Dr Kaleem Lashari was the keynote speaker of the first session. He started off by stating that each grave at Chaukandi had a story to tell. He said it was in 1906 that the initial research on the site by an Englishman was undertaken; in 1930 the area of research widened and historians came to know that the graves were spread from Karachi to Kotri. After partition, interest in the graveyard increased considerably as a great many articles were written in newspapers and archeology journals on the subject.
Then the wife of an American diplomat wrote a book on the different cemeteries that existed in the region in which Chaukandi also featured. It further brought the cemetery into the sights of quite a few scholars. Dr Lashari then named a couple of books, ‘History on Tombstones’ and ‘A Study of Stone-Carved Graves’, which were specifically written on the subject. The latter, in particular, suggested that the graves stretched from Karachi up to the coast of Makran.
Dr Lashari claimed that there were more than 200 graveyards in the area about which the tribes whose ancestors were buried there, could reveal much. It signified that these tribes inhabited this land before the arrival of the Mughals and even before the Delhi Sultanate. Then he dilated upon the name ‘chaukandi’. He said a general perception, as also mentioned by Dr Nabi Bux Baloch in his book, was that chaukandi meant chaar deewari (walled space).
However, visiting the gravesites of the Malkati tribe’s elders and some other graves one would notice that the word ‘raak’ was used for chaar deewari. He said chaukandi meant a shed or canopy too and gave examples from Persian poetry to support this.
Dr Lashari said making of stone graves was a 2,000-year-old tradition which could be traced back to the golden age of the Greeks. In the beginning the shape of the grave was simple, then it was given a little height, followed by the construction of a hujra and finally pedestals came into the picture, raising it yet further.
This evolution in the design of a grave happened with the passage of time. In his view, the marked feature of their construction was their ‘balance’. He referred to the Palladian architecture of the Renaissance and the way Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo handled their subjects with a sense of balance and observed that the same kind of pyramidal structure could be observed in the graves.
Dr Lashari also spoke of the tribes – Jokhios, Kalmatis and Burfats – whose ancestors were buried in the graveyard and enthused about the wealth of stories the living members of their tribes could still tell of the days of yore.
Prior to the keynote address, secretary culture Sindh Abdul Aziz Uqaili welcomed the participants in the conference, especially
those who had come from the other three provinces and described the objectives of the conference. He said one of the purposes of the moot was to listen to the experts’ suggestions regarding the repair and preservation of the gravesites.
He informed the gathering about the various steps that the culture department had taken (as after the 18th amendment archeological sites fell under the purview of the provincial government) to highlight the importance of historical places like Moen Jo Daro, Makli and Chaukandi.
G.N. Mughal, Zulfiqar Kalhoro, Altaf Aseem, and Ali Mohammad Jokhio also spoke.