Rock Art of Chiniot

Zulfiqar Ali Kalhoro on the rock petroglyphs of a site in Punjab

Rock Art of Chiniot
Rock art tourism is the most neglected form of tourism in Pakistan. This form of tourism can be tapped as a fine income-earner in some of the regions of Pakistan if properly marketed and promoted. It will help not just the government and exchequer but also to the local community.

Rock art is found in many regions of Pakistan, but the largest number of rock art sites have been found in Sindh by this scribe. Gilgit-Baltistan has the second largest concentration of rock art followed by Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. Punjab has only few reported rock art sites which are mainly located in Sargodha, Chiniot and Attock districts.

Engraving of a rider standing on horseback at Kot Amir Shah rock art site

Amongst these the petroglyphs of Chenab Nagar in Chiniot district are quite prominent. I first visited the rock art sites of Chenab Nagar in 2010 when  quarrying activities were underway in the region, which had destroyed many of the precious petroglyphs. However, later on, these quarrying activities were stopped by the concerned authorities and the majority of petroglyphs were saved. When I revisited the rock art sites of Chenab Nagar on the 22nd of February, 2020, I was really disappointed to see some of the engravings vandalized by local people.

These rock art sites are located about 8 km west of Chiniot town at Chenab Nagar, formerly called Chak Dighain in Lalian tehsil. Chenab Nagar is famous for the scenic beauty of the Chiniot or Chenab Nagar hills that surround the town. But unfortunately the hills are almost gone due to excessive quarrying in the area. This quarrying has also damaged the cultural heritage of Chenab Nagar, as mentioned earlier.

A horse engraving with decorations in the Chiniot hills

The hills, which are part of Kiryana Hill complex, are located on the right bank of the Chenab river. These hills are host to number of archaeological sites, of which the most prominent are the rock art sites which lie in west and the east of the hills.

Both the eastern rock art site, locally called Gorakh Nath Astan, and the western rock art site, locally known as Kot Amir Shah, have almost been destroyed by stone-crushers on behalf of industry. The sites have also been badly damaged by quarrying.

There exists a rock shelter over the top of the hill at the Gorakh Nath Astan which contains many engravings belonging to different periods. On way to a rock shelter of Gorakh Nath Astan, one finds another rock art site where there are a numerous petroglyphs of horse riders. The most interesting petroglyph is of the Sun deity which is engraved close to the petroglyphs of horse riders. At this rock art site, the riders are shown standing on horseback, a style which was very peculiar to the White Huns (Hepthalites). In fact, a recurrent theme in the rock art of Chenab Nagar is the horse rider.

Petroglyphs at Gorakh Nath Astan

The most amazing petroglyphs are of horsemen. The riders are not in a seated position but are shown standing on their horses. The horses have decoration on their bodies, which suggests Iranian influence on these rock carvings. Decoration on the horse was main feature in Achaemenid and Sassanian Art. Similar petroglyphs can be seen in the Hodur and Chilas rock art sites in Gilgit-Baltistan and in Khirthar in Sindh. One finds a lion image with decorations on its shoulder at Hodur and a horse with marking on the body at Chilas II. Similar decoration can be seen on most of the horses at both the rock art sites of Gorakh Nath Astan and Kot Amir Shah in the Chiniot hills.

Apart from horsemen, there are many combat-related images at both sites. One can also notice Zoroastrian symbols, notably the rings of Ahura Mazda, on the rock shelter at Gorakh Nath Astan.
At this rock art site, the riders are shown standing on horseback, a style which was very peculiar to the White Huns (Hepthalites)

There are at least four images of tower-like stupas at the Gorakh Nath Astan. One of the stupas has a streamer. Similar tower-like stupas are numerous in the various rock art sites of Hodur, Chilas and Thalpan in Gilgit-Baltistan.   Many such tower-like stupas are also found in the rock art of Sindh. A few remains of stupas in Chenab Nagar show that this area was also once inhabited by the Buddhist community. Some coins of Kushan period have also been found from Chenab Nagar.

Some petroglyphs of giant human figures are also engraved at the Kot Amir Shah rock art site. These giant figures belong to prehistoric period and signify either deities, demons or shamans. Similar giant human figures, though more refined as compared to Chiniot hills, are engraved at the rock art sites of Oshibat, Dadam Das, Khanbary and Chials II in Gilgit-Baltistan.

Another theme in rock art of Chiniot is shoe-prints. Shoe print petroglyphs are only found at the Gorakh Nath Astan. One also finds hand prints at this site. There are also engravings of flowers and discs at both the rock art sites of Gorakh Nath Astan and Kot Amir Shah.

Chiniot has a lot of tourism potential. Every street in Chiniot town has some buildings of historic significance. Like the majority of historic buildings, the rock art sites of Chenab Nagar, Chiniot, have not been promoted as tourist sites in the way that they should have been.

The author is an anthropologist at PIDE. He may be contacted at:

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