Recently, someone by the name of Vishal gave me a phone call. He told me that he was a regular reader of my blogs on Dawn.com and suggested that I write about the Mari Mata Temple at Ratan Talao. According to him, Hindus were being discouraged from performing their religious rituals in this temple.
I asked for a meeting and Vishal agreed. We met that evening at the Press Club. He was carrying a shoulder bag. A few minutes into the conversation, he had already shown me dozens of important documents. By the end of the meeting, I chose a few of them to help me in my work.
Ratan Talao is not far from Saddar, Karachi. 'Talao' is a Sindhi word, meaning 'pond'. While the place merits a whole other discussion in itself, for now, we will zoom into its Akbar Market, where the Mari Mata Temple is located. Akbar Market is the largest motorbike market in Karachi. There is a street here which was previously called the Sister Square Street in Akbar Market; these days, it is known as Gali No. 19.
Among the many buildings in this street is a small structure with a small iron gate. On the gate, it says 'Ya Allah' on one side and 'Ya Muhammad' on the other, with an inscription in the middle reads Maai Jannat ka Taziya.
According to a map from the public record, the original land of the temple was 285 yards. It has now shrunk to 50 yards. Hindus are still performing their rituals here. In Muharram, mourning processions are also carried out from the temple. The real issue is that of the ownership of the temple, the dispute is over 50 yards instead of the original 285.
The matter is now being dealt with by the law. A few residents of the neighbourhood have filed a claim suit against the Hindu community members. Other claimants have also filed similar complaints. In 2012, residents of Akbar Market submitted an application at the local police station. You can see a snapshot of it below:
The Commissioner, Karachi also received a similar application recently from Vishal Rajput of the Shri Maharashtra Punchayat Karachi. The contents of the application dated 1st January 2015, can be read in the following image:
When I went to the Mari Mata Temple with my friend Mohsin Soomro, there was a long queue of motorbikes outside the temple entrance. The caretaker of the temple (a woman named Mehmooda) was asking shop owners to remove the motorbikes. No one was paying any heed. Mohsin and I began removing the motorbikes from the way.
A young man sitting inside a shop right in front of us also joined in. We were able to clear the area of the temple entrance after a while. Mehmooda inquired the reason for our visit. We told her that we were there to see the miniature mausoleum of Hussain (AS). She took us inside. After a small yard, there were two locked rooms. On our left was a small patio. Mehmooda removed the veil and showed us the miniature mausoleum.
According to Mehmooda, Maai Jannat – by whose name the taziya is known – was her mother. Maai Jannat was a caretaker of the temple and the taziya from 1957 till the day she breathed her last. Mehmooda then took over her mother’s job. She told us that during Muharram, the taziya is taken out in a procession on the 9th and 10th of the mourning month. Hindus and Muslims alike participate in the procession. Apart from that, Hindus still visit the temple to perform their rituals.
I started taking pictures of the old plaques. Mehmooda, observing me, smirked and said, “Go ahead. Take all the pictures you like. I don’t mind. A few days ago some news TV people visited the Swami Narayan temple. There was a huge pooja. The TV crew was trying to take pictures but the temple people didn’t let them do so.”
I immediately put the camera back in its bag and asked for leave.
The vice President of the Hindu Punchayat in Karachi, Dr Raj Ashok shared with me documentary proof of the fact that the temple's land area was originally 286 square yards. Dr Ashok is not happy about the presence of a taziya inside the temple.
Interestingly, on 1st May 2015, an ad was placed in various newspapers for the repair and renovation of various temples across Sindh. The list included the Mari Mata Temple, meaning that the place is still considered a temple in the public records.
However, according to an agreement in 1978, the Maharashtra Punchayat had agreed to let the taziya be placed inside the temple, only to be removed when demanded. The parties in the agreement were Janu Bhai Feroze Shah and Mohan Gaikwar of the Maharashtra Punchayat. Read the document (provided by Vishal) below:
Mehmooda does not mind Hindus visiting the temple and performing their rituals there. However, Hindus say they feel insecure when they go inside the temple.
Hence, we have a temple which boasts a taziya. It could have been a beautiful example of religious harmony, but at the end of the day, what people want is ownership. In the end, temples, mosques, taziya and everything else is merely property.
—Photos by author
Translated by Ayaz Laghari from the original in Urdu here.
Author's note: A few days after publication of the Urdu version of this article, Vishal called to inform me that the temple was back under control of the Hindu community.