Steeped in tradition

November 25, 2012


Photo by Tahir Jamal

People who want to buy tazias know exactly where to find him in Kharadar because Mukhtar Hussain Lakhnavi has been selling tazias here since 1951. He carves them out of wood, and occasionally uses cardboard.

“The ones made out of cardboard are more popular with my clientele,” he says. A tailor by profession, Hussain begins making tazias soon after Eidul Azha so that he has enough supply to cater to his customers. His structures look simple enough: four cardboard squares glued on top of each other in receding sizes and a pointed dome fastened at the top to give it a semblance of a mosque — which is not necessarily a replica of a shrine. Hussain then pastes the edifice with shining golden and silver paper, and tinsel in red, blue and green cutwork designs serve as decoration.

“I use moulds for every piece that I cut since even a little miscalculation could disbalance the entire structure,” he says, pointing towards his creations in sizes as small as one foot, to as high as four feet. He uses a special glue which is a combination of flour, liquid glue and copper sulphate, which is a mild poison and protects the tazia from being eaten by rats.

Hussain’s clientele is pretty regular, since most people submerge the tazia later, and need new ones almost every Muharram.

Across the city in North Karachi, a craftsman is busy giving final touches to a replica (shabih) of Imam Hussain's shrine. Carved out of German silver and brass, this masterpiece speaks volumes of the glory of the original as craftsmen take pains to add as many details as possible to this three-by-four-foot miniature model.

“The entire structure is hand-crafted,” claims Umair Homaey to whose shop the replica was brought to later in Soldier Bazaar. Shias mostly refer to tazias as shabih (replica), roza (shrine) or zareeh, since in most cases they are miniature copies of the shrines of the Holy Imams. And it's no easy task. Every shrine is designed differently, hence there is no one set of moulds.

“We design the model keeping the original in mind, and mould it accordingly. Some shrines have silver domes others are made of solid gold. Similarly, the minarets are positioned differently,” explains Homaey, “Sheets of the required material are shaped according to the design by hand and every part of the replica is carved with care and attention — the filigree and intricate calligraphy demands expertise. Once completed, it is polished and further propped by electroplating. In the end, the shabih is ‘lacquer painted’ for the shiny, glossy look and to protect it from rusting.”

The tazias brought out by sunni Barelvis are just as easy to discern and no less glamorous, courtesy their elaborate design and gilded finish. A tradition steeped in history, tazia makers over the centuries have borrowed designs from various cultures. Generally, wood, lead, brass and copper are used in its creation and there's no particular size that one adheres to. They are either octagonal or square in shape; the skeleton carved out of wood. The base, called takht (a hollowed cubic structure), is placed on a charpoy. It serves as a foundation for further storeys which add height to the tazia; a number of mehrabs (concave arches) complement its beauty. On top of that, palki (palanquin), saiwan (canopy), dome and chand-tara (moon and star) complete the picture.

Traditionally four colours — black, red, green and gold — are preferred, but at the same time, artists like to use flamboyant, striking colours, which, with gold and silver gilding only add to the tazia's grandeur.