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Pakistan has a rich and diverse cultural heritage. Pakistanis celebrate their culture through folk music, dance, and festivals. They have a strong appreciation for poetic expression and storytelling. The history of the country comes to life in the splendid architectural detail of centuries-old mosques and forts. After it became part of the expansive Mughal Empire in 1526, the region that is now Pakistan entered a golden age of literature, architecture, and music.

A Literature

Most Pakistanis adore poetry and commonly memorize long poems. A mushaira (poetry reading) in Pakistan can attract hundreds of listeners. Among classical poets in the Urdu language, Mirza Ghalib is perhaps the most widely admired. Ghalib, who wrote in the 19th century, is known for his lyrical and spiritual ghazals. Ghazals are the most popular form of poetry in the Urdu and Persian languages.

The official national poet of Pakistan is Allama ("the Wise") Muhammad Iqbal. He earned the title of poet-philosopher of Pakistan not only because he was an exceptionally talented poet, but also because he was active in the politics of his time. In 1930 he called for the creation of a separate Muslim state in northwestern British India. He wrote poetry in Urdu and Persian and gave university lectures in English.

Faiz Ahmed Faiz is perhaps the most adored modern poet in Pakistan. Faiz began writing poetry in the 1950s after a distinguished journalism career. His ghazals are primarily concerned with class struggle, rather than the conventional themes of love and beauty. A progressive writer, Faiz was also a political dissident, and military governments banned his poetry from television and radio. Ahmad Fraz, Muneer Niazi, and Parveen Shakir are some of the other popular Urdu-language poets of Pakistan.

Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, a Sufi mystic who in the first half of the 18th century wrote about love and Sindhi life, is the most revered poet of the Sindhi language. His poetry is widely recited by illiterate and educated Sindhis alike. Khushal Khan Khattak is the most famous poet of the Pashto language. In the 17th century he wrote poetry describing the beauty of women and nature, using military metaphors. The most well-known poet of the Punjabi language is Bulleh Shah, of the 17th century, whose poetry challenged the religious orthodoxy. In recent years short stories and travelogues have gained literary prominence, in addition to poetry.

B Music and Film

Traditional Vocal Music of Pakistan Pakistani music and culture bear the influence of past invaders: Greeks, Arabs, Mongols, and Afghans. Until the division of India, the music of Pakistan was a part of the Indian musical culture. As a result, the instrumentation is strongly Indian, but rhythms, scales, song repertoire, and technique represent a unique synthesis of these diverse musical cultures. This is an example of a Dholak Geet, a type of folk song sung by groups of women or girls that celebrates village life in the Pakistani state of Punjab."Dholak Geet" de Folk Music of Pakistan (Cat.# Folkways FE 4425) (p)1951 Smithsonian/Folkways Recordings. All rights reserved.


The classical music tradition in Pakistan traces its roots to the 13th-century poet and musician Amir Khusru, who composed the earliest ragas, the traditional rhythmic form. To play the ragas, Muslim musicians invented the sitar, a long guitar-like stringed instrument, and the tabla, a small pair of hand drums.

Qawwali, a form of devotional song, arose as part of the Sufi (Islamic religious sect) tradition. This rich vocal tradition is based on melodic and free-rhythmic song-poems and classical musical forms. It is traditionally performed at the shrines of Sufi saints, but today qawwali singers also perform for major secular events. Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan won international popularity in the late 20th century by infusing qawwali performances with new form and style. Other traditional musical forms—including the Punjabi bhangra, the Sindhi juhumar, and the Pashtun khattack—have also acquired new forms and continue to be popular for dancing. Punjabi, Pashto, and Sindhi folk songs are popular in rural Pakistan. Modern Pakistani musical groups and singers have introduced new forms of pop music based on traditional melodies.

Qawwali Singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Qawwali is a form of Sufi devotional music drawing on melodic and free-rhythmic song-poems and classical musical forms. Traditionally performed at the shrines of Sufi saints, qawwali is now also heard at major secular events. In the late 20th century the qawwali recordings of singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan gained international popularity."Hamd" from Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: En Concert a Paris Vol. 1 (Cat.# Ocora C 558658) (p)1988 Ocora/Radio France. All rights reserved.


Most Pakistanis prefer and enjoy songs from Pakistani and Indian movies. These songs are commonly played on radio and television. A synthesis of musical scores from movies, traditional folk music, and popular Western music is gaining popularity.

The film industry of Pakistan, known as Lollywood, is concentrated in Lahore. Most Pakistani movies are long, melodramatic love stories with plenty of songs. The film industry is often regulated and censored by the government. Films must follow the conventions of Islamic law, and the showing of physical contact such as kissing is prohibited. In the mid-1970s the industry produced about 150 movies a year, but since then the number has declined. In the 1980s the market for Pakistani films shrunk as a result of restrictions imposed by the military regime of Muhammad Zia ul-Haq and the availability of smuggled videotapes of Indian and Western movies.

Television became a major cultural influence in Pakistan in the 1980s, when the state-controlled network, Pakistan Television, attained national reach. It aired both Pakistani and American shows. In recent years satellite and cable television services have significantly increased access to international networks offering many different cultural and political perspectives.

C Architecture

Tomb of Emperor Jahangir, Lahore Built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in the 17th century, the tomb of the Emperor Jahangir is intricately decorated with a variety of patterns and colors. Seen here is the outer wall and one of the four minarets that surround the garden in which the emperor's tomb is located.Christine Osborne Pictures

Pakistan has inherited a combination of Mughal and British colonial architectural forms. Mughal architects combined the Muslim preferences for large domes, slender towers, and archways with the Hindu use of red sandstone, white marble, and inlaid jewels. Mughal artists decorated the monuments with verses from the Quran, the sacred text of Islam. The best example of this architecture is the Badshahi Mosque and Lahore Fort (built between the 1580s and 1670s). The courtyard of the mosque can accommodate 100,000 worshipers, making it the second largest mosque in the world. Pakistan also has the world's largest mosque, the Faisal Mosque in Isl

Quranic calligraphy and miniature painting have a strong tradition in Pakistan dating to Mughal rule. The most celebrated miniature and mural paintings and calligraphic works were created in the 20th century by Abdul Rehman Chughtai and Sadequain. These Mughal traditions are also visible on colorfully painted and decorated trucks and buses that ply the country.

D Libraries and Museums

Kar?chi is the seat of some of the most important libraries in Pakistan; these include the Liaquat Memorial Library (1950), the Central Secretariat Library (1950), and the University of Kar?chi library. Also of note are the National Archives of Pakistan, in Isl?m?b?d, and the Punjab Public Library (1884), in Lahore.

The National Museum of Pakistan (1950), in Kar?chi, is noted for its archaeological material from the Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa sites in the Indus Valley. Important materials from this ancient civilization are also found at the Institute of Sindhology, in J?m Shoro, and the Hyder?b?d Museum. The Lahore Museum (1864), the country's largest museum, and the Pesh?war Museum (1906) also have exhibits on the rich cultural history of the region. The Industrial and Commercial Museum, in Lahore, contains exhibits on the manufactures of Pakistan. The National Museum of Science and Technology is a participatory science center in Lahore.
?m?b?d, a gift from Saudi Arabia that was constructed in the 1980s. It was designed by a Turkish architect to look like an Arab desert tent. Other examples of Mughal architecture include Shalimar Gardens (laid out in 1641), in Lahore; the Shah Jahan Mosque (17th century), in Thatta, Sind Province; and the mid-18th-century tomb of the great Sindhi poet Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, in Bhit Sh?h, near Hyder?b?d.

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