Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Who was Mian Naseer

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Between the city of Dadu and the Khirthar Mountains in central Sindh, there stretches a great and dusty plain. No canals cross this land and because it lies beyond the reach of the southeast monsoon rain is infrequent and therefore little agriculture. Here the tamarisk and kikar grow and the rough-legged buzzard and barn owl hunt for jird, gerbil and rat by day or night respectively.


Scattered in this barren landscape are some graveyards dating from the early 18th century. The largest of this is the graveyard of Mian Naseer Kalhora locally referred to as Mian Naseer jo Qubbo — the Dome of Mian Naseer. This remarkable collection of beautifully painted funerary buildings lies northwest of Dadu city and twenty kilometres west of Kakar village.

In the open, dusty plain, the three dozen or so buildings appear like brown warts on the face of the earth. Some of them are large buildings with enclosed burials; the remainder are open on four sides like small baradaris that one can enter only by stooping a little. A few have drab grey interiors, but the rest are adorned with exquisitely beautiful frescoes.

Here one finds horses caparisoned gaily and mounted by bearded riders accoutred with sword, shield and matchlock. They carry flowing robes and baggy shalwars and around their necks they have colourful scarves ballooning in the breeze. They also wear the tall Sindhi hat made so popular by the Talpurs (1784-1843).

There are scenes of pastoral life: buffaloes with milk-swollen udders, men and women on charpais, some drawing on the hookah; women churning milk in terra-cotta pots fixed on wooden frames as we still find in remote villages across Sindh and Punjab. Above, the domed ceiling radiates in an explosion of floral designs in consecutive rings and amid those is a profusion of foliate vines connecting countless little flowers.

There are panels with elegantly flowing vines with flowers and leaves and within them, on little rectangular panels, human figures. Such sequences are found on later Sikh paintings and the concentric rings of the ceilings are seen in the earlier Mariam Zamani and Badshahi mosques of Lahore. That is, the Sindhi artistic vocabulary did not only borrow from the more accomplished Mughals, but it also contributed to the art of later times.

Sadly most of the human figures have been defaced. That was how I found them back in 1987 and the culprit was said to be a malicious mullah inspired by the darkness of the long night of the Great Hypocrite.

Who, then, was Mian Naseer?

About the early years of the 16th century there rose in Sindh a group known as the Daupotra Abbasis who claimed Arab descent. With this claim to inherited piety, they became religious mendicants living off the goodwill of believers. Not long afterwards, the clan had grown sufficiently large for the donations of simple people to be inadequate. And so the Daupotras took to a life of adventurism.

Taking the name of one Kalhora in the family, a right independent and freebooting individual, they rose to much fame (or notoriety, depending on one's perspective) under Adam Khan Kalhora. This swashbuckler ran rough shod across the northern Sindhi region of modern Shikarpur and Larkana raising the ire of the Mughals. This was the latter part of the 16th century when Adam Khan was arrested by a military expedition sent out by the imperial court.

He was executed in Multan and his body brought back to be interred on a high hill to the west and just outside Sukkur town where it reposes to this day and is a sort of a shrine for many. Adam Shah's work was carried on by his grandson Shah Ali, popularly known as Shahal Mohammad (buried outside Larkana). The Mughals sent another expedition again Shahal's depredations, but were unable to run him to ground.

Mian Naseer was the son and successor of Shahal Mohammad. A notch above his father, he gave wider scope to his picaroon activities until the much-rankled Mughals, now under that self-righteous bigot Aurganzeb, launched yet another military force against him. The man was captured and taken in chains to Delhi. But the champion that he was, Mian Naseer shortly afterwards contrived to escape and return home. Here he resumed his work and eventually passed away from this life in 1692. His sons Din Mohammad and Yar Mohammad took over. But the former was at length captured and executed by the Mughals while the latter took refuge in Kalat. He eventually sued for peace and in 1701 was granted the governorship of Sibi and Shikarpur.

Ruling as Khuda Yar Khan Kalhora, this man began one of the finest, albeit for a short eighty-three years only, period of independent Sindhi rule. Khuda Yar Khan proved to be a good and judicious ruler who was famous among other things for establishing his new capital at Khudabad (15 km south of Dadu). His mosque on one side of the highway and tomb (died 1718) on the other are reminders of his time and fine examples of Sindhi architecture and tile work. It was Khuda Yar who also ordered the tombs around the grave of his ancestor Mian Naseer. This was between the years 1705 and 1710.

Now, it must be conceded that all these Kalhoras, beginning with Adam Khan and down to Yar Mohammad were no ordinary brigands. They were actually resistance fighters. They stood against Mughal hegemony and their adversaries naturally took their activities to be 'anti-state'. But for the common Sindhi, these were heroic figures that stood for the freedom of their country. And so it is no surprise that one still finds a worshipper or two at the tomb of Adam Khan, Khuda Yar or Shahal and even at the remote and difficult to reach graveyard of Mian Naseer.

What I find of singular interest is that the Kalhoras claimed (and still do) holy descent from Arabia, yet when the good Khuda Yar commissioned the tombs of his ancestors, he gave the artists free hand. For a man regarded a spiritual leader, he was so broad-minded and liberal as to permit the artistry that one still finds, now badly damaged, in the tombs at Mian Naseer jo Qubbo. Folks were then untainted by narrow-mindedness.

It took nearly three centuries for society to vomit another incubus in the likeness of the bigot who took Mian Naseer whose name the graveyard carries. It was only in this latter period of hypocrisy of the 1980s that blinkered demons got free run in this country.

Odysseus Lahori one year ago: Sakhia

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM,

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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

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