Pride of Pakistan: Chiniot

Posted on August 1, 2007
Filed Under >S.A.J. Shirazi, Culture & Heritage, Travel
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S.A.J Shirazi

Chiniot – the name is enough to start the furniture lovers, travelers and cautiously curious dreaming. Antiquity is the first message of the town. And, international quality furniture “made in Chiniot” is collectors delight with potentials for marketing all over the world.

On the bank of River Chenab in area called Sandal Bar, Chiniot town is an exotic place in the foot of series of hillocks that seem to be man made rather than evidence of old mountains.

The town is very ancient. It was inhabited before the time when Alexander of Macedon came in the South Asia and was principal city during the rule of White Huns. Chinese explorer Hiuen Tsiang visited it. Alberuni has mentioned in Kitabul-Hind that Chiniot was one of the there most important places in this part of the world.

Chiniot suffered much from the Durrani inroads during the last half of the eighteenth century and also during the troubles of I848 because it remained the scene of constant fierce struggle among the leaders of local factions. As per the local legend, portion of the wall, surviving in situ, had been built during Hellenic period. The veracity of the wall’s association with Alexander the great is yet to be proven though. But the sit does give evidence of its distant past.

During the Mughal era, Chiniot produced many intelligent personalities and talented artisans who occupied positions in the Mughal courts, Nawab Saad Ullah Khan and Nawab Wazir Khan held the post of Prime Minister of India and the Governor of Lahore respectively during the rule of King Shah Jehan.

Artisans of Chiniot have instinctive good taste and they have achieved a distinctive excellence in woodwork. Masons of the town are said to have been employed during the construction of Taj Mahal at Agra and Golden Temple at Amritsar. Special type of furniture with brightly lacquered woodcarving is made in Chiniot and is famous all over the world.

What this internationally acclaimed craft of the town needs is an institutional patronization and extensive efforts for international marketing? Made in Chiniot furniture is already being shipped to different countries but so far there are very little marketing efforts being made for this purpose. It can be a potent source of earning foreign exchange if attention is paid to and earnest efforts are made. Sadly, the trained incompetents responsible for export promotion do not see this and the unique potentials are not being taped yet. The first exhibition of Chinioti furniture in Islamabad last year was attended by large number of people from all walks of life. Particularly foreigners appreciated the furniture for its style, solidity and the cost.

Apart from furniture, there are more attractions for any visitor to this off the beaten track tranquil town. A towering architectural masterpiece Shahi Mosque, which was built during rule of Mughal King Shah Jehan by Nawab Saad Ullah Khan in 1655, is still functional. It resembles the Shahi Mosque Delhi that was also built under the supervision of Nawab Saad Ullah Khan. After the invasions of British, the city lost its old glory and importance. However, the historical buildings and their ruins are scattered in and around the city, reflect its wonderful past.

Another such building is the Umar Hayat Palace commonly known as the Gulzar Mahal. Attracting local and foreign tourist, it is known for its beauty and legendary tales attached to it. The palace is said to have been built by Sheikh Umar Hayat, a rich merchant whose family originally migrated to Chiniot from India.

Legend has it that in a village fair at Panda Haitian, Umar Hayat fell in love with a performer girl and married. She bore him a son and a daughter. Umar Hayat grew particularly fond of his son whom he named Gulzar - a rose garden or a sign of happiness. It was for his son that Umar Hayat decided to construct a wonderful palace and name after him. Umar Hayat could not see the palace completed and later his son Gulzar died mysteriously in the palace in the early hours of his marriage night.

A different tale reveals that the construction of the palace was a result of rivalry between Umar Hayat and Elahi Baksh – a famous artisan of the time. The latter taunted the Umar Hayat by saying that his artistic abilities were superior to all the wealth in the world. Infuriated, Umar Hayat counter claimed that his money would last long enough to buy all the possible feats skilled artisans could offer.

The result of the challenge was the creation of Gulzar Manzil. The construction of the palace started in 1923 and Umar Hayat lavishly spent his wealth. According to one account, the supervision of the construction was assigned to Syed Hassan Shah who gathered famous artisans and carried out day and night work for ten years. Elahi Baksh and Rahim Baksh did the wood carving, for which the palace is known. Both were masters of the art. The Punjab District Gazetteers reads:

“The house built by Sheikh Umar Hayat is a sort of wonder.”

The imposing building is a work of art. The woodwork, the stucco work, inlay of bricks, use of marbles and floral design in the roof, stairways and balconies are living memories of the glories of the Mughal period. Very elaborate and extensive woodwork in the palace speak of the craftsmanship of the artisans who perfected it beyond amazing limits. One has to possess a sensibility shaped in granite not to be moved after seeing the woodwork even today.

The palace originally had six stories including a basement. Two of the upper stories decayed and had to be demolished in 1978. Remains of the building are in the care and custody of Auqaf. Presently it is in public use and houses a library section and a small museum.

Chiniot, a market town in the expanses of Punjab bears a prosperous look. Chiniot has every thing necessary for development – hard working and talented people, fertile land, water, communication infrastructure and clean healthy environment. The furniture industry can be converted into important source of earning though efficient ‘marketing mix’. Given chance Chiniot can be a nice and rich little city of the future.

Photo Credits: Photos for this article have been taken from flickr.com. Clicking on the photos will take you to their source and larger image sizes.

41 Comments on “Pride of Pakistan: Chiniot”

  1. WASIM ARIF / OTHER PAKISTAN says:
    August 2nd, 2007 6:14 am

    Fantastic post, it makes me angry that we have such hidden treasures we are unable to project to the world. I would like to help with the marketing and import into the UK if we can get some government support to champion it. Does anyone have a contact email address for Hina Rabbani Khar who I think may be able to help or even any other minister, maybe Adil bhai has his connections in the corridors of power?

    A better Pakistan can be created see how at http://www.otherpakistan.org

    Feimanallah

    Wasim

  2. Waheed says:
    August 2nd, 2007 6:16 am

    I suspect a lot of crafts and business men have moved elsewhere? Like the chiniot sheikh bradaree is now based in Karachi?

  3. Tina says:
    August 2nd, 2007 2:25 pm

    All of this furniture making depletes native growths of wood, especially walnut and fruit woods from Kashmir. Until deforestation is dealt with and sustainable timber harvests are possible I would not try to create any export Chiniot furniture factories, unless the wood is brought from elsewhere (abroad), which is expensive as per hardwoods.

    Softwoods such a sheesham or rosewood are more plentiful, but not heirloom quality.

    Bluntly put Pakistan does not have enough quality wood supply to export very much furniture of this sort. Even the domestic demand is destroying Pakistan’s environment. Why make the problem worse?

  4. Tina says:
    August 2nd, 2007 2:30 pm

    P.S. Although the pictures are lovely and interesting I was sort of hoping for pics of the furniture itself, since I am a fan of all kinds of handicrafts. Any links where I could look at Chiniot furniture?

  5. Asma says:
    August 2nd, 2007 2:43 pm

    Superbly done … yah tu poora insaf kiya hay shirazi :-)

    What an intricately designed and developed Shahi mosque – it looks much refine and classy then lahore’s badshahi mosque.

    Interestingly the furniture e.g. sofa chairs you can get from Chiniot at Rs 10-15 K without polish usually and the same thing with polish is sold for Rs 50+K in lahore or Gujrat show rooms … !!

    I wonder if those hands who do the actual carving hard work get paid decently :s

  6. Asma says:
    August 2nd, 2007 2:45 pm

    @ Tina: In chiniot obviously :-)

    But at least in Punjab most of the carved furniture (unpolished) comes from Chiniot!

  7. Owais Mughal says:
    August 2nd, 2007 2:56 pm

    Zainab Market Karachi is also full of hand-carved decoration stuff from Chiniot. Not only wood work but also in coppper-bronze.

  8. Razi says:
    August 2nd, 2007 6:17 pm

    I had once visited a small village beyond Sialkot which had some amazing old houses. Intricate designs decorated these dwellings. The town was called Kotli Loharan. I was simply amazed at that.

  9. SH Kavi says:
    August 2nd, 2007 7:01 pm

    The Chinioti is a very well-established and successful business community in Karachi. Sometime I wonder why it is so ? Is there something in their history , which I don’t know?.Can somebody enlighten me?

  10. Neena says:
    August 2nd, 2007 11:18 pm

    Tina,

    Surely there should be some way to save forests before cutting down hundreds or thousands of years old trees. But I see no hope in Pakistan for it as we need to go million miles to learn such things. Anyway here is a nice site where you can see some Chinnot

  11. Ahmad R. Shahid says:
    August 3rd, 2007 8:13 am

    My forefathers settled in Chiniot once they moved from Delhi in the 1750s, and lived there till my parents and their siblings moved out of it in the 60s and the 70s. Yet I have visited this place many a times though the have visited it only once after my childhood.

    I never felt any love for the place while I was young. It looked all dirty and filthy to me, with mass of dirty children stalking the streets. Yet it seemed to have a culture of its own, with its own tazianas that they take out on Muharram, the kind one would not find any where else.

    Yet one thing has always amazed me. Chiniot, a small town or city, on the banks of River Chanab, and has existed for hundreds of years, has yet lost its signifiance just because somewhere in the 1910s – or is it 1920s? – the British Raj built a new city from scratch, Faisalabad, which is just 35 Kms from Chiniot. That hotch potch of businesses and labor, what was originally called Lyallpoor, has got anything but culture, and thus despite its size could never match the grandeur of Lahore or the indigenous culture of Chiniot. I still wonder what got into the head of the British not to build a Faisalabad out of Chiniot? Then it would have been a commercial as well as a cultural and historical hub, all in one.

  12. August 3rd, 2007 9:32 am

    Lovely post. Simply wonderful.Its been a couple of years since i had the pleasure of being there. but my parents were born in chiniot so i have lived my share in this busy and quaint town.
    Thanks you for rekindling these memories with this post.and yes most of the chiniot sheikh braderi is now in karachi with very few back in chinot but these folks are still doing a lot of welfare activities which inclide the chiniot islamia hospital and other charitable organizations.

  13. khurram shahzad says:
    August 4th, 2007 5:40 am

    the work of wood which i have seen here is really remarkable, fascinating, gorgeous, splendid and beautiful. I have for the very first time experiance to seek such a nice piece of master piece of wood-work. I do really appreciate the worker who has performed this excellent work with his able hand and he must have used his experince of his whole life to accomplish this magnificent work. I am fully guy after seeing this work.Only an expert critic can in fact make count of all the qualities of this work but a lay person like me can only observe this work with open eyes.So,this work really represents pakistani culture and its essence and it also does highlight the historical aspects of muslims way and style of the construction of the building and i am myself very happy to see it and i can well remember the splendid period of muslim rulars who were fond to make such beautiful and seenable buildings.This work would prove very crucial for the students of history and it will enhance the knowledge of historians who visit several places only for the purpose of discovering new things and this masterpiece will really prove helpful for them and they will be able to even write books in which work of wood, crafts, design would be favoured.

  14. MQ says:
    August 4th, 2007 1:42 pm

    Tina:

    Just a tiny, teeny bit of correction. Sheesham is a hardwood, not softwood. Walnut is a softwood.

    But you are right, there is not enough wood in Pakistan to sustain large scale export of furniture.

  15. mazhar butt says:
    August 4th, 2007 11:50 pm

    >>>The furniture industry can be converted into important source of earning though efficient

  16. mazhar butt says:
    August 5th, 2007 10:11 am

    Apart from the furniture Industry, Sheesham wood is extensively used in the construction of our artisan fishing fleet. More than 50 per cent of wood used in constructing a wooden fishing vessel consists of Sheesham. The entire mainframe of the hull or ”baanga” as it called is raised from cut-to-shape ”ribs” known as ”lay” and ”passu” in boat builders’ lingo. Once these cut-to-shape ribs are fitted, it is now time for fixing on to them an outer covering of wooden planks known as ”paatias” . Once the boat is has been fitted with ‘ribs’ which form the chassis of the vessel-and the planks (outer skin) the boat is quipped with ‘deck” . All parts, internal or external- of a launch which would normally be open to ”heavy stress and strain” for sea worthiness are made out of the hard Taali or Sheesham, also called hardwood or sometimes as Rosewood. A very considerable part of sheesham is wasted during the cutting process of ‘ribs’ and other constructional components and auxiliaries of the vessel. Until some years this cuttin waste was thrown away but now due to shortage and high price of sheesham this waste is sold for carpentary jobs or wood craft of smaller sized wooden articles. I recall sheesham coming to Fish Harbor ,Karachi from the Punjab,,,it’s main market used to be near Lahore.

    Keekar or Babool is also used as an alternative for Sheesham Though as hard as sheesham it is not the ideal wood for furniture due to the reason that it warps comparatively soon ; gets easily infected by termites; it’s hard to nail; difficult to polish smoothly ; etc etc. It is prized lower than Sheesham and also used in the boat building industry for boat’s outer components. Sheesham also finds extensive use in building cargo and excursion wooden boats for exports to the middle eastern countries.

    Both Sheesham and Keekar are sold as large tree trunks (jhaar) which is later cut into planks (paat)and squares(chorsa) or whatever shape you may like to cut.. The white portion and the bark ( chaara)of these trunks are discarded as scrap and used for low quality works/articles of daily use.

    Just for the sake of sharing I would like to list some parts of the local fishing boat which may be of interest to know :;

    DARI
    SOOLFI
    RAVISAAR
    KORWAAN
    SUKHAAN
    PAATIAS
    KAATRA
    THAAPPA
    DUGLA
    MORA
    SAWAI
    THUMBLEE
    TAALIA
    PATHAN
    GOLA
    GHORI
    ETC

  17. wasim abbas says:
    August 30th, 2007 10:31 am

    i love chiniot

  18. Shahid Saleem says:
    September 14th, 2007 2:04 am

    Another important thing about Chiniot is it’s language. Chiniot is situated at the outskirt of Saraiki region. It’s boli (dialect) is basically a mixture of Punjabi and Saraiki langagues.

  19. Imran aslam says:
    September 15th, 2007 12:35 pm

    Asallam o alikum, i like this site very much
    :P

  20. ZAHRA says:
    September 21st, 2007 2:21 am

    VERY NICE PLACE N FURNITURE.
    PEOPLE SHOULD COME N VISIT THIS BEAUTIFUL N HISTORICLE CITY.

  21. tayyab yazdani says:
    November 24th, 2007 8:15 am

    i am the resident of chiniot city.
    now i m studying in international islamic university islamabad.
    according to my opinion our small city needs 2 much care 4 more progress.
    this is giving and playing its part allover the world
    for example the work pf furniture
    and
    very famous personalities as lake maulana manzoor ahmad chinioti.
    i would like 2 request 2 the readers 2 do much more 4 it what they can.
    ALLAH HAFIZ

  22. January 2nd, 2008 3:28 am

    I would like to appreciate the efforts, from long time i have been looking for some authentic information on chiniot furniture industry but i failed to find it, this site really provides best suitable information about chiniot and its wooden indusrty,
    thanks S.A.J Shirazi

  23. Hammad Hassan says:
    January 6th, 2008 10:03 am

    u done such great job for my city but write some facts about chiniot.we are giving too much to govt but govt not intrested in chiniot Development, we have lots of prob here like small roads, no fully loaded hospitals etc etc

  24. faiza kashif says:
    January 17th, 2008 1:53 am

    Is it possible for anyone to let me know the source of Chiniot Craftsman picture?

  25. Ali Raza says:
    January 20th, 2008 8:34 pm

    I read one of the comments about horrifying experience of purchasing chinioti furniture. As a chinioti myself, I am forced to post a comment indicating some of the problems Chiniot is facing that reflect in their business dealings as well.
    There are more than 1000 workshops in chiniot where furniture is being made. On every workshop there are 5 to 20 workers. Out of the total number of workers 60% (estimated 12000) are categorized as “Child Labor”. When a child is sent to earn money, which he manages after getting some skills … he can never be a good human being, because of a number of reasons.
    1. His parents were greedy (in most of the cases and ). This results in ruining the very basic academy of morality.
    2. He started earning; not knowing good or bad ways to spend it (it is observed that most of those childern now gamble and go to mujras and all that)
    3. Mostly because he was unable to get basic level of education and moral values.
    I believe that our social structure is so much influenced by the side effects of “Capitalism” in recent years that the demage seems irrepairable.
    Art is something that requires utmost dedication on one’s part without considering monetory benefits out of it. “Money Rush” has tarred most of our aspiring artisans, and chiniotis are no different.

  26. Syed Sohail Raza says:
    May 4th, 2008 3:30 am

    Salam
    It is true that chiniot is beautiful and important city.
    But it is loosing it’s charming due to lack of caring.
    It is known all over the world through furniture.
    It should be facilitate.
    ALLAH HAFIZ

  27. ahmed shehzad shah says:
    May 14th, 2008 11:20 pm

    hi ,I am interested in buying furniture from chiniot ,any link ?

  28. Jun Liu says:
    September 25th, 2008 8:41 pm

    Hmm, seems like a interesting place for a visit. Need some info.: How far is Chiniot from Lahore ‘coz I am in Lahore? Any public transporation from Lahore to Chiniot? I mean convenient &fast trans like Daewoo. Thx.

    Btw, main chini hoon.

  29. orangzaib says:
    October 10th, 2008 5:03 am

    to jun liu….

    i am in china now ..i can help u to go tobecause i am from chiniot….
    my e-mail fantawildest@yahoo.com

    contact me thanks

  30. waheed anwar says:
    May 12th, 2009 1:36 am

    hi……….! my name is waheed anwar. basically i from pindi bhattian but chiniot is my 2nd city. it is very beautifull city.

  31. jawad baig says:
    May 12th, 2009 5:03 am

    i have visit to chiniot last week.i am glad to know that chiniot has been converted into district.
    congratulations to all chinioti brothers.

    i like chiniot very much.

  32. June 8th, 2009 4:40 am

    AOA,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
    A great place……………
    on earth………………….
    Badshahi Mosque
    Umer Hayyat Mahel
    River Chenab Bridge
    Valley Aziz
    and many more………
    Heaven on Earth…….
    Heaven for innocent……
    f.nalera@gmail.com

  33. July 13th, 2009 2:27 am

    Hi every body ,I visited chiniot in Nov 2008 ,My business point of view about chioniot city is, lack of Hotels to stay ,No light nothing to see in the night no where ever you go you will find alot alot dust.I was staying in Faisalabad just because my hotel was there and i was travelling every day to chiniot almost for one week.
    Furniture makers /exporters are doing their job to improve economy of their country but for visiters or international buyers no place where to stay where to go where to consult ,you just walk on the street and start looking /buying /exporting just like nothing ….
    I would suggest for chinioty people to open atleats two three good hotels /motels where we can stay ,this is wastage of time when you travel from faisalabad to chiniot every day just becuase you dont have a place where to stay .

  34. SIFT ULLAH CHADHAR says:
    July 28th, 2009 12:55 pm

    Chiniot city has a historical place . And furniture is very fine quality , historical places.

  35. sheikh Anis Vohra says:
    February 16th, 2010 5:53 am

    Thanx and regards,,we love our city but very much upset about the SOME newly rich and political peoples,they have ruined our city ,,,,want to say many more but I think nobody is sincere to our city every body is running behind the money and their own interest ,,no planning,,,,,leave it leave it,,,

  36. April 2nd, 2010 5:09 am

    My fore fathers were belonging to chiniot bur now i am settelled in Faisalabd.I still remember when some time i visited chiniot in my childhood with my mother,who unfortuately is not now in this world ,to see my house of grandfather.
    I still remember the beutiful shahi mosque ,the ancient mohallas ,the up and down streets,the innocent dhoti culture.
    But,i am surprised how the wonderfull artist born in this town who deliverd such beutiful architect,style and even build aTaj mahal Agra.how they produce a Jharoka,,wonderfull Gulzar mahal and many more things.
    Still this town has no university of art & design ,there is even not a small insitute from where these werw getting training.
    But at the same time i have much sorrow upon the people of chiniot.They are not worried about destruction of adjacent Hills which are being destroyed by the maphia for building of roads.

  37. ashok chopra says:
    October 10th, 2010 10:53 am

    I Like your summary of Chiniot One thing I Want to add

    1.The craftsman who built Taj Mahal wr brought frm Chiniot

  38. November 9th, 2010 7:58 am

    Chiniot is the Best City in the World producing wooden furniture, Chiniot Furniture is export quality furniture and there are many exporters exporting the wooden furniture from chiniot

  39. MEHMOOD HUSSAIN says:
    November 10th, 2010 12:42 am

    NO DOUBT PAKISTAN CRAFTSMAN ARE ONE OF BEST OF THEIR PARTICULAR CLASS, LIKE WOODEN FURNITURE
    CRAFTMANS, WE CAN CLAIM THEM ONE OF BEST, FOR
    DESIGNING AND RELATED FEATURES,
    THEY NEED A STRONG BASE PLATFORM, TO INTRIDUCE
    THEIR WORKMANSHIP IN THE WORLD LEVEL, SO THAT
    PAKISTAN MAY EARN HUGE FORIEGN EXCHANGE THROUGH EXPORTS OF THESE OUTCLASS, BEST QUALITY FURNITURES,
    ANY ONE TO HELP THEM TO GO WORLD FURNITURE MARKET FOR DISPLAY,

    THANKS,

    MEHMOOD HUSSAIN,
    mehmoodfaiz@yahoo.com

  40. November 10th, 2010 1:04 am

    Well chiniot is really the pride of pak.well its furniture is awsome..allthough its expensive also..well i got one cental table from there with DECO paint it cost 3 lac ..well still its in good look and seems to be new

  41. November 15th, 2010 7:55 am

    Best wooden furniture is one of the most famous thing in Chiniot and we are proud to be pakistani as our chiniot furniture is going around the world and the best furniture exporters are in chiniot

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