Located about 40 km west of Chakwal town is the historic village of Chawli. Like many other villages in Chakwal, Chawli is also host to a number of historic buildings, prominent among which are havelis, a mosque and Da Darza (well). Before the Partition of 1947, Hindus also lived in Chawli village. The dilapidated and entirely modified havelis of the Hindus of Chawli are still present in the village. The main Muslim castes of Chawli village include Mughal Kassar, Arain, Awan and Chathta etc.
Probably the most influential person in pre-Partition Chawli was Chaudhry Sultan Khan, who was Numbardar of the village. He belonged to the Mughal Kassar caste. According to Qazi Abdul Quddus of Chawli village, Chaudhry Sultan Khan Kassar was a big landholder in Chawli village. He also owned much agricultural land in Montgomery (Sahiwal)and Lyallpur (Faisalabad).
Another eminent dignitary from the Mughal Kassar caste in Chawli village was Chaudhry Ghulam Muhammad. He was also a big landholder. He built an impressive haveli for his son Chaudhry Shahwali Khan. According to the inscription in Urdu on a wall of the haveli, “This house was built by Chaudhry Ghulam Muhammad Numbardar of Chak 67 for his son Chaudhry Shahwali Khan in 1937.”
When I first visited this haveli in 2019, it was in very dilapidated condition and abandoned by the descendants of Chaudhry Ghulam Muhammad. When I revisited it in April 2021, no remains of the haveli were there. There were four doors when I first saw the mansion in 2019. The roof of the verandah was supported by four pillars. The wooden doors were superbly carved. There were three wooden doors which led to the hall and rooms of the haveli respectively. The interior of the rooms was also tastefully decorated with paintings. And the painted wooden ceiling of the haveli was also remarkable. One does not find such ornately carved wooden doors in other havelis in the village.
It is said that a Hindu merchant of Chawli, Arjan Das Kapur, managed the finances of Chaudhry Ghulam Muhammad.
There were a few households of Hindus. Notable Hindus of Chawli were Ganpat Rai, Gor Baba and Arjan Das Kapur.
Chaudhry Shahwali Khan son of Chaudhry Ghulam Muhammad was a famous player of tent pegging (Neza-bazi) from Chawli village. At a walking distance from the haveli of Shahwali there is a well with a Persian wheel, a mechanical water lifting device that was operated usually by draught animals like bullocks or camels. Locally it is called Da Darza and was used for irrigation in the village. Da Darza was built by the notables of the village. Today this historic Da Darza well lies in a dilapidated condition.
Apart from the haveli of Chaudhry Shahwali Khan, there are some other havelis in Chawli village which are also noted for intricate woodwork. Most of these havelis have now been renovated and some have been entirely altered. The most prominent haveli belongs to Nader Khan Chatha which was built about two centuries ago. According to Sher Khan, a great-grandson of Nader Khan, the local masons and craftsmen built the haveli. The haveli is noted for carved wooden doors. During the renovation, the wooden ceiling of haveli was removed by Sher Khan Chatha. Today, only two wooden doors are present in the haveli of Nader Khan Chatha.
When I first visited this haveli in 2019, it was in
a very dilapidated condition and abandoned by the descendants of Chaudhry Ghulam Muhammad. When I revisited it in April 2021, no remains of the haveli were there
The most famous landmark of the village is the Jamia mosque, which was built when the village was founded about three centuries ago. The mosque was built with financial contributions from the villagers. Local masons built the mosque. The distinctive features of Jamia mosque of Chawli are the carved wooden doors and pillared hall and ablution area. Nowhere else in Chakwal is found a mosque with such ornately carved wooden pillars. There are some historic mosques in Chakwal district but these are mostly stone-built structures. The interior of these mosques is usually painted. One can see such historic mosques at Mona, Fim Kassar, Kot Iqbal, Siral and Minwal villages. All these mosques are noted for painting. Some of these mosques have also wooden ceilings and doors.
The wooden roof of the ablution area of Jamia mosque Chawli rests on three wooden pillars. Two pillars have one volute. The third pillar without a volute bears floral and geometric designs.
The verandah of the mosque is also covered with a wooden roof. The main doorway which opens to the main prayer hall is ornately carved. It carries a variety of floral designs. Local woodcarvers were employed to make the wooden doors and pillars of the mosque. According to Qazi Abdul Quddus of Chawli village, two eminent woodcarvers of the village Ghulam Ahmad and Ghulam Muhammad engraved the wooden doors and pillars of the mosque. I think that they might have been assisted by other woodcarvers too. It appears from the decoration on the pillars that the mosque underwent renovations in the past – many times. Some of the pillars, which are more simply decorated, were added later. Carved wooden pillars are earlier than the simply fluted pillars. It is also possible that the inscription on the door was installed later during the first renovation of the mosque. During the recent renovation, the façade of the mosque has been decorated with ceramics. It was earlier decorated with stone and a wooden arcade. Today nothing is extant of the façade decoration. From the decoration on the wooden pillars, both in the prayer hall and ablution area and also on the door, one can argue that the same decoration was also made on the façade of the mosque. There are several mosques in Pothohar where one finds three wooden arched ways. Jamia mosque Chawli might have also carried three wooden arched ways to the verandah. The Pothohari builders and artists significantly worked on the mosque façades, decorating them either with stone carvings, wood carvings, ceramic tiles or painting.
On top of the door in Jamia mosque of Chawli there is an inscription which records probably the names of calligraphers and builders of the mosque. It also records the name of the Imam of the mosque. The names of Mahar Khan, Fatah Khan, Noor Muhammad and Ghulam Hussain are found in the inscription on a wooden tablet fixed above the door. The name of Imam Masjid Kalimullah is also written in an inscription. The first line of the inscription bears the name of Hazrat Mian Sahib Jan Muhammad who was probably the first person to make efforts for the construction of the Jamia mosque at Chawli.
The pillared hall of the mosque is most splendid. A beam-and-pillar technique was adopted to construct the main hall of the mosque. The roof of the main prayer hall rests on sixteen wooden pillars. All the pillars have fluted shafts that rest on a stylized square base. The stylized bracket capital of the pillars depicts floral and geometric designs. Each of the pillars has a single volute carrying geometric designs on its underside.
The Dhan area roughly comprises 40 villages in Chakwal tehsil. Chawli is perhaps the only village in the entire Dhan area where one finds such an impressive mosque boasting of a wooden pillared hall that bears intricate wood carvings. Knowing the cultural and historical importance of Chawli village, it should be declared a heritage village in the Dhan area and promoted as a potential tourist destination. Moreover, the mosque and other historic monuments should also be preserved for posterity.
The author is an anthropologist. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Excerpts have been taken from the author’s forthcoming book “Memories, Mystics and Monuments of Pothohar.” All photos are by the author