By Jehangir Khan Tareen
MULTAN, (APP):It is how fascinating for a place itself to turn from an armoury to serve as locals’ and tourists’ aesthetic pleasure destination, promoting distinguished and rare cultural crafts of extra ordinary creativity and genius.
Nigar Kana, located opposite to the mausoleum of great saint Hazrat Shah-Rukn-i-Alam, is known as a House of
Art for selling handicrafts, exhibits antiquities, cultural and artistic items for over 45 years.
Climbing down the steep stairs of this enchanting locus, one finds oneself into a world of colours consisted of mosaic art, Naqashi, wooden, glass work, blue pottery, jewelery made of camel bone, table lamps, flasks, plaster of Paris decoration pieces and many more.
Abul Waheed, who has been running Nigar Khana after his father Abdul Hameed for the last 30 years says that his father, who was a carpenter by profession, had extra ordinary command of manufacturing innovative flower pots.
Now, many artisans were contributing to it, he said, and everyone of them is master of his art. Their distinctive approach is a source of attraction and inspiration for a large number of daily visitors.
About Camel Skin work, Mr Waheed claimed that Multan was the only city in the world where this unprecedented art survives.
Former president Zia-ul-Haq, prime ministers , Balakh Sher Mazari, Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, ex envoys of US, Australia, China, Japan, Argentina and many other countries to Pakistan besides several literary including Ahmad Nadeem Qasimi, Amjad Islam Amjad and Ata-ul- Haq Qasmi had visited Nigar Khana.
In his book Pakistan Handbook, a famous writer Isobel Shaw authors: “The old gun emplacement on the Southern end of the fort mound is a platform with a good view over Shah Rukn-i-Alam’s tomb, in one direction, and the old city of Multan in the other. Nearby is the armoury, now a souvenir and pottery shop called Nigar Khana. Steep steps lead into a tomb like interior where you can see a selection of blue pottery and painted camel Skin lampshades and vases. If you climb up to the roof, you can watch the artisans paint the camel skin.”
Punjab Finance minister, Dr Aisha Ghaus Pasha wrote in visitor’s book, “I have been delighted to see, the rich cultural of Punjab and very keen to see it well perceived and widely publicized. Thank you for preserving it for us.”
Waheed said that a large number of visitors kept on pouring in the art house since morning till evening as they are open from 8:30 am to 9pm in summers and from 9: 30 pm to 6: 30 pm in winters.
In November, 1989 Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani Then Federal Minister for Tourism had visited Nigar Khana and said that by visiting here, the tourists would carry pleasant memories with them, Waheed informed.
He urged the incumbent government to allocate a piece of land where all artisans could work under one roof to save time and money.
About the interest of tourists in purchasing items, he informed that women preferred to buy jewellery made of camel bone and elephant, wooden and other decoration pieces while people coming from other cities buy blue pottery and camel skin articles.
A well-known artisan of blue pottery, Ustad Alam, had also been working at Nigar Khana, he disclosed and added that Ustad sahib was a fast friend of his father.
Historians say earlier it was Barood Khana of Qasim Fort and was used as storehouse of gunpowder and weapons. It was badly damaged during siege of Multan by British in 1848. Later, Pakistan government converted it into a Nigar Khana or art house for selling handicrafts.
This subterranean domed chamber is believed to have been built in 1720, probably by Sher Afgan, the Naib Nazim of Multan during the rule of Muhammad Shah (1719-1748).
A map prepared during the reign of Nawab Muzaffar Khan Shaheed (1778-1818) and later on copied by the officials of Nawab of Bahawalpur shows the location of this building situated between Jamia Masjid and Sard Khana and on the south of the Mausoleum of Rukn-i-Alam and quite close to De Darwaza (today’s Qasim Bagh Gate).
Both the Barood Khana and Sard Khana are shown as identical buildings each having a dome above ground surrounded by an arched veranda all around.
The Sard Khan and the Jamia Masjid have disappeared now, however; the Barood Khan is still there although its arched verandah has also disappeared.
The single entrance is on the northern side which has a staircase that descends into the crossed shaped spacious room some 20 feet below the outside surface.
The light is filtered down through the main entrance and the three windows fitted in the neck of the dome on the remaining sides.
This structure survived the devastating powder magazine explosion that destroyed almost all buildings in the fort in 1848. The Barood Khana had been converted into a souvenir shop prior to 1972.