parallax background

Space Eight - Craft Traditions of Pakistan

Naqqashi

  • Ustad Abdul Rehman
  • Location: Multan, Punjab

The craft of Naqqashi painting developed in this region in the 16th Century Arghun-Tarkhan period and continued to flourish till the middle of the 19th Century. The technique was employed by kings and heads of state to adorn their monuments. The historic Wazir Khan Mosque, a jewel in the Walled City of Lahore, is one of the best-preserved examples of this intricate craft form. Naqqashi painting has been used in a variety of mediums and scales, from arches, interior domes and wooden pillars to much smaller items including pottery.

Today, carrying the torch for this traditional craft is master craftsman Abdul Rehman from Multan who specialises in painting leather and treated camel skin products. The main tools of the Naqqash are the qalam (brush) made from squirrel’s hair, and rang (colour), traditionally made from crushed natural pigments. The main colours used are zangali (green), shingrifi (red), susani (sky blue), and sufaido (white), while the traditional patterns have preserved over time: gulkari (floral), chitsali (geomentical), mussawari (scenes from nature of life), and khattati (calligraphy).

Jhandri

  • Mohammad Waseem
  • Location: Dera Ismail Khan, KPK

Jhandri or lacquer-work is a craft used to make decorative wooden items in a three-step process. Baahan (poplar) wood is turned on a lathe before applying several layers of lacquer. Floral and geometric patterns are then etched on the lacquered surface, drawing out rich colours varying in intensity depending on the depth of the engraving.

In Dera Ismail Khan, KPK, Mohammad Waseem and his family carry his family’s 400-year tradition with this intricate craft form. Using just two simple tools, the pulkar (compass) and rachi (chisel) with his generational knowledge of the craft, Waseem draws out intricately detailed designs from layers of wood and bond. Jhandri is commonly done on wooden doors, windows, pillars and domes.

Chitarkari

  • Rustam Aurangzeb
  • Location: Haripur, KPK

Against the scenic backdrop of the Gangar mountain range, Chitarkari - the art of engraving on schist stone – can be traced back to the Gandhara period (CE 30 – 400). Traditionally made as gravestones, slabs of schist brought down on mule and donkey back from the quarry in the Gangar Mountains are engraved with geometric and floral patterns along with a wealth of symbols. The kooza (ewer) used for ablution represents a pious person, while the hammer and chisel denote a carpenter. The schist tombstones were made by villagers till recent times. There are surviving craftsmen who are keeping the skill alive, adapting it to the making of household items and wall decorations.

In Haripur, KPK, under the shade of a hundred-year-old tree, Rustam Aurangzeb carves the dark grey schist in his workshop, just like his father before him. With the help of basic hand tools, a phulkari (compass), chisel and hammer, designs are engraved into the stone revealing a lighter shade of grey.

Borendo

  • Allah Jurio
  • Location: Badin, Sindh

Travelling through rural Sindh, the dulcet sounds of the Borendo take you centuries back into history. According to local legend, the Borendo, a vessel flue, originated in the Indus Valley Civilisation (2600 – 1900 BCE) in Mohenjo Daro, Sindh. The Borendo is crafted from a soft alluvial clay - the same material used to make utensils and building bricks across Sindh - so no other instrument is more connected to the soil. Even the name Borendo is inspired from the holes insects make in mud or clay surfaces. Simple in design, the holes that control tonal variation have to be shaped accurately to draw forth its characteristic sweet notes.

Craftsman Allah Jurio is one of the last few makers of the Borendo in South Asia. Using a hand wheel and indigenous techniques, his practice near Badin, Sindh is a testament to the rich, musical history of this land.

Mirror-Making

  • Location: Shikarpur, Sindh

Across this region are mirrored palaces, vestiges of the splendour of Mughal and Sikh rule. Convex mirrors were purpose-made and arranged in a mosaic to adorn every surface of these palaces, creating a dazzling effect of light, reflection and shadow. In Shikarpur, Sindh, a city with a centuries-old history of trade and craftsmanship, the tradition of curved mirror-making continues to this day.

Using only recycled materials, the mirror-making workshop is an open plan space with 40 workers engaged at a time. Due to the heat of the bhatti (furnace) and the arid weather, the dedicated craftsmen work from 5am to 12pm each day. The two main raw materials needed are sheesha (glass) and purano siko (mercury), which are sourced locally from nearby cities – the former is collected from trashed glass bottles and broken mirrors, while the latter is sourced from obsolete batteries. Broken recycled glass is melted in the bhatti for up to 72 hours, and then hand-blown into large spherical tumblers up to 3 feet wide, called golo in the local language. Once the golo is made, melted purano siko is swirled inside the tumbler, creating a mirrored façade.

The most poignant note about this process is how short-lived it is, culminating in the breaking of the laboriously made golos, forming shards of curved mirror that start the process all over again.

Khussa

  • Khan Chand
  • Location: Kandhkot, Sindh

Khussa (slipper) making is a centuries old skill passed down from father to son. In Kandhkot, Sindh, a family of Khussa makers continue to embroider and hand-make leather slippers, adorned with ari (awl) embroidery in vibrant jewel tones. The karhai (embroidery) is done instinctively, without any drawing or outline.

Khussas were originally called ghethlo and are versatile because there is no difference in pattern between the right and left foot, between a masculine or a feminine cut. The shoes can be worn on any foot and mould to the shape of the wearer, making them the ideal comfortable and beautiful shoe of choice for any occasion.

Farasi

  • Hajani Haleem Bibi, Pari Bibi
  • Location: Bagheli Village, Sindh

Bagheli village in Badin district, Sindh is now all that remains of an ancient trade town. Bibi Haleem and Bibi Pari of the Meheri caste work together in a harmonious tryst, weaving rich Farasis (rugs) while sitting cross legged on the charpai (podium).

Creating indelible, timeless patterns, their tribe’s innate knowledge of this craft form has the same design vocabulary irrespective of where they have settled. After the base has been set, the foundations are worked on by threading yarn in deep colours of marron, gold, blue and purple through the weft with their hands. With the help of their only tool, a wooden fork used to compress the coloured yarn, the ladies create row after row of geometric patterns arranged in a spectacular grid.

Ajrak

  • Shafiq Ahmed Soomro
  • Location: Matiari, Sindh

The province of Sindh and its people have deep reverence for their indigenous textile tradition of Ajrak making. From birth, to marriage, until death - Ajrak is used till threadbare, to commemorate all significant events. The timeless motifs in the Ajrak are block-printed using designs that can be traced back to the Indus valley Civilisation (2600 - 1900 BCE) and beyond. The celebrated statue of the King Priest discovered at Mohenjo Daro has a trefoil motif on his draped shawl. This motif bears a striking resemblance to the kakar (cloud pattern) on Ajrak. The trefoil is thought to be composed of three sun discs fused together to represent the inseparable unity of the Gods of Sun, Water and Earth. Ajrak’s traditional blue colour can also be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilisation, where Indigofera Tinctoria, the ancient fabled dye, grew in abundance on the banks of River Indus.

In Matiari, Sindh, along the banks of the Indus, Ajrak production has continued in harmony with the environment. Shafiq Ahmed Soomro and his fellow craftsmen take the textile through the multiple stages of its making. The raw fabric is soaked in the river many times, scoured, steamed, soaked in oil and camel dung, thrashed on stone, mordanted, printed with resist and mud paste and dyed in deep indigo and madder.