Thatta Kedona

Culture is a Basic Need

Cultural Roots of Art and Architecture of the Punjab

THAAP – Trust for History, Art and Architecture Pakistan organized an Inaugural Talk for the 4th International THAAP Conference on “Cultural Roots of Art and Architecture of the Punjab” on April 13, 2013. THAAP - a forum for multidisciplinary scholars who work collectively for the promotion of research and education in Pakistan, has up till now organized 03 International conferences from 2010 to 2012 on various topics and look forward to organizing the 4th International THAAP conference in November this year. Dr. Gulzar Haider, Dean School of Architecture and Design at Beaconhouse National University, Lahore chaired the session and Mr. Mushtaq Soofi and Prof. Pervaiz Vandal were the speakers for the session.
Prof. Pervaiz Vandal an architect, educationist and THAAP conference convener initiated the talk and gave a presentation on ‘Geography and Culture’. He elucidated how geography affects our culture and said, ‘Culture is essentially the art, custom, ideas and social behavior of a nation, people or group. Culture takes shape with ideas and an idea is born and develops through interaction among the people.'

Ideas are not limited to any one place, they are movable. They move along valleys like water, however, unlike water they are not bound by the laws of gravity and can have a multiplicity of direction’.

‘As the world and the technology has changed we are no longer restricted to the actual ground by gravity, nevertheless, if we are looking towards the historical development we have to remember that due to lack of technology the ideas had to travel according to and within certain geographical constraints. We have examples of an insular culture (cut off from surrounding and not affected by people) and an open culture (which is affected by surrounding). One of the most important examples of an insular culture found while travelling in northern areas was that of the five valleys of Thor, Chillas, Gilgit, Hunza and Skardu. Despite being located in the same belt they were socially cut off from each other,’ he added.

About 20,000 years ago as the ice receded humans had to gather around water sources, usually rivers and harnessed natural resources of land, water and fire, through agriculture. The Indus Valley drying faster attracted several people from all directions who found enough room and resources here to flourish and develop. At that time the Indian Sub-Continent composed of three distinct regions: a) Very large and dense mass of forests covering the Ganga Jumna valley, b) the Deccan, drier than the Gangetic Valley, heavily forested cut up into a series of valleys, c) The western region, the Indus Valley, comprising two main rivers, the Indus and the Hakra, running parallel with a number of tributaries in the north. The Indus Valley drying faster than the rest promoted the earliest large-scale clusters to give rise to a unique civilization. Another such area was generated around the river Helmand in the present day Afghanistan which for many centuries was a bridge between the Indus and Mesopotamian centers of culture. In Persia, at that period, there developed a number of fertile valleys, housing people with their own distinct culture.

The Indus Valley attracted several people from all directions; who mostly came to settle here, avoiding any large-scale violence and found enough room and resources to flourish and develop. He elaborated that the Aryans, a people of the Central Asia, escaping the more rapidly drying regions, migrated to India, Iran and Europe. In India, having settled in the Punjab for a few centuries, they led the march into the Ganga-Jumna valley using fire to clear the forest and to create arable land. They also gave birth to social organizations to better exploit the difficult environment which over centuries congealed into the Caste System. The word Punjab (a Persian word meaning Five Rivers) came into use during the Medieval Period to denote the northern regions of the Indus valley comprising the areas watered by Upper Indus, Kabul, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Sutlej, Bias accurately described in the Rig Veda as the Sapta-Sindhu (seven rivers).

He elaborated through a map that the area between the two rivers being relatively dry is called a doaba. The population and vegetation in a doaba is more along river and the middle area was more of a pasture land and a tribal area. So areas around Multan, Bahawalpur, Uch Sharif etc. have been traditionally richer than others. Being relatively rich in terms of agriculture produce and cattle rearing, the Punjab also attracted invaders and violence. The earliest invaders came from the relatively drier lands of the west - present day Persia, Afghanistan and Central Asia. Punjab at one point stopped being the constant host and began to resist the newcomers. That was a major change. Henceforth Punjab became a battleground, yet allowing merchants and travelers in and out of India. They also found time to sing, laugh, read and write to develop a cultural identity of their own.

He further said, ‘The Punjab has indeed been a melting pot of people and ideas. The native culture was influenced, modified and developed as a continuous and linked phenomenon. The Persians, Greeks, Arabs, Sufis, Turks, Afghans, Kashmiris, Brahmins, Rajputs, Merchants of Gujrat and Deccan, contributed to the social ethos of the Punjab. Thus, a synthesis of the foreign and local traditions of cultures that started centuries ago has continued to influence, change and develop the indigenous society of the Punjab. Colonization by the British changed the continuum in a profound way to leave us as we are today.’

He concluded his talk by saying that ‘Geography also gives birth to mythology. In the Potohar, there is an example of the temple of Kitasraj which developed by the side of a lake. The natural phenomenon of water spring and the lake became a place of veneration and worship. Another example is that of Malot which marks the fall from the Potohar plateau to the plains in a most dramatic way. The ridge faces the East and thus the rising sun generated a veneration marked by the temple of Malot.

The city of Chiniot developed around the outcrop of hills which is a dramatic phenomenon in the vast plains. The river Chenab is thus forced to move in between the hills. The Chenab River during floods increased in volume. Centuries ago when the deforestation had not been done to the extent as it has now, the floods that came in the river flowing from the hills in the north used to bring trees along its way to the south. This whole belt used to have floating timber, but it was very difficult for the people to get hold of it due to flowing water. The hills of Chiniot, with the river flowing in between, generated a log jam i-e the logs were caught in between the hills. When the water receded it used to leave behind a lot of timber which was used for trade. So this was nature’s way of delivering wood to Chiniot. It was not a co-incidence that the people of Chiniot were in this trade from the beginning because it was their greatest resource.

The second speaker of the talk was Mr. Mushtaq Soofi, a poet, writer, media person and music producer. Currently, working as Director Programmes at Sachal Studios, Lahore, he has published seven books of poetry and prose in the Punjabi language. He is the President of Pakistan Punjabi Adabi Board, and Member of the Boards of The Punjab Arts Council and The Punjab Institute of Language and Culture, Lahore. He gave a talk in Punjabi on the historical perspective of ‘Loss of the Punjab’s Identity’. The purpose of selecting this language was to encourage the participants of the talk to take pride in speaking Punjabi language.

He said that, “The First identity of Punjab is Harappa and its identity is its civilization. Since the text and language found in Harappa could not yet be deciphered so we have to rely on the available data in terms of archaeological facts and books written by historians. Due to availability of water and winds blowing without any obstruction, the people of Indus valley found trade to be most advantageous and economical for their livelihood. For this they had secured the waters at certain places by building barriers. The Indus Valley people were not warriors as there have been no signs of killings and weapons found during excavations. When Aryans - the cattle-rearers, came into the subcontinent they needed pasture land for their cattle. In order to fulfill this need they dismantled the barriers so that the water could spread, irrigate the nearby areas and help in providing fodder for the animals. This has also been mentioned in the Reg Veda that Raja Inder fought to free the waters.

The Second identity of Punjab, which is also mentioned in the Reg Veda is that the Punjab was envied at one point and was denounced at another. It has historical reasons for this. Until the Aryans moved forward to the heavily forested Ganga Jumna valley and found a suitable place to settle peacefully; Punjab faced a physical turmoil, political turmoil and turmoil of an idea. After the downfall of Dravidians, the Aryans could not completely curb the Harrapan civilization. There was a continuity of the features of Harrapan civilization on Aryans who had come from Persia and central Asia with their own influences. It is evident that the Dravidians were much civilized people; they lived in planned cities, while on the contrary the Aryans in Punjab were cattle-rearers. There was a greater social mobility in Punjab. The caste influence in Punjab was never as rigid as that in Ganga Jumna region where Barahmans had a strong foothold.

The Third identity of Punjab is that it has always been supportive of the movement that struggled against the inequality of caste system. Buddhism is the first to speak up against caste system and it found followers in major ways in Taxila, Punjab and the Northern areas. The question arises that does a change in religion detach us from our tradition or language? Language is not merely a translation of text or a tool for communication. Language is your written or unwritten, heard or unheard history. Each language is a specific tool and is meant for a specific purpose. No language can be a substitute for another language. If you limit the language you limit the ways people understand and interpret their surroundings and life at large. He wrapped up the talk by emphasizing that the various languages existent in our country should become our strength and not our hindrance.

Dr. Gulzar Haider thanked both speakers and regarded the talks as very informative and thought provoking. The discussion session was based on various questions put forth by the participants. At the end Prof. Pervaiz Vandal said that, ‘We need to waive off the restrictions on Punjabi language. The capacity of a person to learn different languages is immense. One should remember that, Universality lies in Particularity and Unity lies in Diversity.’

Indeed, an interesting talk that helped us move a step forward in the direction of understanding the cultural roots of art and architecture of the Punjab [By Sahar Saqlain].


posted by S A J Shirazi @ 11:19 PM,


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