CULTURAL ROOTS OF THE ART & ARCHTIECTURE OF THE PUNJAB

Aruna Zahra Ashraf, Neelum Naz

Architect Aruna Zahra Ashraf, Chief Architect, Government of the Punjab delivered the 15th Thaap Lecture on August 24, 2013 on the topic "Central Asia, Persia and the Punjab: Shared Cultural Roots". Professor Dr. Neelum Naz, Chairperson of the Department of Architecture, University of Engineering and Technology gracefully presided.

Ms. Ashraf illustrated her talk with a number of well-chosen slides, mostly her own photography, of buildings, persons and events. She systematically traced the overlapping links in the region in the fields of Architecture, Gardens, Professional Expertise, Astronomy, Medicine, Waqfiyyah, Miniature Painting, Romance, Glazed tiles, Fortification, Trade, Life Style and Superstition. The exhaustive list and the research carried on in these aspects was very impressive.

Ms Ashraf stated that, "Perhaps more than any other individual, Zahir-ud-Din Mohammad Babur (1483-1530) personifies the cultural connections shared by North India and Central Asia in the 16th to 19th centuries as reported by Scott C. Levi in India and Central Asia (Oxford) 2007."The cultural links that connected Moghul North India with Uzbeck Central Asia were greatly facilitated by the Persian-Islamic tolerant cultural environment. Throughout the vast territory, including Safavid Persia (1502 - 1722), merchants and scholars, found themselves connected through a common understanding and value of culture.

Speaking of Architecture, she said, "The Central Asia architectural style for funerary memorials which began with the square plan tomb of Baha-al-Din Zakariya (1262), culminated in the octagonal plan mausoleum of his grandson Sheikh Ruknal-Din Rukn-i-Alam (executed between the year 1320-1325), which has been termed by John Marshall "as one of the most splendid memorials ever erected in honor of the dead." With an octagonal plan and tapering profile, the profusely ornate mausoleum served as a prototype for numerous funerary memorials erected during the next three centuries." She further elaborated that Architecture was the most visible legacy that the Mughals left in the Muslim Sub-continent. Many of the general plans and their profiles especially in mausoleums, mosques, madrassas and gardens reflect central Asian precedents with substantial influences from Safavid Persia.

In Landscape Architecture (Gardens) the life giving aspects of the gardens delineating pools of water, over-hung by the tree of life, with the world shown as if divided into four quadrants appeared in the earliest decorated Persian pottery. This type of cross plan arrangement, intercepted with a focal point in the center either as a pool or a pavilion (kiosk) became the hallmark of Persian gardens under the name Chahar Bagh.

Ms. Ashraf also gave examples of professional persons carrying the traditions from place to another. "Professional exchanges in the domain of art and architecture between the cultural diaspora is epitomized in the career of Mirak-i Sayyid Ghiyath, a renowned landscape architect under the Shaybanids at Bukhara, where he designed the Mir-i Arab Madrassah and a garden. Born in Herat, Mirak first served the Timurids, then the Uzbecks, after that the Safavids, then again the Uzbecks. Later he made contributions to Moghal India at Agra and Dholpur and then finally went back to work in Uzbeck Central Asia. Mirak's son Muhammad, born at Bukhara during the 1540s, was commissioned by Akbar to design Humayun's tomb, the first major Timurid monument to be built in Mughal Punjab."

In the field of Astronomy too she showed the rich exchanges as: 'Samarkand school' of astronomy flourished under Moghul patronage in Delhi. The tradition has its roots in the work of ruler of Samarkand, Astronomer Mirza Ulugh Beg, who built a three story observatory there in 1420 to observe the star positions and for his astronomical tables, Zij-i Ulugh Beg. The measuring instrument's curved track is all that remains.Also in Medicine the Yunani medical system made its way into the Moghul court through Central Asia and Persia. The tradition of the 11thcentury Central Asian physician cum philosopher Ibn-e Sina took firm roots in Persia, especially in Shiraz, through subsequent centuries. Most of the important physicians in the Moghul court hailed from Shiraz or north Persia, with the exception of Khwaja Khawind Mahmud, a grandson of Khwaja Ubaidullah Ahrar from Samarkand. Before joining Babur's court at Agra Khwaja Khawindhad studied medicine at Shiraz.

The tradition of creating charitable endowment deeds, (waqafiyyah) was also common in the region; documents provide a diverse data for architectural, economic, social and religious record of these charitable trusts /endowments from various sources. Babur's descendants continued the Waqf endowment of Gur-e Amir, and this stipend was only terminated in mid-18th century, long after the Mughals had ceased to be an imperial dynasty.

In the tradition of Miniature Painting she stated that the role of Persian artists in the evolution of Mughal miniature painting clearly demonstrates the shared art roots. It dates back to the time when in 1540 Humayun was driven out of Delhi by Sher Shah Suri, thereby forcing him to take refuge in the Safavid Court of Shah Tahmasp. The noted miniaturists Mir Sayyid Ali and Khawaja Abbas Samad moved to Delhi with the emperor and formed the nucleus of an imperial painting studio. Local artists were employed to work in unison with the Persian masters, while skilled painters from North India sprinkled their own Indian flavor with the Persian style of paining thereby giving birth of a distinct style.

Romance also brought people of the region together as illustrated by the story of Sohni-Mahiwal.

Around the late Mughal Period (18th century) a baby girl, named Sohni was born to Tullha, a potter of Gujrat on the River Chenab. As the pots and pitchers came off the potter's wheel, she would embellish them with artistic designs and set them up for sale. Their shop is said to have been near the Rampyari Mahal, and attracted a lot of attention. Once Mirza Izzat Beg, a rich trader from Bukhara halted at the caravan serai at Gujrat and happened to see Sohni at the potters shop and fell in love with her. She too lost her heart to him. Instead of returning back to Bukhara with his caravan, the noble born took up the task of a buffalo tender in Tullha's house and never returned home.

The art of tile mosaic or faience mosaic (from Italian city Faenza is a type of under glazed quartz tile with multicolored motifs) technique was perfected by Timurid ceramists and became a popular form of adornment in cities of Central Asia and Persia as it allowed freedom of design and floral decorative motives. The more specialized cut tile mosaic technique found in Lahore makes use of monochrome enameled tiles of various colors, fired separately according to the temperature requirements. Square tiles on which patterns are directly painted on to the glazed ground continue from one tile to the next until the pattern is complete. One such form generally restricted to a blue and white palette is called cuerda seca or dry chord which serves to divide hues and prevents colors from running into one another. The other technique is haft rang which employs several colors. Similarly fortifications, based on the experience of the invading Afghans and Turks became a feature of the landscape in India as they helped them to maintain the kingdom.

The Indian merchants orchestrated a vast trade network with Persia, Central Asia and Russia as reported by Stephen Dale in his work, Indian Merchants and Eurasian Trade (Cambridge 1994). Scott C. Levi attempts to trace the linkages of Multan's merchants to Central Asia from the 13th century under the Delhi Sultans. As reported by Levi these merchants enjoyed a protected position in their largely Muslim host societies. From the Indian side: Babur mentions, in Baburnama, sugar and medicinal herbs were among the special export items from India along with the standard items of Spices, cotton textiles, indigo and other dyes, precious stones and slaves. From the Central Asian side the trade items were Horses, fruits (both fresh and dried) silks, furs, luxury goods from across Eurasia that were available in Central Asia and were in demand in India.

Ms. Ashraf rounded off her very interesting and educative talk with showing the commonalities in the Crafts, Life Style and even the superstitions and the practices based on those. A lively discussion followed afterwards which further clarified the exposition made. The meeting ended with thanks to Ms. Aruna Ashraf and Prof. Dr. Neelum Naz.