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Management of Pakistan’s Heritage – Electronic Databank of Cultural Sites of Sindh

In the age of the global, village the best kept secret of Pakistan is its cultural heritage spanning over across of centuries – from the Indus Valley Civilization of Mehrgarh, Mohenjo Daro and Harrappa to the Greco-Buddhist Gandhara, the Hindu Shahi temples of the Salt Range and Tharparkar with their devotional carvings, the successive Sultanate dynasties in Multan, Ucch and Makli with their magnificent funerary clusters, the heart-expanding chahar baghs (paradisal gardens) and jewel-like edifices of the greatest kingdom in the world established by Ferghana’s 17-year old Babur, the emulation of the Mughal legacy by the ambitious Sikh ruler Ranjit Sindh, and the shared inheritance of eclectic architecture with tis European overtones, that is the bequest of the British who colonized the land.

By Yasmeen Lari (Sitara-e-Imtiaz)

Makli Takli Thatta Sindh

Historical Monuments at Makli, Thatta – The capital of three successive dynasties and later ruled by the Mughal emperors of Delhi, Thatta was constantly embellished from the 14th to the 18th century. The remains of the city and its necropolis provide a unique view of civilization in Sindh.

Remarkable also are the winding streets and organic morphology of Pakistan’s medieval towns and the historic reservoirs surviving, but barely, in the midst of fast expanding urban centres of the country. This tangible heritage with its intangible attributes is what we need to safeguard as if family silver to be passed on to future generations in order to maintain our distinctive identity.

It is Makli, perhaps more than any other site in Sindh, which represents the land of the Sufi saints and mysticism. With its all-pervading silence of reputedly over one million graves, awash with stillness and peace, the Makli ridge beckons you on. The site, inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1981, spreads over an area of 12 km, and consists of 75 identified structures, over 400 platforms and numerous single graves, each catalogued and numbered by Heritage Foundation. Where the scale alone is overwhelming, awesome are the centuries-old ruins of sepulchers of rulers and princes, saints and mendicants, the silhouettes of these architectural edifices rising from the eminence of the ridge.

The site, although in a highly degraded state, continues to retain its spirituality, beckoning those searching for divine awakening, and among its ruins live on the traditional rituals of the devotees that flock to the numerous sanctuaries, seeking heavenly refuge and spiritual sustenance.

How many more sites in Sindh, that are as valuable as Makli, are languishing in disrepair due to lack of information and care, is not known, since no comprehensive inventory exists for Sindh, nor in fact for the country.

It is to assist in providing long term management and protection for the valuable heritage reservoir of Sindh, that the project Electronic Databank for the Inventory of Cultural Sites in Sindh was conceived by Consul General Dr. Tilo Klinner. According to him, “unless there is a road map, you are likely to get lost and not reach your destination,” and the Databank will ensure systematic recording of various sites, thus leading to their protection.

The project, which is being undertaken with valuable support from the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany, is a joint project of Heritage Foundation and the University of Aachen, being carried out in collaboration with Culture Department, Government of Sindh.

The path breaking project envisages the development of an electronic heritage depository of all protected sites in Sindh, since an inventory is pre-requisite for developing management plans for heritage sites.

The registration in the Databank will be based on initial information about each site, as each one will be accorded a unique number. The data about sites will be complied through extensive field search, consisting of its exact location and coordinates, duly marked on aerial maps. A site sketch along with extensive photographic record will be accompanied by preliminary evaluation report of its condition status.

The program is envisaged as an ongoing activity in which further inputs are expected to be made through additional research by public sector institutions, universities and other research organizations e.g. archival images, historical writings and records, past and present interventions and any other data that would help in developing a greater understanding of each site.

The University of Aachen team of eminent experts, led by Prof. Dr. Michael Jansen, has developed a special software through which not only inputs but search will also be facilitated, thus making dissemination of information as widespread as possible. Based on carefully devised mechanisms and training procedures by the University, dedicated research and extensive field work will be carried out by Heritage Foundation’s teams led by CEO Yasmeen Lari as Hon. Project Director. The project will be overseen by Secretary Saeed Ahmed Awan, Cultural Department, and Director Qasim Ali Qasim, Archaeological Directorate, Government of Sindh.

After devolution as a result of the 18th Constitutional Amendment, the Sindh Culture Department, as the provincial heritage custodian, is taking several significant steps for the protection of its enormous cultural reservoir. The timely establishment of the Databank will be critical in helping undertake management of all sites on scientific lines.

It is also hoped that, beginning with the province of Sindh, cultural heritage of Pakistan will no longer be a secret from the world.

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