In the second quarter of the nineteenth century, the Sindhi painters began to lose their royal patronage. They started to close their workshops in the urban centres and many moved to rural areas to find new patrons. There were already few famous workshops of painters in rural areas: prominent amongst these was the village of Mian Nasir Muhammad Kalhoro/Garhi and Khudabad workshops. Many painters, who lost their jobs and sought employment at these workshops and other areas, continued to paint the same themes in the tombs in Kachho in Dadu and other regions in western Sindh. But soon they realized that they could not earn a good amount in that profession anymore. Senior and accomplished painters left their profession, which was later taken over by their students but the latter could not produce refined mural paintings. The junior and novice painters had little in the way of innovative techniques and continued to paint the same themes which were introduced by their predecessors and their work lacked charm and appeal to the patrons.
Many castes were known by their profession, for instance those who initially prepared colours were called Raung. Later workers from many castes became skilled colour producers, whether they belonged to the Vighia, Daya or Jokhia, Mashori, Ladhodar or other castes. The colours were made from natural sources: vegetables, minerals and ores etc. In hilly regions, sometimes colours were made near the construction sites. One such colour fire pit, locally called ‘Khuri’ is located near the tomb of Ahadi, 3 km southeast of Chhini in Johi taluka. Similarly, Kamangars were originally associated with the art of painting on the walls (Kamangari), who later become master tomb builders in Sindh.
One finds a few specimens of unskilled works in Kachho region in Dadu and Kamber-Shahdadkot districts in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. About 8 km southeast of Drigh Bala is located the tomb of Gahno Khan Gopang. Drigh Bala was also the home of famous painters and masons who were associated with both Garhi/Mian Nasir Muhammad Kalhoro village and Khudabad painting workshops. When Khudabad painting workshop lost its patronage, many painters and masons moved back to their village Drigh Bala but remained associated with the workshop of Mian Nasir Muhammad Kalhoro’s village. Painters and masons of Drigh Bala, who were mainly from the Vighia and Jokhia castes, were accomplished artists who built many mosques and tombs in Kachho and other regions in Sindh. Gahi Khan, son of Jeevan Khan, was a resident of Drigh Bala. Sindhi inscription on a wall of tomb bears the name, date and amount spent on the construction of the tomb of Gahno Khan Gopang. According to the inscription, Gahi Khan walad (son of) Jeevan Khan built the tomb of Gahno Khan in 1891 and Rs. 300 were spent on its construction. Gahi Khan, the mason as well as painter painted the folk romances and other themes in the tomb. He painted the folk romances of Sasui and Punhun, Suhni and Mehar and Laila and Manjun. Deer- and leopard-hunting scenes were also painted in the tomb. Hunters are shown wielding swords and shields. Some are also depicted holding guns. All these are crude representations. These themes were recurrent in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries but gradually more refined.
Similar simple representations can also be seen in a tomb at Shaheedan jo Muqam in Shahdan village. This village is located about 40 km northwest of Johi town. There are two tombs in the cemetery of martyrs in Shadan village. Both are adorned with paintings. One of the tombs is adorned with figural paintings. It includes the romantic tales of Sasui and Punhun, Suhni and Mehar and Sayf-al- Muluk wa Badi-al-Jamal. Depictions of camels are also found in this tomb. This tomb was probably built in the first quarter of the twentieth century.
The painters of Kachho were not skilled in executing figural painting in colonial and post-colonial Sindh but they displayed great skill in geometric and floral designs. Some of the masons and painters from Jokhia caste of Drigh Bala village were very talented at creating floral and geometric designs in tombs and mosques. Some of celebrated painters and masons Muhammad Siddique, Muhammad Salih and his son Sonharo from Jokhio family built and painted the Mehyon Khan Jamali mosque at Murad Jamali village in 1951. Murad Jamali village is located about 50 km southwest of Johi town. It is a three-domed mosque which is noted in the area for beautiful geometric and floral designs.
The colours were made from natural sources: vegetables, minerals and ores
Likewise, Perwano Phulpoto and Aas Muhammad of Badah town in Larkana district were also celebrated masons and painters who renovated a three-domed mosque at Khuda Bakhsh Wahocho in Warah taluka. The mosque was built during the Kalhora period (1700-1783) and later was renovated by Perwano Phulpoto and Aas Muhammad in 1972. Both the painters painted the interior of the mosque. Perwano Phulpoto was also a master of calligraphic art. The interior of the mosque is adorned with beautiful Arabic calligraphy.
The celebrated painters left their signatures and paraphernalia on the walls of tombs and mosques in Dadu, Larkana and Qambar Shahdadkot districts. Khudabadi inscription was used in tombs of the Kalhora and Talpur periods. The inscriptions bear the names of the painters and other details. Moreover, Persian inscriptions were also used by the folk painters of Sanghar, Dadu, Larkana and Kamber-Shahdadkot districts. In the tomb of Chakar Khan Khuhawar, who was a disciple of Mian Shahal Muhammad Kalhoro (d.1657), there are a good number of Khudabadi and Persian inscriptions – or rather commemorative sentences. There were many tombs and mosques in Larkana, Kamber-Shahdakot, Dadu, Shaheed Benazirabad (formerly Nawabshah) which had such inscriptions but unfortunately these were lost during the frequent renovations.
Interestingly, the painters depicted British soldiers in the romance of Sasui and Punhun in some of the tombs – prominent amongst these were some Jamali tombs in Shahdadkot taluka. One also finds a similar odd representation of the folk romances of Sasui and Punhun and Suhni and Mehar in the tomb of Bakhar Faqir Jamali in Johi taluka. All the depictions of folk romances and other themes are poor renderings by the painter. Hunting and music-making are also found in the tomb of Bakhar Faqir Jamali – scenes which lack attractiveness.
In other districts, the elite patrons hired painters from Hyderabad, Nasarpur, Hala, Multan, Amritsar etc., to paint the tombs of their ancestors. In the tomb of Dodo Bhutto and Illahi Bakhsh Bhutto, one finds the name of Bakhshi Singh painter from Amritsar, Punjab. Likewise, affluent gadi nashins of Kamaro Sharif, Sangharo Sharif and Bukera Sharif in Tando Allahyar district employed artists from Multan to paint the tombs of their ancestors. The paintings in these tombs reflect the quality and skill of the painters, which the artists of Kachho in Dadu district had already lost once they could not muster the support of elite patrons and continued to paint tombs for poor patrons – thus producing amateurish representations on the walls of the tombs.
The writer is an anthropologist. He may be contacted at zulfi04@hotmail. com.
Excerpts have been taken from the author’s book ‘Wall Paintings of Sindh: From the Eighteenth to the Twentieth Centuries’