Painted Tombs and Depictions of Romance

Zulfiqar Ali Kalhoro on the tombs of the Rodnanis at Johi

Painted Tombs and Depictions of Romance
There are many historic graveyards in Johi taluka in Dadu which belong to different tribes. Amongst such cemeteries are two that belong to the Rodnani tribe. There are two cemeteries of the Rodnani tribe near Thull village in Johi taluka. The first graveyard, which is locally called ‘Ghanwar Faqir Jo Muqam,’ is located west of Thull village. There are two tombs in the necropolis which belong to Ghanwar Faqir and Piyaro Faqir. Ghanwar Faqir is believed to have served in the court of Mian Yar Muhammad Kalhoro and Mian Noor Muhammad Kalhoro but the tomb appears to have been built during the Talpur period (1783-1843). There are four graves in the tomb. As one enters the tomb, one immediately notices the four graves. The first grave is of Bajhi Faqir, followed by Ghanwar, the wife of Ghanwar and Bangul who was the son of Ghanwar.

The mosque of Shahak Faqir

The canopy of Piyaro is located west of the tomb of Ghanwar Faqir. It is erected on a raised platform. The canopy is square in plan. Eight pillars support the superstructure of the canopy. The interior of the canopy is painted with figural depictions. Eight panels depict different romances and glimpses of everyday life and equestrian scenes. The romances of Laila and Majnun and Sasui and Punhun are found in the canopy. One of the panels shows Laila in a meeting with her beloved, who is shown sitting under a tree. Close to Majnun is a depiction of a camel, which was the companion of Majnun in the wilderness. On another panel in the canopy, Sasui is shown imploring her in-laws not to take away her beloved Punhun. And Punhun in an intoxicated state is shown being whisked away by his brothers on camelback to Makran.

The necropolis of Shahan Faqir

The second graveyard of the Rodnani tribe, which is locally called ‘Shahan Faqir-Jo-Muqam,’ is located 1 km south of Thull village. It also contains many painted tombs. The graveyard contains twelve domed structures and hundreds of lime-plastered graves of various lineages of the Rodnani tribe, who served both the Kalhoras and Talpurs. Dignitaries of the Shahanis, Mubarakanis, Ghulam Hydranis, Midadanis, Shahbeganis, Bagulanis and Naharanis are buried in the necropolis.

Shahan Faqir Rodnani was a disciple of Mian Nasir Muhammad Kalhoro (d.1692) after whom this necropolis is named. He had five sons namely Salar Faqir, Dildar Faqir, Hasal Faqir, Bundo Faqir and Golo Faqir. Except for Bundo Faqir, the descendants of Dildar, Salar, Hasal and Golo live in Johi taluka of Dadu district whereas the descendants of Bundo live in Khorwah Gorchani in Mirpurkhas district. Bundo Khan was posted in the Khorwah Gorchani by Mian Noor Muhammad Kalhoro.

Collapsed dome of a tomb at the necropolis of Shahan Faqir Rodnani

The tomb of Shahan Faqir is annually repaired. Unfortunately, annual repair of the tomb has damaged the paintings which once decorated the interior.

We see that the tomb of Seerakh Faqir Rodnani, who lived during the rule of Mian Noor Muhammad Kalhoro, is adorned with paintings. His brick canopy is located west of the tomb of Shamrani Faqir Rodnani. It is erected on a raised platform. It is a twelve-pillared canopy. There are three brick canopies in the necropolis. However, this one is noted for the mural paintings. This canopy depicts the romances of Laila and Majnun, Suhni and Mehar and Sasui and Punhun. All these paintings have been defaced by the local people.

Crumbling canopy in the necropolis of Shahan Faqir

The other two canopies are eight pillared, which lie north of the canopy of Seerakh Faqir. One of the canopies belongs to the Shahnani lineage of the Rodnani tribe. It lies in a very deplorable condition. The plaster of the canopy has come off and now it can only be found on the dome.  There are two graves under the canopy. Both are of the Shahnani sub-caste of Rodnani tribe.
Suhni is shown holding a pot from which she might have poured lassi or milk in the glass which Mehar is holding

The second canopy, which is also eight-pillared, lies west of the canopy of Seerakh Faqir. It is also erected on an elevated platform. Two graves lie under the canopy, one of a male and the other presumably of a female, his wife. The distinctive feature of this canopy is the striking painting work. Both floral and figural depictions found in the canopy are rich in colour, but they have lost the original beauty. Still, one can identify the folk tale paintings and battle scenes. The soffit of the domical ceiling is adorned with floral designs. The centre of the soffit represents the lotus flower. The lotus flower had been the favourite of the artists of the Kalhora and Talpur periods. Architecturally, this brick canopy is similar to the canopy of the dignitary of the Shahani sub-caste.

Painting in a tomb in the necropolis of Shahan Faqir

Comparatively, the canopy of Seerakh Faqir has more refined paintings. The canopy depicts the romances of Sasui and Punhun, Suhni and Mehar and Laila and Majnun. The western wall shows the romance of Sasui and Punhun. Interestingly, this painting only depicts Punhun and his brothers. A similar depiction is found in the brick canopy of Piyaro Rodnani, which is located 1 km north-west of the necropolis of Shahan Faqir at Thull village. Generally, this folk tale shows all three characters; Sasui, Punhun and his brothers but in this depiction. Punhun is shown taken away on the camelback by his brothers to Kech-Makran. They are shown ascending a mountain which artists have painted using brown, mustard and red colours. Just on top of the depiction is a pair of parrots which symbolize love. Interestingly, the next panel depicts Sasui with her friends who are shown forbidding her not to tread on the difficult path of agony and pain but she appears to be bent upon following the footprints of her beloved. Every passing moment is increasingly painful for her. She desperately wants to meet her beloved.

Another panel depicts Suhni and Mehar. Both are shown sitting on a cot. On the left side of the cot are shown two buffaloes. Mehar appears to be drinking milk or lassi which was offered by his beloved. Suhni is shown holding a pot from which she might have poured lassi or milk in the glass which Mehar is holding. Yet another panel depicts Laila and Majnun. Laila is shown meeting Majnun who is seated under the tree. Laila is shown holding the bridle of a caparisoned camel. It appears that she might have ridden the camel to meet Majnun. A similar painting of Laila meeting Majnun is also found in the brick canopy of Piyaro Faqir. This is a popular depiction which is found in several other tombs of the Kalhora, Talpur and British period tombs in Johi taluka of Dadu district.

Laila and Majnun in the tomb of Piyaro Rodnani

The tomb of Golo Faqir is also located in the necropolis. Golo Faqir belonged to the Shahani lineage of Rodnani tribe. His tomb is located west of Sangu Faqir’s tomb. This is a huge structure which is built in a square plan.

To the south and south-east of Golo Faqir’s tomb are located two tombs of the Shamrani lineage of the Rodnani tribe. Both tombs are square in plan. Both tombs are painted from inside.

Apart from the tombs of the Rodnanis, there is also a three-domed-mosque of Shahak Faqir, which dominates the landscape of the graveyard. It was also painted but frequent renovations have damaged the original paintings.

The writer is an anthropologist. He may be contacted at

Excerpts have been taken from the author’s new book “Wall Paintings of Sindh, From the Eighteenth to Twentieth Century” published by Silk Road Centre.

All photos are by the writer

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