All is not lost for the historic tombs of Chawkandi


The first national conference on Chawkandi tombs was held on Saturday by the Sindh Culture Department at the Chawkandi graveyard located 29 kilometres east of Karachi on the National Highway 5.
A national level dialogue on one of Sindh’s most beautiful heritage sites in the metropolitan that has great architectural and archaeological significance raises hope for its protection and preservation by public authorities, particularly the provincial culture department and the city’s civil administration.
Sindh Culture Minister Sassui Palijo and Sindh Culture Secretary Abdul Aziz Uqaili were joined by leading archaeologists, historians and local communities at the site, which was aesthetically decorated.
The conference venue was elegant and the monuments were lit up to present a fascinating and enthralling view in the backdrop.
Sindh Zakat & Ushr Minister Sajid Jokhio and Sindh Auqaf Minister Rafique Banbhan were the chief guests, whereas the culture minister chaired the symposium.
During the conference, experts highlighted the history of the Chawkandi tombs and said these graves were built between the 15th and 18th centuries, and the architectural techniques and designs were unique to the Islamic world of the time.
Members of the Jokhio, Burfat, Kalmati and other Baloch tribes are buried in these intricately carved graves constructed from beautiful yellow stone taken from Thatta’s Jungshahi.
Shah Latif, the great Sindhi poet and saint of international repute, eulogised the tales of these tribes’ bravery in his poetry.
Dr Kaleemullah Lashari, an archaeologist, historian and career civil servant who authored ‘A Study of the Stone Carved Graves’, identified “atmospheric degradation, rapid industrialisation in the vicinity and mushroom growth of development activity around the graveyard” as the major factors responsible for the decay and degradation of the site.
State Bank Museum Director Dr Asma Ibrahim, a leading archaeologist, acclaimed the efforts of Palijo and her department for arranging such an important conference on Chawkandi.
Ibrahim said Palijo was the first minister to officially visit the site and launch this campaign to restore the tombs.
Punjab University Archaeology Department Chairman Dr Farzand Masih related these tombs with the monuments found in Balochistan and other parts of Sindh.
Masih gave a pictorial presentation in which he compared the grave carvings with those found in the Buddhist era in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Peshawar Institute of Archaeology & Anthropology Director Prof Naseem Khan acclaimed the richness of the architectural beauty in Chawkandi, compared to those found in upcountry, and highlighted the decorative elements of the graves.
Quetta Archaeology Department Director Noor Khan spoke on ‘Balochistan Graveyards Contemporary to Chawkandi’ and mentioned similarities in the graveyards in Hub, Gadani, Lasbela and Gwadar with Chawkandi.
Pakistan Institute of Development Economics Research Anthropologist Zulfiqar Kalhoro focused on the “canopy of Jam Mureed”, which he called “a symbol of tribal power”.
The conference was unique in its wide variety of participation, as it was an ideal combination of politicians, technocrats, professionals, bureaucrats and local population.
The experts, archaeologists and historians from all over the country and leading intellectuals, scholars, writers and poets of the province, besides other dignitaries from Karachi participated.
The local communities also thronged in huge numbers along with their elders, including Jam Abdul Karim Bijar Jokhio, Sardar Luqman Khan Malkani, Sardar Ghulam Qadir Kalmati and Haji Shafi Mohammad Jamote.
Palijo said the culture department is cognisant of its responsibilities and has accorded the highest priority to the protection and preservation of the cultural heritage and archaeological sites of the province, which had been devolved to them only a few months ago after the passage of the 18th amendment.
She categorically refuted the criticism against her department appearing in a section of the media accusing it of chronic neglect and continued apathy.
The minister asserted that 64 years’ lethargy on the part of the federal bureaucracy cannot be attributed to the provincial government, which has become responsible for these sites only a few months ago.
She said all the important archaeological sites have remained the focus of her department’s attention in these few months, and the work on various development schemes of archaeology has been completed.
The major schemes to be taken up in next year’s Annual Development Programme include preservation and protection of archaeological sites in Sindh, documentation and preservation of heritage sites in lower Sindh, repair and conservation of rain-affected heritage sites, conservation and preservation of Moenjodaro, etc.
While welcoming the participants earlier, the culture secretary presented the performance of his department related to culture in general in the past four years and in the field of archaeology in particular in the past few months.
Uqaili said immediately after devolution, the department has intensified work on all important archaeological sites, particularly Moenjodaro and Makli Necropolis, being World Heritage Sites of Sindh, along with Bhambore, Chawkandi, Mansoorah and all the forts of the province.
He said two Memorandums of Understanding have been signed with the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organisation and the Heritage Foundation for documentation of the heritage sites and capacity-building of archaeology officials and the locals.
He also said a web of cultural complexes has been laid in almost all important district headquarters across the province, whereby around eight complexes would be ready in a year, whereas another 15 are in the initial stages of development.
He further said the 12 existing public libraries would be increased by another four in the next three months, whereas a development scheme for setting up 24 new libraries throughout Sindh has been approved by the Sindh Planning & Development Department.
Uqaili said an endowment fund has been created for the assistance of ailing and deserving writers, poets and artistes.
Besides, he added, another endowment fund was recently established for conducting research on great poets and saints of Sindh – Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar and Sachal Sarmast.
Regarding publications, he said the department has published over 80 books in the past four years, whereas 40 more are in the pipeline.