Stonemasons Of Chakwal And The Historical Mosque Of Fim Kassar

Stonemasons Of Chakwal And The Historical Mosque Of Fim Kassar
Fim Kassar village is located about 3 km west of Dhudial town in Chakwal district. This village is famous for the historical Jamia mosque which was built in the second quarter of the twentieth century. The distinctive features of Jamia mosque Fim Kassar are stone and wood carvings and paintings.

Chakwal district is home to a large number of historic mosques, the majority of which have either been renovated or rebuilt. Some of the stone-built mosques are located in different villages of Chakwal district, of which those in Mona, Siral, Fim Kassar, Minwal, Vahali, Haral, Tamay, Jandial Faizullah, Kot Iqbal villages, etc. are quite prominent. Mona mosque and a few others are now completely rebuilt, thus the originality of these mosques is lost now. Historical Mona Jamia mosque collapsed in 2019 and was painted and noted for intricate stone and wood carvings. Ornately wooden carved doors and mural paintings were distinctive features of the mosque. The façade of the mosque was engraved with attractive floral designs.

Decorative slab in Jamia mosque Fim Kassar

All the mosques of Siral, Fim Kassar, Minwal, Mona, and Kot Iqbal are noted for mural paintings and woodwork – which reflect the aesthetics of the builders and the craftsmanship of the masons and stone and wood engravers of Chakwal district. Stone-built mosques whose façades are aesthetically decorated were built by the celebrated masons and stone engravers of Chakwal district. The stone engravers and masons appear to have spent considerable energy and time in making the floral and geometric designs on the façades of the stone-built mosques of Chakwal district. One can see similar stone-built mosques in several villages of the Jhelum district: prominent amongst these include, Padhri, Bhet, Dhok Mistri, Dhok Awan, etc. I have also visited many stone-built mosques in the villages of Pindigheb and Jand tehsils of Attock district.

Of all these stone-built mosques, the Jamia mosque of Fim Kassar in Chakwal district is quite prominent. I first visited Fim Kassar village in 2019 and met an oral historian Sufi Lal Hussain, who knew the history of the Jamia mosque. Later when I revisited Fim Kassar in May 2022, Sufi Lal Hussain died in March 2022. I also interviewed a few other persons on the history of the Jamia mosque Fim Kassar. Sufi Lal Hussain was, as such, more knowledgeable than others. I am sharing some information from an interview with him on 07 May 2019.

Sufi Lal Hussain, an oral historian of Fim Kassar village, who died in March 2022

According to the late Sufi Lal Hussain, the Jamia mosque Fim Kassar was built by Muhammad Khan Mistri, who was a celebrated mason of the Dhan area in Chakwal district. Before the construction of the Fim Kassar mosque, he first built the Jamia mosque Siral, a village which is located 2 km west of Fim Kassar village. The Jamia mosque Siral was built in 1919. The construction work of Siral mosque started in 1909 and it took almost a decade to complete the mosque. Later, some families moved from Siral village and settled in Fim Kassar.

Muhammad Khan, a celebrated mason and stone engraver started the construction of the Jamia mosque Fim Kassar in 1925. All the villagers financially contributed to the construction of the mosque. The Jamia mosque Fim Kassar is built of stone. The stone was brought from nearby Nala which is located about 4 km north of the village.

According to Sufi Lal Hussain, the villagers brought the stone slabs from Nala to the village. When the stone slabs were brought to the village, Muhammad Khan Mistri started to engrave and dress the undressed stone for the mosque. He engraved all the stone slabs which were used in the interior and façade of the mosque. He was assisted by two of his relatives Roshan Khan and Amir Muhammad who were also famous masons of the village.

Main gateway to Jamia mosque Fim Kassar

The main gateway of the mosque is built of burnt bricks which are decorated with geometric designs. It opens to a spacious courtyard. The facade of Fim Kassar bears three engraved stone slabs which depict floral designs. Others slabs depict geometric designs. Four main stone pillars are found on the front of the mosque. The bases of the two corner pillars and two central pillars on either side of arched entrances are decorative. Central pillars are flanked by two niches on either side which were made for keeping oil lamps. The first two niches are enclosed within a mihrab-shaped design and are smaller as compared to the ones which are engraved closer to corner pillars. Three arched entrances lead to the covered verandah of the mosque. The verandah is decorated with painting work, which was also done by Muhammad Khan Mistri. An interesting variety of floral designs and stylised vases decorate the walls of the verandah. There is also a beautiful depiction of a wall clock on the southern wall of the verandah. From the verandah, an ornately wooden carved door opens to the main prayer hall of the mosque.  One does not find such refined carvings on any other door of the mosque in Chakwal district. Although one can see such highly carved doors in havelis in Chakwal district.

Painting in Jamia mosque Fim Kassar

The wooden doors of Siral and Mona mosques are ornately carved. One does not find such highly crafted doors in the entire Pothohar. Apart from these mosques, one also finds an ornately carved door in the Jamia mosque of Chawli in the Chakwal district. The Chawli Jamia mosque is noted for the wooden carved door and wooden pillared hall in the Chakwal district. I have also seen some of the fabulously carved wooden doors in the Muslim mansions of Siral, Neela, and Gulyana villages. The house of Sultan Khan in Siral village has some splendidly carved doors. Similarly, the house of Mahar Khan and Kabas Khan in Neela village is noted for brilliantly carved wooden doors and a wooden ceiling. Likewise, the Qasr-i-Amir mansion in Gulyana has some of those richly engraved doors that one does not find elsewhere in Gujar Khan tehsil. Some of the abandoned Muslim mansions and Hindu and Sikh havelis also possess outstanding wooden doors. However, the wooden door of Fim Kassar mosque has its own unique elegance and beauty. This door was also engraved by Muhammad Khan Mistri.

View of arched entrances

Apart from the Jamia mosques of Siral and Fim Kassar, he also built another mosque in Fim Kassar village which was noted for its elegantly stone-built gateway. This mosque is called Hattar mosque. The gateway of the Hattar mosque depicted Quranic verses and floral designs. About a decade ago, this gateway and mosque were demolished and a new mosque was built.  According to Abid Hussain and Ijaz Hussain, grandsons of Muhammad Khan, Muhammad Khan had three sons- Haji Fazal Hussain, Haji Fala Illahi and Haji Muhammad Hussain who were not celebrated masons as their father was. They were only skilled in carpentry. Ghulam Hussain, the brother of Muhammad Khan, was also a mason and stone carver and learned the art of stone carvings from his brother Muhammad Khan. The grandsons of Muhammad Khan are now associated with carpentry in Fim Kassar village.

Pillar and Mihrab-shaped motif in Fim Kassar mosque

Stone carvings were the popular identity of Muhammad Khan. People knew and identified the designs that he engraved either on stone slabs or wooden planks - bringing him renown in the Dhan area.

He was also known to have made a machine for minting coins. Some local people informed a British official at Dhudial of this minting activity. He was arrested and later released, as the British officials were impressed by his intellect: they were impressed that a mason could make a machine to mint coins!

Like Muhammad Khan Mistri, the land of Chakwal was home to many celebrated masons, and stone and wood carvers. I will continue to share glimpses of this mastery in my forthcoming pieces.

The author is an anthropologist. He tweets at: @Kalhorozulfiqar