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True Blue of Multan

Posted on October 5, 2007
Filed Under >S.A.J. Shirazi, Travel
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S.A.J Shirazi

In the past we have covered the Gateways of Multan and the Saints and Shrines of Multan. Today we have brought another topic for you and that is the famous blue tile work (kashi gari) of Multan.

The history of Multani arts and crafts also goes back to medieval period. Kashi work, glazing and hand painting of ceramic products is an important art for which Multan is famous the would over. The use of foliage branches and leaves of trees and superb richness of colours (mainly blue) in Kashi work is an evidence of Persian influence. As Persian arts themselves have been under Chinese (Mongol) influence, therefore some historians are of the view that Kashi work had originally come from Kashghar, China. Over a period of centuries Multani Kashi work has matured and developed a unique and distinctive style of its own.

The art has survived for centuries through generations as its trade secrets like composition of colours were zealously guarded by a handful of artist and their families. Artists like Ustad Allah Wasaya and others have left lasting work in the field and their work ahs lent an immortality to the art.

In 1853, during a limited excavation on Qillah Kohna Qasim Bagh, Alexander Cunningham found glazed tiles made in Multan in about 900 AD. These tiles had been used in the mosque built by Muhammad Bin Qasim on his arrival in Multan. The highest quality Multani tiles have been used in shrines, mosques and other important buildings including house ever since. The shrines of Shah Yousaf Gardezi (1153), Shah Rukne Alam, Ali Akbar, mosque Nawaban, Shrines of Uchh Sharif in Cholistan and Talpur tombs in Sindh are classic examples of tile work. Kashi work on the walls of shrine of Hazrat Haqani, Sawi Mosque, Shrines of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, Eidgah Multan and Lahore museum is very distinctive and of a fine quality. Lately Akhtar Abbas Bharwana (ex minister Punjab) has used the tiles from Multan at his house in Jhang. A contemporary artist Ustad Muhammad Alam has executed Kashi work in the house of late actor Sultan Rahi in Lahore.

Blue pottery of Multan is at display in prestigious president’s house, prime ministers secretariat, culture missions of Pakistan in different countries and British Museum London. Foreign tourists and private collectors love to buy vases vessels planters, cookie jars and table lamps with hand painted in designs like China Kashi, Special Kashi and Bamboo Shoot. World Bank team has also visited the Institute and shown keen interest in the conservation and development of the art.

The process of making blue pottery and tiles has undergone many changes with the development in technology. Gas furnaces with controllable and uniform temperature are being used for biscuit firings and glazing instead of wood and dung cake fire. Clay is being procured from Manshera (NWFP), Tharparker (Sindh) and Gujrat (Punjab) instead of local red clay.

“Baking of raw material as per the formula, grinding, kneading, filtration, moulding, biscuit firing at the temperature of 800-850 degree centigrade, Kashi work and glazing at the temperature of 1200 centigrade are all necessary steps in the process,”

explained one young artist Muhammad Irfan wile showing everything being done at his concern by 20 ceramists and 15 Kashi artist and their students.

“The special blue colour prepared from cobalt oxide and copper oxide is a special technique and distinctive feature of the Kashi work,”

he says. The art has evolved into a far more sophisticated process today.

Among the various arts that are practiced in Pakistan, Multani Kashi work has attained a higher state of refinement. There is always a room to bring into the art new innovations, endow it with fresh spirit and set the science as its guide. Assistance can be sought from international agencies like UNESCO and the World Bank. The range of possibilities in the field of ceramics is very vast. The whole world can be the market for Blue Pottery from Multan.

10 Comments on “True Blue of Multan”

  1. Rafay Kashmiri says:
    October 5th, 2007 6:30 am

    SAJ Shirazi

    thanks for such glimps of Multan, indeed architacture and craft has direct influence of Kashgar, actually Kashgari towers and facades were wellknown in Sind in general.

    Entire Multan should be declared World’s Heritage zone,
    why that has not been done

  2. Anwar says:
    October 5th, 2007 8:00 am

    Very informative post. When I showed my friends at the local pottery center the blue pottery work of Multan, one of the question that I got was whether or not the glaze was food safe (lead content). I did not know but I came to know the method to check if a pot is food safe and would like to share with the readers. Pour a quart of vinegar in the pot (or set pot in vinegar if external glaze is of interest) and leave it overnight. Discoloration in the pot (after pouring the vinegar out) is indicative of the unsafe glaze. I hope this will help those who are in the business to become aware of food safety.

    On a different note, Shirazi, can you provide some information about the two legendary characters of Multan – Sarmed and Mansoor? Of many stories my mother told me I do remember these two brothers – I am not sure if they in reality existed or are simply folklore. I will appreciate. Thanks.

  3. Tina says:
    October 5th, 2007 9:00 am

    I brought some of these tiles out of Multan to sell in the United States in 1995. They were beautiful and people enjoyed them; I had no trouble selling them but I must say as to vases, etc. Chinese blue and white is so much cheaper I don’t see any advantage to the Pakistani version except among a small group of pottery enthusiasts. Most people don’t know the difference. Multani ware is beautiful, beautiful stuff without a doubt, nevertheless. It can’t be made cheaper at the source; the difficulty is shipping cost of small lots. This can only be dealt with by higher volume as the pottery is heavy and needs a lot of packing. That higher volume is unavailable right now. It wouldn’t be there even if you wanted to buy it. There are only two small factories left. I predict this art form will go extinct in a few decades. Already the quality is extremely degraded compared to antique pieces.

    There is a government development centre but I have a feeling like a lot of cultural projects it is not exactly high priority and is probably strangled for funds. The one way to save the tile industry is to use it for something; they need long term contracts and commercial success in their own country.

  4. chief sahib says:
    October 5th, 2007 10:24 am

    another sad display of how our once rich culture is being ignored. Its sad when people other than our own can see the value of the art and skill and we our selves can’t.

  5. Rafay Kashmiri says:
    October 5th, 2007 12:45 pm

    chief Saheb,

    No Saheb there is no need to be sad, this culture is now known
    to many other countries but very slowly, if you go fast then
    the corrupt admins of Pakistan will sell even the land and mosques of Shah Rukn-e-Alam to Singaporians.

  6. Raza Rumi says:
    October 5th, 2007 1:05 pm

    Excellent post – sad that our heritage remains a low priority..

    Multan’s history, architecture and crafts deserve a better treatment – but then we are hellbent on committing a cultural suicide.

    Nevertheless, thanks to Shirazi Saheb for keeping this issue alive in his writings.

  7. Tina says:
    October 5th, 2007 2:10 pm

    I agree that Multan should be nominated for UNESCO recognition. Pakistan has eight World Heritage sites already, truly something to be proud of, but it has even more cultural riches that would qualify. If Pakistan ever becomes indisputably safe and convenient for travellers, particularly well-heeled retirees (think about who you typically see in Egypt or Mexico) the tourism sector will boom.

  8. Roshan says:
    October 5th, 2007 10:25 pm

    Great post Shirazi Sb,
    Great Post!
    This blue kashi gari also known as Multani art and is found even in many old residential buildings too. This kashi gari is also very famous on camel skin. One finds table lamps, vases, wall hangings and other decoration pieces made of camel skin and having this Kashi gari in various colors. Thanks for bringing this decaying art on ATP.
    @ Tina
    A minute difference bw chinese blue and multani blue is that latter has blue base with normally white design on it.While Chinese blue normally has white base and blue design on it (I hope I made the point). Though apparently they seem similar, but you feel the difference if you see it minutely. Infact I did not know about it. Last year, when I was in Multan and buying some souvenirs, the sales person told me about this blue and white difference.

  9. Shahid says:
    August 30th, 2008 3:21 am

    Can you provide some info on Pir Shams of Multan and his tomb.

  10. June 5th, 2010 12:12 pm

    How is it that such exotic art is not being sold in the superstores of Europe ? Is there not one enterprising Pakistani businessman who has the acumen to make a business plan out of selling this product accross the world ?

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