Temple run: Searching for the lost Guru Mandar

Updated 16 Sep 2015

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The front of the Gur Mandar building. —Photo by author
The front of the Gur Mandar building. —Photo by author
The temple 'Sri Shivabai Shivala'. —Photo by author
The temple 'Sri Shivabai Shivala'. —Photo by author

'Guru' is a Hindi word; it means 'teacher'. But the mainstreaming of the word is due more to Sikhism, wherein the religious leaders are called gurus, such as the founder of Sikhism, Baba Guru Nanak.

According to an Urdu dictionary published by the Urdu Dictionary Board, the Sikh scripture is known as Guru Parnali. Similarly, places of worship in Sikhism are called 'guruduaras'.

The everyday word for the Sikh religious book is Guru Granth.

Gurudev is a name in Hindi, which can be translated into 'a great being', where greatness implies might and bigness.

You must also have heard both Urdu and Hindi speakers calling someone Guru Ghantaal. This is more an insult and I would advise you against using it, unless maybe among friends!

In Karachi, out of the millions that inhabit its ever-swelling urban radius, it might be near to impossible to find a person who has not heard of the place Guru Mandar (wherein, 'mandar' means temple).

Almost every Karachiite has been to this square. I, for one, have always been curious about visiting the actual Guru temple.

Whenever I am at the Quaid-e-Azam Academy, which is in the vicinity of Jinnah mausoleum, and I have to get some documents photocopied, I end up at the Guru Mandar square. Adjacent to the square is a mosque called the Sabeel Waali Masjid. On the right to the square, there is a circular market, which hosts an orphanage and a meat and vegetable market. All this, but no temple.

Unmapped and undocumented


I have the latest map of Jamshed Town and another map of the former Jamshed Quarters dated 1971. However, none of the maps have the Guru Mandar marked anywhere. I took the maps along with me and, with the help of a journalist friend, Kafeel Faizan, went to the Jamshed Town office and met with a Farhan sahab of the Public Relations wing.

Without even looking at the maps, Farhan sahab told me that according to the available records, there is a Guru Mandar Chowk but no Guru Mandar there; though, if I went in the direction of Soldier Bazaar from this office, I would find a small temple there.

Also read: Ratan Talao guruduwara: Between a mosque and a madrassah

One of my journalist friends told me that there is a temple adjacent to the Sabeel Wali Masjid, and that’s the Guru temple.

The next day, my friend Waleed Ahsaan and I went to the area. In the street behind the Sabeel Wali Masjid, which is a very narrow street, there sat two men having a casual conversation. When inquired about the temple, the two men pointed in the direction of the circular market, saying with absolute confidence that the temple is right in the centre. But when we got to the centre of the market, we couldn’t see a temple.

Another gentleman told us that at a little distance on the road opposite People’s Secretariat, which leads to the Kashmir Chowk, there is a petrol pump; located adjacent to the pump is the Guru temple.

When we arrived at the petrol pump, we learned that the temple was located in a street opposite the Dawood Engineering College. It was not easy to get to that particular street, for every entrance to the colony, it seemed, was blocked with barriers.

Finally, we did get to see a temple. Above its central entrance there hung a plaque with the temple’s name on it.

Another temple, another tale


The door was locked from the inside. We knocked. A woman answered. As per custom, we asked for a man in the house. She told us her husband was away. We asked for the man’s mobile phone number. At first she told us to wait and disappeared inside, but only to come back and say, “Brother, I do not have his mobile phone number.”

After that she told us to come around 8:00am the next day or anytime on a Saturday.

In any case, our hope of finding the Guru temple had already vanished after seeing the plaque. 'Sri Shivabai Shivala', it read; not a Guru temple, it was a Shiva temple.

During this calling on the temple’s ungodly inhabitants, we were being observed with quite some curiosity by a security guard who was garbed in the wartime uniform of a militia, it seemed. When we were done, he came to us and asked about the purpose of our visit. We told him about our search of the Guru temple.

The man told us that a decade or so ago, women would visit the temple quite regularly, but not anymore. The next part of the conversation was quite intimidating:

“The woman you just spoke to, she’s got a brother who’s a 'D.S.Phee' (he meant DSP, which is Deputy Superintendent of Police), another who’s in Customs. If they doubt your intentions, you’ll find yourself in a Rangers mobile within minutes. Look here, I’ve been a guard here for a very long time now. 'Pholis' (Police) would never show up if you report a deadly criminal incident, but one call from them and everybody will be here and brandishing their guns within minutes.”

So we set off at once and arrived at the Press Club. Here, we asked around for Guru Mandar, but once again, in vain. I spoke with Professor Karan Singh, who’s an education expert. He told me that shivaalay is another name for a temple, especially a Shiva temple. However, Vijay Mahraj, a Hindu pooja leader, told us he did not know of any Guru Mandar either.

Take a look: Karachi's 'Yahoodi Masjid'

Saturday came and with my friend Abdul Wahab Hassan, I reached the Shiva Shivalay to see the man whom we previously couldn’t meet. It was almost noon. We knocked and waited. Finally, a man welcomed us with a warm namaste.

When we told him we were there to inquire about the temple, he clasped his palms at the axis of his heart once again, not for a namaste this time, but to welcome us inside.

He sat on the temple floor, apologising to another visitor already seated there, for our intrusion. Clasping his hands, he welcomed us again and inquired after our wellbeing. He then called out to his son to bring a rilli (a Sindhi bedding item usually laid out for our guests to sit on). We had already sat on the floor though, so when his son came in, he couldn't do much more than just stare at us.

Santosh sahab (his palms once more clasped together by the chest) inquired of the purpose of our visit. We told him we were in search of the Guru temple.

He smiled and said:

“I know of the Guru Mandar Chowk, but not of a Guru temple. This temple of ours was attacked in retaliation of the Babri Mosque incident in 1992 – it was torn down. The pujari Kishan Chand was able to escape and save his life.”

I asked why it was called the Shivalay. He replied, “A Shiva temple is called the Shivalay. The speciality is that the Shivalay also has a sthaan (space/area) for the Gau (cows).”

Santosh sahab also told me that the plot adjacent to the temple, where now a car showroom stands, was once that very sthaan. However, after the 1992 Babri Mosque episode, it was separated from the temple and never given back.

“There were Gaus, mangers and water for them in there once,” he said with a weary voice.

“Any chance this is the Guru Mandar?” I asked. Palms once again clasped above the heart, our humble host said, “No, this is not Guru Mandar.”

And finally...


A few days later, I went to see my photojournalist friend Asif Hassan, an AFP photographer, at the Agha Khan Hospital. He was taken there after being shot recently during a protest demonstration against Charlie Hebdo that turned violent. On my way back, I was accompanied by Akhtar Soomro, another photojournalist friend of mine. I told him to take a detour to the Gurumandar Chowk. He didn’t mind.

When we got there, I once again started asking people about the Guru temple, but in vain. We now had reached the streets behind the Sabeel Wali Masjid. At one point, Soomro sahab stopped to tell me that Naeemul Haque’s motorbike was burned right here (pointing to a place) during the riots.

Alright, I said, and we carried on.

But once again, Soomro sahab shocked me into stopping. “Now what happened?” I thought. I was a little irritated, not by him but by the failure of finding the temple.

Soomro was pointing at the open gate of a bungalow in the corner of the street. Inside, the building's facade had something scribed on it in English. Silently, we crept into the bungalow. No one was there. We went closer. The words were:

GUR MANDAR

I took my camera out at once and took some pictures. I was still clicking away when a window on the first floor of a two-storeyed building (which looked like an ugly encroachment), opened and a woman’s head popped out.

“Why are taking pictures of our home?” She yelled.

Soon, she was joined by another woman who repeated the yelling with more vigour. Within seconds, a dangerous looking man appeared out of the blue, and he, too, started to yell at us. He had the decency of changing the question, though. “Who gave you permission to enter?” he asked.

In taking pictures of old buildings in Karachi, I have often been treated like an intruder by folks. Sometimes, the results are grave.

So, I decided to run for it this time, though of course, I wanted to stick around, take more pictures and survey the place.

Explore: SKE: Adventures into the unexplored corners of Karachi

In any case, we discovered one thing for sure: it was not 'Guru' temple but 'Gur' temple.

Twice, the name Guru Mandar came close to be changed to something else. The forces behind the effort were quite powerful.

First, in 1992 after the Babri Masjid incident, it was rechristened Babri Chowk. But the name 'Guru Mandar' stuck around.

Then, in 2004, after May 30, when Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai of Jamia Uloom-e-Islamia was assassinated, it was rechristened as Shamzai Chowk. Guru Mandar still stayed Guru Mandar, though. The temple, however, is still nowhere to be found.

The Gur Mandar building does not look like a temple at all. Nor is this building mentioned anywhere in the records. But, that's all I managed to come up with.

Can you find this building for me?

—Photos by author


Translated by Ayaz Laghari from the original in Urdu here.