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Art, history and tombs

November 17, 2012


The British defeated the Talpurs of Sindh to establish their rule in the region. History tells us that the Talpurs fought valiantly against the invaders and did not concede or give away an inch of their land without putting up a great fight. Even the power and might of the British army had to acknowledge the valour and dignity with which the Talpurs resisted their attackers. It was in the former half of the 19th century that Sindh was conquered by the British.

Hyderabad was the seat of power at the time. The city had the grandeur that befitted its socio-political status. The architecture that came into prominence in those days reflected, as it should have, the refined taste of Talpur dynasty. It is believed that Talpur rule in Sindh lasted for 59 years (1784 to 1843). The first Talpur who wrested power from the preceding Kalhora dynasty was Mir Fateh Ali Khan. According to one account, in order to make the family’s rule hassle-free he and his think-tank decided to divide Sindh into three districts, namely Hyderabad, Khairpur and Mirpurkhas. Fateh Ali worked alongside his brothers Mir Karam Ali Khan, Mir Ghulam Ali Khan and Mir Murad Ali Khan as effective rulers of the region and were known as chaar yaar (four friends), which was why their government was called chauyari. While different individuals held sway in different parts of Sindh, it is said the real power rested with the chauyari in Hyderabad.

Not an awful lot has been written about the tombs of the Talpurs in the city. Some suggest the family used to design their burial places in their lifetime. Their refined taste in art and architecture is known to all and sundry. They had a vast collection of books and paintings and the city was dotted with libraries (no traces of the latter can be found in present-day Hyderabad). This is evident from their tombs which are located in one of Hyderabad’s densely populated localities. Let’s look in on them.

These tombs cover a reasonably big area and are nowadays marked by a rope indicating it’s no ordinary site. Locals say two sets of tombs exist. One is looked after by the provincial government and the other by the Talpur family. It’s time to visit the former.

An understatement: the cluster of tombs is a sight to behold. In 2012 not a great many lovers of art, history or architecture visit them. It’s a pity, for the simple reasons that not only are they artistically mind-blowing they also whisperingly confide in you what’s been causing them distress. It does not necessarily have to be about the political side to their existence. They can tell you about the kind of creativity and artistic diligence that went into their construction much of which is now being taken for granted. And you will nod in the affirmative.Some of the tombs or pavilions that cover them are not in a state that can warm your heart. Wear and tear has marred their magnificence. Tiles on the outer walls of a few of them have disappeared. Still, my word, once you get close to any of them, the artistry employed in their construction will make you forget everything else.

Take for example the tomb of Mir Mohammad Khan Talpur, one of the better maintained sites. Do not take this as a clichéd compliment, the fact is: it is a work of art. The marble used on the grave still dazzles the eye and must have been polished to a high shine when the site was built. The green, blue and brown floral patterns on the walls are delectable and speak volumes for the talent of individuals who drew it.

The pattern repeats more or less in the same way in the rest of the tombs, such as Mir Ghulam Hasan Khan Talpur’s, with varying degrees of maintenance. A woman’s grave is nearby. The jali on her grave is broken. The graves of the women need to be looked at. They might require restoration.

A young man Mohammad Aslam looks after this group of tombs. He knows their worth but can’t help what happens around them. “In the summer charsi mawali (drug addicts, vagabonds) come here. They cause quite a bit of damage to these tombs and sometimes steal objects from them.”

If it’s true, it is indeed worrisome.

Let’s discuss something that got this writer excited. Visiting Mir Ghulam Hasan Khan Talpur’s tomb provides the viewer with a clear-as-day picture of the quality of fine art that is integral to the tombs. It is not confined to the grave alone. The reference is to the three niches — right, left and one facing the entrance — that surround the gravesite. The paintings (let’s call them paintings for they are nothing less) drawn in the middle of the niches’ walls are breathtaking. The imagery used in them is religious. But it is the finesse with which they were made that baffles the mind… in a good way. This writer feels that if interpreted or properly researched these images can tell us quite a bit about the artists who worked for the Talpurs as well as about their other works. The lightness of colours and the firmness of lines are astounding, so much so that the refined state art overshadows the symbolism for which it’s employed.

Tailpiece: Today, Hyderabad is mired in many an issue, one of which is violence. The feeling is that if the Talpur tombs can be restored to a great extent, if not in entirety, the ambience that they exude might help things to cool down a notch. For funerary art represents nothing but peace.