KARACHI: Eminent architects Yasmin Cheema, Tanvir Hasan and historian Hasan Ali Khan gave separate presentations on the cultures of Uch Sharif and the Suhrawardi legacy of Multan collectively titled ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ at the Mohatta Palace Museum on Thursday evening.

Tanvir Hasan spoke first. She said largely three buildings would be discussed during the session. “The question is: why should we look after and preserve these buildings? To me, it’s because it gives us a sense of history and adds to our feeling of belonging to the space where we exist. Importance of what we keep is intrinsic to our needs that [now] new cities like Dubai invent historic quarters which it didn’t have before, simply because there’s a need for them. In a country like ours where we already have so many we should look after them a little bit more compassionately.”

She said while Uch would be discussed by the speakers the area that the topic covered largely ranged from Dera Ismail Khan to a bit of Balochistan. “Uch is now a big sprawling city on top of an ancient mound is divided into two Sufi silsilas: the Bukhari and the Gillani. What is special about the buildings in the area? The buildings of Uch are part of a much wider typology, stretches from Multan to Sitpur.”

The architect showed images of the tombs of Shah Rukn-i-Alam and Tahir Nahar in Sitpur. “The buildings of Uch lie chronologically between these two buildings.” Then she mentioned the three structures which were to be highlighted: the tomb of Bibi Jawindi, the tomb of Baha al Halim and the tomb of Ustad.

Yasmin Cheema gave the second presentation of the evening. She talked about the time when she worked in Uch Sharif in the late 1990s. It was in 1998 that her team established an office in the city where it worked focusing on the methodology of conservation. She said the key issues that they faced were: issue of governance, institutional failure, breakdown of municipality management, environmental degradation, encroachments of drain leading to water-logging and urban decay. After giving technical details of the work she did in the region, she spoke about its values, which included place value, historical value, educational value, rarity and global value.

Hasan Ali Khan in his presentation said, “Multan precedes Uch as the centre for the Suhrawardi order at its zenith. Mohammad bin Tughlaq who had the second biggest empire in the subcontinent (ruled between 1325 and 1351) completely suppressed the Suhrawardi order in Multan. So the centre moved from Multan to Uch.”

He said, “In March 2006, with Yasmin Cheema’s help, I was measuring the Bibi Jawindi mound. Her team was with me. We came across a pentagram site plan on the mound. It was slightly crooked. There was one monument missing. The site was cut off due to the 1870s floods. I needed a fifth point. I called Yasmin Cheema [as the other monuments had been identified]. She said yes she could confirm the fifth monument because the floods had cut the site off and they had found debris of a monument so I could work with that assumption. It kick-started the whole thing; we could make sense of the various symbols and diagrams found in Uch and Multan.”

The historian also showed symbols of different religions and later talked about the divine axis as his late architecture school teacher had hypothesised about.

Sindhi Multani kafi recital by Aadu Bhagat was also lined up for the evening.

The presentations were part of the distinguished lecture series commemorating 25 years of the museum.

Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2024

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