Chitarkari (stone engraving)

Country: Pakistan
Chitarkari Tombstones at Srikot

In the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, the Gangar mountain range is composed largely of schist stone—metamorphic rock with large, flat, sheet- like grains. Typically, in the construction of houses in that region, schist stone slabs were used as the inner lining of the ceiling. Stone engraving is called chitarkari and the engraving was done primarily by blacksmiths and stonemasons as a secondary profession. They were known as chitarkar.

Chitarkari – Mohd Aurangzeb working on a Schist Table top

Elaborate tombstones can be found between dense foliage in Salamkhand, in Srikot village. Carved on the tombstones or khaazas is a rich repertoire of symbols, which are expressions of identity of the deceased.  Jewellery signifies a female, while a sword and gun denotes a male. Tools such as the hammer and chisel implies a carpenter and the sickle and yoke a farmer. Religious piety in some deceased is depicted by the engraving of a mosque with dome and minarets or by kooza, an ewer, used for ablutions before prayers.

Exquisite, intricate geometric and floral designs are first sketched using a handmade pair of metal dividers (gulkar), then engraved with chisels of different sizes and a hammer. Sometimes a metal stencil is also used.

The art of engraving, chitarkari, has continued till today, from tombstones to other products. The introduction of marble and cement almost replaced schist as the material for tombstones, as cement is cheaper and marble a status symbol. Since the demand for schist tombstones declined, the craftsmen began to apply the same vocabulary of design and skill to products for the urban markets.

Three brothers from Salamkhand were known for the finest craftsmanship throughout the Gangar area: Abdul Misri Khan, Abdul Hakim and Abdul Rahim. Their parent’s tomb- stones are one of the finest examples of chitarkari. They were  blacksmiths in Salamkhand, making and repairing tools for farmers as well as the traditional iron ewer.

Master craftsmen Ustad Aurangzeb and Ustad Mohammad Ilyas are also renowned for their refined skills. They carry on the legacy and have passed their knowledge on to their sons and apprentices. They have expanded their repertoire for making table tops, lamp bases, trays, wall decorations and other domestic items.