Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society


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The case of Mazar-e-Nikodar is complicated. Some historians were fooled by the architectural style of the tombs and assigned them a date as early as the 2nd or 3rd century CE. Such a deduction would now be easily acceptable when the only dating element contained in the terracotta decorative tablets has been vandalised. But I am surprised at how all previous investigators missed the one tablet that now exists only as a picture in my custody. This tablet gave these mysterious tombs the unmistakable date of the late 16th century. But now with it gone, investigators can drum up whatever conclusions they want.

Like all other tablets showing animal and human forms, this crucial tablet was also rather crudely rendered. But even in that crudity, it depicted a scene that could not be mistaken for anything else: it showed a man with a long-barrelled jazail in pursuit of three fleeing ibex. Such a rifle as our man carried on this lost tablet was not known in this part of the world before the late 16th century. The other thing this tablet showed, was that those who built and embellished these tombs were not local people but came from a hill country: because the ibex lives in arid highlands, not in flat deserts.

My discussion thus far has not answered the question regarding this Nikodar buried in this remote part of the Balochistan desert. We have to look for someone called by this Mongol name as late as the time when the Mughal dynasty in India and the Safavid dynasty in Persia were both in the throes of death in the mid to late 17th century. Could it be that in that age of flux and uncertainty there rose a man or a group of men — descended from Nikodar Oghlan, the grandson of Chaghata Khan of the house of Chengez — who raised a host and reverted to the old picaroon way of life?

If that is true, then there must indeed have been a great and merry band of marauders, a veritable army, who rode under the flag of that latter day Nikodar. This, I say for the burials at Mashkel contain the remains of no fewer than seven or eight hundred persons. For such an extravagant funerary arrangement there must have been an equal if not greater number of survivors. Since they would have needed labour in order to fire the bricks and tablets, they must have been strong enough to muster the necessary conscripts to help raise the monuments.

The one question that continues to niggle, concerns the sudden end of so great a number as to permit collective burials. If one were to suppose these people were killed in battle, it would rationally follow that they took control of this country. In the other case, they would have been chased away and the corpses of the dead Nikodaris would have been left to rot in the sun; there would have been no embellished tombs. There seems to have been sufficient time for them to have built and decorated these tombs.

If that is what happened, then investigators need to look for the remains of their settlement. For surely they must have conquered and stayed — even if for a short while. If they did, what was it that finally ran them out of this country and out of human memory? Today there are no tales to be gleaned in Mashkel and Kharan about the predatory Nikodaris. When they went, they practically disappeared from the world. All that they left behind was a little plaque on one of the tombs they had built that said someone called Nikodar was buried there. The chronogram to give an approximate date to that event is the lost tablet with the rifleman pursuing ibex.

Postscript: Such a large amount of burnt bricks and decorative tablets as went into the making of the Nikodari tombs could only have been baked by a large army of expert kiln men. They would moreover have needed a huge amount of timber (they didn’t burn old tyres in those days!) to fire the kilns. But the tombs are located in a vast and barren desert. As unanswerable as the Nikodaris is the question of where the timber was acquired.

Previous:  Naushervani Tombs Part 1

Odysseus Lahori one year ago:  Making a Difference


posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 23 August 2014 at 11:04, Anonymous Muhammad Athar said...

Sir your articles are always full of historical knowledge. I always enjoyed reading.

At 23 August 2014 at 11:05, Anonymous Muhammad Athar said...

Sir your articles are always full of historical knowledge. I always enjoyed reading.

At 23 August 2014 at 12:00, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you, Athar.


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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days