TOMBS are the memoirs of Time. Take the majestic Kalhoro mausoleum in Hyderabad. The boundary walls of red brick signify a fort; they tell tales of war, not death. After all, the most renowned Kalhoro ruler, Mian Ghulam Shah Kalhoro, who fought against the Marathas in the third Battle of Panipat among many others, lies here.
The iron gate leads into a circular forecourt; to its left is a short corridor with recessed alcoves on either side, and above their trellises traces of floral filigree grow dimmer beneath mouldy domes. It opens into a sizeable, sparse graveyard with the ruler’s imposing burial chamber in the centre on a high platform. The structure is covered with blue, red and white kashi tile-work, interspersed with arched panels and faint text or calligraphy.
According to the records of legendary scholar Dr N.A. Baloch, “All inner arches of the tomb are decorated in indigo and in geometrical designs. The arch of the centre is pentagonal to form the shape of a star in green, maroon, yellow and indigo. … Mian Ghulam Shah Kalhoro was a saintly ruler and after his death in 1772, his son Mian Sarfaraz Shah made a fort-style wall around his tomb, in accordance with his father’s wishes.”
At present, the Endowment Fund Trust for Preservation of the Heritage of Sindh (EFT) is hard at work to keep the intricate detailing as close to the original as possible.
Zulfikar Kalhoro, prominent anthropologist and writer, maintains that the restoration is superior to most efforts elsewhere.
“The tiles are particularly amazing because this clay is not available, and gathering the few artisans left of this craft is a tall order so it is taking time. However, it remains commendable,” he says.
But the air inside the chamber is heavy and musty, with potent incense mingling with fragrant oil, rose petals and human breath. However, it has known glory as the walls still speak of gilded workmanship in the residues of frescoes, filigree, tiles and paintings.
The regal sepulchre in the centre is nothing short of a masterstroke — a white, exquisitely carved alabaster stage with extended thick pillars on all corners. The grave is covered with flowers and chaddars; miniature cradles hold booklets of scriptures with red and saffron threads of wish lists.
The sovereign’s grandson is encased in a small, unmarked marble grave behind the centrepiece.
Rock vaults are scattered in the outer courtyard — a string of commanding stone structures appears on the ground level in elaborate masonry reminiscent of Makli with a white tajjar (chamber of female graves) where Kalhoro’s three wives and daughter are buried. Only women are permitted inside.
“Many major mosques in Hyderabad and Tando Allahyar have been named after the daughter, Mai Sherbano,” says Zulfikar Kalhoro.
Further away in Hirabad, a tight alley opens into a cul de sac of homes and enclosed clusters of Talpur memorials on either side. The wooden door on the left houses a stately cenotaph in blue and white tiles from Hala and Matiari. It entombs Mir Karam Ali Khan Talpur, buried in 1828. The tajjars of his wives stand behind him; he is flanked by two smaller rulers and all the others are relatives and wazirs.
The ancient layout of these grounds and the interiors are almost identical to the Kalhoros’, but it is tighter and more populated, with endearing touches such as a marble pond, slender wooden doors, small verandas, and brick steps at doorways.
This side has been handed over to the descendants now that the EFT has completed its immaculate renovation.
On the opposite side are grand ruins of the same dynasty, which predictably, and according to the residents, come within the ambit of the Sindh archaeology department. These are fewer, with four or five graves in a chamber; their domes are wider with a shikhara-like feature in the centre, perhaps harking back to the inclusive age of their reign.
A lamentable constant is the absence of any contribution from the tourism department, such as signposts to mark prominent structures, historical details of the dynasties and their monuments, and boards that point to the many antiquities in Hyderabad.
Such flawless endeavours and heritage will only know the silence of the grave if life and knowledge are not brought to them.
As the sun dies, these glisten in amber shadows — epitaphs of an era when people knew how to live forever.
The writer is a journalist and an author
Twitter @Reema Abbasi
Published in Dawn, April 29th, 2016