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The Contemporary Practices of Mazar Chador

Since the beginning of the mankind on this world, his unusual and discontent nature was scared of the natural and arbitrary phenomenon around him due to lack of reasoning. His immure and limited introduction, knowledge and understanding about natural phenomenon led him to consider every powerful or harmful thing as Sacred. Hence form stars to dust, from rough climatically conditions to mighty rocks and stone on Earth, man started worshiping these objects. In order to remain protected and made these sacred objects and deities’ content, the concept of offerings came into being. As the civilization grew and new religions came to exist the idea of offerings changed from one form to another. These offerings vary from personal belonging to the food items, from precious stones and minerals to one’s own life and so on. The offerings to the underworlds by Egyptians, votive offerings from ancient Greeks, offerings to goddesses Pele by Hawaiians, and offerings by the Muslims on the Mazar of saints are few archetypes all over. These offerings hold a strong position in many faiths, as it is associated to the concept of protection and bring blessings to the offeror.
The Indian subcontinent is highly praised and renowned for its fantastic myths and folklores. The practices and offerings are inspired by the mixed culture and ethnicity. One of the celebrated and widely followed offerings can be witnessed on Mazar or mausoleums of saints and pious person. The highly praised and well known form of offering on these Mazars and graves is the rose petals, floral wreaths and colourful glittering fabric containing verses form Quran by the devotees. These pieces of colourful & embroidered fabric are formally known as Chador or Mazar Chaddar among the locals.
The colourful and spiritual aspect of the Mazar attracts many. The devotees believe that offerings to the dead will fulfil their desires as the Saint buried there would make special request to God for their wishes. It is believed that the more lavish the offerings, the more likely it is that one’s prayers would be granted. These offerings can be in the form of flower petals showered upon the dead, lighting diyas (candles) in the vicinity of the dead, and spreading the Chador over the tomb of the Saint. Not all people put these fabrics as offerings to attain their desires but many also do so in commemoration of the saint buried there. People from far and wide visit these shrines and Mazars in order to get a spiritual cure for their ultimate apprehensions, physical illnesses and even eternal satisfaction.
The Persian word Chador means a fabric for veil or to cover. The Mazar chadors are offered on the grave of the deceased spirit to pay homage and utmost respect (often and widely on the graves and mausoleums of Sufi saints). Similar practice can be seen in the covering of The Holy Kaaba with black fabric known as Kiswa[1] or keeping the Holy Book (Quran) in cover known as juldan[2].The purpose is not only to adorn but also to cover as a symbol of protectiveness and great respect. Likewise the Mazar Chador shows great care and respect and as an offering for making the saint or Sufi the connection between the Divine and disciple’s prayers and desires. Hence these connections between divine, devout and the devotee are chained and intertwined together by means of offerings, prayers and gifts; chador being the most imperative among the Mazar culture and offerings.
Proffering these chadors on tombs becomes a full-fledged tradition by the followers and for the producers of these chadors it is a good business all year round. Although there is no specific day or time for offering the Chador but it is a lot more practiced on Thursday nights and Friday, special festivals, sacred days or nights and expressly on the event of annual commemoration or death anniversary of the departed. These chadors vary in colors and material according to the financial stability of the devotees. The colorful chadors not only represent the meaning in context of sacredness but also it attracts the devotees from consumer point of view. Green is generally considered the color of Islam and it is associated to the Green Dome of the Mosque of Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) or Masjid-e-Nabwi. This is why the green colored chador has become the most widely offered chador on graves. Silk, cotton and velvet are the main materials frequently used. Conversely material like banarsi[3], tissue, jamawar[4] and sometimes a simple piece of rectangular fabric or a dupatta (scarf) can also be allied with the practice of offering Mazar chadors.
As the world became a global village and boundaries have shrivelled, the bombardment of social media and increase in mass consumerism and industrialization has impacted the world on many levels of economy. This has redefined the visual and popular culture and has brought multiple contexts to the products and ideas people share widely and globally. For example Coca Cola in the 70’s was America’s top beverage brand, many examples of the product itself can be seen in Andy Warhol’s work (fig.1) but now it has become the globally renowned beverage enjoyed by billions of people of all class from every country in the world. Examples of such works include renowned Pakistani artist Mohammad Zeeshan’s video installation exhibited in USA titled “Flag Ceremony” (fig. 2) which contained cans of coke, diet coke and Pepsi. There is a wide array of artists who fit in the category of exploiting daily life products and commodities in their arts and creating art and installations out of it.
Similarly the use of Mazar Chador and its concept with reference to offering has been renovated in contemporary times too. Mazar Chadors are no more associated to offerings only but have been transformed into art practice also by many of the national and international artists. Offering rose petals and flower wreaths for celebrating memorial days of the departed souls is a common practice all over the world. Following few paragraphs will put light on the work of the artists who used chadors and concept of chador offerings in their art practices.
Moroccan born artist Majida Khattari (currently lives and works in Paris), exhibited her floor installation titled ‘Prayers of the Missing” (fig. 3) by using the concept of floral offering in her piece. She placed the numerous casts of faces in plaster on the floor, many containing the verses from the Quran and representing the men resting in peace on the bed of roses. More than a bold and straightforward comment her work celebrates the idea of paying homage to the people who lost their lives during 9/11, as her installation too is deliberately arranged in such a way which imitates the twin towers.
Parastou Forouhar, another internationally renowned Iranian artist (currently lives and works in Germany), used the Mazar Chador in her installation work titled “Funeral” (fig. 4) in 2003. The Iranian Mazar chadors she used in her installation are relatively different in terms of color and imagery as compared to the chadors available in Pakistan. The work seems to depict uncertainty and impermanence because the way Forouhar placed chadors on the official chair to show that no governance or system is long lasting or sustainable. It will eventually have to meet its end and destiny. The installation is a strong protest to condemn the Iranian government which assassinated her parents (two of the leading opposition politicians in Iran)[5] during the Revolution.
Amber Sami, Pakistani artist and jewellery designer exhibited an installation titled ‘Phoolon ki Chador’ (Floral Sheet or Sheet of Flowers) in April 2010 (fig. 5 and 6), at the opening ceremony and launch of the book ‘Mazaar Bazaar’ by Saima Zaidi held at National College of Arts (NCA), Lahore . Her installation was unique in the sense that instead of placing the floral chador on the floor she suspended her piece from the ceiling at a certain height from the ground, lingering above the heads of the visitors. It had a pattern of diamond Jali (lattice) with real rose flowers and bordered frame. The flower garlands were coiled around the wooden lattice structure entwined with golden banarsi and embellishments. Sami’s installation portrayed the idea of offerings and living in the age of upheaval where the shadows of fear fall upon us, disguised as beautiful floral masks.
My own practice as a visual artist evolved from the traditional practice done at the workshop of manufacturer of Mazar chador at Baghwanpura Lahore in the year 2011. Later I visited many shrines of Punjab & Sindh including the Shrine named Data Darbar, the Mausoleum of Bibi Pak Daman a.s, the Sufi Saint shrines of Multan and Uch Sharif, the ancient graveyards of Makli and Chawkandi, the shrines at Bhitt Shah and Abdullah Shah Ghazi. These trips helped me a lot in understanding the feel and aura of Sufi culture specially the philosophy behind widely followed Mazar culture & practices. These visits also helped in building documentation for my research and art practice.
My work “Qul” (Say) is the direct interpretation and depiction of Mazar chadors (fig. 7). “This is to understand the technique and tradition of chador making and to contemporize the usage and production in some other art form. I established the basic structure and composition of a chador on a canvas where I tried to address the current socio-political warfare, imbalance and social disintegration by the usage of disguised patterns and symbolic colors. Keeping the basic composition of chador I tried to transform the text into a strong visual impact that is subtle and straight forward at the same time. The simple composition and limited colors makes the impact bold whereas the symbols used have been inspired and stylized to depict deeper hidden meanings and signs. I offered this work of mine as homage to what we are going through as a nation under the current wave of oppression, violence, killings, uncertainty and un-directional mutations of human behavior as a civilization.”[6]
The mainstream idea of presenting this paper is to highlight the importance of the Mazar culture and its specific ritual of Mazar Chadors, its uses and practice along the lines of modern or contemporary times. Popular culture has already blurred the very thin line between arts, culture and craft. The use of cultural, ritual, folk and mythical objects and conceptions is not new to the present day art practices which ultimately are resulting in the new and diverse hybrid art form. From the country’s national emblem to the use of one’s undergarments in art forms, the perception of what Art is or should be has disrupted as well as comforted many. May be what we see is beautiful? Or how we see it through our eyes makes it beautiful?
The scent of joss stick and rose petals outside the graveyard intrigues the mind how peacefully the departed are resting in this mysterious surrounding. Rest in Peace.
Imrana Tanveer is a visual artist based in Karachi.
[1] The cloth covering the Ka’ba, Islam: Faith, Art, Culture, Elaine Wright,Scala Publishers, pg 247, 2009.
[2] Fabric covering for Holy Quran.
[3] Silk fabric with golden thread famous for its origin Banaras India.
[4] Brocaded fabric.
[5]Documents relating to the investigation into the politically motivated murder of Dariush and Parwaneh Forouhar, published by the Artist at her websitehttp://www.parastou-forouhar.de
[6] From the paper I presented at the end of the traditional practice titled “The Art of Chador Making; Ritualistic Expression of Chador Offering”, published MA (VA) department, NCA Lahore, June 2011, pg 5 and 6.