What’s wrong with ajraks on a national symbol?

Published: December 4, 2010

The Teen Talwar in Karachi get a touch of Sindhi flavour. PHOTO: Taimur Sikander/DAWN.COM

The Teen Talwar roundabout in the Clifton area of Karachi looks different. The swords are clad in ajraks, a block-printed cloth with deep crimson red and indigo blue background, bearing symmetrical patterns with interspersed sparkling white motifs, mostly stars and trefoil flowers.


The reason is that Sindh celebrates its culture and ‘Ekta’ on December 4-5, respectively. Preparations to celebrate the cultural days are in full swing throughout Sindh as well as abroad where the Sindhi diaspora is living in scores.

A cultural celebration

It was last year, on December 6 to be specific, that Sindhis celebrated this day. Last year, it had a special focus on the Sindhi topi and was titled Sindhi Topi Day. This year December 4 and 5 were selected for the celebrations (due to the commencement of Muharram immediately after December 6) and were given the label of the Cultural and Ekta Day; there are plans underway to celebrate this day every year on a  national level. This year, even the Sindh government has made an announcement to celebrate the days officially and several programs have also been arranged in this view.

Preparing for celebration

Sindhi channels have started dedicating hours of their transmissions to cover events being organised in line with these celebrations and making new songs praising the beauty of Sindh and its traditional symbols. Among these symbols are the ajrak, Sindhi language and the Indus River, also known as the Lion River. Small posters and gigantic billboards have been installed to commemorate the cultural days with great zeal – the Teen Talwar being draped in ajrak is part of the same.

Not everyone is happy

While the initiative has made many happy and instilled pride in their hearts, it has also been called “risky business” by some (take for example Mr Taimur Sikander) as though it could potentially threaten the stability of the country.

Which ‘ethnicity’ celebrates this day?

The day was celebrated with great fervour last year when millions of Sindhis clad in traditional Sindhi attire with ajraks and topis gathered at different platforms and took out mass rallies in Karachi. They danced to melodious tunes like “Jeay Sindh Jeay, Sindh wara jeayan! Sindhi topi, ajrak wara jeayan!

There was no “risk”, nor did it anger any of the other ethnicities of the country. On the contrary, the respective leadership of some parties of these ethnicities, like Altaf Hussain of MQM and Shahi Syed of ANP, not only supported but actively participated in the celebrations and organised various Sindhi cultural programs from their party platforms. It goes without saying that the pro-establishment political parties had a grand show along with the nationalist parties of Sindh on the occasion. The same goes for this year, too.

Celebrating cultural diversity

Forgive my bias, but to me the write-up under discussion and those who support such views to be very biased. Everyone should celebrate the diversity of cultures that Pakistan hosts since they make strong, not endanger, the existence of the country. Let’s remind the critics that the very creation of Pakistan is based on many ethnicities which make the culture and traditions of the country. These four units when combined make Pakistan –otherwise, Pakistan in itself is nothing.

‘Dressing up a national monument’

When GM Syed first presented the Pakistan Resolution in the Sindh Assembly, it was not taken to represent just Sindhis; rather, it was considered the voice of the Muslims of the country and that of other assemblies, too. Pakistan has this label of being conceived in Sindh – why should it make anybody uncomfortable if the same Sindhi nation is out celebrating its culture, which is part of Pakistani culture.

If we take the Teen Talwar example (representing “Unity, Faith and Decipline”) and other “national” monuments existing in different provinces ununderstandably belonging strictly to the idea of Pakistan, it means they cannot even celebrate and speak about their cultures in their respective assembly buildings which also are the Provincial Assemblies of Pakistan. –This is ridiculous!

There is absolutely no harm in covering the Teen Talwar with ajraks, which is a representation of the centuries-old Indus Valley Civilisation, the land of present Sindh.  Also, ajraks are given to foreign delegates as well on their visit to Pakistan – there it represents the country.

Would Minoo Mistry approve?

Had he seen the Quaid-e-Azam’s approval of the centuries-old traditional symbol of his birth land (Sindh, that is) decorating embodiments of his pillars of strength for the nation, Minoo Mistry, the architect who designed the Teen Talwar, would surely have approved of the Talwar wearing ajraks.

Aamir Raz Soomro

Aamir Raz Soomro

A social development professional, journalist and freelance writer who studied English Literature and Linguistics. He is interested in Pakistan's socio-cultural and political issues and writes for GlobalVoices and his personal blog, møsaic, and tweets @aamirraz.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Khan

    I agree woleheartedly with the author. I was not around to witness the celebrations last year but I’m delighted to see these symbols across the city. More than being political or ethnic symbols, they’re our heritage and culture. I would love to see the other ethnicities in the city also celebrate their culture and possibly use a national monument, like Teen Talwar, as a canvas for their cultural expression. Good write up!Recommend

  • http://grsalam.wordpress.com Ghausia

    People will never be happy apparently. They have an issue with our lack of culture and promotion of ‘non-Pakistani’ culture, which for the record, is mostly rooted in the fact that once upon a time, we used to be a glorious sub-continent with a rich and diverse cultural history. So now when we’re celebrating Sindhi culture, not Indian, not American, but Pakistani culture, that can threaten security? Honestly!Recommend

  • http://twitter.com/arrafiq AR Rafiq

    A well written article on celebrating cultural diversity in Pakistan. With that spirit, I’d offer one correction where the author mentions “4 units” where as there are now “5 provinces”. with the 5th being the newly federated unit of Gilgit-Baltistan. Recommend

  • Faizan Ghani Brohi

    you answered your question yourself. Whats wrong with Ajraks on a national symbol? because its a NATIONAL symbol, its not a symbol of sindhi culture,
    for once we should stop thinking about sindhis, punjabis, balochis, pathans and realize we’re just pakistanisRecommend

  • aLI

    There might not be anything wrong with it but what is wrong is the arrogance and so-called pride attached to it. The post on Dawn that you quoted in your blog is full of your brethren spewing hatred against the majority residents of Karachi. I’ve also seen this pattern on other places where such topics are discussed.

    I am sorry but these things will not help the “natives” much. An interesting thing about Karachi is that it was never a part of the Sindhi culture even before partition. Gujarati was the majority language and there were even thousands of Jews, Parsis, Goanese and other nationalities living here. Karachi does not represent the real Sindh but unfortunately the mafia-structured MQM has deceived its constituency. Karachi should either be a separate province or a union territory just like Delhi, Pondicherry etc are in India. You can’t cite the example of Mumbai as Marathas actually are more than half of the city’s population whereas Sindhis are less than 5% of Karachi.

    I congratulate you on Sindh day but please don’t force your negative views on Karachiites.Recommend

  • T R Khan

    Its a celebration and a few ajraks will not hurt the national monument. Recommend

  • http://- Shah

    Looks like prophylactics covering the swords Recommend

  • http://www.tanzeel.wordpress.com Tanzeel

    What’s wrong with Zardari wearing Sindhi Topi on Foreign trips ?

    Apparently nothings wrong but he being a representative of Pakistan should wear something that depicts culture of Pakistan and not Sindh alone for instance a Jinnah-cap would serve the purpose here.

    The same is in the case of Teen Talwar, a National monument being Sindhiized. Although its a puny issue. To me Sindhi culture should be celebrated not by only by wearing an Ajrak and a Topi but through initiating literacy and women emancipation programs and operating against Dacoits in Kacha area of Sindh. I hope by reducing such stigmas associated with the land of Sindh, this province in true sense will be able to celebrate its cultural day. As of now Sindh is not known for Ajrak and Topi but by the social ills I have mentioned above.

    People want development and progress. The current PPP regime has just given a “Topi” to Sindh in the name of culture day. Recommend

  • Shemrez Nauman Afzal

    NOTHING is wrong with ajraks as a national symbol. Recommend

  • Ali Hassan

    No comments.Recommend

  • Talha

    All citizens of Sindh celebrate this day, the Mohajitrs, Pathans, Punjabi’s and many others openly celebrate this day.

    This is a great occasion to celebrate and enjoy the culture of Sindh.Recommend

  • hameed ali khan

    the people who are unhappy with the sindh culture celebration are mantaly ill..it does not effect the stability of pakistan, this will boom a unity and respect between the people of pakistan……this day should be celebrate nationaly not only in sindh….Recommend

  • http://www.facebook.com Mansoor Ali Siyal

    though weknow that it’s the activity of media or political game. but we don’t forget that who is the beneficiary!
    G.A Sindh Recommend

  • Hassan

    Lets get some perspective here, whats the history of this culutural day it was started last year as a retaliation to some media personnel criticising Zardari for wearing the sindhi topi on official visits to foreign countries. His cronies in Sindh announced this day to rile up ethnic feeling as these people always do to divide the nation. Last year this day was held when many innocent civilians and brave soldiers died in the parade lane bombings in Rawalpindi, that incident was completely ignored and we continued to celebrate this day as if Sindh and its culture was in danger of extinction.

    Sindhi culture is alive and kicking and people in sindh and the rest of Pakistan have more pressing issues and needs to address and celebrating this day isnt one of them.

    When should we celebrate balochi day or punjabi day or pakhtoon day or Hazara day or seraiki day? Cultures of Pakistan should be celebrated but not at the cost of people viewing their ethnic identity as preceding their identity as a Pakistani. A better way of celebrating our cultures is having all the regional languages as official languages, and to ensure that people in the four provinces feel pride in being Pakistani first and anything else a far second.Recommend

  • Ammar

    Very well said. It is about time we stopped being insecure about our country’s ethnic groups celebrating their respective cultures. Happy Sindhi Topi Day to all Sindhi friends out there!Recommend

  • Shahbaz

    It does not make any rational sense to me that a cultural event should be criticize well, Sindh is like an arm of the body of Pakistan strenuously celebrate this day on provincial level not only inclined the people towards to local culture but also ensconced their local heritage. Recommend

  • Kamal

    You lost your credibility as Journalist because you accepted in the story that you were biased with your comments.

    The creation of Pakistan didn’t mean that we forget the centuries old cultures in the favor of newly born country. We all love Pakistan but at the same time we reserve the right to protect our cultures and languages.Recommend

  • Asad

    I would be happy if they cover up the lower portion of teen talwar permanently with ajrak so that I no longer see posters and ghisay pitay slogans like

    Jiye XYZ
    Aafia ko reha karo
    Aasia ko phansi do / na do
    Imran ____boy
    Chief tere ja nisaar
    Kon karega Rehnumai Sarwat Bhai
    Charo subon kee zanjeer
    Muhabbat may nakami, mehboob aapkay qadmo may
    Aamil Jalali bawa
    Bawasir ka shartia ilaaaj
    Taaqat ka raaz
    20 march million march
    Chalo chalo nishter park, larkana, ninezero, banarus chalo
    XYZ kay qatilo ko giraftaar karo warna?????
    XYZ hum sharminda hein, tere qatil zinda hein
    Pakhair Raaglay Aswand Yar Wali
    Salana tableegi ijtimah
    Aamir Liaqat, XYZ Akhbar yahoodi agent
    PPP, MQM, ANP, SSP, ST, APML….urgh

    Ye national monument kin kin ka ihtijaaj or publicity apnay ander jazb karegaRecommend

  • Arsalan M

    My only concern is that in a country where thousands go to bed hungry every night, this money could have been spent on their food or clothes for that matter. Ajrak is not an inexpensive commodity. The amount of ajrak used for this decoration could have been used to make clothes for 15-20 full size adults, or could this money could have fed maybe some 50 people.

    Maybe the people of Sindh can celebrate Sindh Day in a more noble manner. The 10% who can afford can feed 10 people each. Can become a Sindhi tradition like none other.Recommend

  • aamir hussain

    i am of the same opinion , nothing wrong with AJRAK or TOPI, but u can’t force remaining almost 70 perc or more of population to wear ajrak and topi forcefully. Peoples of punjab or ANP isn’t in coalation of PPP, that they try to impose sindhi culture on Pashtun , Baloch or Punjab….
    and we never know(God knows better) if PPP remain unable to form his goverment in future, we may have chance to hear slogan ” PAKISTAN NAAN KHUPAY”…
    and please now we should comeout of this cultural race,,and lets do some thing for peoples of Pakistan , Peoples of SINDH….
    and plz don’t try to missguide innocent peoplesRecommend


    good opinion debatable topic ! Recommend

  • majid maqsood

    I absolutely agree with AmirRaz who truly gave the back ground of Sindhi culture, objecting on dressing Teen talwars with Ajrak has really astonished the people of Sindh. its culture of Sindh which has gathered thousands and thousands people altogether, otherwise its not possible to gather 50 people in this inflation and poverty.People of Sindh are so touchy about their culture and such celebration of culture has diminished the difference in upper class and and other classes of Sindh but i think Ajrak has unformed whole Nation.

    Basant is celebrated in punjab in which many men, women and children are killed but we people of Sindh never objected on their cultural activities, if tomorrow Punjab celebrates Dotee day which is item of their culture, i am sure nobody would object them because Dotee is mostly dressed and used in Punjab.it was also surprising to consider Ajrak is a symbol of Ethnicity while Ajrak is symbol of coexistence and love, those people who have not studied the culture of Sindh objecting on different demonstration in Sindh but i think slowly and gradually people will understand it. in culture of Sindh, language plays pivotal role because many writers do such cultural poetry in Sindhi and people feel themselves close their cultural.Recommend

  • http://twitter.com/HashimAbbasi Hashim Abbasi

    the only thing wrong with dressing up the swords and celebrating so extravagantly is the timing. We just faced a severe flood and Sind was the most effected of it all. People in parts of Sindh dont have a roof over their head, the cold is coming and a lot of them might not survive it… Surely the money or dare I say the ajraks could have been better utilized. All these activities are just a curtain over our eyes and diverting us from the real problems we are facing. Mr. Government, Please I beg you to start helping my country men (regardless of ethnicity) and stop trying to fool usRecommend

  • Amna

    There should be nothing wrong with the ajraks…and probably wouldn’t be had so many sindhis not had the lame “Pakistan na khappay” mentality. Recommend

  • GH

    I think zardari never wore sindhi topi on Foreign trips.Recommend

  • majid maqsood

    @GH: i think you do not read Newspapers, Zardari sb has wore sindhi Topi when he was Afghianstan Trip and you can find many pictures of him meeting with officials at Kabul in youtube.
    its only criticism for criticism, in sindh all classes of people love their culture, who may be President, PM or CM or lay man etc.Recommend

  • Klues

    Slavoj Zizek:”no ethnic cleansing without poetry”. You can notice how the divisions are made recently. Arab nationalism failed so will this. Stay Muslim.Recommend

  • http://billaytoot.wordpress.com Bilal

    I really don’t know why this issue is taken to such height..though there is not any issue……Dance and celebrate…thats all…. Thousand of times, there have been posters hanged over teen talwar no one actually objected….

    Have any one noticed SUBHAN ALLAH, ALHAMDLULLAH and ALLAH HU AKBAR written over teen talwar??? it was never written before….and why is it written if it is a “national” monument… This country has also non muslims and they have also rights here. UNITY FAITH and DISCIPLINE is not for muslims but for all Pakistanis no matter what culture, religion he belongs to…

    @ ali: “An interesting thing about Karachi is that it was never a part of the Sindhi culture even before partition. Gujarati was the majority language and there were even thousands of Jews, Parsis, Goanese and other nationalities living here. Karachi does not represent the real Sindh but unfortunately the mafia-structured MQM has deceived its constituency. Karachi should either be a separate province or a union territory just like Delhi, Pondicherry etc are in India.”

    Why should Karachi be a separate province? because it does not represent real Sindh! if that is so, then all the people who wear jeans, western clothes, get western education and eat western food should also have separate identity, because they do not represent real Pakistani..

    Har aik baat pe kehte ho tumke tu kiya hai.
    Tumhi kaho ke ye andaz guftugu kiya hai ..Recommend

  • Yousaf

    This is a local event, not a national..but even if you celebrate it on National Level, I believe this can not harm unless you don’t have nationalism.

    Moreover, all over the world, there are local and national events celebrated, where the Central Government has nothing to do with that otherwise just to facilitate that.

    We should engage ourselves only to the events brought us brotherhood and Pakistaniat, which makes our knots stronger and lead us to prosperity. Recommend

  • Yousaf

    Also, this should be noted that the president is the national symbol of Pakistan, he should wear only national dress upon his visits to foreign countries, I saw President Zardari wearning sindhi topi on his Srilankan trip, I don’t mind that but he should carry some symbols from all the provinces.Recommend

  • Danish

    What a way of celebration… There ware huge traffic jams on friday and saturday just because Sindhi bhai (taken from rural areas of Karachi) were dancing jubilantly on roads…

    After 100 years it will become an another Basant..Recommend

  • http://www.thetechtics.com/ Haris Hussain

    Dec 4-5 were undoubtedly a period where Inhabitants of Karachi and Sindh showed real unity and pride being Sindhi. The scenery of the ‘3 Talwar’ as depicted was worth seeing..!

    Jeay Sindh Jeay, Sindh wara jeayan! Sindhi topi, ajrak wara jeayan!

    Long Live Pakistan..!Recommend

  • Warrior of Nihari

    @aLI: According to your argument, Toronto isn’t Canadian enough. Recommend

  • bilal akber

    [email protected]#$ the person who wrote this column ….ur wrong…what hurts if some one is celebrating its cultural day…remember karachi is a part of sindh…and sindhis have a right on it….by sindhis alll the ppl of sindh….this is celebrated by all ppl who live in sindh…it was the media who started this ethnic problem..u media ppl all of u suck …espacially geo tv…some thing small wont harm ….u media ppl r so !!Recommend