In the Sindh province of Pakistan, Kashi tiles have been an important component of historical architectural monuments. The term ‘Kashi’ means decoration in Persian. However, in Sindh, the term is commonly used for all types of glazed tiles which have been used extensively in buildings throughout the ages. The manufacture of Kashi tiles is known as Kashi Kari and the artisans Kashigars.
What are Kashi tiles?
Kashi tiles also known as glazed tiles are the traditional ceramic tiles used in Pakistan in general and Sindh in particular. With a shiny and washable surface, these tiles have been produced for centuries now. Archaeologists and architects suggest that the art of Kashi Kari came to India with the migration of Persian potters from the Kashan city of Persia. This is how these tiles came to be known as Kashi tiles.
Main centers of Kashi Kari
Kashi Kari is still practiced in Sindh despite its decreasing demand in the local market. The small cities of Nasirpur and Hala still act as centers of this important human and cultural craft. Skilled craftsmen manufacture tiles of different sizes and shapes characterized with exquisite and minutely detailed hand painting. They use only signature colors i.e. brown, purple, cobalt blue, mustard, and white.
The glazed tiles and pottery manufactured in Sindh form an important part of the exports of Pakistan. Middle Eastern and European countries are the main importers.
Use of Kashi tiles in the historical architecture of Sindh
As stated in the above lines, glazed tiles have seen extensive use as part of building ornamentation in architecture developed during different dynastic rules and phases. Most prominent among the periods include the Mughal, Kalhora, Talpur, Samma rule. Some of the important examples of architectural sites with extensive use of Kashi tiles are Makli necropolis near Thatta, The Tomb Complex of Talpurs, and Pacco Qila in Hyderabad.
How were glazed tiles manufactured?
The craftsmen used the base of Ajri also called terracotta using clay for the manufacture of blue glazed tiles. They make tiles of various shapes and sizes followed by their exposure to the sun to dry. The sun-dried tiles are then added a white undercoat on which different designs and motifs are made. Moreover, the craftsmen make use of different coloring pigments for painting on the tiles which are then coated with glaze and burnt in the kiln to increase their hardness.
Types of Kashi tiles
Traditionally two types of Kashi tiles are manufactured in Sindh on basis of the types of colors used. One of them carries blue, green, red, off-white, and yellow colors. The other types of tiles are transparent glazed tiles in white and blue colors.
This important historical craft is fast losing its previous prestige and popularity. Although Hala and Nasirpur manufacture export quality their production reducing day by day. The skilled craftsmen have started to switch to other modes of income as the craft of Kashi Kari is no longer source of decent earning. Thus glazed tiles as one of the other intangible heritages of Sindh and Pakitan is fast moving towards its total disappearance.