In his book Karachi Taareekh Kay Aaeenay Main, author Muhammad Usman Damohi writes on page 110 about the harmony that was prevalent in the Muslims and Hindus of Karachi in the pre-partition India. He also mentions how both these communities engaged in their separate rites and rituals with complete liberty. In Muharram, the Muslims of Karachi would bring out processions with miniature mausoleum replicas of many events and locations related to the tragedy of Karbala, while the Hindus would bring out processions invoking the Kali Mata on Vijayadashami (Dussehra) with unmatchable cultural fervour.
On page 738, he writes, “Ram Bagh is an old, historic ground in Karachi. Parts of the ground have a bit of grass, while some flower beds can also be seen. Before the partition, this ground was always reserved for Hindu religious events and gatherings. However, sometimes it was also used for political gatherings.”
The religious books of Hinduism have it about this ground that Ram had spent a night here during his journey to Hinglaj (Balochistan).
Only six months after the partition, homes and places of worship of both the Sikhs and the Hindus were being attacked.
Renowned researcher and political commentator Zahid Choudhary wrote about the Hindu-Muslim riots on page 217 in his fourth book in a series of books, Pakistan Ki Siyaasi Taareekh, titled Sindh Mas’ala-e-Khudmukhtaari Ka Aaghaaz (The Beginning of Sindh’s Autonomy Problem):
“… In these conditions, on the next day after Molana Abdul Hamid Budayuni’s Muttahid Jamaat was formed, the news appeared in local newspapers that there were tragic reports of violence from the Sikh Gurudwara at Ratan Talab (Karachi) where about 250 Sikh men, women and children had sought refuge before departing for Bombay. The Guruduwara was set ablaze, causing 70 people to be severely injured. Armed police personnel made it to the location, dispersing the mob. Later, the riots slowly spread to the Top Khana Maindan and Ram Bagh, where some homes of the Hindu community were looted. The police had to fire shots in order to control the mob at two occasions. Chief Minister Sindh Mr Khuhro, along with Magistrate Mr Raza, visited the Guruduwara, whence he visited other violence ridden areas. The Chief Minister also ensured that the members of the Hindu community are moved to safe places. Buildings of Suraaj Bhawan and Arya Samaj were also set ablaze.”
When Governor-General Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah heard the news, he was furious. Zahid Choudhary sahib tells us that the Governor-General immediately summoned the Secretary of Defence, Iskander Mirza. The Governor-General told the secretary that if by a certain point in time he did not receive the report that peace has been completely restored in the city, he would find another defence secretary. Iskander Mirza immediately met the Commander General Karachi, Akbar Khan, from whom he asked for the report in the same manner as the Governor-General. The commander general followed the orders and was on location within a portion of an hour, ordering to open fire. Eleven rioters were killed that day. The Quaid had restored peace in the city within an hour or two. One of the areas where peace had been restored was Ram Bagh.
Munshi Ram Prashad Mathur writes on page 45 of his book Hindu Tehvaaron Ki Dilchusp Asliyat:
“Hindus have incorporated their sacred names with well-wishing statements. For example, two persons greet one another by saying Jay Raam Ji Kee (victory be to Ram) or Jay Shree Krishna (victory be to Shree Krishna). This is actually wishing the other person all the success and goodness, and then giving all the credit to Ram or Krishna, erasing any desire of profit for one’s own self.
“Some people only say Ram Ram, in which even the intention of giving credit to the god Ram is not mentioned, hence concealing all the good wishes beneath humility. In pain they call out Haaey Ram, where haaey is an interjection. When happy, they say Ram has heard their prayers or that Ram has been merciful. Even in hatred or anger they can be heard uttering Ram’s name multiple times.”
Ram’s character is central to the Hindu faith. Renowned lawmaker and Vice Chairman, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Amarnath Motumal told me that Shree Ram was the eldest of his father Raja Dasharatha, and thus was an heir to his throne.
According to the Ramayana, one day when Raja Dasaratha was in the jungle for a good hunt, he was bitten by a snake. At this point, Dasharatha’s wife and Ram’s step-mother Kaykaee saved the king’s life. The king Dasharatha told his wife to name a prize. Kaykaee told the king that she did not want anything at that point. However, in future, the king would have to fulfill two promises. The king agreed.
When King Dasharatha was on deathbed, he asked for his son Ram to be made king after him. That is when Kaykaee, Ram’s step-mother, reminded Dasharatha of the two promises that he had to fulfill for her. She asked for her son Bharat to be made king and for Ram to be sent into exile for 14 years.
Raja Dasharatha had to fulfill both those wishes. Ram, the obedient son that he always was, left the throne and kingship behind and headed for the jungle. It is a long tale. Ram spent 14 years in exile, fought a war with Ravana which Ram won, and then returned to his homeland. On his return, oil lamps were lit all across the land. This is the festival that we now know as Deepawali, which has gradually become Deewali. The celebration of Ram’s obedience and his victory over Ravana is called Dussehra.
Before and after the partition, Ram Leela (the story of Ram) was presented on stage in Karachi. Ram Bagh was the place where the theatre was usually held. From Ram’s exile to his return home, every event of the tale was presented through dramatic art.
Renowned educationalist, intellectual and translator, Professor Karan Singh says since in the post-partition scenario, most of the Hindus of Karachi had migrated to India because of the violence and the hatred, Ram Leela could never be presented in Karachi again. Gradually, it became impossible for Ram Leela to be presented on stage anywhere in the city.
Where was this Ram Bagh in Karachi, a centre for Ram Leela every year? Imagine a 10-day long theatrical event on Hinduism in Karachi. Must find that place, should we not? An office bearer of a Hindu social organisation told me on guarantee of anonymity that this Ram Bagh is located near the Swami Narayan temple. Ram Bagh was a park.
What the Swami Narayan temple has for us in its history is a tale for another time. The office bearer told me that it was in 1939 that a Hindu, Deewan Jethanand who had made the construction of Ram Bagh possible. The place still exists by the temple on Burne’s Road.
The remnant of its identity can be seen at some distance from the place. On the street where the Hamdard Dawakhana is located, there is an electricity pole. It has an old plate on it. It reads Ram Bagh only if you care to read with the heart to find the place.
The Ram Bagh is still there but it does not host any more Ram Leela performances. The stage where the acts were performed is now replaced by a mosque. The people of Karachi call the place, Aram Bagh.
-Photos by Akhtar Balouch
-Translated by Ayaz Laghari.
Read this blog in Urdu here.