Historic Thor Kot Mosque

Historic Thor Kot Mosque
Like various other valleys in the Diamer district, Thor valley is also famous for many heritage sites, prominent amongst these include rock art sites and wooden monuments. The Thor rivulet, which originates from Babusar pass, runs into the Indus River. There is a large concentration of rock carvings near the confluence of Thor rivulet with the Indus river. These rock carvings were studied by both Pakistani and German scholars. One of the most interesting studies was done by German anthropologist Professor Karl Jettmar (d. 2002) Based on his extensive survey and documentation in the Upper Indus valley and beyond, he wrote several articles on the history, culture and heritage of the region. Several volumes of books on the rock art of Upper Indus valleys were also written under his supervision and that of Harald Hauptmann  (d.2018). In one of his articles “Iranian Motives and Symbols as Petroglyphs in the Indus Valley,” Professor Karl Jettmar discussed some of the rock carvings at Thor North which have a possible Iranian connection. He discussed a religious monument and a heraldic sign at Thor North, locally called Khalat Das.

Thor valley

According to Professor Karl Jettmar, the religious monument is a shrine with a worshipper kneeling next to it. A worshipper holds a fork-shaped implement in his hand. Another important sign on a rock near Thor North rock art site is a whirl of three hooks which Professor Karl Jettmar believes was used as a heraldic sign in Sogdiana. The rock carvings of Thor North were also well researched by Pakistani scholars. Professor Ahmad Hassan Dani (d. 2009) surveyed and wrote the book Human Records on Karakorum Highway in which he also mentioned Thor rock carvings. There are two main rock art sites near Thor rivulet namely Thor North and Helor Das. Both are well studied by Dr. Muhammad Nasim Khan, a leading archaeologist in Pakistan. Earlier both were researched by Professor Karl Jettmar and Volker Thewalt.

Professor Dr. Muhammad Nasim Khan has written three articles on both sites. According to him more than 2,000 drawings and 350 inscriptions have been discovered only at the Thor North rock art site, where one finds more than 250 engraved stones. One of his most interesting articles is “Iranian Symbols in the Rock Carvings of the Upper Indus Valley” - which I believe to be an invaluable resource for young scholars, which could encourage them to further investigate the corpus of data provided by the author in his article.

Decorative slender pillars of Thor Kot mosque

Apart from rock carvings, there are many wooden monuments in Thor valley which include watchtowers, Dams (stores), grave coffins and mosques.  Despite the renovation and rebuilding of several historic mosques in the various valleys of the Diamer district, quite a few have retained their originality. One such historic mosque is located in Thor valley. It must be noted that Thor valley is located about 28 km from Chilas town. The principal villages in Thor valley include Miniar, Thorli Das, Shetan, Fitot, Baro Gah and Makheli. Shin, Yeshkun, Kamin, Gujjar are the main castes in Thor valley.

A decorative door in Thor Kot mosque

The first village that one comes across on the way to the Jami mosque Kot is Miniar, which is a beautiful settlement overlooking the Thor river. The Jami mosque is built on a hill. It is believed that the mosque was built about two centuries ago. This is the earliest mosque in the valley and is a symbol of identity for the Thor valley in the entire Diamer district. The mosque is famous for its distinctive decorative motifs which represent the ancient cosmology of the community in the valley.

Dam or wooden store in Miniar village, Thor valley

There are two doorways to the mosque. One is from the south and another from the west. The western entrance directly opens to the main prayer chamber of the mosque whereas the southern doorway leads to the covered verandah. Both are ornately carved doorways. The western doorway is decorated with floral designs. This door is unique in the terms of decoration. It only depicts plants and flowers. One does not find such decoration on any other doorway in the whole Diamer or Indus-Kohistan districts. Adjacent to the northern doorways is a square pillar. The western face of the pillar depicts a variety of floral motifs. One can also see such square pillars adjoined with doorways to several mosques in Darel and Tangir. The best specimens can be seen in Gayal, Birkot, Manikyala Bala and Khamikot mosques in Darel and Tangir valleys respectively. Square pillars are found at both corners of the verandah of Thor Kot mosque. Generally, square pillars are located at the corner of the verandah. Both the northern and southern square corner pillars of the verandah of Thor Kot mosque depict a variety of floral designs.

Complex motif on a pillar of Thor Kot mosque

The roof of the central verandah rests on thick and slender pillars. The verandah front is supported by eight pillars. These slender pillars, which are without capitals depict a variety of complex motifs. The most interesting signs on two of the pillars are the stylized representations of S which look more like heads of some sacred birds. Another pillar shows a carving of an animal head. These motifs are absent from the decoration scheme in the mosques which were built in the same period in Diamer as well as Indus-Kohistan. However, the Seo mosque which was built earlier than Thor Kot mosque depicts a few figural motifs. The motifs in Thor Kot mosque are highly complex and may represent the pre-Islamic cosmology of the community. Moreover, these motifs may also represent the dominant symbols of Dardic communities in the pre-Islamic era. I have seen similar signs on the pillars of Jastak Hans in Kalash valley in Chitral.

S-shaped motif on a pillar in Thor Kot mosque

The pillars in the centre of the verandah also depict interesting motifs. There is a depiction of a comb on one of the capitals of pillars in the verandah. This bracket capital also depicts rosettes and lotus designs. The sun motifs are also carved on the capital and shaft of the pillar. The solar motif is found on three pillars in the verandah. It is also carved on the verandah ceiling. The solar motif was carved in several mosques in Kohistan and Darel and Tangir. But Thor Kot mosque has more representations of sun motifs than in any single mosque in the entire district of Diamer. Some pillars also show a series of dot motif or tooth designs. There are three rows of tooth motifs on a pillar in the verandah. The most impressive tooth motif interlocked with a cross is carved on a pillar on the eastern side of the verandah. This square pillar is highly carved and depicts a series of crosses, concentric circles and sunflowers. This pillar has capital with a single volute on either side. Tooth designs are also found on the pillars in the main prayer hall of the mosque.

Apart from concentric circles, tooth motifs, sunflowers and lotuses, one also sees a stylized S sign on a pillar in the north and close to the wall of the verandah. A pair of stylized S signs are carved on all faces of the pillar. The S-shaped sign is a peculiarity of this mosque and it is not found elsewhere in Gilgit-Baltistan. However, they are found on two pillars of the Seo mosque in Indus-Kohistan. This pillar in Thor Kot mosque has stylized double voluted capitals which are locally called sheng. Almost similar but more stylized voluted bracket capitals are seen in the nearby pillar in the verandah. The voluted capital of this pillar depicts a variety of floral and geometric designs.

A doorway from the verandah opens to the main prayer hall of the mosque. The flat roof of the prayer hall rests on square thick and slender pillars.  These pillars appear older than those in the verandah. There are also decorations on the pillars in the prayer hall. Tooth and cross motifs are mainly found on the pillars in the prayer hall. On one of the pillars are carved two square holes.

This mosque also underwent some changes. There used to be a hujra with a fireplace in the northeast of the verandah, the walls of which were removed during renovation. The decorative pillars still stand. The mosque was renovated in 1937. Hazrat Wali, an eminent mason of Kiyal valley in Indus-Kohistan, whose name is engraved on the western door of the mosque, renovated the mosque in that year. Kohistani craftsmen were famous for woodcarvings in the entire region of Yaghistan (“Region of Rebels,” or “Free, Unruly Country”) in the colonial period. One of the doors in the mosque bears also a carved handprint with the engraved name of Thor valley.

Normally, an ablution area is found inside the mosque. But the the ablution area of Thor Kot mosque is located outside the mosque, southward. The roof of the ablution area rests on slender and undecorated pillars.

Stores, locally called dams, are made of wood. These dams are mainly used to store fruits, vegetables and also meat in the winter. Some spacious wooden stores are also used for sleeping. In the past, these dams were also noted for intricate wood carvings. Nowadays, the tradition of building wooden stores is dying out in the valley. Likewise, erecting Gharis or watchtowers has also not persisted.

Like dams and Gharis, wooden coffins are also found in the various villages in Thor valley. Most of these wooden coffins are simply made. They are not as decorative as those found in the neighbouring valleys of Harban and Sazin in Upper Kohistan district and Darel and Tangir in Diamer district.

The author is an anthropologist. He may be contacted at zulfi04@hotmail. com. Excerpts have been taken from the author’s forthcoming book “Cultural Heritage Along the Silk Road in Pakistan”. All photos by the author

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