Kashikari (pronounced ‘kaa-shee-kaa-ree’) is a decorative handcraft which is very similar to mosaic art. Kashi means ceramics and kari means work. This craft dates back to the Mesopotamian civilization and remains an important element of the Islamic architecture.
From Central Asia to East Asia, we can observe the use of ceramic decoration prevalent across the Islamic world. Its name may change according to the language and so does the technique but it definitely is common across the Muslim world.
(A traditional Kashikari floral pattern)
The concept of the using ceramics for wall covering & decoration extends to ancient Egypt as early as 400 BC. Interestingly, cities that developed on the banks of great rivers like the Nile, Euphrates, Tigris and Indus prospered in this handmade craft.
This is not a coincidence because water and clay was readily available which led to advancement in this craft over the years. The Ishtar gate built in Hilla, Iraq in around 575 BC is considered as the oldest remaining spectacle of Kashikari in the world.
(Ishtar gate built around 575 BCE using mosaic art patterns)
(Ishtar Gate displayed in Berlin Museum after being restored)
Pakistan has a rich history and tradition of Kashikari. Across Punjab and Sindh, one can find many architectural marvels graced with this particular mosaic art in Pakistan. It is also an interesting fact that in Pakistan, Kashikari is mostly done on buildings with a religious significance like mosques and mausoleums.
Cities of Multan, Lahore, Hala, Thatta, Uch, Naserpur and Sehwan are known for Kashikari in Pakistan.
(A Kashikari pattern form shrine of Sachal Sarmast)
Multan is termed as the city of saints. Earliest records of Kashikari in the subcontinent are found in Multan. Tombs of Shah Yusuf Gardezi, Shah Rukne Alam and Bahauddin Zakariya all demonstrate Kashikari works in fine detail.
The tombs are also similar in their architectural patterns with octagonal domes and Arabic inscriptions on the walls. The use of dark blue, white and azure Kashikari tiles on contrasting red bricks gives a spectacular look to the building.
(Tomb of Shah Yusuf Gardezi in Multan, a single story structure decorated with Kashikari patterns)
(Tomb of Bahauddin Zakariya, Multan)
(Tomb of Shah Rukne Alam, Multan)
Uch is considered as one of the oldest cities of Pakistan. It was founded by Alexander the Great. Uch is home to the tomb of Bibi Jawindi which is an amazing example of a Kashikari mosaic art in place.
In structure, it resembles the tomb of Shah Rukne Alam but it is decorated with a fine touch of detail in terms of KashiKari. The presence of Kufi Script demonstrates the Persian influence in the architecture.
(Tomb of Bibi Jawindi in Uch Sharif. The tomb is now being restored)
A historical city of Sindh located on the right bank of Indus, Sehwan is known for its pottery, toys but most of all, for being home to the tomb of Sufi Saint Lal Shehbaz Qalandar. The tomb was built in 1356.
The original dome of the shrine collapsed in 1996, so the government commissioned a new structure. The current blue and white tile work visible on the tomb is the work of the most skilled craftsman of Naserpur & Hala.
(Tomb of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar under restoration)
Thatta once used to be a major city of Sindh. When Alexander came to Sindh in 325 BC, Thatta used to be the port city and housed artisans, craftsmen and merchants. The Shah Jahan Mosque of Thatta is an epic demonstration of Kashikari in the city.
It was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 1647. The mosque boasts 93 domes and is touted as to display one of the most detailed and exquisite tile works in the sub continent.
(Detailed Kashikari tilework in Shah Jahan mosque, Thatta)
(Kashikari in arches of the Shah Jahan mosque)
Although this city does not host any major architecture boasting the handmade craft of Kashikari, it is known for another interesting reason. The city once used to be on the bank of River Indus. Majority of people who lived in the city worked as Kashigars. The best of skilled kashigars lived in Naserpur.
Due to economic issues, a number of families abandoned the craft and migrated out. As of now, only 4 families are engaged in the art of Kashikari. Naserpur remains the only city alongside Hala in the subcontinent to have operational old traditional styled Kashikari karkhanas (workshops) where Kashigars work in traditional ways. They make tile work, handmade gift items and all different sorts of items involving Kashikari.
(A kashigar engaged in pottery design. Image credits: Dawn)
There is a reason Lahore is called as the cultural capital of Pakistan. Lahore has always been an important political and cultural city. Since the 12th century, the city has been a capital of some empire or another. Lahore holds one of the most celebrated examples of Kashikari work in the subcontinent, that is, the Wazir Khan Mosque.
(Masjid Wazir Khan Interior. Walls & pillars lined with Kashikari patterns)
(Masjid Wazir Khan Kashikari extends from wall decoration to interior dome design)
The Wazir Khan Mosque in Lahore is considered to be the prime demonstration of Kashikari. The mosque was built in the 17th century by Emperor Shah Jahan. It is graced with intricate tile and calligraphy works like no other. Like the Shah Jahan mosque of Thatta, it seems to be inspired by Persian architecture but the use of floral patterns and Nastaleeq script also adds a beautiful indigenous touch.
(Beautiful interior of Masjid Wazir Khan graced with Kashikari from walls to ceiling)
Kashikari may be dying art in Pakistan but there are still men who want to do their part in reviving the craft and transferring it to the younger generations.
Sindhyaar Makhdoom belongs to a family of famous Hala Kashigars. He makes pottery and handmade gift items infused with Kashikari. He received foreign education and returned back to his town to continue doing his part in reviving the art of Kashikari.
(Handmade gift items made by Sindhyaar at Hala)
Hassan Kashigar from Naserpur won a full scholarship to NCA (National College of Arts, Lahore) and now runs his own workshop where he is experimenting with new designs with his handmade craft. Hassan is the 9th generation of his family into this line of work.
(Hassan Kashigar, who attained a fully funded scholarship to the National College of Arts and is 9th generation of his family into this craft)
Kashikari is just one out of a plethora of indigenous crafts that is on the verge of fading away if proper support is not directed towards it from the government and NGOs. A great deal of effort goes into being good at this handcraft.
The kind of products Kashigars like Hassan, Sindhyaar Makhdoom and others make can be promoted, and placed in the international markets. The indigenous arts and crafts industry is booming already. There are a number of businesses in the global market now making and selling handmade gift items. With the internet, their reach has expanded. Let’s own our heritage & support our artists engaged in indigenous crafts.
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