassan feels that such a view derives from the fact that the name Chaukhandi had come to be associated with the tombs near Landhi. As mentioned above, on one tomb the word Chaukhandi is engraved. That might signify the location rather than the structural style of the monument. It is therefore possible that the word Chaukhandi, originally referring to the style of construction, became associated with one particular site.

[Ali Ahmad] Brohi’s view on he other hand is that Chaukhandi is used for a domed roof, a kind of chhattri (umbrella/pavilion) which is supported by four to eight pillars, whiereby the sides are left open.[21] According to Kaleem Lashari, the word Chaukhandi as inscribed on the grave of Jam Murid bin Haji is a compound word with Sahib and is to be read as such Sahib-e-Chaukhandi and not on its own. He compares it to the [Sahib-e-Jaidad (Owner of a land)]. It clarifies that Jam Murid is the owner of the Chaukhandi or that the Chaukhandi is erected over his grave. In support of his theory he refers to a similar inscription on a grave at Got Raj Malik and, therefore, does not agree that Chaukhandi is the name of a place.[17]

Dr. Baloch has further tried to explain the meaning of the word Chaukhandi. Literally, it suggests a four walled enclosure open from above. In the cultural tradition of Sindh, such a walled enclosure is called a Chaukhandi, which is constructed out of respect around the grave of a revered person. Chaukhandi as such is therefore not a grave or tomb in itself, but the four walled enclosure in which the person(s) has been buried. Referring to the burial place, it would be called Chaukhandi[22]
Tombs are intricately carved
This type of graveyard in Sindh and Baluchistan is remarkable because of its main north-south orientation. The more elaborate graves are constructed with a buff-colored sandstone, which has often kept remarkably well over time in the arid local climate. Tombs were constructed either as single graves or as groups of up to eight graves, raised on a common platform.

A typical sarcophagus consists of six vertical slabs, with two long slabs on each side of the grave indicating the length of the body and the remaining two vertical slabs on the head and foot side. These six slabs are covered by a second sarcophagus consisting of six more similar vertical slabs but smaller in size, giving the grave a pyramid shape. The upper box is further covered with four or five horizontal slabs and the topmost construction is set vertically with its northern end often carved into a knob known as a crown or a turban. The tombs are embellished with geometrical designs and motifs, including figural representations such as mounted horsemen, hunting scenes, arms, and jewelry.

After the Second World War the Chaukhandi tombs did not receive any attention from the Pakistan authorities until Dr. I. H. Qureshi, a renowned historian and the then education minister (later Chancellor of Karachi University), drew the attention of the Department of Archeology and Museums to them, having received a letter on the subject from Zahid Hussain, Governor of State Bank of Pakistan[citation needed].

The then Director General of the Department of Archeology and Museums, Shaikh Khurshid Hasan, confessed that at first his department did not even realize that the tombs were protected under the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act, 1904. Soon the department realized its mistake and started taking some measures for the protection of the necropolis[when?].

In the post-independence era a first serious study was undertaken by Mumtaz Hassan; he described Chaukhandi tombs as Baloch tombs. Subsequently, many articles appeared in the national newspapers but the mystery as to their origin could not be solved.

Ms. E-J.W. Bunting, along with Dr. F. A. Khan, Justice Feroz Nana and S. A. Naqvi started preparing rubbings of stone carvings and provided further publicity by exhibitions abroad of these rubbings. The exhibition in the USA in particular aroused great interest amongst the scholars in the studies of various aspects of the Chaukhandi tombs.

In his first paper based on epigraphical-cum-historical studies, Shaikh Khurshid Hasan observed that the Chaukhandi graveyard near Landhi was predominantly a graveyard of the Jokhio tribe, although some tombs of the Burfat and Sheikh tribes could also been found. In a 1984 article on the Chaukhandi tombs Shaikh Khurshid Hasan mainly dealt with the decorative elements of the stone carving. In the following years he continued to publish on the gravestones and inscriptions.For further reading see also Shaikh Khurshid Hasan’s comprehensive study.

In 1978 Salome Zajadacz-Hastenrath published a book in which in which she mainly dealt with the stylistic evolution of Chaukhandi tombs. Comparing Chaukhandi tombs (tombs of particular types and forms thereof) among each other, a typological framework was established and consequently a relative chronology. By comparing this framework with dated structures, mainly of Makli Hill but also of other sites, the study arrived at dates for the various stages of evolution of the Chaukhandi tombs. Beside the Chaukhandi tombs strictly speaking, the study also dealt with specific aspects such as the ‘Form of the tombstones’, ‘Riders, weapons, and other depictions on men’s graves’, ‘Jewellery depictions on women’s graves’, articles which all show the richness of the Chaukhandi funerary art. The documentary part of the book included a list of dated stonemasonry patterns on Chaukhandi tombs.

Her study was mainly based on photographs taken of a total of 50 cemeteries and tombs; the book includes a representative selection of 112 photographs. A catalogue of the cemeteries visited provides details on their locations, and the number, types and conditions of individual tombs. It covered an area reaching from the Hub River in the west up to the region of Tando Muhammad Khan and of Shah Kapur in the east.

Zajadacz-Hastenrath concluded that the Chaukhandi tombs had developed far beyond a kind of folkloristic specialty; they evolved from traditional forms of tombs widely spread in the Lower Sindh ( e.g. on Makli Hill, but there with richer forms, Kathiawar and Gujarat) to graves with a monumental quality, achieved by their unusual height, coupled with strong sculptural decorations. The apex of this development was reached during the first half of the 17th century of which fine examples were shown in figures 34, 35 and 36 of the study (the author called these ‘Tombs with projecting surfaces’). Unique in the Islamic architectural tradition, the author considered the Chaukhandi tombs a most original and independent contribution to Islamic sepulchral architecture and ornamental sculpture.

The notable character of her study was underlined in the Encyclopedia of Islam. While dealing with the various types of sepulchral structures on the South Asia and referring to the study of Zajadacz-Hastenrath, the author of that article stressed that it was only in the case of the Chaukhandi tombs that such a systematic research had been done. In 2003 (i.e. after the author’s decease in 1998), an English translation of the book was published in Pakistan.

Pakistani professor Mirza Mahad Baig visited Sindh at the end of the 20th century and examined some of the tombs. He pointed out to Rajput influences in the Chaukhandi necropolis. He mentioned that it is well known that many Munda warrior groups have family ties with the so-called Rajput tribes of Rajasthan and Gujarat. Some Rajput tribes, namely the Jokhio, the satlari, emigrated from Kutch (Gujarat) and Rajputana towards the Sindh and Makran regions during the Samma Dynasty. These tribes had close relations among each other, including matrimonial ties, both within their own group as well as with the Baloch tribe of the Kalmatis. His hypothesis suggested a tribal Rajput origin in the utilization not only of the monolithic slabs and pedestals in the step-shaped graves, but also in the naive decoration of some tombs, resembling a house facade, or a human face as if drawn by a child. The decoration of the tombs (mostly with geometric motifs) seems derived from wood sculpture. With a few exceptions human figures are avoided, in accordance with Islamic beliefs.

Further articles on the structural development of stone-carved graves were written by Kaleem Lashari Later, Lashari highlighted the Bhawani Serai and the Tutai Chaukhandi graveyards[citation needed], and called for urgent conservation.