KARACHI: Hanuman and Ganesh sit peacefully in a small room at the recently renovated Darya Lal mandir at the end of Eduljee Dinshaw Road, as construction workers put the finishing touches to its walls and roof.

According to Gowswami Vijay Maharaj, both deities earned their space to share the temple with the god of the sea, Varun devta, better known as Darya Lal, when Hanuman went to help Ram save Sita from Ravan’s clutches in Lanka. “They say Hanuman sped through the sea to rescue Ram from the demon of the sea, who happened to be Ravan’s brother,” said the maharaj. “He was so fast that Varun devta mounted his makara and asked who he was.” Since then, added the maharaj, people who come to worship Darya Lal, also pay their respects to Hanuman.

The maharaj, a middle-aged man with a flaming red beard, wears a mala around his neck. He is busy most of the day attending to worshippers and construction workers who are putting the finishing touches on the mandir’s walls and roof.

According to Syed Haider Raza, an architect who has been working with Shahid Abdulla and his firm on the Eduljee Dinshaw Road project to restore the street and buildings, they had started working on the project when they decided to include the mandir. “This mandir is at least 300 years old. We started working on this project almost a year ago. Just the designing part took us five to six months,” said Mr Raza.

The mandir was inaugurated by Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ibad on Dec 13, 2015.

He said it took Rs2 million to turn the mandir into a functional place of worship. “The mandir was originally built with limestone and the Jung Shahi stone. The dimensions of the prayer area were 40ft by 40ft, just like a square, he said. “We also tried to maintain the patterns on the floor – these used to be in cement but are now in marble. The wooden teak doors, bell, even the locks were polished and put back in place.”

“It’s like taking care of an elderly relative,” said the architect. “If they are sick, you try to get them better. It is the same thing with old buildings such as this mandir. You need to handle them with care,” he explained.

“We tried to stick with the original structure as much as possible. Unfortunately, there were limitations. For example, it has suffered damage due to salinity as it used to be close to the sea.

“Except for the dome, we redid the roof and if you look all around you’ll notice the roof was in a bad state,” said Mr Raza, adding they tried to bring music back to the mandir by placing the bell (mandir ki ghanti) inside.

“We borrowed the front elevation from a Jhoolay Lal mandir in India. We realised that the outside looked very flat and simple. We wanted to keep the original feel but everyone told us that the facade should look interesting. People might disagree with what we did but the maharaj is happy.”

According to the maharaj, this is one of the first mandirs to be renovated in a public-private partnership. “It is big news that a mandir that had been closed several times and encroached upon is up and running,” he said.

Another name for the sea god, Jhoolay Lal, is popular among Sindhi Hindus, said the maharaj. “This mandir was used by fishermen to pray before setting off to work,” he said.

The maharaj became caretaker of the Darya Lal Sankat Mochan Mandir after his father and brother and has been trying to re-engage the community with Jhoolay Lal. Like the sea, the mandir has had rough and smooth periods – “it was attacked in 1965 and 1992 after the Babri masjid incident in India. It was shut down for a few years and reopened later,” said Vijay Maharaj, adding that the temple was dilapidated and regular worshippers had stopped coming. “This place of worship was mostly under the care of Shri Mahant Baba Lalgir Goswami who was the first person to reopen the doors of the mandir after riots.”

This, he claimed, left the mandir and its surrounding property vulnerable. “A transport wala encroached on two of the mandir’s rooms in the 1970s,” he said. “Around five years ago his son took over what should have been the temple’s kitchen and rooms for travellers.”

According to Waqar Ahmed of the Karachi Hazara Transporters, his father had been running his business next to the mandir for the past 30 years and he has been renting space from the Karachi Port Trust for the past five years. “We pay around Rs25,000 to the Evacuee Trust for the front rooms and Rs30,000 to the KPT for the remaining space.”

Published in Dawn, January 6th, 2016

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