Impact of Indigenous People & Mughals On The Modern Pakistani Lifestyle

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Hi Guys! Hope you had a great Saturday. California had a sunny, but not a hot autumn day so even though I am a homebody, I just had to spend it outside. Today, I wanted to be a little didactic and impart knowledge of the little sub-continent history I learned from my grandparents. My grandparents migrated to Pakistan from India after the 1947 partition. My maternal grandmother was born in a Muslim-majority Hyderabad and my maternal grandfather, and my paternal grandparents were born in a Muslim-majority Delhi. It was a tough decision for them, but a necessary one as Muslims were severely discriminated against in India because of their supposed treatment of Hindus in the past. To continue the tradition of passing down stories generation from generation, my grandparents told their grandchildren, especially me, stories of their past and our heritage.

My Family’s Mughal History 

I know that around 1500’s, my first ancestral forefather (from Persia) arrived in the Indian sub-continent as the Mughal (See HERE) Vizier (chief advisor) to King Akbar (See HERE). It was a period of such great prosperity during this time that my ancestral forefather had diamonds sewn into his pure silk shoes. There is little known about these heirlooms now, but it is quite fascinating to hear about them. The creation of the Mughal empire was planned to protect the Silk Road to China. During the time, spices and silk were seen as opulent means of trade and the continent needed some sort of government (monarchy rule in the 1500’s was prevalent) to take control and protect the China Silk Road.

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Mughal Empire At Its Height

My grandparents were a bit respectful when describing the threat traders had before the Muslim-only Mughal Empire was established. It seemed like the people who were stealing and robbing (even killing) traders on this route were Zoroastrian (See HERE) warriors. Contrary to some accounts, Mughals brought in armies and fought battles with these wild warriors and when victory was achieved by the Mughals they established monarch rule over the region. It was a period of great peace although there were many threats from now-called Hindus living in the region. However, even they accepted the rule since it brought centuries old conflicts among different Zoroastrian tribes to stop.

Mughal Impact

Besides the organized administrative system, the Mughals brought a host of ancient Arab culture to the Indian Sub-continent. Architecturally, Mughals were influenced by the Moors and Persians of the west. They were the first empire to introduce mirrors to architecture. The western empires were known for their crystal chandeliers, tapestry rugs, and paintings, but no one thought of incorporating mirrors. Against popular belief, they did not use any type of gems in their building projects as their concept was to wear them.

The Mughals were hugely influenced by the gardens of Versailles. They were known to build lavish gardens with fountains (since statues are against Islam principals) based on gardens of the Western empire such as the French. The great Taj Mahal was built of marble stone – an extravagant project by any measure, but as luck would have it, marble (and red stone) were aplenty in Afghanistan, which partly belonged to the Mughals, hence no problem to come by.

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Culinary wise, dishes from Turkey, Persia, Arab peninsula, Morocco, and Afghanistan were prevalent. Due to the China Silk Road, spices from Turkey were brought to China and fabric from China were sold in the Arab region in hoards. Majority of the funds and goods to build this lavish lifestyle of the Mughals were from protecting the trade routes. They did not rob or cheat anyone.

Because of the educated nature of the Mughal Empire, many embroideries and arts were introduced to the region. Embroidery and miniature painting were two of those arts.

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Indigenous Cultures

Muslim-majority Pakistan is entirely dependent on Islam as defining its culture. While the country may be brimming with groups I will mention below, it would be wrong to deny that Islam plays a huge part in the way modern Pakistani lifestyle works. Honestly speaking, besides dignitaries and ambassadors from foreign countries, I am unsure about Christians and Jews living in Pakistan. Thus everything revolves around Islamic festivals and holidays.

Pakistan’s food is entirely influenced by the Mughals. Thanks to modernization and global tastes of its citizens, major cities such as Karachi, Islamabad, Peshawar, and Lahore have restaurants serving cuisines such as Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Italian, American, Fusion, etc.

Traditionally the fashion of Pakistan (like India) has been influenced by the Mughals (See HERE). However, since its globalization starting in the 1980’s, Pakistan has adopted many western aesthetics as well. Besides shalwars and churidaar pajamas, conceptual pants like cigarette pants, culottes are worn with kurta aka a long tunic. Lenghas, peshwas, and ghararas are more traditional wedding-wear although the long tunic and pants/shalwar combo can be elevated with embroidery and fabric choice for an important event.

Hindus: In terms of colors, Pakistanis wear any and every color you can think of. The only difference is that Sikh and Hindu brides here opt to wear reds and maroons, while Muslim brides choose to wear pinks, whites, silver, and gold. There is no rule, but this is a generally accepted distinction. Other ways the Hindu culture has impacted Pakistani culture is the number of wedding events. According to Islam, Muslims are to have only the ceremony (Nikkah) and a reception (Valima) only. However, Hindu culture has turned a Pakistani wedding into a million-dollar industry with events like Mayoun and Mehndi, which appears as wastage to many.

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Sindhis: Many people cannot believe that Moors migrated as far as Sindh, Pakistan. Many Sindhi’s claim their lineage from the Moors. An ancient civilization called Mohenjo-Daro (See HERE) existed in the province, but modern Sindhis came to the region as Muslims and are not “converts” as many would assume. There are many Hindus living in cities like Karachi.

Punjabis: The Punjab province in the North is hugely influenced by Sikhs and Hindus. It is not uncommon to see Sikh temples and Muslim mosques in the same vicinity. And these two groups have acclimated to a point here that it is hard to distinguish them from Muslims. While there are positives out of this melting pot situation, it introduces a whole host of identity problems for each group (some of which I mentioned and will continue to do so in the future). But still, Sikhs and Hindus like to live in Pakistan so Pakistan allows them to practice their religion freely. But realize that if someone says they are Pakistanis, it is not wrong to think that they can be Muslims or Sikhs and Hindus.

Balochis & Pathanis: Baluchistan and NWFP aka Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are the most isolated yet racially diverse provinces of Pakistan. While it is hard to discover which lineage Balochis claim themselves from since they are so geographically and culturally isolated, I know NWFP boasts Pakistanis with ancestors from Afghanistan, the former Soviet Union, China, and Nepal.

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The reason I put embroidery last is that the art form is truly an amalgamation of all provincial cultures in Pakistan and the Mughals. Embroidery (artisanal especially) is still prevalent in today’s fast-paced, high-demand Pakistan’s fashion industry. It is difficult to imagine maintaining it without corruption. While many designers I endorse experiment with creative silhouettes, 3D Embroidery, some hand embroidery, and prints, there are still suspicious levels of demand for outfits embroidered ENTIRELY by hand. I hope this gets changed soon since the entire modern world is fighting for ethical and sustainable fashion markets.