Both the valleys of Darel and Tangir in Diamer district are noted for their ornately carved wooden mosques. These wooden mosques are located in all the historic villages of both valleys, a majority of which have either been entirely rebuilt or renovated now.
Timber was profusely used in the construction of the mosques in Tangir valley. The basic technique of beam and pillar construction was adopted in all the mosques of Tangir and Darel. Both valleys boast some of the oldest wooden mosques in Gilgit-Baltistan.
The tradition of the building wooden mosques still continues in the valley of Tangir. A few traditional artists still persist with the centuries-old tradition in the valley, and they are well-known for their work on the wooden mosques. Wood carving is still practised in the valleys of Darel and Tangir: in fact both are known for the celebrated woodcarvers (Duras gars). In last two decades, the woodcarvers of Tangir have built impressive mosques which are noted for ornately carved doors, windows, pillars, enclosures and fretted panels – all of which, of course, reflect the skill and expertise of the woodcarvers.
The tradition of wood carving in newly built mosques still continues in Tangir valley. Newly constructed wooden mosques are mainly painted, and are located in Dabas, Phapat, Mushke, Faruri, Darqali Bala, Koranga Bala and Koranga Pain villages in the Tangir valley. Celebrated masons and woodcarvers of Tangir built and made wood carvings in these mosques. Amongst all these, the mosques of Koranga Bala, Dabas, Faruri and Mushke are quite remarkable for their intricate woodwork.
In particular, we can say that the Koranga Bala mosque is famous for exquisite wood carvings. It is also distinguished for its beautiful floral designs, all of which are painted. Red, blue, white, yellow and green colours are used to paint the wood carvings in the mosque. This mosque is believed to have been built by the two brothers Abdur Rhaman and Saeed ur Rahman.
The wood carvings by celebrated woodcarvers reflect the identity and skill of each of the craftsmen in the Tangir valley. Some of the celebrated woodcarvers are Feroz Khan, Saeed-ur-Rahman, Abdur Rahman, Pach Gul, Tajuddin and others.
Saeed-ur-Rahman and Abdur Rahman are bothers from the Kamen caste. They are from Darqali Bala village, which also produced two celebrated woodcarvers Yarmanon and Sajid Mir in the past
Saeed-ur-Rahman and Abdur Rahman are bothers from the Kamen caste. They are from Darqali Bala village, which also produced two celebrated woodcarvers Yarmanon and Sajid Mir in the past. These latter two built the Darqali Bala and other mosques in Tangir valley. The best wood carvings made by Yarmanon can be seen in the Darqali Bala mosque.
Both the brothers Saeed-ur-Rahman and Abdur Rahman are celebrated figures from Darqali Bala village. They made all the carvings in the Koranga Bala mosque. The village of Koranga Bala is located about 10 km north of Jaglot, the headquarters of Tangir. The village is located on the left bank of Tangir river and is the last village of the valley. The main castes of both the villages Koranga Bala and Koranga Pain are the Gujjars and Syeds. A few households also belong to the Shin caste in Koranga Pain.
Wood, stones, galvanized sheets and cement were used in the construction of both the mosques at Koranga Bala and Koranga Pain. The roofs of both the mosques are covered with corrugated steel sheets. In the winter, both the villages receive heavy snowfall and this galvanized steel roofing prevents the snow from piling up and damaging the structure.
The Koraga Bala mosque is bigger and more spacious as compared to Koranga Pain mosque. The Koranga Pain mosque was built in 1997 and that of Koranga Bala in 2001. According to an inscription in Urdu on the northern pillar of arcade verandah, the foundation of mosque was laid on the 2nd of April 2001. The completion date is also engraved on a capital of a pillar in the covered verandah. It was completed on the 9th of November 2001. The aforementioned masons and woodcarvers Saeed-ur-Rahman and Abdur Rahman built this mosque. The mosque was completed in a period of seven months.
A distinctive feature of the Koranga Bala mosque is the covered verandah on all three sides. Slender fluted pillars support the wooden roof. There are six fluted pillars towards the south and three each on the east and the west. Above the arches, there is a series of wooden fretted panels with floral and geometric designs. There is also a wooden enclosure with each engraved panel showing lotus, sunflower and rosette designs – the inspiration for which has been taken from the older wooden mosques of Tangir. Two wooden pillars in the middle of the verandah support the wooden roof. Each of the pillars has double voluted bracket capital depicting lotus, sunflower and geometric designs. There is a small wooden mihrab in the covered verandah.
Two corner pillars of the mosque are richly carved. The eastern and southern faces of both the corner pillars depict geometric and floral motifs. Again, the inspiration for these designs was likely taken from earlier wooden structures in the Tangir valley.
The main entrance of the mosque opens to the east.
As for the façade of the prayer room, it is decorated with ceramic tiles. One enters the main prayer hall through a carved wooden door which bears mainly modern carvings. The wooden roof of the prayer hall rests on a single pillar which has seven voluted bracket capitals on each side. This bracket capital shows a variety of floral and geometric designs. It has also engraved the year 2001 when the mosque was built. The mihrab of the prayer hall is also adorned with ceramic tiles. It is flanked by two wooden windows. Salim Khan, the painter, painted the wood carvings of the Koranga Bala mosque.
Apart from the Koranga Bala mosque, there is also located a mosque in Koranga Pain village – one which is also distinguished for its intricate woodwork. This mosque was built four years before the Koranga Bala mosque in 1997. The distinctive feature of the mosque is an arcaded verandah on the eastward and southward sides. The roof of the covered verandah rests on slender fluted pillars. There is also a series of fretted panels above the arches. Moreover, there is a wooden enclosure on the east and south which shows tooth and floral designs. The main entrance of the mosque opens to the south. And the doorway to the main prayer chamber opens to the east. The wooden roof of the prayer chamber of the mosque rests on the twin fluted pillars. Each pillar has seven volutes enclosing a lotus. The voluted bracket capital of the pillars is carved with geometric and floral designs. There is also a wooden minbar and mihrab in the mosque. The wooden mihrab is highly carved and painted. Feroz Khan, a celebrated woodcarver of Faruri village, made the carvings of the entire mosque. He was the main woodcarver (Duras gar) and was assisted by two other carpenters Qadam Khan and Rajam Khan of Jaglot.
The writer is an anthropologist. He may be contacted at zulfi04@hotmail. com.
Excerpts have been taken from the author’s forthcoming book “Cultural Heritage Along the Silk Road in Pakistan”. All photos are by the author