MULTAN-Amid one of the most densely populated and ancient localities of Multan city, stands a unique and centuries old Sawi Mosque, depicting an exquisite piece of mosaic art called Kashi Kari.
Built by Nawab Said Khan Qureshi, a noble of Mughal emperors Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb Alamgir, this master piece was constructed some 400 years ago in Kotla Toley Khan.
“Sawi Mosque, the oldest mosque of Multan, is presently being renovated for the second time ever since this marvellous mosaic structure was built. Previously, it was repaired in 1930, said Muhammad Riaz, a mason of the Archaeology Department, who is working at the mosque.
We are placing new tiles with the same Kashi Kari design,” he said.
Popularly known as Kashi Kari, the mosaic work was brought here from Iran. Kashi is a term applied to enamelled work on the Terracotta base. Kashi is a Persian word, designating to the tiles, or trimmed to the form of pieces of faience serving to cover entire, or partial fabric of a building principally decorative.
Besides, Sawi Mosque, Masjid Nawab Khan, Musa Pak Shaheed Mosque, Khuddaka Mosque, Yehya Nawab Mosque, Shahi Mosque (Eidgah) and Shahi Mosque have magnificent work of Kashi Kari on them.
The mausoleums decorated with Kashi tiles are: Hazrat Shah Rukn-e- Alam, Hazrat Bahauddin Zakariya, Hazrat Shah Shams, Bibi Pak Daman (Bibi Rasti), Hazrat Hafiz Jamal, Hazrat Musa Pak Shaheed, Hazrat Khawaja Awais Khagga, Hazrat Ali Akbar,” said Mehr Ghulam Muhammad, Sub-Divisional Officer, Punjab Archaeology Department. The shrine of Hazrat Shah Rukn-e-Alam excels all other buildings and monuments in faience and faience mosaic work. The geometrical patterns executed are stars, crosses, lozenges meanders, pentagon, hexagon and isometric tessellation and decagon etc, while floriated patterns include: Shamsa, scrolls, tendril, circle and rosettes, he added.
Excellent specimen of Multan enamelled tile decoration in Pakistan are found on the mausoleums of Hazrat Shah Yousuf Gardezi, Hazrat Shah Shams, Hazrat Shah Rukn-e-Alam, Sultan Ali Akbar’s mother tomb, Hazrat Bahul Halim at Uch Sharif, Tomb of Bibi Jawandi or Jiwindi and monuments at Mittan Kot.
According to Mehr Ghulam Muhammad two colours are used in the making of Kashi Kari tiles — Copper Oxide and Cobalt Oxide — that are green and blue respectively.
“Cobalt Oxide is very expensive these days costing about Rs9000 per kg. “Therefore, it costs almost Rs600 to 700 to make a 1 by 1 foot Kashi tile nowadays.
In the past, the tiles used to be baked in wooden kilns and these had a 50% chance of loss, in case wet wood was used for baking. Now, the artisans bake them on natural gas run kilns, which has diminished the chances of loss,” Mehr Ghulam Muhammad said.
Regarding the art, Muhammad Wajid, a Kashi Gar by profession, informed that his forefathers had come to the city along with Muhammad Bin Qasim.
“Our family has been dealing in this business for the last 300 years. My father Allah Dewaya had renovated Hazrat Shah Ruk-e-Alam mausoleum and received Aga Khan Award in 1985 for his marvellous job. We also renovated Hazrat Musa Pak Shaheed’s tomb about two years back.”
The artisan informed that he had been imparting three-month training of Kashi Gari at various educational institutions of Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland.
“It is a laborious and taxing job. It is a costly work as well, therefore; it needs resources for running the business and, unfortunately, we do not have finances. So, the art is fading day by day. The government should pay attention to this centuries old art, so that we could continue this business,” the artist has appealed.
Wajid said that they could make 50 mounds of tiles of various sizes in a kiln.
Known as Multani tiles, it takes about 15 to 20 days to prepare them, he said and added that Multan Chamber of Commerce and Industry was giving them a helping hand for promotion of their business.
“Normally, we have four artisans, but if we get an order, we increase the number of labourers to a dozen. It all depends on the placement of an order for tiles.” the artisan said.
The Multan School of enamelled tiles has the distinction of using three colours-Cobalt Blue, Persian Blue and white. Sometimes, yellow, amber, green and chocolate brown are also used.
In Pakistan, the main centres of Kashi Kari are located at Multan, Lahore (Punjab), Thatta, Hala, Nasarpur (Sindh) and Mahra Sharif, Dera Ismail Khan (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa).
According to existing history, the first earliest known specimen of Kashi Kari is the mausoleum of Hazrat Bahaudddin Zakariya.