Tazias at the howk Tarkhana, Chiniot. —Photo courtesy author
Tazias at the howk Tarkhana, Chiniot. —Photo courtesy author

With the arrival of Muharram, the unlevelled streets of Chiniot present sombre scenes as the local Shias mourn the death of the Prophet’s (pbuh) grandson.

The Shia community constitute only 28 per cent of population for the district but the reverence spreads farther than the census figures indicate. Chiniot is in fact home to the oldest and finest tazias in Indo-Pak subcontinent. A total of nine tazias are produced at the commencement of the holy month and are eventually assembled at Maidan, the city centre, on the tenth day of Muharram –the Youm-e-Ashur.

Be it the picturesque Florence or alleys of Chiniot, intertwined streets seem to attract creative minds and skilful artisans. Pirjah is one such family of artisans that migrated to Chiniot in the 17th century when Saadullah Khan, a confidante of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan, decided to construct another Badhshahi mosque in the city.

In one of these intertwined lanes, down a beaten track, stands a gate to the workshop of Akhtar Pirjah. The heir apparent to the Pirjah family, Akhtar is a sleek man in his early 50s with a hawkish Janjua nose and signature fingers of artisans and a respected authority on the evolution of tazias. Akhtar’s mastery of woodcraft has its fans spread across the world, from Royal Colleges to art universities.

The first tazia arrived in India with Timur, but the art of tazia-making actually flourished during the Mughal rule when replicas of the shrines were developed for members of the Mughal family, who were unable to visit holy sites.

Tazias, however, took their present form when Akhtar’s great grandfather Ilahi Bux Pirjah created the replicas that are now seen during the month of Muharram.

When an Indian raja commissioned Ilahi Bux to design a palace, he wanted the artisan to travel across India to observe contemporary artwork and building trends. Ilahi Bux began his travels from Rajputana, across the districts of Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner, Barmer and Jaipur.

The extensive journey through the historic cities introduced Ilahi Bux to buildings and palaces bearing exquisite woodwork and carvings (now referred to as manabat kari). These patterns can be seen in Jaipur’s Hawa Mahal, Jodhpur’s Mehran Garh Fort and the Bada Bagh in Jaisalmer.

With the death of the Raja, work on the palace never commenced but Ilahi Bux used these observations and replicated the patterns when he was employed by Sheikh Umar Hayat to design Gulzar Mahal – a Chinioti icon.

Inspired by the multi-storied palaces and facades, imposing staircases, jharoka-laden walls and the fusion of Eastern temple-like structures; Ilahi Bux decided to design the tazia.

The first and the oldest tazia, which now rests in Shadi Malang Imambargah was created in the year 1934. It was a multi-storied structure, with a dome and a crescent atop, was an expensive piece of art. While constructing the upper stories, Ilahi Bux shifted to a place now famous as taal and only saw daylight when the tazia was brought to Maidan.

Being a complex artefact, the tazia is carried out in parts on different dates in the first ten days of Muharram. The takht (base of tazia) is the first piece to be carried out on day one, followed by the palanquin and finally, the jhoola. The tazia is then reconstructed on the tenth day. When completely assembled, the tazia reaches up to 42 feet and weighs one and a half ton. Sixteen men are deployed to lift the enormous artefact

Tazias used in other parts of the country are also manufactured in Chiniot. Among these are the famous tazias of Multan, Jhang and Faisalabad.

Although the art of making tazias has become a commercial profession, a great deal of history remains embedded therein.

The mastery of Ilahi Bux’s craftsmanship was not restricted to tazias alone and he was commissioned with decorating a portion of the Buckingham Palace. His great grandson Akhtar Pirjah, meanwhile, was trusted with constructing the wooden interior of the royal family mansions in Qatar. Global appreciation aside, Akhtar now works with the serenity of knowing he has done justice to preserving the legacy of his family.

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Comments (13)

good2rely
December 8, 2011 4:07 am
The first tazia arrived in India with Timur Was this practice prevalant prior to Taimur any where including Iran Yaman?
edmond
December 8, 2011 8:35 am
I do respect other sects including Shias but some of their events and acts I believe are condemned totally in Islam. Why is the poor decorated horse a symbol of attraction and adulation.
Kazim Abidi
December 8, 2011 12:58 pm
@Edmond: There is no attraction or adulteration for your kind information.This is because we show our love and respect for Hazrat Abbas (a.s),how he fought bravely in Karbala and how his loyal horse "Zuljanah", accompanied him.As,we cannot create the image of Hazrat Abbas as our religion does give us the permission to do so.But, we can decorate the horse and to remember the pain and Martyrdom of Hazrat Abbas (a.s),how he fell from his "HORSE" ... It was not an ordinary horse,it was the horse of Hazrat Abbas (a.s).
wasi
December 8, 2011 1:38 pm
@Kazim, Can these ordinary horses be equivalent to the horse of Hazrat Abbas? What is the difference between decorating horses and tazias by you and decorating idols decorated by Hindus during their cultural processions?
Syed
December 8, 2011 1:47 pm
@Kazim: The horse called 'Zuljinah' is was only for Imam Hussain(a.s). @Edmond: It is not only Islamic as these are referred to in Quran as 'shaair i llah', but also we can see a lot of such replicas during the important season of Hajj. For example stoning the Satan, and not to forget the sacrificial animals. Thanks.
Goga Nalaik
December 8, 2011 2:00 pm
This attitude is really deplorable... Please DO NOT make any conclusions. I'm sure the religion you follow does not give you the right to criticize other religions or sects or whatever. Instead, I invite you to read more about your own religion. I’m sure it will appease your criticism.
Ali
December 8, 2011 2:41 pm
i am pretty sure that this is not allowed in Islam as there is nothing wrong in a symbol of remembrance but people bowing in front of it and kissing it at the same time defying other acts like prayers and modesty hijab e.t.c. Imam Hussain did not give sacrifice so that people make tazia and decorate horses but to reach a level of humility and religion practice so that we may become an example although a ithna ashari my self i denounce these practices as none have been performed by any Imams of ahlulbayt or any mention of current imam performing it.
rehman baba
December 8, 2011 3:27 pm
deleting the comments is extremely unprofessional and against the freedom of speech/expression in a civilized society like ours. i highly condemn this biased attitude!
Tamilselvan
December 8, 2011 4:42 pm
Nice article, learned about the history of Shias. But every year when Shias celebrate Muharram more than 100 people on an average are killed in Pak, Afganistan and Iraq, why? ( Last week incidents are an example).
John
December 8, 2011 6:53 pm
Why Hindus? All religions except islam do that and that injects an element of simplicty in the religion by making people visualize their beliefs in a simple manner.
Oscar
December 9, 2011 6:50 pm
Are you saying Shias follow a religion other than Islam?
Nasim Mirza
December 9, 2011 10:15 pm
I will blame these killings to the aggressive deceptive role of Mullahs who mislead their followers.Today every educated individual like and think about his family and community. However Mullahs like division and refuse to accept a single united Muslim Community. I blame Mullahs for all the killing in Muslim community. their future generation however some of the hard core Mullhs preach killings and present false interpretation of Jihad on both sides
Faisal
December 10, 2011 4:50 am
The only thing I can say is that tazias, decorating horse etc had never been practiced by Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him), Hazrat Imam Hussain (R.A.), Harat Ali (R.A.) or any other companion of the Prophet. Neither are there any mentions of such practices in Quran or Hadith which are the principle source of teachings in Islam.
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