The Unsettled Desert
Women"Those women there, they wear too much make-up," said Hafeeza, wrinkling her nose and lowering her voice, as if they really were next door. She lived in the desert too, but her own house, next to Derawar Fort and near a road, seemed to make her regard herself as separate from the nomads deeper inside, where the metalled road faded into the white flatness, dahar, of the desert. "And such glittery clothes…!"
Family WeddingFurther away, on land made arable by a trickle of irrigation water and a cocktail of fertilisers and pesticides, Rasheeda's eyes lit up. That was a family wedding, she said; most of her relatives lived there, in the deep desert. Many years ago, a plot of land had been allotted to her father-in-law; in order to cultivate it, she lived here now with a few of her sons and her daughter and her daughter's daughter, a sombre-eyed girl of eight. Some weeks ago, this granddaughter had also very nearly been married off, in a tricky case of watta-satta – a form of bride exchange – averted at the very last minute. "There was henna on her hands," Rasheeda said grimly, drawing the little girl close.
A Groom at His Wedding in CholistanThe bride at the desert wedding is only a little older — 12, they say. She sits stricken in the centre of a charpoy, bowed by jewellery and flanked by cheerful women relatives. Out in the open, the groom, older but clearly a young man still, looks equally burdened: the garland around his neck covers almost his entire frame and, for good luck, he clutches a metal stick, heavily embellished. Around him, guests cluster near cauldrons of food or lounge under shamianas — curiously, this desert wedding is being arranged by a professional caterer.
SingerLater, a singer from a nearby town will arrive rattling on a scooter, a man in a festive yellow kameez with perfect black hair and brilliant white teeth and the self-conscious air of a minor celebrity, but for now women gather outside the hut of the bride and sing songs: old ones passed down over generations and newer ones popular on the radio, their desert dialect speckled with slang and snatches of Urdu:
- You live in the city, I am a dweller of Rohi,
- Tell me: how can we ever become one?
- You live in a palace-like bungalow, we have only our humble huts,
- You drink from coolers of cold water, we have half-empty earthen pots,
- You travel in jeeps and cars, we sit atop camels,
- You eat fruit, we survive on mushrooms,
- Tell me, then: how can we ever become one?
Places Of Interest In Cholistan
Derawar FortDerawar Fort is located 48 Km from Dera Nawab Sahib. It is still in a good condition. The rampart walls are intact and still guarded by the personal guards of the Amir of Bahawalpur. The tombs of the ex-rulers of Bahawalpur and their families are located in this fort. The tombs have nice glazed blue tile work. Prior permission of the senior Amir of Bahawalpur is required to enter the fort.
Shrines of Channan PirThe Shrine of Channan Pir is located 45 Km from Derawar Fort. Channan Pir was a disciple of Makhdoom Jahanian Jahangasht. The annual Urs is held at the beginning of March. A colourful fair known as 'Mela Channan Pir' is held here. Devotees gather on the night of full moon to offer "Fateha" at the tomb of the saint.
Burial GroundAnother interesting place worth visiting here is the Nawab Family burial ground where many of the old Nawabs and their families are buried. The tomb here is attractive, built with marble and decorated with blue glazed style.
Uch SharifUch Sharif, 75 km from Bahawalpur is a very old town. It is believed that it came into existence way back in 500 BC. Some historians believe that Uch was there even before the advent of Bikramajit when Jains and Buddhist ruled over the sub-continent. At the time of the invasion by Alexander the Great, Uch was under Hindu rule. The surviving shrines, sanctuaries, cemeteries, and mausoleums, including the Bibi Jawandi tomb, incorporate glazed tile and brick revetments, lime plaster panels, terra-cotta embellishments, brick structural walls laid in earth mortars, and ingenious corner tower buttresses. The famous shrines existing at Uch include those of Hazrat Bahawal Haleem, Hazrat Jalaluddin Surkh Bukhari, Makhdoom Jahanian Jahangasht, Shaikh Saifuddin Ghazrooni and Bibi Jawanadi. The shrine of Bibi Jawandi is a Central Asian design, titled in the blue and white faience.
Culture and Traditions
Local FestivalsVarious fairs and festivals are common in the Indus Valley. The Aryans were fond of beauty and soma- intoxicating liquors. The sages of Vedas expressed delight in the charm of female beauty. However certain festivals gradually became part of their religion as they settled in the sub continent. The story of Ramayana is enacted in the form of a drama festival called Rama Lilla. The festival culminates with the burning of effigies of the wicked Ravana and his associates. But in Aryan society such festivals were limited and their purpose was to teach people the values of conjugal fidelity, brotherly love, and obedience to paternal authority. However in Indo-Scythian society fairs, festivals, and melas were a permanent feature of the social life. These fairs and festivals were not held for the sake of pleasure alone, but their venues also served as places where city dwellers, farmers and nomads would meet once or twice a year to exchange their wares and good directly or through the intermediary of bazaar dealers. In the desert areas of Pakistan the utility of such fairs cannot be denied that are parts of valley's social structure now. But what makes Cholistan most conspicuous in this respect is that here the greatest Mela of the Indus Valley is celebrated in the best Indo-Scythian tradition. It is held every year in March in the desert settlement of Channar Pir.
The Local DialectThe language of Cholistan also reflects a number of features of its historical and geographical background. The local dialect was believed to be spoken by a rough, rude, and warlike people who liked to disobey every law and rule of grammar imposed by the so called super-cultured class of the Brahmans and their purified and gifted Sanskrit, which was the language of Indian Hindus.
Saraiki LanguageThe Saraiki language is an Indo-Aryan speech, and is spoken in Cholistan as well as in a large part of central Pakistan. It is no more a neglected language, once attributed to the camel-driving Jats and semi-nude Baloch tribes. It has always been as orthodox and conservative as the people who speak it. Even today the likes, dislikes, attitudes, and values of the people are the same as their forefather centuries back. Khwaja Ghulam Farid was a Sufi poet, who through his mystical writings and poetry not only developed the language a lot, but also gave it a boost. The language suffered a great loss when the Saraiki-speaking Hindus migrated to India during the Partition, and were replaced by the Muslim refugees from there. However, the majority of them lived in the cities and a very few in the Greater Cholistan. During the Partition, they moved to the safety of the neighboring Hindu states of Bikaner and Jaisalmar.
Arts and CraftsIn a harsh and barren land where rainfall is very sparse and unreliable, Cholistanis rely mainly on their livestock of sheep, goats, and camel. However, in cold nights of winter they huddle indoor and engage themselves in various arts and crafts such as textiles, weaving, leatherwork, and pottery.
LivestockThe backbone of Cholistan economy is cattle breeding. It has the major importance for satisfying the area's major needs for cottage industry as well as milk meat and fat. Because of the nomadic way of life the main wealth of the people are their cattle that are bred for sale, milked or shorn for their wool. Moreover, isolated as they were, they had to depend upon themselves for all their needs like food, clothing, and all the items of daily use. So all their crafts initially stemmed from necessity but later on they started exporting their goods to the other places as well. The estimated number of livestock in the desert areas is 1.6 million.
Cotton and wool products
TextilesIt may be mentioned that cotton textiles have always been a hallmark of craft of Indus valley civilization. Various kinds of khaddar-cloth are made for local consumption, and fine khaddar bedclothes and coarse lungies are woven here. A beautiful cloth called Sufi is also woven of silk and cotton, or with cotton wrap and silk wool. Gargas are made with numerous patterns and color, having complicated embroidery, mirror, and patchwork. Ajrak is another specialty of Cholistan. It is a special and delicate printing technique on both sides of the cloth in indigo blue and red patterns covering the base cloth. Cotton turbans and shawls are also made here. Chunri is another form of dopattas, having innumerable colors and patterns like dots, squares, and circles on it.
LeatherworkLeatherwork is another important local cottage industry due to the large number of livestock here. Other than the products mentioned above, Khusa (shoes) is a specialty of this area. Cholistani khusas are very famous for the quality of workmanship, variety, and richness of designs especially when stitched and embroidered with golden or brightly colored threads.
Love for colorsThe great desert though considered to be colorless and drab, is not wholly devoid of color. Its green portion plays the role of "color belt" especially after rains when vegetation growth is at its peak. Adding to that the locals always wear brightly colored clothes mostly consisting of brilliant reds, blazing oranges shocking pinks, and startling yellows and greens. Even the cloth trappings of their bullocks and camels are richly colored and highly textured.
Forests in CholistanThere is a rain forest in Cholistan named "Dodhla Forest".
Forts in Cholistan
- Derawar Fort
- Islamgarh Fort
- Mirgarh Fort
- Jamgarh Fort
- Mojgarh Fort
- Marot Fort
- Phoolra Fort
- Khangarh Fort
- Khairgarh Fort
- Nawankot Fort
- Bijnot Fort
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