Hunters, saints, nobles and lovers

Zulfiqar Ali Kalhoro on the beautiful but crumbling tombs of Sindh's erstwhile rulers

Hunters, saints, nobles and lovers
There are a large number of painted tombs which were erected during Kalhora (1700-1783) and Talpur (1783-1843) periods in Sindh. One such a graveyard containing painted tombs is located at Tila Shah, 13 km southeast of Jam Nawaz Ali taluka in Sanghar district. The tombs belong to descendants of Haji Khan Marri, and hence they are called Hajizai Marris. This lineage of the Marris played a very important role in the socio-political history of Sindh during the Kalhora and Talpur periods. Haji Khan Marri, the son of Nabi Dad Khan, was an eminent general of Mian Nasir Muhammad Kalhoro (1657-1792). He came from Kahan (now tehsil of Kohlu) in Balochistan to get himself enrolled as a disciple of Mian Nasir Muhammad Kalhoro. He belonged to the Mahakani lineage of the Marri tribe.

Haji Khan Marri enjoyed a very exalted and dignified position at the court of Mian Nasir Muhammad Kalhoro. He acted as Mian Nasir’s senior adviser and took part in many battles. After the death of Mian Nasir Muhammad in 1692, his elder son Mian Din Muhammad Kalhoro became the leader of the anti-Mughal Mianwal Movement of the Kalhoras. Like his father, Mian Din Muhammad Kalhoro (1692-1699) gave Haji Khan due respect and retained his position asa senior adviser and made his elder son Ibrahim Khan a general in his army – which mainly consisted of his tribesmen. Later on, Mian Din Muhammad Kalhoro bestowed on Ibrahim Khan the prestigious title of Shah.
Interestingly, the figures of Sasui and her friends are shown wearing Rajasthani costumes, a visible influence from Rajasthani artists

Haji Khan Marri and his son Ibrahim Shah died fighting the Mughals in the battle of Gerello in 1699. Haji Khan Marri was buried at Phasi Laki in the Jagir area where he was posted. His tomb is on a hillock about 40 km southwest of Shahdadkot. Haji Khan Marri left behind eight sons namely Ibrahim Shah, Masti Khan, Hyder Khan, Jaffar Khan, Daulat Khan, Shakal Khan, Shadi Khan, and Shahdad Khan. His three sons Daulat Khan, Shakal Khan and Shadi Khan played very important roles during the tenure of Mian Noor Muhammad Kalhoro (1719-1753) and Mian Ghulam Shah Kalhoro (1757-1772).

Daulat Khan got an important position at Mian Noor Muhammad’s court (1719-1753). He was bestowed a jagir and was appointed an administrator of the present Jam Ali tehsil in Sanghar District. He was the first to be buried in the Tila Shah necropolis. Later, all sons and grandsons of Haji Khan were buried in the necropolis of Tila Shah. The cemetery has 10 tombs, a few of which are painted with geometric, floral and figural designs. The largest tomb in the graveyard belongs to Daulat Khan Marri. An inscription on the northern wall of the tomb reads his name as Mian Daulat Khan, son of Haji Khan Marri. It is decorated with floral and figural designs.

Apart from Daulat Khan, Shakal Khan Marri also served the Kalhoras. He was also given an important position by Mian Noor Muhammad Kalhoro. He was responsible for arranging soldiers from his tribe in times of war or crisis in the province – which he did very astutely. He was also buried in the Tila Shah necropolis. His tomb is located west of the mausoleum of Daulat Khan Marri. It is smaller as compared to the tomb of Daulat Khan. An entrance of the tomb opens to the east. The interior of the tomb is adorned with floral designs. Vertical and horizontal panels are adorned with paintings. The spandrels of the panels are decorated with a floral scroll. The tomb of Shakal Khan, though, is in a deplorable condition. His descendants, who are known as Shaklani, live near Sat Puri village in Nawab Shah District, and do not take care of the tomb of their ancestor.

Hunting scenes from depictions of Laila and Majnun in Sultan Marri's tomb

The tombs of Sultan Marri and Mehmood Khan Marri are also found in the Tila Shah necropolis. Both are in a very poor state of preservation but are noted for their beautiful murals. The tomb of Sultan Marri depicts the folktales of Sohni-Mehar or Sohni-Mahiwal (as it is popularly known in the Punjab), Sasui-Punhun, Laila-Majnun, Moomal-Rano and many others. It also depicts hunting.

In one of the panels is depicted the folktale of Sohni-Mehar with saintly figure shown sitting on a fish. This representation may refer to the legend of Khwaja Khizr, the water saint who protects his devotees from the trouble and misfortune. The figure is very clear in this depiction with a pair of fishes under his feet. He is depicted reciting the Holy Book, sitting under a tree and facing the river. He is shown in a green dress with a white turban. Before the bearded figure of Khwaja Khizr are his walking green stick and a water flask. On the other side of the river bank is shown Mehar seated under the tree playing a flute. In the middle of the river is the figure of Sohni, that is surrounded by fishes, crocodiles and buffaloes. This painting has been damaged by the rainwater that seeped from the cracks on the dome. Due to seepage from the dome, sludge appears on the figures of Khwaja Khizr and Mehar.

The tomb of Sultan Marri also depicts hunting. In one of the panels a Kalhora noble is shown  hunting a wild boar with the help of soldiers and dogs  The dogs are shown pouncing on the wild boar and the Kalhora noble and soldiers are shown attacking with guns and spears. Another panel depicts the attendants of the Kalhora noble carrying the hunt on wooden planks.

In some other panels the Kalhora noble is shown hunting the leopard. In one of the panels the noble is shown hunting a leopard. The hunter is shown seated on horseback, holding a spear in one hand and sword in the other. Dogs are also shown attacking the leopard. The hunting helper has got a gun aimed at the leopard. He is depicted shooting the leopard. In another panel, one finds three hunters – the noble is shown seated on horseback and two hunters are shooting the leopard with arrows. Dogs are also shown, one of which is depicted biting the left leg of the leopard. The noble has got a spear with which he pierces the chest of the leopard. Interestingly, the leopards are short-bodied, a special feature of Jodhpur painting. The inspiration might have come from Jodhpur because the Kalhoras enjoyed friendly relations with the rulers of Jodhpur. It is also possible that some Jodhpur artists either painted these tombs or trained Sindhi painters in Jodhpur style. Interestingly, the figures of Sasui and her friends are shown wearing Rajasthani costumes, a visible influence from Rajasthani artists. The lion hunt also appears in the Rajputs’ paintings. Short-bodied figures of tigers are a noticeable feature of Jodhpur and Marwari paintings. Leopard or tiger hunting frequently appears in Mughal and Rajput painting. Apart from tiger hunting, wild ass and boar hunting also appears in Mughal and Rajput art.

All the tombs, unfortunately, are in a pathetic condition. Two of the tombs collapsed in the rains of 2010. A majority of paintings are also in a decaying condition. Sludge and rainwater, which penetrates through cracks in domes, have damaged most of the paintings. The authorities concerned should save these fabulous pieces of architecture from further decay and destruction.

The author is an anthropologist and has authored three books: ‘Perspectives on the art and architecture of Sindh’, ‘Memorial Stones: Tharparkar’ and ‘Archaeology, Religion and Art in Sindh’

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