From India to Central Asia and beyond
Shikarpoor was still a young city when it became the hub of a major financial network stretching from the Indian subcontinent to Central Asia and beyond. Durrani Afghans took control of the area in the mid-eighteenth century, and fostered the creation of a melting pot for merchants of diverse origins—Sikh, Hindu, and Muslim. Their ranks were later boosted with merchants from Multan, who left the commercial center of Punjab after repeated raids of their city. For almost two centuries Shikarpoor’s merchants organized and financed the caravan trade between Afghanistan and northern India. But Shikarpoor’s strength was as a financial center, and in its heyday, travelers could cash a Shikarpuri bill of exchange in places as distant as Mumbai, Bukhara in Uzbekistan, or Astrakhan and Nizhny Novgorod in Russia. The growing wealth of the merchant-bankers of Shikarpoor was reflected in the grand houses that they built for themselves and their families, brick and mud-plaster buildings surrounding central courtyards, decorated with carved wood and wrought-iron features. The large bazaar in the center of the city was long thought to be the largest in the region. Shikarpoor’s importance continued into the early twentieth century, when British and Indian textiles were being sold in Central Asia. But the construction of the railways toward the end of the nineteenth century, as well as the mass exodus of the Hindu community after the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, resulted in the decline of the city.
World Monuments Watch
Shikarpoor was included on the World Monuments Watch in 2008, 2010, and 2014 in order to draw repeated attention to the cultural significance of the city and its compromised state. Many of the historic buildings are threatened with demolition and others have been abandoned or neglected, while limited resources have continued to pose a challenge. However, it is hoped that with greater awareness and appreciation Shikarpoor can be revitalized and its historic buildings can become the vehicle for reclaiming a strong and proud identity. A major contribution has come in the form of an extensive survey and documentation project carried out by the Heritage Cell of the Department of Architecture and Planning of N.E.D. University of Engineering and Technology between 2007 and 2011. As a result of this effort, the Government of Sindh declared in March 2012 that the historic buildings documented in the inventory would thenceforth be protected under the Sindh Cultural Heritage Act of 1994. The inventory was published in April 2013 with funding from the Endowment Fund Trust for Preservation of the Heritage of Sindh.
Reviving community pride
Through the 2014 Watch, local advocates organized Watch Day in November 2014, as a forum in which historians, community activists, and other attendees spoke about the city’s history and disappearing built heritage. (View the 2014 Watch Day Album.) The day’s events sparked a renewed sense of pride and hope among the participants. In January 2016, with further support from WMF and the Endowment Fund Trust, the Heritage Cell of the Department of Architecture and Planning of N.E.D. University in Karachi organized a series of community engagement activities to capitalize on this momentum. The owners of four historic residences were invited to help architecture students document their buildings and offer their view on the challenges of maintaining them. In February 2016, the results of the documentation workshop were presented to the public, alongside visual testimony of buildings that had been previously demolished. A public forum was organized for attendees to discuss heritage management in Shikarpoor, while a technical seminar focused on issues facing property owners. The opening of the city’s new heritage center was announced, as was a fund that would provide seed money for conservation projects in Shikarpoor. Community members and architecture students from N.E.D. University led a walking tour through the historic center, and participants were able to enjoy performances by local schoolchildren and a concert by a renowned Sindhi singer. Heritage plaques were designed and installed on 27 historic buildings in order provide more visibility to the city’s historic assets and increase local awareness of their existence and importance.
Local and international recognition of the significance of Shikarpoor’s cultural heritage has been growing for years thanks to tireless efforts from advocates. WMF’s efforts encouraged and contributed to this development, helping to bring the Shikarpoor community together in shared appreciation of a proud heritage.