Pakistan – a young nation with ancient culture

“The Muslims are a nation by every definition of the word nation. They have every right to establish their separate homeland. They can adopt any mean to promote and protect their economic, social, political and cultural interests“. Mohammad Ali Jinnah

The intellectual history of Muslims, taken as a whole, has been mostly dynamic in spirit, tone and temper. Iqbal has written that the birth of Islam was the birth of inductive intellect, meaning thereby that all lines of Muslim thought converge on the dynamic concept of universe. The same dynamic concept of universe has been the underlying principle of Muslim culture and has been responsible for the vigorous and living concept of history as against the cyclic or mechanistic concept which regards events nothing more than a mechanical flow with no set purpose and no whence or whither. Once admitted, this dynamic concept gives man the power, verve and liberty to first choose his objective, define it clearly and then try to find the ways and means to achieve it. The Muslims of the sub-continent living with and ruling over the domineering majority of the Hindus and various other religious and ethnic minorities for centuries, eventually lost their hegemony and under the sway of the British imperialism decided at last to carve a new homeland for themselves with a view to give their genius a free play. Inspired by the charismatic personalities of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Allama Muhammad Iqbal, they had declared unequivocally that they should not be regarded a minority but a nation since by any or every definition of nationhood they were a nation. They fought relentlessly for the cause of Pakistan and at last got it.

Pakistan came into existence in 1947 but conversely the culture of Pakistan is older than the country itself. Having a glance on the map of Pakistan, one would notice the four provinces of Pakistan, Azad Kashmir plus outlying tribal areas and territories (FATA). All these areas of Pakistan have an amazing variety of people with different linguistic and ethnic groups – Punjabis, Sindhis, Pushtoons, Balochis, Makranis and Kashmiris etc. who, for centuries have been living together mostly in a state of harmony. This unity in diversity has been a very alluring chapter of the culture of Pakistan. It offers an interesting subject of study for the social scientists for the simple reason that this culture is the sumtotal of the chequered influences of thought and art brought forth through centuries by various ethnic and linguistic groups of conquerors along with mystics, poets and men of science and arts who ultimately got synthesized with the indigenous cultural colors. All this apparent cultural pluralism is, in fact, governed by one unified code of conduct – Islam which has converted this multiplicity into an altogether harmonious whole – the

Pakistani nation. The impress of Islam on these various racial and ethnic groups is indeed real and deep. Their indebtednessto Islam is easily imaginable because the catholicity of Islam brought about a revolution in the lives of many a downtrodden people of South Asia who for years had been suffering humiliation at the hands of their cast-ridden masters. But the story of Pakistani culture does not start with the advent of Islam in the sub-continent. The area has, no doubt, a substantial pre-Islamic past.

The present day Pakistan indeed has been a play-field of various ancient alien powers like Greeks, Iranians, Turks and last but not least, the Britishers. The Indus Valley civilization has played an important role in the formation of the multi-colored life-style of the people of the sub-continent. This civilization offered to the world the oldest civic culture almost 5000 years ago. Moreover, excavations at Mehrgarh in the province of Balochistan and Kot Diji in the province of Sindh a few years ago have pushed back the antiquity of this civilization to almost 2000 years more. Harappa, Taxila, Mohenjodaro, Mehrgarh and Kot Diji, of course, have lain bare the distinct past of Pakistan. It must, however, be made clear as cautioned by Dr. Abbasi that the idolatrous inclinations, peculiar to these cultures have little relevance to the Islamic ethos of the present day Pakistan except that they left some important civic bearings upon the coming generations which to some extent are still visible in the lifestyles of the people of Pakistan.

The phenomenon of this cultural plurality of Pakistan is also quite visible in the different languages which are spoken in its provinces i.e. Punjabi, Sindhi, Balochi, Makrani, Pushto, Brahui and a host of smaller dialects. All these languages with the exception of Brahui, belong to the Indo-Aryan group, for Brahui, as is asserted, has its origin in the ancient Dravidian culture long before the advent of the Aryans in the sub-continent. With the appearance of Islam on the scene, a dynamic Muslim culture emerged which became a constant source of blessing and profusion for the whole of the subcontinent. With the emergence of this culture, a new powerful language also developed by which after the birth of Pakistan became the national language of Pakistan – Urdu. The Urdu language has a marvelous history of its own. Linguistically, a blend of Arabo-Turkish and Persian elements galvanized with the indigenous Braj Bhasha, it can claim to be not only the lingua franca of the far and wide area of Pakistan but of the whole of the sub-continent right from northern Pakistan to the East Bengal. Its earlier outline emerged in Sindh and Multan which later developed in the Punjab and Frontier Province and after two centuries got colors on the soil of Delhi to its further accomplishment in the farthest land of Deccan.

Urdu, like its sister languages, i.e. Punjabi, Balochi, Sindhi, Pushtu and Makrani, has not only a large percentage of Persian, Arabic and Turkish vocabulary, but has also benefited a lot from the Persian and Arabic literary genres and their leitmotifs, proverbs, symbols, similes and metaphors. It has the same Arabic and Persian script which provides it an easy access to the Arabo-Persian literary and linguistic circles. Fortunately the regional languages of Pakistan have the same Arabic script which is yet another binding force among the Pakistani languages and Urdu and has surely made the communication among different Pakistanis very easy.

During the freedom movement, a considerable number of Urdu poets and writers identified themselves with the movement. They rose up against overwhelming odds. They composed soul-stirring songs, imbued with the antiimperialistic slogans and impregnated with the dynamic spirit of Muslim culture. Allama Muhammad Iqbal proved the first and fore-most standard-bearer of these liberal ideas based on human dignity and fraternity. Since the birth of Pakistan these high ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity have been the dominant literary themes of the poets of Pakistan. As a whole, the Pakistani Urdu literature has been in the forefront, holding aloft the banner of self-respect, national identity, human dignity, tolerance and a faith in the better future of mankind. It is to be noted that the people of Pakistan have, no doubt, a sentimental attachment to their mother tongues but not at the expense of Urdu. They are mostly bilingual and a considerable number of them are rather trilingual, speaking their mothertongue and Urdu with equal ease and are fair in English.

It is obvious that a culture not only manifests itself in language and literature but also in art and architecture.

So far as the architectural heritage of Pakistan is concerned, excavations done in the Indus Valley have revealed the pre-Islamic remains of Mohenjodaro and Harappa which clearly exhibit the acute civic sense of the ancient citizens of Pakistan while the Gandara civilization at Taxila reflects the old Greek, Persian and Central Asian influences. The North West areas of Pakistan as is well-known have remained an important seat of Buddhist civilization. This is amply evidenced by the remains of the stupas (religious monasteries) of that civilization whose sons were later on excommunicated and were forced to leave their homes and hearth and to take refuge in the remote areas of Japan, China and Korea by the dominant Hinduism which has been rightly dubbed as “Devourer of Nations”. The only nation which could not be assimilated into the fold of their cultural system were the Muslims who, with the keen sense of monotheism coupled with strong and virile consciousness of their distinct national identity, withstood the temptations of the colossal assimilative giant!

It were the Arabs who brought about tangible Islamic influences to the architecture of Pakistan, traceable in Sindh, Balochistan and southern Punjab. Then came the Ghaznavids who later established their court at Lahore and the city soon became a significant and strong hub of learning and began to be regarded as the “Small Ghaznin”. The Khishti Masjid at Lahore and some other traces at Swat, Taxila and the Salt Range give an idea of the early architecture of the Ghaznavids. The development of Muslim architecture in southern Punjab is so important that it needs no emphasis. It has been historically proved that the cultural and social contact of the Southern Punjab especially of Multan and Uch Sharif with Central Asia has been very long and enduring. The magnificent tombs of Baha-uddin Zakariyya, the Sheikh of the Soharwardi Silsila and Shah-Rukn-i-Alam in Multan and the tombs of Bibi Jawindi in Uch Sharif and Tahir khan Nahar at Sitpur (Muzaffargarh) abundantly prove the Central Asian influences. Similarly Sufi shrines of Sindh also remind one of the similar influences in the area.

With the advent of the Mughals, the soil of the sub-continent underwent a great architectural revolution. Lovers of gardens, fountains, pavilions, palatial buildings and fortifications, the Mughal emperors erected great architectural monuments throughout the sub-continent which speak volumes of their acute aesthetic sense and a love of beauty. Take the example of Lahore and it would be noticed that the oldest Mughal monument in Lahore is the Baradari of Kamran (Babur’s son) now flanked on both sides by the river Ravi. The other notable buildings, mosques and shrines in Lahore and the different parts of Pakistan are Badshahi Mosque, Lahore Fort, Shalimar Gardens, the Tomb of Jahangir, Masjid Wazir Khan, Shah Jahani Mosque (Thatta), Tomb of Lal Shehbaz Qalandar (Sehwan), tomb of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai (Bhit Shah), Mahabat khan Mosque (Peshawar), Wah Gardens, Hiran Minar (Sheikhupura), Tomb of Shah Burhan (Chiniot), Rohtas Fort and of course the greatest necropolis of Asia at Makli (Thatta). Built in yellow sand stone the spectacle of Makli Hills is simultaneously grandiose and sombre. It would not be out of place to mention here that the architect of the famous Taj Mahal (Agra) – Ahmed Meimar hailed from the historic city of Lahore – a splendid seat of Muslim culture and the heart of Pakistan.

During the colonial period. Pakistan witnessed a neoarchitecture – a blend of English, Moorish and Mughal influence as is evidenced in the splendid buildings of Punjab University Lahore, Lahore High Court, the Atchison College and the King Edward Medical College.

After the birth of Pakistan, new buildings emerged. They are mostly erected on the pattern of western architecture. There are, however, a few exceptions as is the case of Wapda House, Lahore. The mosques constructed after the independence of Pakistan i.e. Masjid-e-Shohada, Lahore, Masjid-e-Tooba, Karachi and the largest mosque in Pakistan – the Shah Faisal Mosque are a few notable examples of ancient and modern architectural synthesis, also signifying the fact that the Muslim culture has never been exclusive and has always been open to acceptance and assimilation since it is strictly pinned upon the dictum: Choose whatever is pure and leave what is dirty and impure.

And now a few lines on the Muslim calligraphy as it developed in the areas which now constitute Pakistan. Calligraphy as a visual art has been the most favourite among the Muslims for the simple reason that their Sacred book – Al-Qura’an was preserved in the written word centuries ago for the guidance of humanity at large. With the passage of time, a great variety of calligraphic scripts came into existence, exhibiting themselves on paper as well as on thewall of mosques, historical buildings and tombs etc. The fact is that after architecture, calligraphy is the only art which Muslims can be really proud of since they have left behind such scintillating traditions in the field which have perhaps no parallel in human history. The art reached its zenith during the Mughal period of the sub-continent. The coming generations of calligraphists not only drew inspiration from the six styles of calligraphy invented by Ibn-e-Muqla but also added a lot to them. A new ground broken by Mir Ali Tabrizi of Iran by inventing the Nastaliq Style won over the hearts of the calligraphists of the subcontinent and since then the style has taken firm roots in its soil. The Pakistani calligraphists who have introduced new modes by making artistic alterations in the Nastaliq style are so numerous that they defy exact calculation.

Suffice it to say that Sufi Abdul Majid Parvin Raqam, Tajud- Din Zarren Raqam, Mohammad Siddique Almas Raqam, Jamil Qureshi Tanvir Raqam, Hafiz Yousuf Sadidi, Syed Anwar Hussain Nafees Raqam and Sufi Khurshid Raqam have left lasting impression in the field of Pakistani calligraphy. Of these, Hafiz Yousuf Sididi excelled in Kufic, suls and Naskh scripts while Syed Nafees Raqam has made a mark in the Nastaliq style.

The Central Asian and Iranian influence is not only discernible in literature, calligraphy and architecture of Pakistan but is also reflected in the early paintings in Pakistan especially in the paintings made by Abdul Rehman Chaghatai and Haji Muhammad Sharif. Chaghatai relied heavily on the traditions of Central Asia, Iran and the Mughal artists of the sub-continent. These have been a constant source of inspiration for him. He, in fact, as suggested by Dr. Syed Abdullah, “sought to harmonize the sub-continental Muslim tradition with that of Shiraz and Samarkand”. His “extensive use of motifs from carpets, blue tiles, designs in wood carving and marble inlay” (Basil Grey) amply prove him to be such a master of “these variegated crafts” who could blend them with his highly imaginative brush “into an organic whole” (Abbasi). His marvelous etching “Asia” still heralds a message of liberty to the oppressed against the high-handedness of White Imperialism.

Haji Mohmmad Sharif under the spell of the great Mughal miniature tradition contributed a lot to this style. »His vivid imagination enabled him to recreate the pageant and glory of the Mughal times … In the outdoor scenes he delineated the riders, foot soldiers and horses with admirable skills«(Abbasi). His passion with this symbolism (soldiery and horsemanship) gives one a peep into his dynamic spirit. He was perhaps the last and solitary voice in the dome of miniature paintings in Pakistan.

Another noteworthy artist in the field of painting was Ustad Allah Bukhsh. He has portrayed the pastoral culture of Pakistan in such an impressive style as to have enlivened and animated it. His keen observation of nature goads him to provide minute details of the pastoral scenes and give them a realistic, living touch. The traditional styles of these three masters was, however, almost abandoned by the new generation of painters who under the impress of European abstract and surrealistic styles of painting brought about a complete change in the field.

Zubeida Agha, Ozzir Zuby, Gulgee, Sadequain and a good number of others are the ones who have benefited a lot from the different European painting styles. Of these, perhaps, Sadequain is the one who, with the help of his sharp poetic vision coupled with persistent labor has carved for himself  a permanent arch in the edifice of painting especially in pictorial calligraphy. His calligraphy of the Quranic Suras would go a long way to keep his name alive in the field. Aslam Kamal and his younger brother Late Arshad Kamal also broke new grounds in the field of pictorial calligraphy of the Quranic verses.

Some of these works of art can be seen displayed in the art galleries of Pakistan as well as on the walls of some luxury hotels and restaurants of the country. But in actual fact, they are more beautifully and impressively displayed on the tablets of hearts and minds.

Along with these, there are many other arts like music and theatre and a good number of minor arts worth-mentioning but all these due to the shortage of space do not allow the present writer to go into details. The brief overview, however, of the panoramic culture of Pakistan widely proves the fact that the cerebral activities in the country are on the go and the men of art and literature have in fact a living commitment with the message carved on the arch of eternity – “Light, more light”. They are fully conscious of the fact that life is dynamic; it is not like a completed house, but like a tree – always growing and expanding: “Life is a stream with an eternal flow

Written by: Dr. Teshin Firaqi

Source: ECI/vol.2/issue 4&5/pp.: 4-9

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