Makli Necropolis is situated in the town of Makli, district Thatta, which is located on a plateau approximately 6 kilometres from the city of Thatta, the capital of lower Sindh until the 17th century. It lies approximately 98 km east of Karachi, near the apex of the Indus River Delta in south-eastern Sindh.
The Historical Monuments at Makli, Thatta, is a protected antiquity in terms of the Antiquities Act, 1975, passed by the Parliament of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The Constitution (18th Amendment) Act 2010 (Act No. X of 2010), bestowed the Government of Sindh with full administrative and financial authority over all heritage sites located in its province. The Culture Department of the Provincial Government of Sindh is responsible for the management and protection of the Historical Monuments at Makli, Thatta. The site is staffed by a curator, archaeological conservator, technical assistant, supporting staff, and attendants. Funding comes from the Provincial Government of Sindh; this funding is recognized as inadequate.
The silent city of graveyards, Makli is one of the largest necropolises in Asia and Africa. It was once a center of Islamic culture and was also a capital of lower Sindh, until the eighteenth Century. At a rough guess, the enormous cemetery possessing not less than a million tombs and graves in an area of about 10 km2. It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1981 under the name of Historical Monument in Thatta.
Many interesting stories and myths attached to the site that how the site became famous by the name of Makli. Some associate it with the Hajj pilgrims who while their way to holy Makkah stopping at the site and when seen the Jamia Masjid and surroundings, exclaimed, “Hadah Makkah Li” (this is Mecca for me), this Makkah Li, later changed into Makli. Some stated that Shaikh Hammad Jamali named a masjid as Makli. Another story linked with the site because of a pious lady Mai Makli who is buried adjoint wall of the Jamia Masjid at Makli, however it is also being said that for more than four hundred years, from fourteenth to eighteenth centuries A.D. Thatta was the seat of government of Independent Samma Sultans of Sindh, of successive Arghun and Tarkhan rulers and of their successors, the great Mughals. Their patronage toward art and craft and liberality to poets, religious divines and darvesh, who later established their Maktabs and Khanqahs there, made it an enviable place of attraction. A presence of pious saints changed the very character and meaning of that place to “Makkah li (Makkah for me).”
Makli began to be used as a cemetery in the 15th century as the Samma Dynasty (1335-1520) consolidated power. With its capital at Thatta, a mere 5 kilometers to the east, Makli became the favoured graveyard of kings, commoners, and all classes in between. Those along the eastern edge tended to the monumental, with the oldest of the monuments from the Samma dynasty built at the northernmost point. Later rulers including the Arghuns and Tarkans built their tombs further to the south, with the newest and best-preserved tombs constructed at the southernmost point of the Makli ridge.
Interestingly, Historians had no first-hand knowledge of Thatta city and about Makli. Ibne Battuta in account of his travel in late 14th century didn’t mention Thatta or Makli by name, however, provides a pleasant view of Lahori Bunder, the port of southern Sindh, which was linked with Yamen and Fars in trade. A reference exists in one of the epigraphs, proudly adoring the enclave of Jam Mubarak Khan:
قال النبی صلی اللہ علیہ و سلم اذا تحیرتم فی الامور فاستفتو امن اھل القبور صدق یارسول اللہ اھل المقام بامر خان الاعظم مبارک خان بن سلطان نظام الدین شاہ بن صدر الدین شاہ بن صلاح الدین شاہ بن سلطان رکن الدین شاہ و ھو المظفر علی مغلان الھروی و قندھار- کتبہ قظب الدین بن محمود//احمد بن دریا خان غفراللہ لہ
The epigraph shows the event taken place during 1490 CE. The Thatta was under the rule of Sultant-e-Delhi, Summas, Arghuns, Turkhans and Mughals in different periods. It is appropriate if we do not separate town (Thatta) and graveyard (Makli) adjoining it, while considering the overall development of the society and its funerary practices; the practices, which were largely influenced by its cultural sensitivities.
The Necropolis of Makli has fetched some specific mentioned as a graveyard, during the 16th and 17th centuries The space, considered as holy, was most sorted after, there are a few direct, and also some passing references to its acquired sanctity; at least the Thatta based writers described it in that vein. The earliest account is said to have been written by Qazi Mahmud Thattvi, under the Title of, “ Tazkiratu Auliya” (980AH/1572CE), which referred to this graveyard. Syed Abdul Qadir’s account is so for the earliest testimony available (1016AH/1607CE), wherein he has indicated specifically about the necropolis, while discussing some of the highly revered saints, and their last resting place. The Main historical sources in this regards are, Syed Abdul Qadir’s “Thattvi, Hadiqatul Aulliya”,Sayyed Tahir Muhammad Nasyani’s “ Tarikh Baladah Thatta urf Tarikh e Tahiri, Shaikh Muhammad Azam’s “Tuhfatu Tahrin”, Mir Ali Sher Qani’s “ Makli Namma” & “ Tuhfatul Karam” & “ Tazkira Maqalat e Shura” & “Mayyar Salikane Tariqat”(for more please see “ The Epigraphy of Makli by Dr. Kaleemullah Lashari)
The site consisting the lavish decorated tombs and beautifully carved graves of the rulers, nobles, saints, governors, scholars, philosophers and distinguish family member of ruling dynasties. The Necropolis continued for the burial ground for four hundred years. Mir Ali Sher in Makli Nama provides an extensive account of the societal norms which were commonly practiced at that time at Makli as people used to come at darghas and graves with devotional sprit.
The Epigraphic Elements: History & Style
- The epigraphy over the entrance of Jam Mubarak is a dated inscription, indicative of the continuum of the type of Thulluth up to late ninth century Hijra (dated 1490/895H).
- The Madaras/مدرسہ of Hamad Jamali (inside Makli) was epigraphically decorated, besides it is having pleasing architectural elements. The Thulluthized Rehan is noticed on it.
The popular tale associated with Shaikh Hammad Jamali stated, it was he who advised Jam Tamachi of Summa Dynasty to allow the burials henceforth on the hill.
- The Kufic inscription observed on graves are simple, but it has certain decorative usage.
- The Mughal influenced Nastaleeq text has its own characteristics and has showing the historical connections of the region.
- The variety of Nastaleeqis not enormous, nevertheless pre-Mughal period specimen shows remarkable fine hand in Herati tradition; as it was rightly expected from the Arghun- Turkhan connect, with Central Asia and Eastern Iran, to have made its in-road to Thatta.
Picture credits: Rahmatullah Khan