Painted Tombs of the Chandias

Zulfiqar Ali Kalhoro on the exquisite depictions of themes from nature and folklore in the Chandia tombs

Painted Tombs of the Chandias
Kamber-Shahdadkot, like the other districts of Sindh, is host to a number of historic tombs dotting each of its talukas. Among these, the Chandia tombs belonging to Mirzani Chandia and Husnani Chandia, both descendants of Siraman Khan, a cultural hero of the tribe, are quite prominent. A majority of the Chandia tombs are adorned with paintings.

The Mirzani Chandia tombs, 5 km northwest of Gebi Dero are unique monuments of the past.  Locally, the necropolis of Mirzani Chandia is known as the ‘Rankun’, dating back to the seventeenth century when the first tomb of Sardar Malik Gebi Khan (after whom the Gebi Dero is named) was built by his elder son Wahid Bakhsh Khan Chandio. The last tomb, erected probably in 1994, belongs to Nawab Sir Gebi Khan Chandio. The tomb was ordered by his grandson Sardar Ahmed Sultan Khan, who died prior to its completion. His great-grandson Nawabzada Ali Nawaz Khan completed the remaining work. The graveyard is spread over a vast area and contains twenty-three tombs of the chiefs of the Mirzani Chandia tribe. All the tombs are invariably of same type, differing only in size. Most of these structures are erected on a raised platform and are square in plan except for a few exceptions which are on a rectangular plan and contain female graves. Inside, each structure consists of a square room covered by a conical ceiling.

Depiction of the Dance of Leela in the tomb of Ghazi Khan

Apart from the Mirzani tombs, there is the huge cemetery of the Husnani tribe, locally known as the ‘Dau-ja-Quba’. The necropolis is situated about 8 km southeast of Gebi Dero. All the tombs belong to the Husnanis and are eight in number. This necropolis is attributed to Daud, a chief of the Husnani tribe. He was killed in 1614 during a certain battle at Mahu near Gebi Dero. Later,  tombs were erected for Daud and his relatives, as well as for the soldiers, by their descendants. After a gory battle which involved much bloodletting, the Husnani tribe migrated  to different districts of Sindh. A majority of them moved to Miro Khan and Shahdadkot talukas of Kamber-Shahdadkot where the two clusters of tombs in both the talukas still stand as reminders of their past glory. According to local accounts the battle claimed hundreds of lives. A representation of the battle of Mahu is painted in the tomb of Ghazi Khan, also known as Jangi Qubo.

The paintings in the tombs of the Husnanis and Mirzanis are significant for their perfect technique and subjects in an endless variety of geometric, floral and botanic designs and human and animal figures spread over the interior surfaces. The surface has been divided into various panels of different shapes and dimensions according to the space available and all the soffits, niches; squinches, arches and interiors of the tombs are covered by these paintings. The basic elements of decoration are varied. Some of the patterns are essentially naturalistic, like the trees, which seem to have been inspired by close observation of the local surroundings. And some of the fruit trees are especially well done!

Tombs of Mirzani Chandias

In comparison to the Mirzani tombs, the Husnani tombs bear figural representations, while the former contain only floral designs. The surface decoration on the tombs of the Husnanis is exquisitely done as it is excelled on the Mirzani tombs. On one of the panels on the Husnani tombs is a depiction of cockfighting – still a popular game in the area. Below it is a combat scene between a man and a ‘Gorpat’ (a wild beast) which is commonly found in the adjoining mountains of Khirthar.

The tombs of Daud Khan, Sewa Khan, and Ghazi Khan, also known as ‘Jangi Qubo’ in the necropolis of Daud Khan are adorned with figural paintings. The tomb of Ghazi Khan bears the most impressive paintings of dance and music making, along the images of folktales and battle scenes. On the western wall are three animated panels. The first panel depicts the dance of Leela with her friends. This representation is more refined than the other tombs in the district. On either side of the male figure in the centre, which has ‘murli’ hung around his neck, are shown two female figures. Above the panel is depiction of a pair of peacocks holding snakes in their beaks. The dancing of Leela is also found depicted in the tombs of Daud Khan and Sewa Khan.

Suhni is shown churning milk in the tomb of Ghazi Khan

The second panel shows two men in a discussion sitting on a cot, with the third man entertaining them by playing the surando or danburo. This is a visualization of the story of Sayf-al-Muluk wa Badhi-al-Jamal, which traveled to Sindh from Egypt through the Arabic and Persian literatures. According to the legend, Sayf-al-Muluk was the son of a king in Egypt who falls in love with Badhi-al-Jamal, a fairy, after seeing her picture. Many obstacles have to be overcome before he finally succeeds in marrying her. The story has been variously told and drawn from the Arabian Nights in Persian adaptation.

The similar depiction of two musicians playing surando and entertaining the local chief can also be seen in one of the tombs at Rankun, the necropolis of the Mirzani Chandias. The northern wall of Ghazi Khan’s tomb depicts a hunting scene and the folktale of Suhni-Mehar with Mehar depicted playing a flute and waiting for his beloved Suhni. There is also, in the tomb, a picture of two jogis charming snakes. Similar paintings are also found in the tombs of Daud Khan and Sewa Khan.

In the tombs of the Husnani Chandia tribe is also depicted a battle which was fought between the two Baloch tribes - Rinds and Lasharis. The chiefs of both the tribes Mir Chakar Khan Rind and Mir Gohram Khan Lashari are represented fighting a duo in the Chandia tombs. The most refined representation is painted in the tomb of Ghazi Khan Husnani Chandio.

The great perfection and elaboration that one sees at both the Dau-ja-Quba and the Rankun sites suggest that the work could only have been done with the aid of fully trained craftsmen, drawn from the most accomplished workshops of Sindh.

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

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