Symmetrical cemetery – Makli: city of grave concerns


Zulfiqar Ali Kalhoro


While welcoming participants of the 1st International Conference on Makli at Makli Hill, Culture, Tourism and Antiquities Minster Syed Sardar Ali Shah said, “Makli has remained his most romantic site since childhood”. This reflects in his actions while managing the site.

Before the devolution, majority of the archaeological sites in Sindh were victim of neglect.

Devolving heritage has been successful for Sindh as far as heritage is concerned.

Makli remains the most neglected site. Majority of the tombs were in a shambles and vegetation grew over the graves.

Due to the indifferent attitude of the federal archaeology, the new burials also came up damaging the historic monuments in Makli.

The former (Sasui Palejo) and present minister for culture and tourism took keen interest to save the Makli monuments.

The present minister for Culture, Tourism and Antiquities Sardar Ali Shah in collaboration with the Endowment Fund for Trust for cultural heritage of Sindh (EFT) has made all-out efforts to bring Makli on the international scene for which the 1st International Conference was held on January 13 and 14 at the site of Makli.

The EFT coordinated the event. Both international and national scholars presented paper at the conference. International delegates included Americans, British, Spanish, French, Germans, Iranians and Italians who spoke on different aspects of Makli monuments. The national scholars also read their papers.

One of the advantages of this conference was that it created anawareness about the importance of the Makli amongst international and national scholars.

Majority of the international speakers were amazed to see the Makli monuments. Some of them remarked that Makli is an open museum for art lovers and Islamic art historians.

Makli is one of the largest necropolises spreading over 12 square kilometres comprising the tombs and graves of kings, princess, queens, poets, religious scholars and others.

The Samma (1351-1524) were the first rulers to erect monuments on the Makli Hill, followed by Arghun (1524-1555), Tarkhans (1555-1592) and Kalhoras (1737-1773).

The most splendid structure belongs to Jam Nizamuddin alias Jam Nindo. The intricate carvings on the façade and “mihrab” of the tomb leave the onlookers mulling over the mind-boggling designs that the Samma artisan crafted. The Samma cluster also includes the earliest canopies at the Makli thus providing prototypes to later period of canopies erected by the Tarkhans.

Due to its cultural, archaeological and historical importance, in the 1980s Unesco listed the Makli necropolis as a world heritage site.

Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Antiquities are doing a wonderful job by responding to the Unesco’s recommendations which it gave in its 41th session at Krakow, Poland.

The most difficult thing for the minister is to deal with the encroachment issue which he is trying hard to use the local elite in removing the encroachment.  It seems that he would succeed in removing the encroachment and will order the erection of a boundary wall immediately. But this will include as also stipulated in the Unesco document that  only the northern cluster of the monuments thus excluding the southern ridge of Makli which is also dotted with historic monuments of Kalhora the  period.

Some of the Kalhora period dignitaries buried in the southern part of Makli include Makhdoom Muhammad Hashim Thattavi, Farid Samito, Masoo Samtio and many others. This part of Makli should also be protected by a boundary wall. Unfortunately, this part is most vulnerable and people are using up the cultural landscape to build houses and other structures.

A positive step that has been taken by the minister for culture, tourism and antiquities is introduction of the Makli shuttle service for tourists and visitors aimed to facilitate them. This will save monuments from toxic emissions.

Many monuments at Makli were badly conserved during the tenure of Sharmila Farooqi as Minister for Culture and Tourism which did not meet international standards of conservation. These monuments were damaged in the name of preservation.

During the conference, Makli souvenir shop was also inaugurated by the minster. It was also suggested that a museum should be established to document the rich epigraphy and motifs that make Makli unique in the Islamic World.

It is also proposed that more private-public partnerships should be encouraged as it could be useful when the government lacks resources and professionals in the field of conservation. Two of the organisations, heritage foundation that conserved the Sultan Ibrahim’s tomb and Jan Baba Tarkhan’s tomb and the EFT which would conserve the tomb of Diwan Shurfa Khan and canopy of Jam Tamachi. It is recommended that one should also involve other organisations to help the ministry in the conservation of Makli monuments. Aga Khan Foundation should also be involved as it has successfully been conserving the monuments in Hunza, Skardu and Lahore.  The best examples by the Aga Khan Foundation are Ganesh Khun, Altit and Baltit Forts, wooden mosques of Shigar etc.  The tombs of Isa Khan Tarkhan II and some brick-built tombs of Samma should be given to the Aga Khan Foundation for restoration and conservation.

Apart from holding conferences and conservation, we should also publish more books on Makli as there is a very scant literature available. However, an eighteenth- century manuscript “Makli Nama” by Mir Ali Sher Qani, a Kalhora period historian is a good guide about the Makli monuments.

Rather than establishing more heritage foundations to facilitate retired bureaucrats, who claim to be the best heritage managers for giving conservation projects to them, we need to establish endowment fund to financially support students and researchers to conduct research on Makli.


(The author is an anthropologist and head of the Department of the Development Studies at the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), Islamabad. He may be contacted at