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Chaukundi Tombs

Posted on June 6, 2011
Filed Under >Owais Mughal, History, Travel
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Owais Mughal

This post is about the historic Chaukundi tombs located just outside Karachi. Before writing further I must admit that the last time I personally visited Chaukundi was in 1985 but I still vividly remember being fascinated by the stone carvings on these tombs. Following information comes from the tourist books and the Internet search. I’ve tried to include only the information which I could authenticate from multiple sources.

Since seeing is believing so lets start this post by watching the following video clip of Chaukundi tombs I found at the youtube.



If one travels out of Karachi on National Highway N5 - then between kilometer markers 26 and 27, towards the left side – lies an astonishing necropolis from several centuries ago called the Chaukundi Tombs.

Following map approximately shows the location of Chaukundi tombs on N5.

The word Chaukundi means ‘four-cornered’ and it got its name from the 5-star mausoleums of rich and influential people buried here and which are structurally supported by a column at each of its four sides. These columns usually support a dome or a canopy overhead the burial place. Hundreds of tombs stretch for nearly 3 kilometers. Another peculiar thing about these tombs is that they are all oriented in North-South direction.

Although a majority (of structures) consist of graves, there are some pavilion tombs supported by columns as well. Belonging to sixteenth century, the carving is similar to that found in the Samma Cluster at Makli necropolis. [source (3) below]

These tombs belong to Jokhio, Baloch and Burpat (or Burfat) tribes and most of them date back to between 13th and 17th centuries. The thing that makes these tombs stand out is the exquisitely-carved stone work. This stone work is unique to certain areas Sindh and Balochistan. Even though Chaukundi is the largest and most elaborately designed concentration of stone tombs in Pakistan, similar – but not so decorated tombs have been discovered all along the Makran coast and Lasbela in Balochistan and around River Indus delta in Sindh. In Sindh these sites include Malir, Dumlotee, Mirpur Sakro, Gujjo, Thariba, Sonda and Sehwan Sharif.

The graves which belong to women have been decorated with stone carvings of flowers and jewelry which emphasizes the stature and wealth of the departed female. The graves of men have detailed stone carvings of horses, riders and weapons. Also included in the cluster of Chaukundi tombs are Muslim graves which tend to be unadorned.

The carving or motif which is most repeated on these tombs is a three-depth rosette which is most likely developed due to an early representation of the sun. Besides rosette, other carvings include the shapes of zigzags, flowers, crosses and diamonds.

There have been some reports of people stealing or defacing the stone carvings of these historic tombs. I’ve also heard recently that on weekend nights a local pir saayiN (Holy man) conducts services of removing ‘djinns’ from the psychologically disturbed people here. Hopefully both of these activities could be stopped from using Chaukundi tombs as their premises.

Chaukandi tombs is a protected site in the care of Department of Archaeology, Government of Pakistan.

References:
(1) Chaukhandi Tombs: Funerary Art in Sind and Balochistan, Oxford University Press 2003
(2) Insight Guide Pakistan – 2007
(3) Karachi -Illustrated City Guide by Yasmeen Lari – Oxford University Press 2000
(4) Spectrum Guide to Pakistan – 1998

24 Comments on “Chaukundi Tombs”

  1. Shez says:
    June 7th, 2011 1:54 am

    It’s actually Burfat, a Baloch-Sindhi tribe living on the outskirts of Karachi.

    Chaukundi tombs are well scattered as you can see many of these tombs if you visit the Russian Beach area near the steal mills. You will also find them in Bhambore near Gharo.

  2. Wasim says:
    June 7th, 2011 2:44 am

    Have always wanted to go here. Wish it was easier to do so.

  3. June 7th, 2011 2:47 am

    very nice sharing keep it up dude :)

  4. Owais Mughal says:
    June 7th, 2011 6:26 am

    Shez, you are write about Burfat. Correction is made in the post and I’ve provided it as an alteranate pronunciation of the word Burpat. Reason for both pronunciations being used is because in several indo-pak languages there is no sound for the letter ‘p’ – it is pronounced by many people as ‘f’ e.g. you may have commonly heard ‘phir’ said as ‘fir’ etc.

  5. banjara says:
    June 7th, 2011 6:33 am

    is this the same necropolis as the one at makli, or is this different?

  6. Owais Mughal says:
    June 7th, 2011 6:36 am

    @Banjara. Makli is different. Makli is right outside Thatta and much much bigger than Chaukundi.

    You are correct that there is a similar necropolis in Makli. There is a certain cluster of graves in Makli called “Samma cluster” which is similar as Chaukundi graves.

    If you look at the road map provided in the post above, then right above Thatta you will see the half word ‘Mak’ in red font which is supposed to show Makli’s location. the word got cut when i cropped the image.

    Makli will need a dedicated post by ATP just on itself :) Makli is claimed as the largest necropolis in the World. (source Yasmeen Lari’s book). Makli is also on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

    by the way I have not visited the Makli graveyard personally. I’ve only driven outside Makli and seen it from the highway. Above information comes from what I’ve recently read about it

  7. Shez says:
    June 7th, 2011 1:37 pm

    @Owais

    Thanks for the correction. Actually there is a criminology teacher at Karachi University Dr. Fateh Burfat who also writes for Urdu magazines occasionally. He uses f instead of p so I guess that might be the real pronunciation.

    You are right about some words missing in local languages. P is missing in Hindi and Punjabi as well as they use “fir” in Hindi and “feer” in Punjabi. Same is the case for خ Khay where Hindi speakers can’t say Khoobsorat in the original pronunciation. Punjabis fare relatively better especially those living in cities but many still say “Khabsorat” especially those living in villages.

    Urdu is unique in the sense that it has adopted every letter while still retaining its original vocabulary.

  8. Pakistani says:
    June 7th, 2011 2:58 pm

    These carved graves cant be of poor people and are definitely of the tribal chiefs/ waderaas of that period, the poor haris/slaves were used to built these graves,,,,what a pitty, these waderaas only believed in getting graves of their ancestors decorated but never did anything for poors.
    Just have a look on our history , you find tombs and Maqbraas of rulers/waderaas highlighted in books,,,,till today ,our rulers are doing the same.
    Teeming millions of this continent always have remained and still are slaves of waderaas/jagrdaars and Badshaas/ploticians

  9. Shez says:
    June 7th, 2011 3:03 pm

    @Pakistani

    True but the irony is that one visits their graves, whatsoever may be their architectural significance. The only exception is the Taj Mahal but that’s in India so out of the question. Even there, hardly anyone offers any respects to the buried. They simply enjoy their time and take pictures.

    It is the shrines of Sufis that are still full of people after hundreds of years.

  10. Pakistani says:
    June 7th, 2011 3:43 pm

    @SHEZ
    of course, I agree
    MaiN Qurban UnahN Tau Bahoo
    Qabar JenhaN di Jeway Ho

  11. ms says:
    June 7th, 2011 6:52 pm

    Shez is dead wrong

    hindi has a P sound letter called “paa” as well as a kha letter called unimaginatively enough “kha”
    in fact in hindi kha is for khargosh and p is for paani (as taught in school :))

    Both these are in sanskrit as well.

    Phonetically I think hindi and urdu provide a large canvas and thats why you see speakers of these languages able to pronounce correctly almost any name – while pple of say a anglo saxon , japanese, or arabic background have well known inability to pronounce certain sounds.

  12. Shez says:
    June 8th, 2011 12:40 am

    @ms

    It’s not good to reach conclusions so early.

    I guess you have misunderstood the letters paa and kha. While Hindi has these two letters, they don’t correspond to Urdu letters phaa and khaw.

    They do say Khargosh in Hindi but not in the same pronunciation as Urdu. Just listen to this story, the narrator is trying hard to use the Urdu Khaa but end up saying in Hindi accent, at 0.12 sec for example.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xkKUZTnLJQ

    Also there is a problem with phir where it comes across as fir.

    Also with Zaa. Hindi uses J instead of Z. Tarey Jameen Par. Is se Jyada aur kya hoga?

    And of course no one can beat the Qaaf of native Urdu speakers. I guess only Persian and Arabic are the other two languages that have a distinct sound for Qaaf, right from the depth of the vocal box. Our Qabool and Qainchi is different from Kabool and Kaynchi.

    Most Indian singers, especially of the new lot, also don’t have a command of correct pronunciation even though around 90% of songs are written in Urdu. Lata Ji, of course, is a gem and I’ve heard that she also learnt basic Urdu in the 1950s.

    Here are Urdu alphabets for you

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lO6Zmji12k

  13. Shez says:
    June 8th, 2011 1:45 am

    Sorry, forgot to add the link for Urdu pronunciation of Khargosh. Also notice how they say other words with Khaa such as Khidmat.

    Here it is.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-5TJJEnna8

  14. Nazia says:
    June 8th, 2011 11:28 am

    The theft of tomb pieces are stolen by the guards of graveyard.A crook old man will chase you if you make three or four visit and offer you different prices of its carved pieces seeing the status of your car and personality.he would give you full assurance that missing pieces would be artistically replaced by same you would get this piece of heritage in drawing rooms.
    It is matter of 6 years back when I got such offers and know few of my friends have taken its pieces so I am not sure how much real stones have been left in this neglected and unprotected historical piece.

  15. Ayaz Abdal says:
    June 9th, 2011 7:34 am

    What an excellent piece. Thank you Owais. I had the good fortune of visiting Chokundi and look at the pieces of art created by our forefathers. A very interesting feature was the pagri at the top of male tombs. I was looking at a pic of Maulana Rumi tomb in Turkey in Dr. GN Kazi flickr page when i noticed the same thing over male tombs. Perhaps a common tradition in those times.

  16. Ayaz Abdal says:
    June 9th, 2011 7:35 am

    Sorry I forgot to mention one thing. The misfortune is how many people of Karachi took time out to see the wonderful piece of art. We should take our school kids out so they would appreciate their heritage.

  17. Owais Mughal says:
    June 10th, 2011 9:33 pm

    Ayaz
    Thanks for your comment. You are correct about the ‘pagri’ on top of some of the chaukundi tombs having Turkish origin. Tonight I read in a book called ‘Chaukhandi tombs in Pakistan’ by Syed Khurshid Hasan this paragraph:

    “The headstone of the grave of a deceased in Turkey generally terminates in a representation of the kind of turban or other head gear appropriate to his rank and status”.

    and then following para linking it to Chaukundi tombs:

    “The top most of the slabs is set vertically (in Chaukundi tombs)…is commonly known as a crown or turban…One view is that such turbans are on the graves of ‘shaheeds’. This presumption is confirmed by the fact that grave of Darya Khan alias Mubarak Khan, Prime Minister and General of Jam Nizamuddin Nindo who received martyrdom at the hands of Arghuns on 11th muharram 927A.H/1520 AD is crowned by a turban. Actual turbans are generally found placed on the head stones of the graves of Kalhora and Talpur rulers in Sindh as well as saintly persons in other parts of Pakista. Since the Chaukundi tombs are located in the open, so the actual turbans cannot, for obvious reasons, be placed on the head stones. A via media was, therefore, found and a boss like construction was made in stone to represent a turban.”

  18. Owais Mughal says:
    June 10th, 2011 9:36 pm

    Dawn has carried a photo feature on Makli necropolis today. Can be seen at:

    http://www.dawn.com/2011/06/09/maklis-aura-revisited.html

  19. ms says:
    June 11th, 2011 3:18 pm

    @shez

    I love how you pakistanis try to understand India . Unfortunately the fact is it is VERY big – I understand its easier for you to see us a consistent uniformly distributed set of people but we are not- growing up in Delhi I can tell you that there were hundreds of accents from a hundred different cultures – from bengalis to tamils. If its easier for you to understand us then keep your misinformed views – but if you take the time to rise above the general belief of pakistanis of indians as vegetarian daal eating dark, uncultured non believers (not that there is ANYthing wrong with ANY of these) …you will find a lot things of interest.

  20. Shez says:
    June 12th, 2011 1:13 am

    @ms

    How clever of you to spin the topic. We are talking about languages, specifically Hindi and Urdu, not countries. Why, then, you spun the topic to include other things, including religion?

    Punjabi, for example, is spoken on both sides of the border and they originally had the same limitations in vocabulary. Urban Punjabis in Pakistan have overcome those vocabulary pitfalls but you will find the similar accent in rural areas.

    Since you have mentioned, I’ve been to India and know the different accents spoken there. And I’ve noticed these things from the Punjab to Kerala. And aren’t we talking about Hindi in general, rather than other Indian languages?

    Oh, and I forgot to add. Ghain (غ) is also absent in Hindi in its truest form. It is also absent in Punjabi.

    Ghalati is being spoken as Galat for example.

    You can look at Urdu vocabulary and see the dialogues spoken in Hindi and Urdu films to get the difference.

  21. Arif says:
    July 25th, 2011 1:32 pm

    We need hope and not fear.

    http://thetopnewz.com/

  22. Owais Mughal says:
    August 18th, 2011 8:59 am

    An excellent photo post on Chaukundi by Dawn. These photos are one of the best I’ve seen on Chaukundi

    http://www.dawn.com/2011/08/17/a-place-of-domes-and-pillars.html

  23. August 18th, 2011 10:29 pm

    Nice write-up

  24. August 19th, 2011 5:05 am

    good information…
    i hope that govt prevent these types of traditional sites…

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