Examples of arts in Pakistan include painted trucks, canvases by modern artists, handpainted clay products and hand-designed batik products. Pakistan was the home of the Indus Valley civilization from 3000 B.C. to 1000 B.C. — regarded as of the world’s great really ancient civilizations along with ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt — and Gandhara, which produced great Buddhist and Greco-Roman-influenced art from around the 4th century B.C. to A.D. 6th century.

According to “Cities of the World”: “Because Islam prohibits pictorial likeness of the human form in art, representational art did not develop substantially among the Muslims in the subcontinent until the Mid-20th century, when declining Mughal influence and increasing Western contact resulted in less restrictive art forms. Abstract paintings and designs more in keeping with Muslim sensitivities have always been prevalent and are still popular today. [Source: “Cities of the World”, The Gale Group Inc., 2002]

“Recently, Pakistani artists, usually the young, have begun experimentation in many different media. As a result, art shows in most of the larger cities are becoming more common, and a new interest, especially in painting, is increasing. Most notable artistic expression is found in Pakistani handicrafts. The feeling for form, design, and color is best displayed in pottery, carpets, hand-woven textiles, articles made of marble, inlaid woodwork, and brass, copper, and silverware.”

Pakistani-born American painter Shahzia Sikander is widely acclaimed. He is known for his miniature paintings and multi-media installations. Controversial artist Iqbal Hussain lives in Heera Mandi — the red light district of Lahore — and paints the portrait of the “dancing girls” and others who make their home there. Salima Hashmi, an eminent painter and dean of visual arts at Beaconhouse National University in Lahore, is the daughter of Pakistan’s acclaimed poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz.

Seals and Coins

Square seals and coins have been found in the excavations at various places. Some of the very important seals that probably meant to stamp the packages of goods meant for trading. These seals have images of animals, human beings, rituals and different activities. Through these images we can have some idea about their life, beliefs and the animals they kept. The signs of unicorn, tiger, rhinoceros, buffaloes, deer, peepal tree, musical instruments and early form of what may have become the Hindu god Shiva.

The most interesting is the script found on the seals. Through this undeciphered script we found the writing system unlike any other writing found anywhereBy tracing the origins of ancient coins, we began to better understand economic routes and particular patterns of trade and exchange in antiquity. The story of the ancient coins connects us to historic events. Some of the ancient coins are Roman and Greek dating back 2,500 to 3,000 years.

Kushan and ancient Buddhist art has been looted in Pakistan for more than 150 years for commerical puposed, Pakistan has long had laws in place that prevent the export of looted items but these laws have rarely been implemented at is esy to smuggel stuff out of Pakistan. Endemic corruption and large areas not under government control doesn’t help matters. There is also the issue of forgery, always a probelm with art that has not beem adequately sussed out by scholars.

Indus Valley Steatite Seals

The Indus Valley civilization is the oldest one known in Asia. Stretching from the Arabian Sea to the Himalayas and from the deserts of India to what is now Iran, it embraced 1,500 or so settlements and covered 280,000 square miles, an area roughly the size of Texas, or twice the size of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. The Indus Valley civilization was founded roughly around 3000 B.C. and flourished from 2600 to 1900 B.C.

By far the most exquisite but most obscure Harappan artifacts unearthed to date are steatite seals found in abundance at Mohenjo-daro and date to between 3000 B.C. and 1500 A.D.. These small, flat, and mostly square objects with human or animal motifs provide the most accurate picture there is of Harappan life. They also have inscriptions generally thought to be in the Harappan script, which has eluded scholarly attempts at deciphering it. Debate abounds as to whether the script represents numbers or an alphabet, and, if an alphabet, whether it is proto-Dravidian or proto-Sanskrit (see Languages of India). [Source: Library of Congress]

Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Thousands of steatite seals like these have been discovered in the ruins of ancient sites throughout Pakistan and North India. Carved with a copper or bronze burin, the images on the seals depict powerful animals such as elephants, lions, rhinosceri, and bulls. Each seal bears letters in a writing system that is still undecipherable. One famous seal shows a figure seated in a yogic pose of meditation surrounded by animals, perhaps a prototype of the Hindu god Shiva as “lord of the animals.” [Source: Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts, The Art of South, and Southeast Asia, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York]

On these seals, the powerful creatures face ritual stands. Above them are letters or characters, which may represent the name of a family or merchant organization involved in the network of trade extending across western Asia. Indus Valley stamp seals found in ancient Mesopotamian cities and Mesopotamian seals found at Indus Valley sites prove the exis- tence of long-distance trade. Stamp seals were used in the following way: clay was pressed over cords binding bundles of merchandise and then the seal was stamped into the clay. Any attempt to tamper with the contents would be immediately evident.


Gandhara Art

“Gandhara” is a broad term that describes a region that existed over a relatively long period of time in the present-day Pakistani districts of Swat, Punjab and about 1,000 kilometers miles north of present-day Karachi. A hallowed centre of Buddhism and the cradle of the world famous Gandhara art, culture and knowledge, it embraces the archaeological remains found in Taxila, Peshawar, Charsadda, Shahbaz Garhi, Jamal Garhi, Takht Bahi, Swat and rock carvings along the ancient Silk Road have well recorded the history of Gandhara. Lying in Haro river valley near Islamabad, Taxila, the main centre of Gandhara, is over 3,000 years old. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

Kingdoms in Gandhara lasted from the 6th Century B.C. to A.D. 6th Century. In the sixth to fourth centuries B.C. Gandhara was dominated under the Achaemenid Dynasty of Iran. The successors of Alexander the Great maintained themselves in Bactria and Gandhara from 322 B.C. to about 50 B.C.. Rejoined to India under the Maurya Dynasty, the Gandhara province became the object of intense missionary activity by the Buddhist emperor Asoka (reigned c. 273-232 B.C.). In the A.D. first century the Kushans, a tribe of Turkic-Scythian stock from western China took over Gandhara. Their rule, however, was interrupted by the invasion of the Persian King Shapur I in A.D. 242. The Buddhist civilization of Gandhara was finally completely destroyed by the White Huns, the Hephthalites, in the sixth century. After that the name Gandhara disapearred from the historical record. [Source: Glorious India]

Gandhara is perhaps best known for its very early Buddhist art and early Greco-Roman-influenced art. Many different schools of Buddhist art in Pakistan and Afghanistan have been labeled Gandhara. Holland Cotter wrote in the New York Times: “The multilayered and time-obscured history of ancient Gandhara is particularly difficult to grasp. The area, which encompassed what is now northwestern Pakistan and a sliver of Afghanistan, was a crossroads for international traffic. If you had business that took you to or from the Indian subcontinent, you passed through Gandhara. If you were in the business of empire building, you made every effort to control it. Persia, under Darius I, colonized the area in the sixth century B.C. Two centuries later Alexander the Great, a Macedonian Greek and a conquest addict, charged in and charged out, leaving behind a Hellenistic occupation, which held firm even as Gandhara was absorbed into the Mauryan empire of India, South Asia’s first great Buddhist power. Over time Greco-Bactrians, Scythians and Parthians dominated the terrain. Then, around the first century A.D., the Kushans, originally nomads from the steppe-lands north of China, settled in, extending their reach down into the Indian subcontinent. They were genuine cosmopolitans, linked to the Mediterranean, Persia and China, and tolerant of religions. It was under their aegis that Gandharan Buddhist art, compounded of foreign and local ingredients, flourished. [Source: Holland Cotter, New York Times, August 10, 2011]

this region and, together with the Indo-Greek kings that succeeded him, introduced classical traditions that became an important part of Gandhara's artistic taste over the next seven centuries. This contact resulted in the establishment of overland trade routes through the Parthian empire and Indo-Greek cities like Ai-Khanoum in northern Afghanistan. Starting about 50 B.C., this trade dramatically increased with the introduction of ocean routes employing monsoon winds to cross the Arabian Sea. These sea routes supplied an expanding overland trade network that passed through Gandhara and continued on to Central Asia and China. Gandharan control of the high mountain passes vital to this international commerce made the region wealthy; the resulting cosmopolitan elites became some of the most powerful Buddhist patrons in all of South Asia. [Source: Kurt Behrendt, Department of Asian Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York]

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Gandhara is the ancient name of a region in northwest Pakistan bounded on the west by the Hindu Kush mountain range and to the north by the foothills of the Himalayas. In 330 B.C., Alexander the Great conquered “Following Alexander’s invasion, Gandhara’s early history is characterized by political instability as successive groups took control of the prosperous region; they included the Indo-Greeks, Shakas, Parthians, Scythians, and ultimately, in the first century A.D., the Kushan dynasty, which captured this area as well as much of north India and northern Afghanistan (ancient Bactria and Nagarahara). About the middle of the fifth century, Gandhara was conquered by groups of people often identified as the Huns or Hephthalites, thus bringing this major period of Buddhist patronage to a close.”


Truck Art

Pakistan is famous for its ornately decorated and brightly painted trucks and buses. Described as shrines on wheels, the elaborately-adorned vehicles are covered with secular and religious folk art and murals created with plastic, paint, tinsel, metal, flashing lights and wood. The designs are unique and expressive; the colors are bold; and art is both kitsch and filled with meaning.

Almost no part of the truck is left blank. Tiaras are placed on trunks; plaques, circles and squares are put on mudguards to enhance their shape; daisy chains and plastic materials are fitted around the widows. The designs are often made at considerable expense and serve as advertisements as well as personal expressions.

The decorated trucks are Pakistan’s answer to street art and high-quality graffiti. The artform reportedly began among Pashtun tribesmen in Afghanistan who carried good luck charms while on camel caravans and painted Islamic slogans, verses from the Quran and good luck charms on their vehicles to ward off danger. The custom was transferred to the larger trucks of Pakistan.

Buses and rickshaws are also wildly decorated. The sides of buses are decorated with mountain scenes and images of F-16 fighters. Some are so highly decorated they are no longer recognizable as buses. Rickshaws are adorned with images of famous Bollywood actresses.

Images on Trucks

The trucks are garishly colored and have images like the Taj Mahal, the Kaabah of Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina interspersed with floral designs, oasis scenes, mountains rangers, birds, animal, flowers, good luck charms. and Ghauri-3 missiles and F-17 jets.

“Allah” in Arabic is the one of the most commonly-depicted phrases and often surrounded by stylized fish, flowers and peacocks. The “burraq” (the winged horse with the head of woman that carried Mohammed to paradise) is also popular. Nature scenes with waterfalls and mountains are also common and seems to express a driver’s longing for the simple life of his hometown or an image of what they expect paradise to be like.

Pop culture images of famous actors and singers, beautiful actresses. and phrases and scenes from well-known movies are also common. The artist who paint the imagery on trucks are often the same ones who paint movie billboards They often work like tattoos artist, producing images from small templates or samples or from the driver imagination.

Pakistani Truck Artists

Reporting from Taxila, Griff Witte wrote in the Washington Post: “Just off the Grand Trunk Road, in an old auto yard filled with rusting axles and rotting trees, Arshad Mehmood is completing his latest masterpiece. The canvas is propped up on oversize tires. The medium is oil on metal. The palette is ultra-bright — bright enough to make an impression even at 70 miles per hour, the speed at which Mehmood's latest will be traveling when it joins his other masterpieces whooshing down the highway. “Michelangelo worked on chapel ceilings. Keith Haring had subway walls. Mehmood prefers trucks. Each day he splashes them with the intricate designs and elaborate color schemes that are the hallmarks of trucks throughout South Asia. By the time he is through, every inch must be covered with animals, mountains, flowers or whatever else Mehmood's mind can conjure. [Source: Griff Witte, Washington Post, June 30, 2007]

“He originally learned the trade from his brother, who learned from their father, who learned from his father. It took Mehmood eight years as an apprentice before he was good enough to do trucks on his own. He never gets bored with the work because each truck is different. One might have a tiger-and-mountain-stream theme. The next, books and houses. A third, fields of wheat and birds of prey. Flowers are nearly ubiquitous.

“Serenaded by balky engines and breathing in the thick stench of diesel as sweat pours down his face, Mehmood is, three hours into the job, painting a brilliant blue waterfall that descends into a clear pond flanked by golden trees. Mehmood has seen some beautiful places in Pakistan — the jagged peaks of the Himalayas, the fertile plains of Punjab, the seacoast of Sindh — but this image is not meant to resemble any of them. "It is imaginary," he says, dabbing his brush a few times and leaving a spray of golden leaves. "But it is always in my mind that somewhere, a place like this must exist."

Pakistani Truck Artists at Work

Griff Witte wrote in the Washington Post: “The process begins with spray paint — in this case, an alarming teal to mask the truck's dull gray skeleton. From there, Mehmood's apprentices lay down the basic pattern for the decorations, using tape and string dipped in chalk to mark off the canvas. Or canvases. Each side of the truck is divided into a dozen or more separate spaces, and each one will display a different image. [Source: Griff Witte, Washington Post, June 30, 2007]

“It is here, at 11 a.m. under an already merciless sun, that Mehmood's artistic vision takes over. He works without a net, painting directly onto the truck, with no sketches or stencils, in electric shades of green, orange and red. As he crouches down on creaky wooden scaffolding, the brush strokes come in quick, effortless dabs.

“Mehmood has an overall concept for the truck when he begins his work, but many of the details get worked out as he goes along. In his inclinations, he resembles a Pakistani version of PBS's Bob Ross, planting happy little trees wherever he goes. As Mehmood paints, the truck's owner chain-smokes and paces nervously in the dust. Sporting a dark brown mustache, a beige salwar-kameez and tan shoes, he looks at his kaleidoscopic truck and proclaims matter-of-factly, "I love colors."

“He points to the truck's interior, which is hot pink and looks as though it has been smeared with bubble gum. "This," he says. "is my favorite color." Soon enough, the hot pink will be shrouded in sand, cement or wheat, Raja Naseer's usual haul as he pilots his truck from the Khyber Pass in the west to Kashmir in the east, and back.

Pakistani Truck Art Customer

Griff Witte wrote in the Washington Post: ““Naseer, 36, who has been driving trucks since he was in his teens, bought this particular truck a month and a half ago and has been rebuilding it from the ground up. The paint is the finishing touch, the last and most important element before he gets back to the road. Other than requesting hot pink, Naseer did not give Mehmood many specific instructions. "I have asked him for leopards," he says. The rest is up to Mehmood. [Source: Griff Witte, Washington Post, June 30, 2007]

“Some say the decorations, especially the small bells that hang down from the sides and add a pleasant jingling sound to the trucks' normal belching and grunting, are meant to ward off evil spirits. Naseer dismisses that. The more beautiful the truck, he says, the more business he will get because his truck will stand out from the rest. "Even if I have to spend a lot of money, it must look very beautiful," he says. "Everyone should want to look at my truck."

“The cost to have the truck painted is a relative bargain — less than US$300. But Mehmood, who is in his mid-30s, says he makes a good living because he paints so fast. He can finish a truck or two a day, and figures that in the course of 20 years he has painted close to 10,000.”

Modern Art Scene in Pakistan

Atteqa Ali of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “The first years of the twenty-first century have been a critical time for Pakistan. Although the arts are thriving, the political climate is unstable. Many questions still loom. Are the principles upon which it was founded justified? Will there ever be full peace and stability in the region? Pakistan continues its struggle with India, now with the added threat of nuclear war. Through their sometimes political artwork, Pakistani artists contribute unique perspectives to the complex debates surrounding their countries. [Source: Atteqa Ali, Metropolitan Museum of Art]

“The National College of Arts (NCA) in Lahore and Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in Karachi are the two major institutions in Pakistan that challenge ideas about what can be considered contemporary art, and particularly the position of postcolonial artists within this debate. New generations of artists in Pakistan think critically about their society and its artistic heritage. They use a range of local methods and materials, from the jewel-like technique of miniature painting to elements of the vibrant mass culture. Yet these artists also embrace global modes, including abstract painting and video art.

“In Lahore, Zahoor ul-Akhlaq brought postmodern ideas to the forefront in the 1970s and '80s. At NCA, he insisted on miniature painting's relevance and viability as a source for contemporary artists. His own paintings took elements from the miniature tradition and combined them with an abstract painterly style. But some artists from the next generation have reversed this practice and use miniature painting as a foundation for their contemporary images. One such artist is Shahzia Sikander. Her work is in dialogue with the tradition of miniature painting; she expands it by adding contemporary elements such as new artistic techniques or images dealing with current events. Bashir Ahmed taught her and others, including Ambreen Butt and Imran Qureshi, in the late 1980s and early '90s through a rigorous training in the craft of miniature painting.

“Sikander and Butt are two of a number of Pakistani women at the forefront of artistic innovation; others include Alia Hasan-Khan, Naiza Khan, Huma Mulji, and Asma Mundrawala. Salima Hashmi, principal of NCA in the 1990s and currently a professor at Beaconhouse National University in Lahore, has been very influential in the work of these and other younger women. In the 1980s, she continued to make artwork that dealt with political and feminist themes at a time when the military dictatorship curbed artistic expression.

“Amin Gulgee is among Pakistan’s most acclaimed sculptors. Born in Karachi, he is the son of the late Isma’il Gulgee (1926 — 2007), the legendary artist and a pioneer of modernism in Pakistan. Amin’s art is bold, creative and multifaceted. He works primarily in copper and produces art in different scales, including public sculptures which stand at prominent locations throughout Karachi. His work is eclectic and draws inspiration from the rich cultural and spiritual heritage of his native Pakistan, as well as from a range of themes such as Hindu mythology, Buddhism and South Asian and Islamic art. His use of calligraphy as a vehicle of expression reflects his deep spirituality and his interest in the Qur’an. Amin’s recent body of work “Cosmic Mambo” is comprised of several sculptures that combine religious devotion and elements of his own cultural roots and worldview, all presented with a touch of playfulness and humor.”

Crafts from Pakistan

Pakistan art is expressed vividly through its crafts, especially textiles, embroidery, and carpets. Pakistanis are skilled craftsmen and artisans. Their artwork has a lot of Islamic, Persian and Turkish influence. Carpets, embroidery and textiles have traditionally been made women.

Handicrafts reflect the culture and tradition and aesthetics of the artisan who create them. Motifs and designs are unique to certain tribes and ethnic groups. Sometimes they offer clues to the group’s history. Some settled groups, for example, showcase animals that offers evidence of their nomadic past.

The beauty of a piece of depends on the materials used and the skill of artist. Pakistan has a rich history of handicrafts. A variety of handicrafts have been produced through the ages, with the same kind of beauty dignity, passed-down skills, painstaking artisan-ship form and style that are still found today. According to “Countries and Their Cultures”: “Pakistani handicrafts are as varied as the ethnic backgrounds of the craftsmen and include work in wood, beaten brass and copperware, pottery, and jewelry, a wide variety of fabrics that feature embroidery, and the hand-designed carpets for which Pakistan is internationally recognized. [Source:“Countries and Their Cultures”, Gale Group Inc., 2001]

Examples of arts and crafts in Pakistan include handpainted clay products, hand-designed batik products, Textiles such as bedspreads and shawls are popular. Sindh and Baloch people are known for their mirror embroidery, where small mirrors are sewn into the fabric to create glittery masterpieces. Metalwork, including inlaid or engraved swords, boxes, dishes and tea sets made from silver and gold, as well as, jewelry with precious stones and pearls, are import ant crafts. Copper and brass work is done within the walled city of Lahore. Jewelry is not limited to necklaces, bracelets, rings but also includes hair and forehead decorations and nose ornaments. Leatherwork and basketry are also import crafts. Sindh baskets are colorful and unique, while weavers in the Northwest Frontier prefer geometric patterns. [Source: Syeda Lamiya Shaukat, March 23, 2013]

Pottery and Ceramics in Pakistan

The potter at his wheel is a common sight in every village, uninfluenced by modern glamour. Bahawalpur, Rawalpindi, Gujarat and places around also produce colorful pottery, painted after firing. The blue glazed pottery of Multan dates back to the 13th century. With obvious traces of woodwork, Chiniot is also known for bass and iron inlay. [Source: Syeda Lamiya Shaukat, March 23, 2013]

Ceramics and glazed pottery are among the oldest art forms in Pakistan, dating back to the Indus Valley Civilization (2,500 BC). The most popular techniques used include engraving intricate designs into the undecoration of the pottery and then glazing it with colored transparent glazes. Another popular technique is to apply blue designs over white glazes. Pakistani potters are responsible for making the elaborate tiles that decorate mosques and public buildings.

Sindh pottery is noted for its black and maroon, pre firing glaze. Sindhi artisans are celebrated also for their lacquer ware decorated in patterns of blue, mustard and brick-red providing a lively contrast to their desert environment.

Furniture and Salt Lamps in Pakistan

Pakistani furniture is known all over the world for its beauty and intricate designs and the mastery of its craftsman. Rosewood from Pakistan is treasured for its fine longitudinal cross grains and solid hard wood and is found in the dense forests in northern Pakistan. The age of these trees is approximate 60-100 years. In Asia this wood is only available in Pakistan, although much finer rosewood is available in the world, the Pakistani version stands because solid cross grains of such high quality. In local language people call it ‘She sham”. Furniture produced around the lakes and rivers of the Punjab is famous for its distinctiveness and beauty.

The handicrafts of brass and wood are product of proud Pakistani traditions. They are made by hard working craftsman in small villages and can easily be purchased in big cities. Such crafts include metal lanterns, mirror frames, decoration pieces and sculptures

Salt Lamp are unique handicraft from northern Pakistan. They come is various kinds, types and sizes. The world’s second largest rock salt mines are in Pakistan in Keera. The salt range is 300 kilometers wide, starting from Khewra and ending at Kala Bagh in Punjab province. The salt lamps are not only a decorative item and a piece of art and craft but their salt is said to be good for asthma sufferers as the salt cleans and filters the air and improves the quality of air.The salt lamp industry in Pakistan is based in Lahore, Gujranwala, Khewra and Karachi. Some of these lamps are in the form of natural rock, and some are crafted and shaped by tools and it is a unique kind of handicraft.

Carpets from Pakistan

Pakistan is a major producer of both hand-knotted and machine-made carpets. When the Shah of Iran fell, throwing that countries Persian rug market in turmoil. Pakistan jumped in to fill the void. Some it carpets have nearly 200 little knots in a square inch.

Pakistan has a tradition of carpet-making going back thousands of years. Weaving was a developed form of art in the Moenjodaro in Sindh 4,000-5,000 years ago. The handmade carpets produced in Lahore in the 16th century are on display in museums in Lahore and elsewhere. Knotted woolen carpets with Islamic designs are part of the culture in both South Asia and the Middle East and Central Asia. [Source: Syeda Lamiya Shaukat, March 23, 2013]

Tribal carpets are made with camel hair and sheep wool. The Baloch are the most famous carpet makers. The best pieces they often keep for themselves and patch with leather to make them last. Women often keep their designs in their heads and in this way carefully guard their secrets but in some cases they have not passed their skills on to younger generation. Common motifs include squares, stars, dunes, cartouches, enclosed crosses and rows of stylized camels and more recently Kalshinikovs.

Carpet making is a craft often performed at home with the whole family pitching in. Women often do the weaving with children participating in spinning and winding thread. Children and their little fingers are also invaluable tying the tiny knots that are so valued. Child labor is a problem in the textile and carpet-making industries. Some carpets are made in workshops with a master craftsmen shouting out instruction to workers who make the designs without looking at them.

Floral carpets are inspired by Persian designs common in the Mughal period. Medallion carpets, hangings and animal skin rugs are also popular. The chappay-walas of Lahore and folk artisans of Karachi are regarded as first rate carpet-maker. Excellent carpets are also made in Quetta, Multan and Peshawar area.

Regional Crafts and Textiles in Pakistan

The Baloch of Balochistan in southwest Pakistan are not particularly known for their folk art or crafts. Examples of Baloch culture include leather crafts, embroidery, mirror-work, various things made of dwarf palm leaves, folk songs and the signature Baloch dish — sajji. Women are skilled at embroidery and decorate their clothes with elaborate geometric and abstract designs. They make felt from sheep's wool, and use it weave rugs for their own use and for sale. Baloch living in the big cities and towns enjoy the same sports and activites as other Pakistanis. Those that follow a traditional seminomadic way of life in the remote areas of Balochistan get enjoyment from traditional festivals, music, dancing and folk culture.

Pashtun crafts include metalwork made of brass and copper and traditionally made baskets. Pashtun visual art is expressed in the artwork on trucks, embroidered waistcoats and elaborately decorated rifle butts. Stone carving like that traditionally done on tombstones is also done on planters, table tops and wall hangings. Pashtun dancers perform their famous "Khattack Dance". Buz kashi (literally "grabbing the dead goat") is played in the Pashtun areas of Pakistan.

Burusho of far northern Pakistan are known for their woolen outer robes known as “chogas.” After wool is woven into material Burushos pound it with mallets. The imperial court in pre-revolutionary France wore shawls made by Hunza wool which at time was more fashionable than cashmere. Burusho prefer the wool of yaks because it is the most durable. These beasts also provide shoes, water containers from their hide, tools and musical instruments from their bones, fly whisks and brooms from their tails, and fuel from the dung. [Source: Sabrina and Roland Michaud, National Geographic, November 1975]

Kalash Clothes and Adornments

The Kalash (Kalasha) is a tiny group of animists living in Pakistan near the Afghanistan border in the Birir, Bumburet and Rambur valleys off of the Chitral Valley in the North-West Frontier Province. Purported to be descendants of five of Alexander the Great's warriors, this tribe is famous for the their pagan beliefs and strange costumes. The women wear black robes, dozens of red bead necklaces and cowrie-shell head-dresses that look like a carpet with paint brushes, feathers or flowers sprouting from the head. The Kalash women are known for their ornate costumes and headdresses. The wear black robes with girdles embroidered with cowry shells and have piles of red-bead necklaces hanging from their neck. Cowrie shells were once a form of currency in northern India and possessing a lot of them was a sign of wealth.

Kalash women twist their hair into long braids and wear a carpet of cowrie shells and wool that hangs over the back of the head as if it were part of their hair. Tassels on the front of the headdress are made of everything from feathers to wool scraps. The women garner a spooky look when they apply burned millet paste on their face which gives them a raccoon-like mask. [Source: Debra Denker, National Geographic, October 1981]

Kalash women used to wear lots of necklaces made with coral, beads of ivory, and fresh and saltwater pearls. But these are not as visible as they once were and probably were sold off to earn money. Some are for sale in tourist shops. Jewels symbolize the sun, stars and gods. In addition to being measure of husband's wealth, cowries are thought to bring happiness and protection. The best kupas (headdresses) have fourteen rows of cowries.

Sindh Crafts and Textiles

Sindhi craftsmen are also known for producing lovely lacquerware and beautifully-painted tilework. Women are skilled embroiderers and decorate their tunics and the skull caps of men with patterns made from pieces of mirror. Mirrorwork, the sewing of tiny pieces of mirror onto cloth, is a Sindhi speciality and used to decorate the brightly colored clothes many Sindhi women. Blue-glazed tiles from Sindh decorate mosques and shrines all over the country. *\

Ajrak block printing, glazed pottery with handpainted designs. Karachi and Hyderabad are famous for their colored glazes and enamel inlay works. Muslim wood workers, who migrated to Karachi after the partition in 1947, have made remarkable contributions to inlay works. Hala is known for its unique lacquered Jandri (rotation) wooden furniture. Blue on white ceramic glazes are the specialty of Hala and Hyderabad. The tile makers craft is on full display in mosques and mausoleums. Among the finest example is Shah Jahan Mosque in Thatta. [Source: Ministry of Culture, Pakistan ]

Sindh pottery is noted for its black and maroon, pre firing glaze. Sindhi artisans are celebrated also for their lacquer ware decorated in patterns of blue, mustard and brick-red providing a lively contrast to their desert environment. In Sindh, decorated basketry is widely practiced craft; bearing intricate geometric patterns woven from pre dyed grass is used by snake charming communities of yogis and Hindu tribes' people.

Sindh has a rich heritage in textiles. One of the oldest kinds of double woven cloths in bright geometric patterns produced here is the Khes, created by the weavers of Thatta, Nasirpur and Sehwan. Fine patch work rilly (Bed covers) are also famous all over the country. Another popular fabric is the Sussi with its multicolored strips in pure cotton are blend of cotton and silk. This region weaving mirror work embroidery stands out in the world. However the Ajrak enjoys a special place in any Sindhi home. This ancient art of block printing, involving eighteen stages, traditionally uses deep blues and maroons, offset by white star like motifs. The Ajrak is normally used as a turban or a chador when it is draped over honored guests as gesture of hospitability. Other Sindhi textiles include the colorful Chunri (created through the tye and dye method), worn by women as dupatta. Down south in Sindh, the richness in both variety and techniques is captivating. The greatest attentation is paid to the Gajj, the heavily embroidered shirts traditionally worn by brides.

Chamois leather rug embroidered in multicolored silk, gold and silver is the regional specialty from Sindh. The desert of tharparkar is rich in intricately embroidered fabrics, hand-blocked and tye dye cottons and silver jewelry. Makran coast fisher folk are famous for net witting. Sindh is known for its bandhanu, tye and dye process for dupattas and shirting. Patterns are generally geometric arrangements of dots, squares or circles in vivid green, yellow or indigo. Elephants, peacock and dancing figures are some of the other motifs used.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (, Official Gateway to the Government of Pakistan (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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