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n the Shahdadkot tehsil of Qamber-Shahdadkot in Sindh there are many historic tombs. The most important are those of the Jamalis, who played an important role in the history of Sindh during the rule of the Kalhoras and Talpurs.
The art of painting flourished from the time of the Samma dynasty (1335 – 1550 AD) in Sindh, particularly stone engraving and paintings at Makli, the largest necropolis in the world. During the Kalhora period (1680-1784 AD) both miniature paintings and wall paintings became common. (One finds here a number of portraits of the Kalhora rulers and princes.) Likewise, wall paintings were a distinctive feature of Kalhora art, and mainly depicted folk tales, as well as scenes from rustic life, the world of tribal chiefs and their battles. The Kalhoras are believed to have built many tombs for themselves and their soldiers. The rulers’ tombs have on them floral and geometrical designs, whereas the soldiers’ tombs bear figural representations.
Some celebrated painters of the Kalhora period are Piyaral Mashori, Gul Mohammad Vighio, Qadir Bakhsh Kalhoro, Piyaral Mashori, Imam Bakhsh Mashori, Tooh Mashori and Koral Mashori. They came from Mian Nasir Mohammad Village in Khairpur Nathan Shah and are buried in the necropolis of the same village. The Jamali tombs are famous for these artists’ paintings, which depict the folk romances of Sasui-Punhun, Moomal-Rano, Suhni-Mehar, Leila-Majun and Nuri-Jam Tamachi. These tombs are in Larkana and Qamber-Shahdadkot.
Imam Bakhsh Jamali village is located some 18 km northwest of Shahdadkot. It is named after founder Imam Bakhsh Jamali. It contains some historic tombs that remind visitors of its past glory. Originally there were four tombs, only two of which have survived. The tomb of Imam Bakhsh, after whom the village is named, no longer exits, but the tombs of Sobdar Jamali and Bhai Khan Jamali still dominate the landscape.
Sobdar Khan is believed to have been the chief of his tribe during the Kalhora period. Local accounts report that he also served the Kalhoras during the rule of Ghulam Shah Kalhoro (1757-1772 AD). Shaho Khan, who was the son or descendent of Mir Sobdar Jamali, is believed to have built the tombs. The tomb that is plastered with lime belongs to Mir Sobdar. There are also two other graves here, though not much is known about them.
The tomb of Mir Sobdar is like a museum and is decorated with paintings by Chakar Khan, a renowned mason and artist who lived in Murid Dero in Johi, Dadu. He also painted folk tales inside the tomb.
12 km northwest of Shahdadkot, on the same road to Imam Bakhsh Jamali, is the tomb of Shakal Jamali. You can see it from far away. It is squared and plastered with lime. Local traditions maintain that Shakal Jamali was the head of his village. But another version says that he was a shepherd and built the tomb in his own lifetime. Yet another version holds that he was a very pious man and worshipped in forests and haunted places. His descendants later erected the tomb. From inside it is adorned with paintings.
20 km north of Shahdadkot lies the tomb of Saeed Khan Jamali in a village named after him and locally known as Qubo Saeed Khan. He is believed to have been the disciple of Mian Nasir Muhammad Kalhoro (1657-92 AD). The tomb is very simply built and is decorated with floral paintings. It is believed to have been built by Saeed Khan Jamali himself during his lifetime. He was famous for his generosity in far-flung areas.
About 12 km west of Shahdadkot, on the road leading to Ghari Khairo near the village of Noor Nabi Junejo, is situated the tomb of Rehan Khan Jamali. He was a landlord. This tomb too was built by its occupant during his lifetime. It is a huge building that rests on a square plan. Now it is deserted and attracts only the attention of birds. From a distance it looks like a Kalhora tomb due to its ambulatory gallery. But there aren’t any stairs in it, and that is a defining characteristic of Kalhora mausolea.
Almost all the Jamali tombs depict animal and human figures. Folktale enactments and dancing scenes are their most common features. Some tombs have already decayed; the shepherds who take shelter inside during the harsh summer days have defaced many of the paintings.
The romance of Moomal-Rano is depicted in the tombs of Sobdar Khan, Shakal Khan and Rehan Khan Jamali. In the tomb of Sobdar is a painting of Rano with his two friends, all of them on horseback and going to Kak Mahal, the palace of Moomal, who is sitting inside it with her sisters.
The story of Rai Dyach is also painted in the Jamali tombs. The main characters here are King Rai Dyach himself, Sorath, her maid, and Bijal, a famous bard of Junagarh. (Bijal had promised one Ani Rai to bring him the head of King Dyach.) In the painting Bijal is shown playing his fiddle on the palace stairway, and Rai Dyach is shown presenting his severed head to him. Below are the two women figures of Sorath and her maid, both of whom appear to be mourning the death of the king.
Another panel shows the folk romance of Nuri and Jam Tamachi. Both are shown sitting in a boat. (Nuri belonged to the Mohana fishing tribe and Jam Tamachi was a ruler from the Samma dynasty of Sindh. He fell in love with Nuri during his frequent visits to Kenjhar Lake.)
It is also interesting to see paintings of Laila-Majnu in the Jamali tombs. The romance of Laila-Majnu is not Sindhi. It comes to us from Arabia. However, it captured the imagination of the Sindhi artists who painted the love story in many tombs of upper Sindh. Majnu is seated under tree, while Laila is shown approaching him. A person with an axe is painted to the left of Majnu. This person is perhaps going to cut the tree under which Majnu sits. The tree in turn appears to have bent with the passage of time. This shows that Majnu spent a long time under it waiting for his beloved Laila. (The presence of the man with the axe confirms it, i.e. the tree is so old that it is simply asking to be cut!)
Then there is the story of Suhni and Mehar. It is depicted on the tomb of Sobdar Khan Jamali. Mehar is seated on a cot and talking to Suhni. On either side of the cot are Mehar’s buffaloes. In another image, Sunhi is shown crossing the river to meet her beloved Mehar. One finds Mehar across the river, playing his flute and grazing his buffaloes. Sometimes one also finds in depictions of this story a saintly figure that seems to have engaged in prayers for Suhni’s safe crossing of the river.
Then there is the Sasui-Punhoon story. This too we find in the tombs of Sobdar, Shakal, and Rehan Khan Jamali. The panels show the in-laws of Sasui taking Punhoon on a camel’s back to Keck Makran, his hometown. Sasui is shown following the footprints of the camel to meet her beloved. (In the story a friend tries to dissuade Sasui from treading the difficult path that passes through the looming mountains.)
The depiction of Umar-Marvi is exclusive to Rehan Khan Jamali’s tomb. It shows Marvi with her friend at the well. Umar is forcibly taking Marvi on a camel to his palace in Umarkot. Marvi’s friends are shown beseeching Umar to leave her.
All these paintings seem to have been commissioned by those who are buried inside. That they wanted to be associated in death with popular folk tales of the time is itself quite remarkable, and sheds light on the cultural life of 18th century Sindh.
But this rich and imporant visual heritage is falling to pieces. In order to
save it, the concerned authorities and descendants of the entombed Jamali
dignitaries will have to make a joint effort. Otherwise Sindh will lose yet
another record of its past.
Zulfiqar Ali Kalhoro is a research anthropologist at Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), Islamabad. He may be contacted at