Makli Necropolis made into headlines recently when a miscreant was caught in the act of destroying the grave of renowned ruler of Samma dynasty, Jam Nizam ud Din alias Jam Nindo.
Makli Necropolis, one of the biggest in the world, is on UNESCO’s World Heritage site. The site, according to authorities, was under the surveillance of Unesco but the mysterious destruction has raised many questions on the preservation of this unique heritage site.
Dhani Bakhsh Solangi, one of the site’s caretakers, an eyewitness of the incident says, “I was cleaning the water tank when I heard a blaring sound of something heavy striking the ground. I followed the sound and gauged that it was coming from Jam Nizam’s monument. I rushed to the nearby security guard who was offering prayers at that time. I informed him about the sounds and we rushed to the monument to find a person striking the tomb with a hammer.
“I tried to catch him but he was so tough that he shoved me aside. We took control of him and called the police. He kept saying ‘God has instructed me to destroy this’. The accused’s mother stated her son was mentally-ill and was under treatment.”
Makli is one of the largest funerary sites in the world. Declared a world heritage site by Unesco in 1981, the site features graves and monuments of royals, warriors and praised scholars who lived between 14th and 18th century.
Along with Jam Nizam ud Din, over 80 royals from Samma, Tarkhan, Arghun and Mughal periods are buried here. Graves made of bricks and stones are engraved with Sindhi, Persian and Arabic calligraphy.
According to Sindh Government’s official Sindhiana Encyclopaedia, Jam Nizam ud Din was the last ruler of Samma dynasty who ruled Sindh from 1461 to 1508.
Historians say that many madrassas and khanqahs were built during his reign which attracted many scholars from areas like Iran and Khorasan to Thatta. Jam’s death started a dispute among his sons over succession and the Arghuns took over the Empire of Sindh.
Connecting Arabian Sea through ports like Keti Bandar and Shah Bandar in Thatta district, Sindh was then considered an economically valuable state.
Former director general of Sindh Cultural Department, Professor Muhammad Ali Manjhi says that Thatta’s settlement leads back to the cavemen era. There are four caves in Makli’s surrounding areas where evidences of this era are seen. The monuments were built 600-700 years ago before which temples such as Kalankan Temple and Mugli Temple, also known as Makli Temple, were already present. Some historians say that Makli city’s name is attributed to this temple.
Climatic factors like heat, rain and wind have affected this world heritage site apart from human intervention. In 2010 and 2011 floods, thousands of affected families camped on this site leading to huge damage.
Unesco warned to strip off Makli Necropolis of its World Heritage label two years ago after which the Sindh Government finalised a master plan with a commitment to preserve this site.
Makli is situated around 100 km east of Karachi on the National Highway that is an important national artery. This site is spread on both sides of the highway. In recent years, almost all the area of this world heritage site has been encroached upon. Unesco too has pointed out this illegal occupation.
Renowned archaeologist Dr Kaleemullah Shaikh stated that all of the Makli’s graves and the cultural structures are associated with another important site Kalankot, the south side of funerary spreading over an area of 1000 acres and Thatta city. They are all part of World Heritage but only 912 acres of funerary in the north is considered as the cultural heritage site generally.
The encroached side of the heritage site has around 250 houses and government offices. 15 acres of land near the Makli bypass have been allotted to the people residing on both sides of the site as an alternate settlement but the authorities say they are helpless against the political impact and cannot force the people to move.
Jam Nindo’s is the most beautiful among all the tombs at Makli, bearing an influence of Kutch and Indian Gujarat. Renowned archaeologist Dr Kaleemullah Shah says, “Samma were the local rulers and their cousins ruled the Rann of Kutch. This is reflected in Samma’s architectural style in which stone art has more impact.”
Cracks and creeks can been seen distinctly in Jam Nizam’s monument whereas graves of his family are supported with wooden logs and metal rods. This is an architectural marvel.
Makli Cemetery’s administrator Nazeer Ahmed Zardari says, “Graves inside and outside the Jam Nizam’s monument, the weather system and the crack monitoring system, have been targeted in the attack. All of these are being monitored by Unesco.”
There are around 10 shrines in Makli where fairs are held. Apart from historical monuments and graves, many locals are also buried in this cemetery whose families visit their graves. People used to visit the graveyard on wheels, which has mercifully stopped. Now the government has launched a shuttle service with a fleet of zero carbon buses.
Unesco has remonstrated on the encroachment along with lack of human resources, unavailability of weather station, cleanliness, lack of signboards with historical facts and immense movement of people in the site. In the light of this, dustbins were placed on the heritage site, boards with historical facts in both Urdu and English were installed and weather station was planted on site to monitor humidity level, temperature and air pressure.
There are 25 employees of Heritage in Makli with a fleet of four motorbikes for vigilance but this is insufficient to keep an eye on around 912 acres of land with no arrangement of lights at night. According to Sindh Cultural Department’s former Director General, Professor Muhammad Ali Manjhi, “a boundary wall is necessary to stop movement of people and animals on the site”.