Monday, September 20, 2010

City of Bhopal: Muslim-Hindu Cultural Story of Afghan Soldiers, Gond Warlords and Begums

Bhopal is the capital of Madhya Pradesh. This city was established by Parmara King Bhoj in 11thcentury but Afghan soldier Dost Mohammad turned it into a beautiful city. Bhopal was ruled by the Afghans, Mughals and Rajputs. During the reign of each ruler the city has seen various changes.
In the seventeeth century Nizam Shah, one of the several Gond warlords, known as the Gond raja, ruled Bhopal. Nizam shah had emerged as the strongest among the warlords, and he ruled from the fort of Ginnor. Located about 46 miles east of Bhopal, Ginnor fort was built on steep 2000-foot rock. Sheer cliff drops on each side and thick forests on all sides inhabited by beasts, left only one thin trail leading to the fort and were easily defended. He had taken for his wife Kamlapati, a woman of unmatched beauty, education, refined and superbly talented in the arts. A rival Gond-raja Alam shah ruled Chainpur-Bara, obsessed by the beauty of Kamlapati, he eventually poisoned Nizam shah, leading an insecure Kamlapati to invite Dost Mohammad Khan to avenge her honour. A sum of Rupees one lakh was promised as the fees. Dost Mohammad attacked and slayed Alam Shah. Rani Kamlapati, unable to pay him the promised sum of one lakh, offered him Bhopal instead. Dost took over and consolidated the Bhopal riasat, thus laying the foundation of Mirazi-
khel dynasty of Bhopal.

Several years later in 1723, after the death of Kamlapati, Dost sent hundred of his soldiers dressed as women in palanquins up the Ginnor fort. The unsuspecting guards of Kamlapati's son Nawal shah let the dolis through the gates of impregnable Ginnor fort, where Nawal shahs force was defeated and Nawal Shah was killed

An Afghan soldier of the Orakzai tribe Dost Mohammad Khan (not to be confused with the later Afghan King carrying the same name) laid out the present city at the same site following the death of the Mughal Emperor Aurengzeb in 1707.  He brought with himself the Islamic influence on the culture and architecture of Bhopal, the ruins of which can be found at Islam Nagar. However, a few generations later, owing to the absence of male heirs, Bhopal came under the rule of Begums. 

Bhopal, the second largest Muslim state in pre-independence India was ruled by four Begums from 1819 to 1926.  Qudisa Begum was the first female ruler of Bhopal City, who was succeeded by her only daughter Sikandari, who in turn was succeeded by her only daughter, Shahjehan. Kaikhusrau Jahan Begum was the last female ruler, and stepped down for her son. The succession of the ‘Begums’ gave the city such innovations as waterworks, railways and a postal system. Several monuments still stand in the city as reminders of this glorious period in its history.

During the 1857 revolution, the Begums in Bhopal maintained their loyalty to the British by announcing extra incentives to their army ranks for not joining the freedom struggle. The rulers in Bhopal also send a contingent of their army to fight for the British in the first world war as inscribed on the gate near the Hamidia hospital. Most Begums of Bhopal were aligned with the British for security of their state and hence a clear impact of English architecture can be seen in their palaces. The last ruler however, was Nawab Hamidullah Khan(1926-1949). In 1947 he refused to align with the Indian republic and supported Pakistan. Later under the fear of military action by Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, he surrendered and Bhopal became a part of independant India on 1st June 1949, almost two years after the country’s independence from British rule.

Shairis and poetry recitals are popular in Bhopal. Bhopal is famous for its culture of parda and zardaParda is a curtain, which was used to veil the women of the house from outsiders,zardais a kind of tobacco product which is quite famous with Bhopalis. The official language of Bhopal City is Hindi, and Hindi-Urdu with a peculiar Bhopali accent is spoken in western and eastern parts of the city.

Bhopal has an extensive culture of paan eating, topped with variety of seasonings, the most common being chuna, kattha andsupari(nut).

Diwali is celebrated with equal pomp and glory as Eid. Eid is special to the city as all the Hindus take time out to visit their Muslim friends and greet them and get treated with delicacies, the specialty of the day being sweet sewaiya. Bhopali culture is such that both Hindus and Muslims visit each other on their respective festivals to greet and exchange sweets.

Bhopal has many mosques including Taj-ul-Masajid(one of the largest mosques in Asia, Dhai Seedi ki Masjid (one of the smallest mosques in Asia, Jama Masjid (built by Qudsia Begum in 1837) and Moti Masjid (built by Sikander Begum in 1860). Some of the major historical buildings in Bhopal include Shaukat Mahal (a mixture of Indo-Islamic and European styles of architecture).

Gohar Mahal (built by Qudsia Begum, fusion of Hindu and Mughal architecture),  Sadar Manzil (used by the Begums for public audience, now used as the head office of the Municipal Corporation) and Purana Kila (part of the 300-year-old fort of Queen Kamalapati, situated in the Kamala Nehru Park). Lakshmi Narayan Temple (or Birla Mandir), situated to the south of Lower Lake, is a temple devoted to Vishnu and his mythological consort Laxmi.

Bhopal is a very beautiful city filled with gardens, lakes, beautiful historical mosques and temples. The present day Bhopal has a population of 1.7 million. Hindus and Muslims consists the majority. Bhopal is divided into two parts: old town and new town. The old town is occupied mostly by the Muslims. Major languages include: Hindi, Urdu, English, and Marathi.

Read more:

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Lucknow, Awadh: Treasure of Muslim Cultural and Intellectual Tradition

Lucknow, Awadh became the focal point of a cultural renaissance with the shifting of capital from Faizabad to Lucknow in 1776. 

Awadh is a region in the centre of the modern Indian state of Uttar PradeshThe traditional capital of Awadh has been Lucknow, the capital of the modern day Uttar Pradesh. Until 1819, Awadh was a province of the Mughal Empire administered by a Nawab. Saadat Khan Burhanul Mulk was appointed Nawab in 1722 and established his court in Faizabad near Lucknow. He took advantage of a weakening Mughal Empire in Delhi to lay the foundation of the Awadh dynasty. His successor was Safdarjung the very influential noble at the Mughal court in Delhi.  

Under royal Awadh patronage Kathak, Thumri, Khayal, Dadra, Ghazals, Qawalies and Sher-o-Shairi reached their zenith point.

Kathak: The style that flourished under patronage of Muslim rulers of Lucknow came to be known as Lucknow Gharana. Lucknow Gharana was greatly influenced by Muslim culture and traditions. The Lucknow Gharana developed a style of Kathak that is characterized by precise, finely detailed movements and an emphasis on the exposition of thumri, a semi-classical style of love song. The footwork is matched by the percussion instruments like tabala and pakhwaj. It has very intricate movements of the hands and feet along with facial expressions set to complex time cycles. The dance movements include numerous pirouettes executed at lightning speed and ending in statuesque pose.

As a centre of Islamic learning Lucknow witnessed the formation of Lucknow school of poetry under renowned poets like Anes, Dabeer, Imam-Buksh 'Nasika', Mirza Mohd. Raza Khan Burq, Atish, Mirza Shauq Asar, Josh and others. Apart from Ghazals, another form of long narrative poem for which Lucknow is famous is Masnavi. Elegy writing in Urdu also reached a new height through the three forms-'marsiyas'*. 'salams'* and 'nauhas'*.

Urdu as a language attained a rare degree of perfection in Lucknow and slowly Lucknow emerged as a cradle of unforgettable ghazals, masnavi, elegy, hazal* and dramas. The Navabs of Avadh, Twelver Shi'is and patrons of Urdu literature and poetry, provided auspices for the sublimation of the marsiya genre in North India.

In the kingdom of Avadh, during the months of Muharram and Safar, marsiay and nohay were recited on a daily basis in the majalis (gatherings to commemorate the tragedy of Karbala) held twice a day in imambareh (places of gathering for the majalis). The Navabs thus invited effective reciters (marsiya khwan and noha khwan) who had a considerable following themselves. After the recitation of marsiay and nohay, the family of the Prophet was praised and the enemies of this family rebuked.

Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, himself composed a number of songs and dramas under the pen name of , 'Akhtari Pia'. No account of Lucknowi culture is complete without a mention of the famous 'Chowk' of Lucknow. The term 'Chowk' has become synonymous with Lucknow. 'Chowk' has played a vital role in the development of the Lucknowi culture. It is the pivotal point around which the traders, engravers, painters, artisans, weavers, singers flourished and grew.

Chikankari is the delicate and traditional embroidery practiced in Lucknow and it’s environs. Chikan is a unique craft involving delicate and artistic hand embroidery on a variety of textile fabric like muslin, silk, chiffon, organza, doriya and organdi. There are 36 types of stitches used in chikan work. The source of most design motifs in Chikankari is Mughal.

Lucknow is well known for its jewellery and enamelling work. Exquisite silverware's with patterns of hunting scenes, snakes and roses are very popular. The Bidri and Zarbuland silver works of Lucknow find expression on excellent pieces of huqqa farshi, jewel boxes, trays, bowls, cufflinks, cigarette holders, etc.
Renowned ivory and bone carvings with motifs of flowers, leaves, creepers, trees, birds and animals are widely produced in Lucknow. The master craftsmen create intricate items like knives, lampshades, shirt pins and small toys.

'Attars' or perfumes are also produced in Lucknow from the 19th century. The Lucknow perfumers experimented and succeeded in making attar with delicate and lasting fragrances those are made from various aromatic herbs, spices, sandal oil, musk, essence of flowers, and leaves. The famous Lucknow fragrances are khus, keora, chameli, zafran and agar.

At the turn of the eighteenth century a notable Muslim family settled in Lucknow. Its members were respected for religious learning. It was headed by Mulla Qutb al-Din (d. 1691) who had always retained close links with the Moghul court in Delhi. In fact he and his sons participated in the compilation of al-Fatawa al-`Alamghiriyyah. Since they occupied a French designed house this family came to be known as Farang Mahal.

Dar al-`Ulum Farang Mahal came into existence in 1693. It was founded by Mulla Nizam al-Din Sihal (d. 1748) and was a direct descendent of the Farang Mahal family in Lucknow. He was responsible for evolving the syllabus of this institution which is named after him i.e. Dars-e-Nizam. This syllabus is implemented in all the Muslim religious institutions in India and in other parts of the World, like in South Africa. Dar al-`Ulum Farang Mahal was noted for training Qaadhis (judges), Muftis (those competent to issued legal verdicts) and other legal officials that were, from time to time, required by Muslim courts. Thus Dar al-`Ulum Farang Mahal succeeded in filling the void in Islamic scholarship which existed after the displacement of religious centres in Delhi.

Read more:
Read more:
Read more:
Read more:                                    Read:                                                                                                           Read:

Friday, September 10, 2010

Mughal Male Garb: An Attempt to Bring Together Islamic & Hindu Cultures

Anne Harwood, for the Scholars of St. Thomas Aquinas, 2008

Male garb during the reign of Akbar was comprised of five basic components. 
Men wore a pagri (turban), a jama (coat), a patka (shawl), a katzeb (sash) and either trousers or a dhoti (loincloth).

The Jama
Essentially, the jama is a snugly fitted garment that is complemented by a pair of long sleeves, a distinctive crossover bodice and a full skirt. Although very few examples of the jama have survived from Akbar’s reign, there is a wealth of artistic evidence which, combined with Abu Fas’l’s documentation in The Akbarnama, probably completed in 1596, make it possible to recreate an authentic garment.

A defining characteristic of Akbar’s reign (1556 – 1605) was his attempt to bring together the Islamic and Hindu cultures. His efforts ranged from the personal and dynastic (such as when he married a Hindu princess), to the administrative (Hindu officers figured prominently at his court), to the arts (Akbar was an enthusiastic supporter of Hindu poets and artisans).

This passage illustrates Akbar’s attempts to blend the cultures, as the terms he uses to describe the garments are a mixture of Hindi and Persian phrases. It seems clear that he recognized the need to bring them together while permitting them a means of recognizing each other at a glance, so that the potential for awkwardness and social blunders was minimized. To this end, the Emperor decreed that Muslims would tie their jamas on the right, and Hindus on the left. The jama was therefore a powerful symbol of a man’s religious and social identity.

Akbar further indicated that the skirt of the jama (which is attached to the bodice by a seam hidden beneath the wearer’s sash) should be made rounded: in the reign of his grandfather, Babur, pictorial evidence shows the jama made with slits in the hemline and drooping corners, creating an asymmetrical outline.

The jama is differentiated from other coats of the Mughal era (such as the angharka) in that the skirts overlap in the same fashion as the bodice.

Rather than buttons and loops, the jama was fastened by two pairs of ties. In the case of a Hindu garment, there were two ties inside the jama on the right hand side, one at the armpit and another at the waist. These are hidden from view and help to keep the bodice closed and in place. Another set of ties, usually between seven and nine pairs, closes the bodice on the outside (left) edge. Functional but decorative, these tapes form a row of descending knots or "streamers" overlapping the next pair of ties. While the colour of these tapes can match the colour of the jama, quite often they contrast colourfully with the outfit. In length these outer tapes are not all that long, perhaps some 4 to 6 inches at most.

The social status and wealth of the wearer were indicated by the textiles used to create the jama, by the fullness of the skirts and the length of the sleeves. The sleeves were tight-fitting to the wrist, and were commonly so long as to form soft folds along the forearm. The sleeve also features an inset triangular gusset in the armpit, which allows for a snug fit without compromising mobility.

As previously indicated, the textiles available in Hindustan during the Mughal era were varied and opulent: depending on what the wearer could afford, the choices ranged from lustrous silks to virtually transparent cottons. The finest cottons were found in the upper echelons of court and the hot, humid south, while heavier fabrics were favoured in the cooler north and by those of lower economic status.

Dhoti or Paijama
In his diary, written no later than 1529, Emperor Babur remarked on the dress of the native Hindus: “Peasants and people of low standing go about naked. They tie on a thing called languta, a decency-clout which hangs two spans below the navel. From the tie of this pendant decency clout, another clout is passed between (the legs) and made fast behind.” What Babur is describing is more commonly called a dhoti, which is nothing more sophisticated than a length of fabric (usually cotton) tied around the nether portions like a loincloth. People in India have worn these since antiquity, as seen in the Ajunta cave-paintings dating from the 1st to the 6th centuries C.E.

However, anyone wishing to do business with the affluent Muslim amirs was well-advised to look as much like them as possible. Abu Fas’l describes a garment called yar-pirahan, or trousers. He describes these as “…drawers made of all kinds of stuff, single and double…” though he specifically mentions silk and cotton, held in place with a string.

Another term for these trousers is paijama, from which comes our familiar word denoting sleep attire. The word is a compound of two Persian words, pai meaning “feet” or “legs”, and jama meaning “covering”. Both men and women wore paijamas, possibly in imitation of the warlike Rajput princes who preferred them to the dhoti for the mobility they afforded. During the Akbari period, men wore trousers invariably with their jamas (in this context, coats), and there is no artistic evidence to suggest that dhotis were ever worn in combination with the coats.

Paintings of the period indicate that the paijamas were loose and flowing from the waist to the knee, where they became snug down to the ankle. Often the fabric on the lower legs is wrinkled, suggesting that the paijamas were longer than the leg itself and pushed up, just like the sleeves of the jama, in a display of conspicuous consumption. At no time do the paijamas match the jama in colour, and solid colours appear to have been the fashion during Akbar’s reign.

Pagri or Turban
Although Abu Fas’l describes a number of soft caps worn at Akbar’s court, the universal headwear for both Muslims and Hindus was the turban. Ritu Kumar writes:

The most important accessory for an Indian man was his turban, which proclaimed his status, religion, caste and region of origin. To submit a turban to anybody was a sign of total subjugation and the removal of a turban was the most humiliating punishment that could be inflicted on any man.
Paintings from the court of Akbar indicate that there was a difference between the wrap used by a Muslim and that of a Hindu. Generally, Hindu turbans were fuller and rounder than those of the Muslims, who favoured elaborate jewellery to embellish their headgear. Because of the widely disparate, complex and personal styles of wrapping a turban, however, it is virtually impossible to say with any certainty which wrap an individual would have adopted. As Kumar says, “The variety of regional sizes, tying styles and patterns is the subject of a book in itself.”

Fortunately, the traditional Jairpuri turban—called a safa—was well documented. According to Kumar, the safa is “…twenty-five metres long and twenty cms wide. They are usually tie-dyed and worn with the ends left hanging at the back. In former times, the intricacy of the patterning depended on the status of the wearer. Single coloured pagris were used for daily wear, while pagris tie-dyed with lahariya (wavy), mothra (checked) and chunari (dotted) patterns were reserved for special occasions. It requires a consider able amount of expertise to tie a turban well and professional turban dressers, known as pagri bands, were often employed for this purpose.”

The textile known as bhandej is still produced in Rajasthan, and is readily available in East Indian fabric shops. 

Patka, Katzeb and Juttis
Three more items finish off the male costume and these are the patka (shawl), the katzeb (sash) and juttis (shoes).

The Patka
The patka is a handsome garment often depicted in illustrations of the period draping elegantly from the shoulders of Akbar’s courtiers. It survives today in India as the dupatta, worn by women as a scarf with their salwar camise and Hindu men on their wedding day.

During the reign of Akbar, the patka was a fairly wide length of woven textile, often plain, but sometimes embellished either with embroidered, painted, block printed or woven designs. We have no evidence that one method of embellishment was preferred over the other, and it is difficult to ascertain how the patka was decorated merely from looking at the illustrations. Given that embroidery, painting and weaving were all arts encouraged by Akbar in his imperial workshops, it is reasonable to assert that the embellishment of a patka was dependent, not on technology or availability, but on the affluence and social status of the wearer.

Other patkas found in the illustrations of Akbar’s courts are further embellished with fringes. They came in wide range of colours, from white to saffron yellow to blues and greens and even (though rarely) black.
Muslims were inclined to wrap their patkas in a variety of styles. Abu Fas’l writes in The Akbarnama that the Emperor himself “…has commenced to wear them double, which looks very well." Hindu men favoured a simple throw, eschewing knots and allowing the garment to drape simply and elegantly over their shoulders, held in place using only the weight of the textile itself.

From antiquity, Hindu men were also in the habit of wearing garlands of fragrant flowers, such as jasmine and champa.

The Katzeb
Even more ubiquitous than the patka, was the katzeb, or sash. In illustrations of the period, it is clear that the patka and the katzeb never matched one another, but like the patka, the katzeb was richly decorated in a number of ways. Examples of 16th century katzebs reveal that the pallavs (edges) were rarely backed or lined by a stabilizing fabric; therefore embroidered borders were either uncommon or very skillfully executed. It is more likely that the most highly embellished sashes were of brocaded, painted or block printed textiles. Tie-dye is also very likely, as in the case with turbans.

Sashes in the reign of Akbar seem to be of two lengths, long and short. Labourers, servants and courtiers in a hunting party are often shown with shorter and plainer katzebs. Wealthy emirs and the Akbar himself are depicted as wearing longer and more abundant sashes, and in a few cases, two sashes of contrasting colours at once (see Figure Six).

Generally, however, a single katzeb sufficed, and these were worn in numerous ways.

Shorter sashes would have been roughly 2 ½ yards of fabric for a simple tie and drape, while considerably longer sashes, wound around the torso more than once, obviously required more, and bespoke the status of the wearer. Findlay-Arthur estimates that “the average Akbari katzeb measured in the region of sixteen inches to twenty-two inches wide, possibly as much as twenty-four inches wide for very fine and delicate fabrics, including very fine weave cotton.”

Like the patka, the katzeb was made of various textiles. Most extant examples from the 18th century are silk, silk and cotton mixed, and a cotton middle section with a highly decorated silk, satin or velvet pallav. Given the availability of cotton in India since earliest times, all-cotton katzebs for everyday wear must certainly have been available.

                 Hindus and Muslims differed greatly in their approach to footwear. Followers of Islam wore shoes and boots habitually to protect their feet from the heat and hazards of the Indian landscape. Hindus, on the other hand, view feet and leather both as “unclean”. The making of leather goods, therefore, is and was left to the members of the lowest castes. As a rule, Hindus preferred to go either barefoot or in sandals called paduka, which were made of “pure” materials such as wood or even metal! A bulbous carved or cast decoration fits between the first and second toe, which is how the paduka is kept on the foot. Shoes were invariably removed before entering living areas and temples.

                The jutti was the most common form of shoe worn by visitors to Akbar’s court. They resemble more of a slipper, having a curled toe, no laces and often lack a back for the heel of the foot. The soles are made of leather, and the uppers are made of either leather or fabric, frequently embroidered with gold and silver, especially in the case of a Muslim wearer. A very simple pair of juttis can be seen on the feet of a man in Figure 5, just below the knee of the dancing man in the foreground.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Muslim Craftsman: Traditional Gold & Silver Zari, Zardozi and Gota Embroidery

Traditionally made for Mughal and Rajput nobility, zari is gold, and zardozi embroidery is the glitteringly ornate, heavily encrusted gold thread work practised in Jaipur and a few other cities of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Either real silver thread, gold-plated thread or an imitation which has a copper base gilded with gold or silver colour, is used for zari. Plain wire is called badla, and when wound round a thread, it is called kasav. Smaller spangles are called sitara, and tiny dots made of badla are called mukaish.

Zardozi is a more elaborate version of zari which involves the use of gold threads, spangles, beads, seed pearls, wire, gota and kinari. The fabric on which the work has to be done is first mounted on a wooden frame called adda, which bears a close resemblance to the Indian charpai or bed. The chhapai or tracing of the design to be embroidered is then transferred on the fabric with neel or chalk powder. Then the embroidery starts. The Zardozi craftsmen or zardoze (pronounced Zar - doe - zay)  sit cross-legged around the Adda – the wooden framework with the tools of their trade. These include curved hooks, needles, salmaa pieces which are stiff gold wires twisted like springs and cut to the required length, sitaaras or metal stars, round sequins, glass beads, dabkaa  – a combination of gold and silk thread and kasab – silver or gold-plated silver thread.  

We can broadly categories the zari handwork in four categories (a) Dapka (b) Salma or nakshi (c) Aarri work (d) Badla work.

The art of this embroidery is mostly passed on from father to son where certain skills are taught with utmost secrecy. 

Zari work was mainly done in Madras and Zardozi in Hyderabad until a few decades ago. Today, Lucknow is home to this finest work of gold and silver embroidery.

Akin to applique, gota work involves placing woven gold cloth onto other fabric to create different surface textures. This art is predominantly practised by Muslim craftsmen. Gota is woven on looms in Rajasthan and consists of a warp of cotton yarn and a weft of metal yarn. Small pieces of gota were cut and patched over the textile with the help of thread and needle to create designs in applique. In Jaipuri dialect, this is known as chatapati work. Gota has maintained its popularity even today among the women, the only difference being that the hand-operated loom on which it was formerly made is now power-driven.

Gota is available in different width. With it different types of items are made like Champa, Beejia, Phool, Patti, Gohkroo etc. 

It is usually practised by the Muslim craftsman. 

Gota work is a form of fabric ornamentation that was probably originated in Rajasthan. It is also known as gota-kinari work and lappe-ka-kaam. These `Gota` and `Kinari` are golden and silver coloured pieces and laces those are sewn on the cloth. The Muslim craftsman generally prepares these. 

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Online Books, Pakistan, Islam, Islamic Thought, English & Urdu

Goshaenur is a non-profit bookstore of Islamic Thought and Art focused on publications and craftsmanship of Pakistan

The publications are in English and Urdu languages only, specializing in Pakistani publishers.        

Goshaenur has a basic online payment and delivery system for within Pakistan only. All inquiries on