Chiniot is one of the oldest National towns of Punjab, on the bank of river Chenab, the second largest river of Pakistan; it was considered among the important cities on the trade route form Khyber Pass to Delhi. Alexander the Great had entered the subcontinent through the same route. A local legend says that the town is named after Chandan, a kings’s daughter who was accustomed to hunting in a man’s attire. One day she came to the banks of the Chenab and was so impressed the beauty of spot that she ordered a town to be built here, which was called “CHANDNIOT” in her honour. The town is celebrated for its wood carving and masonry. The artisans of Chiniot have been renowned for the excellence of their work since the Mughal period. Masons from Chiniot were employed in the building of Taj Mahal in Agra and Wazir Khan Mosque in Lahore. The main architect of Golden Temple at Amritsar was also from Chiniot, as were the craftsman who built the more recent Minar-i-Pakistan. The area was once famous for boat-building, but no such industry is seen now-a-days. The town is still known for arts and crafts specially door carving, brass work, inlays and furniture. The skills are passed down from father to son.
Chiniot has ancient origins, with some scholars linking it to a town mentioned in Rig Veda. A town called “Channiwat” is also mentioned in the ‘Ramayana’ and subsequently by Al-Beruni in his ‘Kitab-ul-Hind’. The first Mughal Emperor Babur has also mentioned this historical place in ‘Tuzk-e-Babri’. A Chinese Historian, Heun Tasang, has also mentioned the town as the Chinese traders used the Chenab and Jehlam river routes for trade purposes. The town housed one of the three ancient univerisities of the Punjab (the other two being at Ajodhan and Taxila). The area of Chiniot and the waves of Chenab have seen ages civilizations. The ancient mounds and ruins in the surroundings of Chiniot the oldest settlements of Aryans, Buddhists, Greeks, and the Hindu-Muslim period spread over hundreds of years. Greek Age (326-BC) objects like figurines,toys, broken earthenware, domestic use utensils and coins were also discovered in 1999 from the hills near Chiniot. A pictographic writing found carved on these hills has close resemblance with the pictographic-writing found from Harappa or Moenjodaro sites. Many a time, they city was built and ruined by various invaders and warriors. The first authentic source of history dates back to 326 BC when Alexander’s army conquered the region Chiniot which was taken over by Chandar Gupt Maurya two years later who ruled over the place till 30 BC. The others who ruled Chiniot were Raja Chach (712 AD), Sultan Mehmood Ghaznavi (1010 AD), Mehmood Ghauri (1206 DA), Slave Dynasty (1218 AD) Zaheer-u-Din Babar (1528-1540 AD), Sher Shah Suri and Jahangir (1605-1627 AD). This city was also conquered by Gandha Singh and eventually Ranjit Singh took over Chiniot in 1805, and thereafter in 1849 the British captured the city. However, the most prosperous days of Chiniot were during the region of Emperor Shah Jahan and the elegant Shgahi Mosque was build during this period.
Chiniot is know all over the world for its fine wood-carving which can still be seen on the doors, windows and balconies of the houses in the central part of the old town. Wood carving is found here mainly in two forms-furniture and Handicrafts. Furniture of Chiniot is better in finishing and quality standard than that of other areas of the country. This industry is totally based on local material like wood, hardboard, vin-board, etc. All forms of furniture are made here, but the most popular forms are of carving and brass inlay. More than 80% demand of Pakistani market is met by Chinioti Furniture. Internationally, Chiniot alone is competing with the most modern furniture industry of Italy which has monopoly all over the world. The carving style of Italy and Chiniot is the same but the Furniture made here is more durable and beautiful than that of Italy. ‘Sheesham’ wood is mostly used in the Furniture which is better in quality and strength than Rose Wood, and considered similar to ‘Palizendar’ wood found in Brazil. The furniture made of Sheesham wood has become an important part of almost every house. Chiniot furniture industry is 150-200 years old, with 4000 to 5000 furniture workshops /Showrooms operative at the moment. Approximately, 100000 people are linked with the furniture and handicraft business in Chiniot. Furniture available here is without polish, while a major portion of exports is in the form of wooden handicrafts which include objects like table lamps, jewellery boxes, trolleys, table sets, models of animals and historical buildings, mirror frames, Mughal style screen partitions, etc. Two famous places for getting the best specimens of furniture and woodcraft in the city are: Mohalla ‘Tarkhanan’ (masons area) and on the Shahrah-e-Quaid-e-Azam.
A number of historical buildings in Chiniot tell tales of its glorious past. One of them, Umar Hayat Palace (also called “Gulzar Manzil”), is masterpiece of indigenous art and architecture, localted in the centre of the city. If architecture is frozen music, then Gulzar Manzzil in Chiniot is the creativity of human spirit, with its breathtakingly beautiful Jharokas (balconies) and exquisitely engraved arches. It has a great attraction for local and foreign tourists for its beauty. Umar Hayat was a successful trader like other members of Sheikh family. He decided to construct a wonderful place in 1923 and the construction work was completed by hundreds of workers who worked round-the-clock for 14 years and this masterpiece of art masonry was named as Gulzar Manzil in the name of his son, Gulzar. This beautiful four-storeyed palace is adorned with unique art work and is one of the most artistic buildings in the architectural history of the subcontinent. But Umar Hayat could not seen and enjoy his masterpiece as he died in 1935 just before its completion. Gulzar Manzil showcases beautiful architectural patterns which have become a rarity. In 1990, the building was taken over by the government. A room of the building was converted into museum with antiques belonging to Chiniot.
This elegant mosque was built by Nawab Saad Ullah Khan (1595-1655), the Prime Minister of Indo-Pak Subcontinent during Emperor Shah Jahan’s reign. Built during 1646 to 1655 AD. This mosque is one of the major sights of the town. It is an exceedingly handsome edifice of hewn stone obtained from the hills near Chiniot. Like Masjid Wazir Khan, Badshahi Mosque Lahore and Jamia Mosque Delhi, almost all salient features of Muslim architecture are fully reflective in the construction of Shahi Mosque, which because of its artistic skill, beauty and exquisiteness seems a graceful version of Moti Masjid Agra, or vice versa. The arches of façade of the praying chamber of the Royal Mosque have only one foil which is perhaps the only instance in the whole history of architecture. With its majestic entrance, the courtyard inside is squarish in plan and has an ablution tank in the centre. The whole mosque is built on a 15 feet high platform. The constructed area of the mosque is 108 x 97 feet.
The traces of an ancient fort have also been found in the city of Chiniot. It is said that the ancient fort was destroyed during Alexander’s campaign to Punjab, and was rebuilt on the debris of invasions. On the same ruins the fort and the city were rebuilt by Nawab Wazir Khan during Shah Jahan’s rule and the fort was named as “Qila Rekhtee”. A portion of old, dilapidated wall still exists facing the Umer Hayyat Palace.
The classic example of Shah Jahan’s period’s eye-catching art and glazed decoration is the Shrine of Shah Burhan, a descendent from Uch Sharif and contemporary of Hazrat Mian Mir, one of the greatest saints of Lahore. Considered one of the most beautiful shrines of Punjab, it is said to be uildt by Nawab Saadullah Khan, the Prime Minister of Shah Jahan. This holy man brought a large number unbelievers into the fold of Islam and infused in them the qualities of high character.
Chiniot is peerless in “Tazia” making. “Tazia”, a model replica of the tomb of Hazart Imam Hussain (R.A), is carried in processions during Moharram, the first month of Islamic Calendar. There are manuy evidences of Tazia processions during the region of emperors Hamayun, Akbar and Jahangir. Chiniot is famous for its nine unique Tazias which describe the best example of chinioti carving. These Tazias have found storeys (‘called seges’), which when lit-up and lined up, have their own grandeur. Four bamboos are fitted under the foundation of Tazia and 36 to 40 people lift one Tazia one their shoulders. Height of each of these Tazias is from 30 to 44 feet. The procession of Moharram 10 in Chiniot is unique of its kind in the world.