Various fairs and festivals are common in the Indus Valley. The Aryans were fond of beauty and soma- intoxicating liquors. The sages of Vedas expressed delight in the charm of female beauty. However certain festivals gradually became part of their religion as they settled in the sub continent. The story of Ramayana is enacted in the form of a drama festival called Rama Lilla. The festival culminates with the burning of effigies of the wicked Ravana and his associates. But in Aryan society such festivals were limited and their purpose was to teach people the values of conjugal fidelity, brotherly love, and obedience to paternal authority. However in Indo-Scythian society fairs, festivals, and melas were a permanent feature of the social life. These fairs and festivals were not held for the sake of pleasure alone, but their venues also served as places where city dwellers, farmers and nomads would meet once or twice a year to exchange their wares and good directly or through the intermediary of bazaar dealers. In the desert areas of Pakistan the utility of such fairs cannot be denied that are parts of valley’s social structure now. But what makes Cholistan most conspicuous in this respect is that here the greatest Mela of the Indus Valley is celebrated in the best Indo-Scythian tradition. It is held every year in March in the desert settlement of Channar Pir.
The Local Dialect
The language of Cholistan also reflects a number of features of its historical and geographical background. The local dialect was believed to be spoken by a rough, rude, and warlike people who liked to disobey every law and rule of grammar imposed by the so called super-cultured class of the Brahmans and their purified and gifted Sanskrit, which was the language of Indian Hindus.
The Saraiki language is an Indo-Aryan speech, and is spoken in Cholistan as well as in a large part of central Pakistan. It is no more a neglected language, once attributed to the camel-driving Jats and semi-nude Baloch tribes. It has always been as orthodox and conservative as the people who speak it. Even today the likes, dislikes, attitudes, and values of the people are the same as their forefather centuries back. Khwaja Ghulam Farid was a Sufi poet, who through his mystical writings and poetry not only developed the language a lot, but also gave it a boost. The language suffered a great loss when the Saraiki-speaking Hindus migrated to India during the Partition, and were replaced by the Muslim refugees from there. However, the majority of them lived in the cities and a very few in the Greater Cholistan. During the Partition, they moved to the safety of the neighboring Hindu states of Bikaner and Jaisalmar.
Arts and Crafts
In harsh and barren land where rain is more of a dream than reality, Cholistanis rely mainly on their livestock of sheep, goats, and camel. However in cold nights of winter they huddle indoor and engage themselves in various arts and crafts such as textiles, weaving, leatherwork, and pottery.
As mentioned above, the Indus Valley has always been occupied by the wandering nomadic tribes, who are fond of isolated areas, as such areas allow them to lead life free of foreign intrusion, enabling them to establish their own individual and unique cultures. Cholistan till the era of Mughal rule had also been isolated from outside influence. During the rule of Mughal Emperor Akbar, it became a proper productive unit. The entire area was ruled by a host of kings who securely guarded their frontiers, and their mutual competition helped promoting the development of arts and crafts. Each raja in his domain wanted to prove to the other rajas that his own artisans were the best. Because of this, not only the various crafts underwent a simultaneous and parallel development, but their designs, motifs, colors and textures also influenced the others. The rulers were the great patrons of art. Mesons, stone carvers, artisans, artists, and designers started rebuilding the old cities and new sites, and with that flourished new courts, paintings, weaving, and pottery. The fields of architecture, sculpture, terra cotta, and pottery developed greatly in this phase.
The backbone of Cholistan economy is cattle breeding. It has the major importance for satisfying the area’s major needs for cottage industry as well as milk meat and fat. Because of the nomadic way of life the main wealth of the people are their cattle that are bred for sale, milked or shorn for their wool. Moreover, isolated as they were, they had to depend upon themselves for all their needs like food, clothing, and all the items of daily use. So all their crafts initially stemmed from necessity but later on they started exporting their goods to the other places as well.
Cotton and Woolen Products
Cholistan produces very superior type of carpet wool as compared to that produced in other parts of Pakistan. From this wool they knit beautiful carpets, rugs and other woolen items. This includes blankets, which is also a local necessity for the desert is not just a land of dust and heat, but winter nights here are very cold, usually below freezing points. Khes and pattu are also manufactured with wool or cotton. Khes is a form of blanket with a field of black white and pattu has a white ground base. Cholistanis now sell the wool for it brings maximum profit.
It may be mentioned that cotton textiles have always been a hallmark of craft of Indus valley civilization. Various kinds of khaddar-cloth are made for local consumption, and fine khaddar bedclothes and coarse lungies are woven here. A beautiful cloth called Sufi is also woven of silk and cotton, or with cotton wrap and silk wool. Gargas are made with numerous patterns and color, having complicated embroidery, mirror, and patchwork. Ajrak is another specialty of Cholistan. It is a special and delicate printing technique on both sides of the cloth in indigo blue and red patterns covering the base cloth. Cotton turbans and shawls are also made here. Chunri is another form of dopattas, having innumerable colors and patterns like dots, squares, and circles on it.
Camels are highly valued by the desert dwellers. Camels are not only useful for transportation and loading purposes, but its skin and wool are also quite worthwhile. Camel wool is spun and woven into beautiful woolen blankets known as falsies and into stylish and durable rugs. The camel’s leather is also utilized in making kuppies, goblets, and expensive lampshades.
Leatherwork is another important local cottage industry due to the large number of livestock here. Other than the products mentioned above, Khusa (shoes) is a specialty of this area. Cholistani khusas are very famous for the quality of workmanship, variety, and richness of designs especially when stitched and embroidered with golden or brightly colored threads.
The Cholistanis are fond of jewellery and have a craze for gold. The chief ornaments made and worn by them are Nath-nose gay, Katmala-necklace Kangan-bracelet, Pazeb- anklets, and Chandanhar etc., Gold and silver bangles are also made and worn with pride. The locals are experts in enamel works, and it is done on buttons of all sorts, earrings, bangles, and rings etc.
Love for Colors
The great desert though considered to be colorless and drab, is not wholly devoid of color. Its green portion plays the role of “color belt” especially after rains when vegetation growth is at its peak. Adding to that the locals always wear brightly colored clothes mostly consisting of brilliant reds, blazing oranges shocking pinks, and startling yellows and greens. Even the cloth trappings of their bullocks and camels are richly colored and highly textured.
The Indus Civilization was the earliest center of ceramics, and thus the pottery of Cholistan has no parallel in beauty, delicacy, and perfection. This is due to the fact that the local soil is very fine, thus most suitable for making pottery. The fineness of the earth can be observed on the Kacha houses which are actually plastered with mud but look like white cemented. The chief Cholistani ceramic articles are their surahies, piyalas, and glasses, remarkable for their lightness and fine finishing.
In the early times only the art of pottery and terracotta developed, but from the seventh century onwards, a large number of temples and images were also built on account of the intensified religious passions and the accumulation of wealth in cities. The building activity reached to such an extent that some cities actually became city temples. In fact the area particularly came to be known for its forts, villas, palaces, havelis, gateways, fortifications, and city walls.