The arts and crafts of Multan are testament to historical, civilizational and cultural richness of the city, but a continuous sluggish scenario of handicraft market, low number of international and domestic tourists and exhibitions and unreasonable way of institutional treatment are adversely affecting the indigenous crafts and craftsmanship of Multan.
Not so far, there were at least 20 arts and crafts considered the hallmark of Multan. Kashigari, Naqashi, Camel Bone Carving, Glass Work, Okair Sazi (Cut work on leather), Dabkri (Mixture of sand and paper or camel skin), Patoli (Silk thread making), Gotta Kinari, Zar Dozi, Saddle Making, Jewelry, Bangle Making, Iron smith, Masonry and Wood Crafting, Dyeing, and the list goes on.
But up till now some of these crafts have become history and the rest are on the edge of the line. To see this gloomy situation, visit the Art & Craft Bazar of Multan situated beside the fort or try to locate traditional craftsmen families living in localities of the old city.
Art & Craft Bazaar should obviously be a place for the promotion of crafts and arts but the bazaar of Multan is evidence to the fact that Multani craft and craftsmanship is facing a bleak scenario.
In 2003 a dedicated craft market was established near Ghanta Gahr in Multan, but it could last only for a few years. In 2006 the old craft bazaar was demolished for expansion of road and the craftsmen have to shift to the shops under Qasim Bagh stadium, along the fort.
Looking over the old city, the place provides amusing view of Multan, but it is not properly developed to make it a point of interest and attraction for the tourists and a cluster of arts and crafts.
The craft bazaar has no electricity connections and poor artists have to use portable lights and a small solar panel for meeting the power need. Their existing power source cannot run even fans in sizzling summers of Multan.
The craft bazaar is facing west and after mid-day when the sun moves to the front of the bazaar, the craft maestros find nothing for shade, the option is to down the shutters and create crafts while sitting in their oven hot dens.
The bazaar, a ‘proud’ project of Multan Art Council has also been counterproductive for Multani arts and crafts.
Malik Abdul Rehman Naqqash, an award winning artist told that in the beginning of this craft bazaar about 18 craftsmen had got shops here but with the passage of time, due to lack of facilities and promotion, most of them moved to other places or returned to their home workshops. Now only 5 or 6 are here to hold this bastion and no one knows who is here for how much time.
In a series of articles, PakVoices have attempted to show you in-depth features on Kashigari and Blue Pottery, Bone Carving, Naqashi, Okair Sazi and Glass work shedding light on the decline of once flourishing arts of Multan.
All these crafts have a special association with Multan, rather it is said that Multan is the nursery of all these crafts, but at this moment these crafts are facing a question of survival. Nobody has the sure answer why it’s happening with arts.
Ustad Alam the maestro of Kashigari believes it’s the result of changing interest of masses. He owns an institution of blue pottery in outskirts of Multan but his sons have turned the craft into commercialism.
Malik Abdu Rehman says the decline of craft is because new generations of craftsmen families could not retain high standards of craftsmanship.
Abdul Rasheed Qureshi the bone carving craftsman accuses middle-men of grabbing the lion’s share unduly. “It’s impressment like situation where craftsman works only because he has not learnt any other thing to earn his living”, eminent bone carving craftsman says.
Okair Saz Haq Nawaz says his earning is very low as compared to his hard work of cut working on leather. Nawaz learnt this craft from Niaz Bhatti who had 76 pupils but now only two are doing this. Nawaz also thinking not to train his children in this craft and this state of thinking represents most of the craftsmen of Multan.
Author Bio: Aown Ali is a Lahore based photojournalist with interest in culture, architecture and history.
All Photos by the author.