By Hasan Miraj:
In the unleveled streets of Chiniot, the life takes up a sad note with the arrival of Muharram. Though the Shia community constitutes only 28 percent of the entire district but there is much more reverence than the census indicates. Chiniot, is the house of oldest and finest Tazias in Indo Pak subcontinent. A total of nine tazias are produced in different dates of Muharram and eventually they all get assembled at Maidan, the city centre, on the tenth day of Muharram, Youm e Ashoor.
The intertwined streets are probably the favorites of creative minds. May it be the streets and vias of Florence or the interlinked alleys of Chiniot, men with craft have always preferred them for living. Pirjah is one such family of artisans. When Saadullah khan, a confidante of Moghul Emperor, Shah Jehan decided to construct another Badhshahi mosque in Chiniot, he gathered the artisans across India and that’s how the Pirjah family migrated to this place. On a beaten track, stands the gate of what looks like a workshop. Here lives Akhtar Pirjah, a sleek man in his early 50s with a hawkish Janjua nose and signature fingers of artisans. Akhtar is heir apparent to the family whose mastery over wood craft will give goose bumps to professionals of Royal Colleges and art universities across the globe. He alone is the authority on the evolution of Tazias what it looks like today.
Though the first tazia arrived in India, with Temur, (Timur, the lame or Timerlane), but the art of Tazia making actually flourished during the Moghul rule. Since the Shia nobility could not visit the holy sites, they developed replicas and these were known as Tazias. The present form however came to existence in Chiniot by one, Ilahi Bux Pirjah.
Akhtar Pirjah, narrates how his grandfather, Ilahi bux, developed the idea of present day tazia. Ilahi Bux was commissioned by an Indian Raja to design a palace for him. The Raja wanted Ilahi Bux to see the contemporary artwork and building trends. He arranged for the artist`s journey to Rajputana across the districts of Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner, Barmer and Jaipur. It was here that he saw the buildings and palaces with exquisite woodwork on front and carvings (now referred to as Manabat kari). The similar pattern can be seen on Hawa Mahal of Jaipur, Mehran Garh Fort of Jodhpur and Bada Bagh in Jaisalmer. The Raja died before the work could start on the palace. Ilahi Bux though used the patterns when he was employed by Sheikh Umar Hayat to design Gulzar Mahal, another icon of Chiniot.
The imaginative mind of Ilahi Bux, inspired by the multistoried front of palaces and facades, imposing staircases, Jharoka laden walls and fusion of Eastern temple like structure and Victorian style in South West India, decided to design the Tazia. The first and the oldest tazia, which now rests in Shadi Malang Imam Bargah, thus saw the light of day in Muharram of 1934. A multi-storied structure, with dome and crescent atop, cost the financer almost a fortune. When he ran out of money, Ilahi Bux contributed Rs. 6,000 from his meager saving. While constructing the upper stories, he shifted to a place now famous as taal and only got down when Tazia was brought to Medan. It is no ordinary piece of art. The tazia is taken out in parts on different dates in the first ten days of Muharram. Takht (the base of tazia)on day one, Palanquin on another, Jhoola on yet another and assembling all on tenth day. When assembled, the tazia gains the hight of around 42 feet. The Tazia weighs about one and a half ton and is principally lifted by 16 men. These men have developed growths around their neck and shoulder due to the heavy weight of Tazia. Madah Hussain, is one such lifter of Tazia. Faith, according to him, heals almost everything. The other tazias also weigh about same and are 50-70 years old. The tazias in other parts of the country are also manufactured in Chiniot. Among them are the famous Tazias of Multan, Jhang and Faisalabad. The construction of Tazia, though has taken a very commercial form but there is yet a great deal of artistic element to it.
The mastery of Ilahi Bux`s craftsmanship was not restricted to tazias alone. When the word got out, he was commissioned at Buckingham Palace where he decorated a portion of the palace. Akhtar Pirjah, now works with a serenity that he has done justice to the legacy of his family craft. He is the man behind the wooden interior of royal family mansions in Qatar and made the wooden model of Taj Mehal, greatly appreciated by professionals of Kamil Khan Mumtaz`s stature. The work of Akhtar Pirjah can be easily found on the UN industrial development organization website.
The polarization of the society, over the years, has infused the venoms in young minds but the historical honesty demands that commonalities be brought forth. It therefore must be remembered that at one point of time, all the tazias of Chiniot were constructed, lifted and taken care of by the Sunnis including Shadi Malang. Though the Sunnis still hold almost half of the licenses for procession, but it’s not what it used to be. Religiosity is slowly and gradually eating it all up, like the salinity which befalls the fertile lands, visible yet unknowingly.