Philosophy

I believe that Indigenous Architecture is one of the most power full methods of learning the native history. Unfortunately, modern education related to building environment in our country has slimmed down the marks of native history that born from the Architectural construction over the centuries. The prevailing setup has collapsed our local history. The worst irony is that with the new building technology; traditional craftsmen are badly crushed that supposed to maintain the history through sustainable traditional ways of building.

It results not only the death of professional trade man but it has also increased the poverty among the inhabitants. Our own building technology has become strange for us with the pretext of technology and ever-increasing western influence. The indigenous building materials and building construction techniques were not only human friendly but they were also cheap, easy and workable. The local labor and resources were involved. With the impact and practice of modern material several issues have got birth. The strange materials made by factories are not only expensive but unfamiliar to existing laborer working in this field. It is believed that the indigenous architecture of country especially Sindh needs especial care in order to save its message and role in the built environment and native history. However, keeping in view Sindh, Pakistan’s Province, we can discuss its prominent feature of Sufism inside Architecture of Sindh. I would like to present some of the well-known architectural landmarks depicting Sufism therein.

Commonalties among Sufism

Following commonalties are found in the characters of Sufis:

SIMPLICITY ways of living and inspiration
ADAPTABILITY within limitations and constraints
PARTICIPATION to generate a lot from minimum resources
COOPERATION Collective efforts to survive
HUMILITY contentedness with life
DEVOTION gratefulness to the unknown who has provided us all around
STABILITY through minimum aspiration
SECURITY through a sense of tolerance, brotherhood and self-reliance

 

Simplicity, adaptability, participation, continuity, equality and the sense of stability constitute the cannons of architecture. These cannons were interpreted in terms of building design and forms, and gave rise to the unique architectural expression which makes us known about Sufism in architecture. However, through deep study of the subject one can easily infer a considerable correlation between Sufism and Architecture of Sindh.

CORRELATION BETWEEN SUFISM AND ARCHITECTURE OF SINDH

Following are the salient features which correlate Sufism and Architecture of Sindh.

  • Simplicity of form
  • Repetition in Geometrical Patterns
  • Sense of space
  • Continuity of tradition
  • Special and aesthetical balance
  • Social and environmental balance
  • Preservation of Culture and growth of unity, faith and discipline and love of humanity
  • Exhibits a multiplicity of mean and the most divergent a multiplicity unity “Tauhid”

At the outset before shading light on the topic, it maybe elaborated that the Sufism in the Architecture of Sindh had been flourished during the medieval period. It derived its inspiration right from the art traditions of adjoining states like Iran, Rajasthan, Gujrat in India. Here in Sindh the main cultural and political center possessing such monumental buildings are Thatta, Sukkur, Bhakkar, Sehwan and Hyderabad. The ancient city of Thatta served as a metropolis of the Southern Sindh becomes famous for its architectural accomplishment. Of which Shah Jehan Masjid plays very important role. The history of the city goes back to the 14th century during the days of Moghul supremacy and later several monumental buildings were built here in the shape of Masjids, mausoleums, Madrasas etc. The great and vast-necropolis situated on the neighboring hills is of particular interest as it possesses some finest monuments of Sufism in the architecture of Sindh-mausoleums and Masjid, ornately carved individual graves, Musallahs, Chhatris and pavilions. The brick monuments of Sindh architecture and faced with terracotta glazed tiles and have stone foundations up to the plinth level. The superstructure possesses plain or enamel-faced bricks used alternately with pleasing effect. The white lines visible in between the glazed and plain bricks are only imitation joints of white enamel, created on the edge of the bricks. The glazed tiles, square or rectangular in shape and size have been painted in white and blue, Yellow has also been used through occasionally. At places, such as on the spandrels of the arches, a continuous design of decoration covers several square yards of surface. The tiles are cut in different shapes and sizes to correspond with the detail of the design and then put together to complete the pattern-arabesque, geometrical or epigraphically.

In fact the Sufism in Architecture of Sindh demonstrates a considerable influence on it. The Mimars (architects) and Karighar (craftsmen) of the Islamic world were basically Sufis, having a great knowledge of philosophy, sciences, Geometry, Mathematics and Astronomy simultaneously. The knowledge acquired by them gave a wider meaning to Islamic concept of Tawheed (divine unity) and essential of both, of apparent and hidden reality and of man’s quest and goal. They symbolized their intellect, geometrical shapes and forms, numbers, orders and color in their art and architecture. This was the great contribution of Sufism which gave a dimensional symbolism that may be called as Sufis symbolism.

However, the monuments commissioned in the aforesaid cities of Sindh exhibit the depth of such influence taught by Sufis over there remarkable architectural structure.  Here are the basic characteristics that have been derived from the construction of such buildings:

Basic Physical characteristics

  • Unity and Continuity of Spaces
  • Symmetry and Centrality
  • Proportion of Building Mass

Decorations

  • Terra Cotta
  • Stucco
  • Brick and Stone
  • Color
  • Water
  • Light

Surface Decoration

  • Forms
  • Geometric Patterns
  • Arabesque Patterns
  • Calligraphy
  • Kashigiri

Basic Forms and Structural Elements

  • Arches
  • Muqarnas
  • Porch
  • Gateway
  • Dome
  • Minerate
  • Garden

 Dabgaran Masjid

One of the superb examples of such landmarks building is the Dabgaran Masjid at Thatta. It was built in 997/1588 by a local governor named Khusrau Khan Charkas, a descendant of Changez Khan who lived during the days of the Tarkhan rule. The brick structure now in a badly ruined condition has an oblong prayer chamber, divided into three compartments with three arched entrances on the east and crowned with squat domes. The interior faience and mosaic faience revetment indicates a definite and unmistakable evidence of pure and perfect influence of the Iranian art-traditions, while the carved stone facing of the Mehrab is a masterpiece of the art practiced locally. The Dabgaran Masjid at its prime served as the main congregational place of the city of Thatta. It possessed characteristic features of the architecture and architectural decoration used in the historic buildings at Thatta and Makli Hill. Unfortunately most of the grandeur of it has gone now. The entrance gateway and the cloisters which must have been grand and impressive have fallen and disappeared. The most outstanding feature of its decoration is the faience and faience-mosaics with which the interior of the prayer chamber is replete. Similarly, the exquisitely carved stone Mehrab is the most beautiful specimen of the art of stone carving.

Dabgaran Masjid
Dabgaran Masjid

The courtyard of the Masjid, a rectangle measuring 96ft. 7 in length and 61 in, in width, and the prayer chamber are now enclosed with a modern brick-wall with a five feet broad opening in the center on the east for entrance. The courtyard has lost its original brick pavement, while the surrounding area, especially towards the east, outside the boundary wall, is filled with jungle growth. The one aisle-prayer chamber is to a great extent intact, it is an oblong structure measuring, internally 82 ft. 11 in. from south to north and 38 ft. 4-1/2 in, from east to west.

SHAH JAHAN MASJID

It was built in the reign of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, in 1647 and is located in Thatta, Sindh. The Masjid, a heavy brick structure of simple construction built upon a stone plinth, with heavy square pillars and massive walls, is centered on a courtyard 169′ X 97′. The prayer chamber is of a similar size. Both are covered by large domes. On the north and south two aisled galleries open by means of arcades onto the courtyard. Ninety three domes cover the entire structure, and are probably the cause of a remarkable echo, which enables the prayers in front of the Mihrab to be heard in any part of the building.

Shah Jahan Mosque in Thatta Pakistan
Shah Jahan Mosque in Thatta Pakistan

The Masjid contains the most elaborate display of tile-work in the Indo-Pakistan sub-continent.  The two main chambers, in particular, are entirely covered with them. Their domes have been exquisitely laid with a mosaic of radiating blue and white tiles. Stylish floral patterns, akin the seventeenth century Kashi work of Iran, decorate the spandrels of the main arches and elsewhere geometrical designs on square tiles are disposed in a series of panels.

There is a lot of use of red bricks with blue colored glaze tiles probably imported from another Sindh’s town of Hala. The Masjid has overall 100 domes and is one the few Masjids having such number of domes. It has been built keeping acoustics in mind. A person speaking inside one end of the dome can be heard at the other end.

Minar-e-Masoomi (Masoom Shah Jo Minaro)

The architecture of this tower is probably ungainly but there are few details that make it unique in Pakistan. The number 84 is significant with the architecture here as the tower is 84 ft (26 meters) high. One source claims the height of the Minar as 31 meter. The number of steps to reach the top of the tower is 84. The circumference of the base of tower is also 84 feet.

The tower’s historical significance arises from the fact that it was built in 1605-1610 AD. In one of the references I read, the year of completion for the tower is given as 1607 A.D. Even with going with the conservative estimate of 1610 AD means the next year Tower of Masoom will complete 400 years of it existence.

 

Minar-e-Masoomi
Minar-e-Masoomi

It was built by Masoom Shah of Bukkur (an island on River Indus between Sukkur and Rohri). Masoom Shah was the Governor of the area in times of Mughal Emperor Akbar. The tower was built with the purpose of keeping a watch on the area.

On top of the tower is an observation balcony. Tower is a pavilion made of sandstone which has graves of Masoom Shah and his family. The sarcophagi are carved in the tradition of the Chaukundi tombs (near Thatta, Sindh).

“The most conspicuous feature in the landscape is the tall Minar of Mir Ma’sum…Its Dropsically proportions, and uncertain undulating outline suggest putty or dough as the material of its construction rather than brick and mortar. Its lantern top, surrounded with an iron cage, make it look more like an antiquated lighthouse perambulating through the country…It rises to a height of about a hundred feet, is eighty-four feet in circumference at the base, and is somewhat out of the perpendicular…Under the shadow of the Minar rest the remains of Mir Muhammad Ma’sum Shah, his father, and other members of his family, the Ma’sumi Sayyids. Over the graves are open canopies supported on square, flat and octagonal stone pillars whose shafts are covered with Persian writing in relief and other ornamental tracery…Between Mir Ma’sum’s grave and the base of the minaret is a domed octagonal building, apparently intended as a rest-house, which was built in A.H. 1004. It has four arched entrances, those on the east and west having a cut-stone ornamental balconied window above each of them. It is built of brick and is decorated with colored tiles.”

CONCLUSION

To conclude this maybe asserted that despite its extraordinary richness, the doctrines of Sufis in Architecture of Sindh has rarely been studied for its conceptual and symbolic significance. As the Architecture of Sindh is inspired by the Iranian architecture, therefore, in the sense of Unity, a handsomely illustrated volume and the first extended work of its kind as Nader Ardalan and Laleh Bakhtiar examined the architecture of Persia as a manifestation of Islamic Sufis tradition and demonstrate the synthesis of traditional Persian thought and form. The most fundamental principle of Sufism, the inner, esoteric dimension of Islam, is that of unity in multiplicity.

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Written By: Architect Muhammad Aslam,

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