Chowkhundi Tombs: Where The Dead Tell Their Tales
It was one of the usual days and my father decided to give our eyes a historic treat and we all were off to the national highway. It was just over half an hour ride from Karachi and soon we were in the famous necropolis Chowkhundi tombs. It was then, that I realized how naiveté are we as a nation of its glorious past which should have received standing ovations rather than forgotten of. It made me wondering: when the past looks so outstandingly glorious with developing natural, cultural and economic history why is it that the future looks as bleak as it is now for the Muslim world in general and Pakistan in particular with attacks directed towards it from within and from outside.
Sindh: has been the bearer of the famous Indus Civilization and has made its mark in the books of history when it comes to be the centre of learning and mother of the civilized societies that existed in the past be it the civilizations of Moen-jo-Daro, Soan or Haro that inhabited the subcontinent. Indeed the ancient civilization of this part of the world was housed in an immense subcontinent in its own right. For many generations Sindh remained the only land of refuge where persons, persecuted by petty tyrants who flourished elsewhere in the contemporary world sought shelter in the all embracing fold of Islam. The valley of Indus after the advent of Islam saw the light of hopes and aspirations which enlightened the region and served as a rest nay for the weary feet of the wanderers and soldiers.
I think there is a little difference between the living and the dead; that of existence. Living speak while dead just can't. Nevertheless, it's the dead who have witnessed the march of history, I wonder of all the stories that would have been known if the dead had the voice to speak! However, the resting place of these people narrates their living history and Chowkhundi tombs is no exception. Spread over two kilometers this cemetery contains domes of diverse shapes and sizes whose overhead structures are called 'Chowkhundi' which means 'four cornered' the word is used for a domed roof a kind of umbrella which is supported by four to eight pillars. These tombs consist of hollow oblong chambers built of yellow Jungshahi stone and entirely enclosed by large slabs or stones elaborately carved on every visible side. The finest of them lie ten to fourteen feet above the ground and the plinth on which they stand supports many cases.
The carvings are the masterpiece of art and crafts and foretells the glorious cultural advancement that this region in the 15th and 16th century had attained. Legends foretell that the tombs with canopies on them belong to the Sardars or the local chieftains. The guide at the tombs classifies them into three:
The common Muslim graves without any carvings on them,
Stone structures with their middle chambers full of human bones indicating over ground burial,
Tombs bearing carved designs and figures of warriors armed with swords and spears.
The graves and their carvings give the lowdown to their visitors of the one's who lie dead to the world in them. The various carvings such as the graves bearing the likenesses of swords, spears, bows, arrows, stirrups, shields and horses belong to brave soldiers. Whereas the graves engraved with the figures of bracelets, bangles, rings, necklaces and nose-studs are that of females. Men of high rank, great wealth or religious celebrity are buried under domes of cut stone, some of them handsomely and elaborately built with arabesques and other ornaments all lie deep in this graveyard.
The cemetery is now owned by the Jokhia tribe who had migrated from Kohistan. Myths say that this graveyard before Jokhia's belonged to Kalmati tribesmen who originally buried their dead in here. The Jokhia tribe soon came into clash with Kalmati who refused to treat them on equal footing since the Jokhia's were not considered a martial race. Nevertheless, with the passage of time, their population outnumbered that of the Kalmati's, they became more prosperous and for one thing, they could offer better terms of remuneration to the artisans. As a result the artisans engraved even more beautiful designs on the Jokhia tombs tribesmen. The Kalmatis could not bear their surpassing; they organized a massive attack on the tombs built by the Jokhia's. In this battle many a people lost their lives and the Jokhia's had to bear the greater injuries. However, this fight was put to a halt by a few Syeds carrying holy book in their hands and cried to halt this senseless killing. More than one hundred and fifty lost their lives on both sides. Soon after the battle, the Kalmatis left Malir and migrated to other regions.
In order to honour their fighters the Jokhias decided to raise memorials. None of these memorials contain dead bodies because they already had been buried in the Muslim fashion. The inscriptions on the graves are of pure Sindhi foundation with names such as Makhan (butter), Manik (jewel), Kauro (bitter) etc. These tombs raised by the Jokhias and the Kalmatis are the bearers of the great civilization of Sindh and also of their veneration to the dead. The decorations on the tombs are a token of great honour to the one's who departed in the cult of their duty and sacrifice.
Sindh has served all through the centuries as a meeting place of many minds and a confluence of diverse cultural currents in history and has in turns given back to all those who came to it, in a spirit of wise passiveness, a richer tribute than it has received from them. Chowkhundi sure is a colourful picture of the glorious past. The attachment, reverence and reward for martyrs of the Jokhias and the Kalmatis have given them world fame. Such battles may have take place all over the world but there are very few places in the world which provide account of these great incidences and make the minds and hearts of many to travel through history and perceive the glory. The ruins that stand tall amidst this arid necropolis provide glimpses of the glory that once lived and has made the martyrs live eternally.
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Published on 3/6/04