Sindh is a hub of cultural heritage as it was ruled by various dynasties in the past, from the pre-Islamic era to Islamic era; a history that can be traced from the Harappan period to the Muslim conquest and beyond. In the Islamic period, Muhammad bin Qasim conquered Sindh in A.D 712 and latery Sindh was ruled by the Habaaris, Qarmatis, Soomros, Sammas, Arghuns, Tarkhans, Mughals, Kalhora, and finally, Talpurs.
The Talpur Mirs ruled over Sindh for sixty years and built several palaces. Their palaces were constructed to reflect their prosperity, in a style similar to that of the Mughal rulers.
In the time of the Talpurs’ rule in Sindh, Khairpur was an autonomous state under the rule of Mir Sohrab Khan Talpur. The Talpurs of Khairpur were fond of making royal palaces.
One of them, the Sheesh Mahal, is marvelous piece of Talpur architecture.
The Sheesh Mahal is located at Kotdiji, a small town of Khairpur, which is 23 kilometers from Khairpur city. In fact, the Sheesh Mahal is a massive architectural display by the Talpurs. It was built by Mir Faiaz Muhammad Khan Talpur I in 1890. The interior corridor of the mahal is as impressive as the walls and roofs. It has been ornamented with colorful patterns. Tiny bits of mirror have been used expertly in the ceiling, which also has woodwork.
The main hall of the Mahal bears exquisite craft work. A distinctive feature of the Mahal is its ceiling: decorated with glass and using tiny pieces of mirrors in intricately crafted patterns. In fact, this ceiling is what gives the edifice its name: the Sheesh Mahal.
Notable features include the convex glass mosaic workmanship (Aina Kari) and stucco tracery as well as the gilt work. The spandrels of the main gates of the arches and the bases of the pillars are ornamented with Pietra Dura work. The cusps of the pillars and double columns are also decorated, and extensive use is made of jali work. Such features are reminiscent of Mughal architecture.
The ceiling of the Mahal has patterns with floral designs. Each flower has small rose petals made from pieces of mirrors and bunches of roses with central stars. Each star is enclosed with black mirrors. Blue tiles are used in the corner of each bunch of the flowers. The central part of each flower has a round mirror. As such, the use of blue tiles is a reflection of the Central Asian influence on the builders.
The internal verandah of the Mahal has various elements of decoration, such as fresco painting, geometrical patterns and the aforementioned mirror-work. Red star patterns and plant leaves surrounding a circle of mirrors are placed in rectangular panels. Each panel of the ceiling is divided for the different designs. Each panel has been given borders with different decorations like blue tiles and tiny pieces of wood.
Erecting the Shish Mahal with six doors on four sides gives a good sense of the old architectural tradition of South Asia – where the arrival of Muslims with their techniques and symbolism drawn partly from sacred traditions. This began to be modernised with the passage of time. The design of arches itself is an important architectural element that was introduced to South Asia by the Muslims.
But unfortunately, unlike Faiz Mahal, the Sheesh Mahal is deteriorating; the edifice has lost its beauty. Its red-brick boundary walls have eroded over time, and have lost some of their height due to the repeated road construction beside them. The concerned authorities have not any acknowledged the value of this architectural and artistic heritage and failed to understand the appropriate techniques of preservation.